Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Queen's Appeal

Above, we see a photograph of Queen Astrid visiting a poor family in Kortrijk. Like her husband, King Leopold III, Astrid was deeply concerned with social problems, made all the more dire by the economic crisis of the 1930's. In February, 1935, the Queen organized a nationwide collection of food, clothing, and supplies for the impoverished Belgian miners and their families.  Her close friend, Anna Sparre, in her book, Astrid mon amie, recalls the Queen's remarkable initiative:
The winter that year was difficult for the population; unemployment was more rampant than ever, aid was insufficient and there were numerous complaints. A delegation of miners was received in audience by the King. It was a dignified, moving moment: the King and the Queen listened to them as they described, in a realistic and direct manner, their joyless existence, and the poverty that reigned in the mining region. "Our children are the victims of it, they are hungry and cold, Madame. Our children are dying of hunger." 
The Queen listened, horrified, and promised, spontaneously, to do what she could. 
Astrid immediately addressed an open letter to the Minister of State, Henri Jaspar, and to the Belgian people, imploring their aid in this tragic situation. The letter was published, and become known as "The Queen's Appeal."
The very next day, money and aid began to flow in. The Queen herself, along with a rapidly constituted committee, composed of ladies who had volunteered to help, was on the go at the Belle Vue. An unending line of generous people wound through the palace, armed with packages and bags, money and cheques. Department stores, societies, businesses, and individuals from all over the country joined in the Queen's very personal initiative... 
Money, food, clothing, shoes, candles, blankets - even hats and eyeglasses - were swiftly collected. The Queen played an essential role during the distribution of the aid:
The Queen visited, in person, the districts in the most crying need; her appearance alone, when she emerged from the car, in the middle of a village, greeting the people with a wave of her hand, was enough to give them hope and confidence. The newspapers followed her activities, and, every day, gave reports on donations and relief measures, but, above all, they noted the popular reactions in the areas where she appeared. They described her immense popularity; she became a symbol of a power synonymous with generosity. "She is our good Fairy, who personifies, at the same time, Power and Goodness." 

The first three months of that year were entirely devoted to this massive collection and to the organization of a permanent aid program for the needy of the mining region. The Queen unceasingly exhorted her people to generosity; and the unfortunate, to maintain their morale and keep up their courage. She defended their cause, she granted interviews, she made herself seen and heard; people believed her and trusted her word. With the King's support, she had set in motion a trend which took off; its results continued to be felt for a long time afterwards. 
I found the story of "The Queen's Appeal" very inspiring and touching. This episode from her - tragically short - reign illustrates Astrid's tenderness, realism, intelligence, and generosity.


Lucy said...

So graceful, dedicated AND humble. ?thanks.

May said...

She was such a wonderful Queen, the Belgians were so lucky!