Dutch PM Apologizes For Netherlands’ Role In Slave Trade – NPR
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized Monday on behalf of his government for the Netherlands’ role in slavery and the slave trade, in a speech activists called historic. but lacking concrete repair plans.
“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech that was met with silence by an invited audience at the National Archives.
Before the speech, Waldo Koendjbiharie, a retiree who was born in Suriname but lived for years in the Netherlands, said an apology was not enough.
“It’s about money. Apologies are words and nothing can be bought with those words,” she said.
Rutte told reporters after the speech that the government does not offer compensation to “individuals, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of enslaved persons.”
Instead, it is establishing a $212 million fund for initiatives to help address the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to boost education on the issue.
Rutte apologized “for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all the enslaved people around the world who have suffered those actions, to their daughters and sons, and to all their descendants here and now.”
Describing how Dutch slave traders shipped more than 600,000 African men, women and children, “like cattle”, mostly to the former colony of Suriname, Rutte said the story is often “ugly, painful and even downright embarrassing.” .
Rutte went ahead with the apology even though some activist groups in the Netherlands and its former colonies had urged him to wait until July 1 next year, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery 160 years ago, and said no. they had been sufficiently consulted in the process leading up to the speech. Activists consider next year the 150th anniversary because many enslaved people were forced to continue working on plantations for a decade after abolition.
Mitchell Esajas, director of an organization called The Black Archives and a member of the Black Manifest activist group, did not attend the speech despite being invited due to what he called an “almost insulting” lack of consultation with the black community.
He said it was a historic moment but regretted the lack of a concrete repair plan.
“The repair was not even mentioned,” Esajas said. “So, beautiful words, but it’s not clear what the next concrete steps will be.”
Rutte delivered his speech at a time when the brutal colonial histories of many nations have received critical scrutiny due to the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of George Floyd, a black man, in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
The prime minister’s speech was a response to a report released last year by a government-appointed advisory board. Its recommendations included the government’s apology and acknowledgment that the slave trade and slavery from the 17th century until abolition “which occurred directly or indirectly under Dutch authority were crimes against humanity.”
The report said that what it called institutional racism in the Netherlands “cannot be seen in isolation from centuries of slavery and colonialism and the ideas that have emerged in this context.”
Dutch ministers fanned out on Monday to discuss the issue in Suriname and the former colonies that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, as well as three Caribbean islands that are officially special municipalities in the Netherlands, Bonaire , St Eustatius and Saba. .
In Suriname, the small South American nation where Dutch plantation owners made huge profits through the use of slave labor, the largest opposition party, NDP, condemned the Dutch government for failing to properly consult the descendants of people enslaved in the country. . Activists in the country say that what is really needed is compensation.
“Therefore, the NDP expresses its disapproval of this one-sided decision-making process and notes that the Netherlands is comfortably assuming the role of motherland again,” the party said in a statement.
The year beginning July 1, 2023 will be a slavery memorial year in which the Netherlands “will pause to reflect on this painful history. And how this history still plays a negative role in the lives of many today.” says the government.
The Dutch first became involved in the transatlantic slave trade in the late 16th century and became major traders in the mid-17th century. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest transatlantic slave trader, said Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert on Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University.
In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. In June, King Philippe of Belgium expressed his “deepest regret” over the abuses in the Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the church’s role in slavery. Americans have had emotionally charged fights over tearing down statues of slavers in the South.
Now the Netherlands has joined their ranks.
But for some in the black community, the remarkable day was tinged with disappointment.
“For many people, it’s a very beautiful and historic moment but with, in Dutch we say, a bitter taste… and it should have been a historic moment with a sweet taste,” Esajas said.