Minister Lourens at St. Maarten Day celebration: “Economic cooperation with the French side will not materialize”

POSTED: 11/12/13 11:33 AM

St. Maarten – Yesterday’s celebration of Sint Maarten Day marked the 265th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Concordia in 1648. There was a proper celebration at the Festival Village with a parade of uniformed services and speeches from the appropriate dignities. The weather was playing along, turning the venue into a place where thirst became the prevalent thought in most people’s minds as the event progressed, but that did not dampen the spirit of “one island, one people.”

Stretching the imagination on this festive day, the headline about this article could have been something like, “Shots fired in the Festival Village” but even though this is true, it could have created the wrong impression. The shots were fired (in the air) by members of the Volunteer corps VKS, at first to the astonishment of the dignitaries in the tent on the festival square, but soon to their delight.

Was it a St. Maarten Day worthy of our young country? That depends on how you look at it. We saw cars abundantly “dressed up” with flags, and we saw even roadside snack bars in the festive red-white-and-blue. We saw two living statues defying the sweltering heat in the Festival Village and we also saw a nice crowd during the presentation of the uniformed services. But when it came to the official speeches – with a delay of more than an hour – the crowd mysteriously dissolved. There is a better appetite for festive display than there is for predictable mumbo jumbo.

And yet, there was one remark that stood out – we’ll get to that in a bit. Six dignitaries – Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, President Aline Hanson, Sous-Préfet Philippe Chopin (who offered an endearing apology for the heavy French accent in his English), Minister of Culture Patricia Lourens and President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell – made speeches but they all ignored the instruction by the organization to limit their address to three – or at most five – minutes.

Culture Minister Lourens scored a political homerun when she declared that she was not going to make any promises about economic cooperation with the French side. “They cannot materialize,” she said. “We will only be able to work together on the spiritual level.”

By the time the presentation of uniformed and ceremonial troupes in the Festival Village began, the program was already an hour behind schedule. That did not dampen the enthusiasm for the boys and girls, and the men and women who paraded the grounds.

The show opened with the Generation New Status Drumband under the direction of Urmain Dormoy, followed by a steelpan rendition of the national anthems – La Marseillaise and the Wilhelmus – by the Mighty Dow Isidore York. Then followed the Turning Point Xtreme Prevention Drumband, the police force, the volunteer corps VKS – that indeed fired some shots in the air – the prison guards, the fire brigade (together with again the Turning Point Xtreme Prevention band, the youth pathfinders of the seventh Day Adventist church, the Boys and girls Brigade and the French side Boys and Girls Scouts.

Minister Lourens honored the people who made valuable contributions to St. Maarten in the past, and referred to the common heritage the two sides of the island share. “We have to learn from this and use it for future development,” she said.

Quoting Israel’s former Prime Minister Golda Meir, Lourens said that we should not erase the past because it does not fit in the present. “We all have a role to play in our country’s destiny,” she concluded.

Aline Hanson, President of the Territorial Council in the Collectivité d’Outre Mer de Saint Martin said she was honored to celebrate Sint Maarten Day in her function for the first time. “We must acknowledge our history, but we must live in the moment.” she said. “We must also remain rational about our history.”

At the same time, Hanson said, “it is important that our tradition persists.” On a humorous note, and with a reference to the unbreakable ties between the two sides of the island, Hanson said that “the French side has produced some very good politicians for the Dutch side.”

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams was next to address the audience and she dived right into this year’s theme “Back in the day.”

“We had Sint Maarten Day because Sint Maarten was Sint Maarten,” she said, “And we needed a day to celebrate just that. Sint Maarteners were proud to be who they were. This was out how, everybody was our brother and sister, and women were the true matriarchs.”

The PM said that St. Maarten has a lot to thank surrounding islands for. “That is where our men went in search of a better life. Women had little, but they still managed to cook for an army, and the melee was a good one.”

But how times have changed: “Today the community spirit is slipping away. We have to remember that in our darkest hours that was what kept us together. Should we not be asking ourselves what experience we are creating and what legacy we are leaving behind?”

For Wescot-Williams, dressed in red with a feisty black hat, there is no doubt: “I am a proud Sint Maartener; unapologetically, because I believe in this country and its future.”

Parliament President Gracita Arrindell referred to the 108 nationalities that have made Sint Maarten their home. “There is a reason why you are all here,” she said. “And we are thankful that you are here.”

At the same time, Arrindell acknowledged that “many are hurting, laid off, and don’t know where to go.” The parliament’s president did not have a strong feeling about this year’s theme Back in the Day: “I don’t even want to go there,” she said. “I am looking forward.”

Préfet Délégué Philippe Chopin, dressed in an impeccable white uniform, noted that the road to cooperation is not without obstacles, but that cooperation is key for the island. He congratulated the countries on both sides of the border with the celebration of Sint Maarten Day and gracefully apologized for his heavily accented English.

Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday, the last speaker of the afternoon, took the celebration’s theme for personal reminiscences. “Back in the day everybody knew everybody’s name, we slept with our doors open, disciplined our children with the belt and the Great Salt Pond backed onto Back Street. Kids made their own toys and Sunday School was obligatory.”

The governor also noted that Sint Maarten has changed. “But it is important not to lose sight of the strengths, the character and the values of our people that made today possible,” he said. “We have to embrace those values and characters and do all within our power to pass them on to the next generation.”

St. Maarten Day began with an ecumenical service at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Zagergut Road, followed by the traditional wreath laying ceremony – this year at the border monument in Bellevue. Members of the government then went on to the port where they visited the Coast Guard and there was a salute of uniformed troupes at the Cyrus Wathey square in front of the courthouse.

After the official speeches, the party started in the Festival Village with Fabian Richards and Roberto Arrindell, followed by Tanny and the Boys, the Ebony steel orchestra, the dance and arts academy, the French-side Gunslingers band, the Freedom Fighters Band, King Skunky, King Repeater and Princess Acquilla, one poet society and – in the evening – Percy Rankin and the Bunfire Band. St. Maarten Day concluded with a fireworks display.

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Minister Lourens at St. Maarten Day celebration: “Economic cooperation with the French side will not materialize” by

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