text by Alexander Davey / image via Business Insider
Hans Leijtens is Lieutenant General Commander of the royal Dutch military police (Nederlands Marechaussee). He was first Royal Nederland’s army platoon commander of a tank platoon. But soon left as he realised the military wasn’t for him. He then re-schooled himself, studying sociology at Leiden before becoming an officer of the royal Marechaussee.
The Marechaussee are a police force and their tasks are mainly civilian or to the royal Netherlands constabulary force which is more known in the Anglo-Saxon countries. His second but more ceremonial job is as the governor of the city of The Hague. This gives Leijtens responsibility for all the military protocol in his residence- especially on occasions such as the opening of parliament on the third Tuesday of September or royal weddings and funerals.
General Leijtens accepted PoliticsCo’s invitation to come speak at UCU and beforehand The Boomerang was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview him.
“I was closely involved in both the decision-making, developing the operational concept and executing it. Altogether I had more than 100 police officers on site including the unseen commander. We performed a search and rescue and were responsible for security in the area, and we had forensics in the area. I myself was involved by being in the command control centre here in the Netherlands.
Almost everyone you saw on television were my people. It was a delicate situation over there. Very early we decided to move on with the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]. They had the network, they had the position to decide whether it would be safe or not. My officers experienced, in a strange way, a very rewarding contribution to a big disaster but also of course felt the tension and experienced the threat at hand. It was by me being there and hearing explosions and small gun fire, it was on one hand by them being there on a voluntary basis eager to go there and do their job. On the other hand they experienced some personal threat in doing their job.
My men are well trained and know how to handle such an unknown and unexpected situation. But still you feel a bit like your faith is in their hands. At one point you’re shaking hands and having a cup of tea and then at a stage where you’re in a firefight. It’s very volatile. Typically unstable fragile states and especially where clans have a big role – it is very difficult to be assured that they are your comrades when the next day they change sides because that may be more convenient from the clan’s perspective.”
“It’s difficult. You’re there for a mission. The military mission is more important than us. It’s not about us it’s about the mission, always. But of course you make a professional guess about what are the rules here- what are the rules of the game? If you only move according to their rules, then most of the time you won’t get to your objectives. You need to bend the rules, you need to play with their rules. Getting the black box, how did we get to the train where all the bodies were- it’s a bit of bluffing your way in. It’s not about threatening because we were unarmed it’s about convincing. ‘This is what we want, we will do it’.
It sounds a bit discriminatory but especially among Slavic people need to feel the strength of their opponents- without threatening them but you must be self-confident and direct in what you want. In Russia or Ukraine by being direct it means you respect them. By bowing too much or by making yourself small you than you are then they don’t respect you and run over you. We call it a game, but it is trial and error, looking for a way, the right approach. In the end we were able to do what we had liked to do but not in the time schedule we liked because we were forced to leave as the security circumstances changed rather rapidly.
You’re also used by different parties for their benefits. So on one hand the Russians used us, the Ukrainian army used us, the pro-Russian rebels used us, in a way of getting what they wanted to get.
There was a fight between Ukraine armed forces and the pro-Russian rebels and you must be naive to think that because there is a disaster that everyone must step back and let us do our job. It is not a surprise they do, you have to take that in to account during your operation, I mean it would be very naive to think that the moment there is a crash that it creates a neutral zone and nothing will happen. It is still their grounds on which both sides are fighting. They’ll use that vacuum for a couple of days to regroup or to approach the area.”