Dutch king apologizes for his country’s role in slavery on 150th anniversary of abolition

Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized Saturday for his country’s role in slavery in a historic speech greeted by cheers and hoops at an event to mark the anniversary of the abolition of slavery.

The king’s speech came after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s apology late last year for the country’s role in the slave trade and slavery. It is part of a wider reckoning of colonial history in the West that has been spurred in recent years by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In an emotional speech, Mr Willem-Alexander referred to that apology when he told a crowd of invited guests and spectators: “Today I stand before you. Today, as your King and as a member of the Government, I personally offer this apology. And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and soul.

The flag of Suriname, a former Dutch colony, in a kettle is held above the head of a man leading a procession of people attending the ceremony where Dutch King Willem-Alexander is given a speech, in Amsterdam, Netherlands To give, Saturday, July 1, 2023 at the beginning of a year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery by the Netherlands. , Photo Credit: AP

The king said that he has commissioned a study on the exact role of the royal house of Orange-Nassau in slavery in the Netherlands.

“But today, on this day of remembrance, I apologize for the apparent failure to act in the face of this crime against humanity,” he added.

Willem-Alexander’s voice broke with emotion as he finished his speech before laying a wreath at the country’s national slavery memorial in an Amsterdam park.

Slavery was abolished in Suriname and the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean on July 1, 1863, but most slave laborers were forced to continue working on plantations for another 10 years. Saturday’s commemoration and speech marks the beginning of a year of events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of July 1, 1873.

Research published last month showed the king’s ancestors earned the equivalent of 545 million euros ($595 million) in modern times from slavery, including profits from shares that were effectively gifted to them They went.

When Root apologized in December, he stopped paying compensation to the descendants of enslaved people.

Instead, the government is setting up a 200 million euro ($217 million) fund for initiatives in the Netherlands and its former colonies to tackle the legacy of slavery and improve education about the issue.

That’s not enough for some people in the Netherlands. Two groups, the Black Manifesto and The Black Archives, organized a protest march under the banner “No treatment without reimbursement” ahead of King’s speech on Saturday.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima walk after the king apologized for the royal household's role in slavery and made an apology in a speech at an event to celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery by the Netherlands in July in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  1, 2023.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima walk after the king apologized for the royal household’s role in slavery and made an apology in a speech at an event to celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery by the Netherlands in July in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: VIA Reuters

“Many people, including myself, my group, The Black Archives and Black Manifesto, say an apology is not enough. Forgiveness should be combined with reparation and restorative justice or restitution, said Michele Esajas, director of Black Archives.

Marchers wear colorful traditional clothing in Suriname’s celebration of the abolition of slavery. Organizers said enslaved people were banned from wearing shoes and colored clothes.

“Just as we remember our ancestors on this day, we feel free to wear whatever we want and show the rest of the world that we are free.” said Regina Benecia-van Windt, 72.

The Netherlands’ often brutal colonial history has come under renewed and critical scrutiny following the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

An unprecedented 2021 exhibition at the National Museum of Art and History takes an unflinching look at slavery in the Dutch colonies. In the same year, a report described Dutch participation in slavery as a crime against humanity and linked it to what the report described as ongoing institutional racism in the Netherlands.

The Dutch first became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1500s and became a major trader in the mid-1600s. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest trans-Atlantic slave trader, according to Carvan Fatih-Blak, an expert on Dutch colonial history and assistant professor at Leiden University.

Dutch officials are not alone in expressing regret for historical abuses.

In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century. Belgium’s King Philippe has expressed “deep regret” for the abuse in Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church’s role in slavery. There has been an emotionally charged debate among Americans over the taking down of statues of slaveholders in the South.

In April, King Charles III signaled support for research into Britain’s monarchy’s ties to slavery for the first time, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said, when a document showed an ancestor with shares in a slave-trading company. Was.

Charles and his eldest son, Prince William, have expressed their grief over slavery, but have not acknowledged the crown’s relationship with the business.

During a ceremony marking Barbados becoming a republic two years earlier, Charles referred to “the darkest days of our past and the horrific tyranny of slavery, which forever scars our history.” English settlers used African slaves to turn the island into a prosperous sugar colony.

Willem-Alexander acknowledged that not everyone in the Netherlands supports the apology, but he called for unity.

“There is no blueprint for the process of healing, reconciliation and recovery,” he said. “Together, we are in uncharted territory. So let’s support and guide each other.