Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Who will speak for the MH17 victims?

By Frida Ghitis
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 came from around the world and held a wide range of hopes and dreams. While the identities of the 298 people aboard have not been release by the airline, CNN has been able to confirm some of them via family, friends and social media. The passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 came from around the world and held a wide range of hopes and dreams. While the identities of the 298 people aboard have not been release by the airline, CNN has been able to confirm some of them via family, friends and social media.
HIDE CAPTION
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 passengers remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 passengers remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 passengers remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nearly 200 of the MH17 victims are from the Netherlands
  • Frida Ghitis: Anger is growing against the pro-Russian separatists
  • She says the Dutch resist impulsiveness, believe in international cooperation
  • Ghitis: Now is the time for Dutch government to lead and press for justice

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The front-page headline put it plainly: "MURDERERS," it accused in huge capital letters, trying to capture the national mood in the Netherlands during a time of grief and anger.

Below the headline the paper printed a photo of scowling, heavily armed pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, men who many believe fired the missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, with support from Vladimir Putin's Russia.

The Dutch government, to no one's surprise, is moving much more cautiously than the populist press -- too cautiously, in the opinion of many, who are taking to social media to demand more forceful action, echoing the words of U.S. President Barack Obama, who called Thursday's disaster "a wake-up call to Europe."

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Not usually known for impulsiveness, the Dutch are demanding that their government respond. No country lost more people on MH17. That puts the Netherlands in a position of moral leadership in the aftermath of the attack. With nearly 200 Dutch citizens on board, it seems almost everyone in the Netherlands has a connection to a passenger on the plane. In a nation of travelers, everyone feels it could have been them or one of their loved ones.

The flags across the country are at half-staff as the magnitude of the loss begins to take shape: An entire family of six wiped away, a leading AIDS researcher, a senator and professor of jurisprudence, a member of parliament along with his wife and daughter -- one son had stayed behind.

One of the most prominent among the Dutch victims was Joep Lange, former president of the International AIDS Society, and a pivotal figure for several decades in the fight against AIDS. He played a key role in developing the treatment protocols that helped HIV patients survive and in making treatment affordable for patients around the world.

Entire family killed in MH17 crash

The majority of the passengers of MH17-- 193 out of 298 -- were Dutch.

Who were the victims?

At the crash site, a Dutch journalist posted photos of the horror. "This probably hurts the most," he tweeted, showing a picture of an "I love Amsterdam" T-shirt resting on the debris field.

One by one, the people of the Netherlands are hearing the names, learning the stories. One elementary school, St. Willibrord, announced the terrible news on its website: "Dear parents and guardians, as you may have already heard, the whole Wals family was on the plane that crashed in Ukraine." Similar announcements are appearing in many villages, in places of work and community centers throughout the country; pictures of youngsters setting out on vacation are surfacing, along with images of the wreckage from the Ukrainian field, the travel guides, the children's stuffed toys.

Now that the names and faces of the victims are being made public, disbelief is giving way to outrage -- mostly targeted at Russian President Vladimir Putin -- along with frustration that the Dutch government is moving too cautiously because of economic concerns. Russia is the Netherlands' third-largest trading partner.

"I'm getting totally sick from the cowardly, spineless focus in business interest," said one online comment. Others, online and in private conversations, offered specific, practical ideas about how to respond.

One suggested expelling the Russian ambassador. Someone else said the crash area should be secured by an international military force while investigators, Dutch and others, do their work.

A Dutch physician who was a classmate of Lange, the AIDS researcher, told me she blames Putin for his role in backing the separatists: "All diplomatic ties with Russia should be suspended until he has been brought to justice. ... This would not have happened if it weren't for him." This, she said, "is our 9/11."

Another, skeptical of her country's ability or willingness to act, said nothing will be done unless the U.S. takes the lead.

Russia has been stirring trouble in Ukraine -- inside Europe -- for many months. Some of us have warned that things would get much worse and suggested economic trip wires, escalating sanctions that will go into effect if Russia makes more military moves. But Putin's bullying tactics have successfully instilled fear of retaliation, particularly in parts of Europe that use Russian gas to stay warm in the winter.

The shooting down of a passenger airliner may now, finally, change the calculus. If this doesn't, what will?

The Netherlands is not yet ready to indict the Russian president or the militias he supports, the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is growing visibly impatient with Putin, and he is undoubtedly feeling domestic pressure.

Opinion: How MH17 disaster backs Russia's Putin into a corner

On Friday he vowed to find and punish the perpetrators. On Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he and Rutte had agreed it's time to reconsider Europe's relations to Russia.

Later, Rutte -- clearly irritated with restrictions on access to the crash site and the "utterly disrespectful behavior" of the gunmen controlling the area -- said he had "an extremely intensive" talk with Putin, warning that time was running out for the Russian president to show he is trying to help.

Each one of the 193 Dutch dead, as well as the 43 Malaysians, 28 Australians, and every single person who died in this atrocity, is a tragedy that shakes their families and their communities. It's a chilling reminder that global politics intersects with human lives, and can do so when and where we least expect it.

The disaster puts the Netherlands in a position that goes against its instincts, but one that it cannot avoid. The Dutch are not warmongers. They are consensus-builders, methodical, averse to impulsiveness. The Netherlands has long hosted many international institutions. The city of The Hague is synonymous with international justice. Dutch cells hold war criminals on behalf of the international community, and courtrooms in the Netherlands are the scene of legal dramas over historic misdeeds.

Surely, the Dutch Prime Minister would feel more comfortable following someone else's lead, voting along with other countries in some international body to condemn someone "in the strongest terms."

But strong words and front page headlines are not enough when 298 civilians are killed in a passenger plane.

This time, the Netherlands stands at the center of an affront against the civilized world. This time, the people of the Netherlands are demanding that their country stand up and acknowledge its role to fulfill. This time, the Netherlands has to lead -- and the rest of the world should urge it to set a course of firm action.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT