O, o, Den Haag

To close out my summer at International IDEA, I completed two last projects. The first project was a report on Burkina Faso, where military leaders staged a coup in January 2022. Before researching current events, I dove into the West African nation’s modern history. Unfortunately, the Burkinabè people are all too familiar with political instability. Since Burkina Faso attained independence from France in 1960, it has experienced eight coups, four constitutions, and numerous periods of civil unrest, including one popular revolution.

One fact that stuck out to me as I researched Burkina Faso was how high voter participation was in the 1960s and 1970s during the First and Second Republics. Even though these regimes had many flaws – the former was dominated by an authoritarian demagogue and the latter saw partisan polarization paralyze the country – the people of Burkina Faso believed the political system had something to offer. However, as military coups became more common and political pluralism slowly died, most voters abandoned the political process. Even when multiparty politics returned under the Fourth Republic in 1991, political pessimism dominated as electoral fraud and voter intimidation plagued the country. It was only in 2014, when a popular uprising deposed the authoritarian president who had governed the country since 1987, that hope seemed to return to Burkinabè politics. However, the promise of 2014 remains largely unfulfilled, and the latest coup (and the muted response from civil society) demonstrates the civilian government’s inability (or unwillingness) to deliver for the people.

After completing my research on Burkina Faso, I worked on ConstitutionNet profiles for the Western Balkans countries currently unrepresented on the site: Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, and Serbia. For this task, I built on my earlier research on the countries’ constitutional histories. Once finished, I was done with my work at IDEA, and it was time to say goodbye to my coworkers and leave Den Haag.

Looking back on this summer, I can confidently say it has been one of the most fulfilling and exciting experiences of my life. I loved researching so many different topics and working on a diverse range of projects. Working in IDEA’s Constitution-Building Program has left me with a deeper understanding of the importance of constitutions and the powerful impact they can have on all aspects of politics, from climate policy to partisan polarization. However, I have also seen how constitutions can fail: civilian governments can fall to military coups, authoritarian leaders can subvert the rule of law, and the messy realities of international and domestic politics can prevent action on urgent issues. The lessons I have learned this summer will make me a better lawyer in my future career, but they will also make me a better-informed voter and a more committed global citizen.

As for Den Haag and the Netherlands, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this charming yet unmistakably modern country. After ten weeks in Den Haag, it feels a little like a home away from home, and I look forward to returning to the Netherlands someday and seeing the things I didn’t have time for as well as revisiting my favorite spots. As I left the Netherlands to return to the United States, the chorus of the iconic 1982 song “O, o, Den Haag” echoed in my mind:

O, o, Den Haag
Mooie stad achter de duinen
De Schilderswijk, de Lange Poten
En het Plein
O, o, Den Haag
Ik zou met niemand willen ruilen
Meteen gaan huilen
Als ik geen Hagenees zou zijn