Netherlands Facing Intense Debate About Slavery (Worthy News Radio In-depth)

Thursday, January 12, 2023 | Tag Cloud Tags: , ,

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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from the Netherlands

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (Worthy News) – The Netherlands entered the New Year with an intense debate about slavery after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized for what he called a “crime against humanity.” Rutte’s historic remarks came ahead of the 150th anniversary of liberation from slavery, despite warnings that not everyone is pleased with the apology for centuries of the slave trade in this seafaring nation.

“Today, I apologize,” Rutte told a selective crowd in televised remarks. His words reverberated in English, Sranantongo, Papiamento, and Dutch through the national archives in The Hague.

Liberal Rutte apologized for his country’s role in the slave trade. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch traders shipped up to 600,000 Africans to the country’s colonies in South America and the Caribbean, according to historical records.

As many or more Asians were enslaved in the East Indies – modern-day Indonesia.

In a historic speech, Rutte said that for centuries the Dutch state facilitated, encouraged, and profited from slavery. And he noted that human beings “were made into commodities, exploited and abused.”

Rutte said his cabinet would allocate more than 200 million euros to awareness campaigns about the issue and a museum.


And he noted that the descendants of enslaved people were still suffering, including facing obstacles such as discrimination. “So please let us speak about the Netherlands’ role in the history of slavery, even if it is a difficult conversation. I want to acknowledge the terrible suffering inflicted on generations of enslaved people. Acknowledgment and rehabilitation of all those who put up resistance. And, of course, acknowledgment of historical responsibility,” Rutte stressed.

Rutte recalled that even after slavery was abolished in 1863, successive Dutch governments “failed to see adequately and acknowledge the harmful effects of the country’s slavery past.

Each year, on July 1, the descendants of enslaved people celebrate “Keti Koti,” which means “Breaking the Chains” in the Sranan Tongo language of Suriname, which became independent from the Netherlands in 1975.

A similar procession will be held this year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of liberation.

The Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1863. But slaves in Suriname would only be entirely free a decade later as Dutch authorities imposed a mandatory 10-year transition.

Yet, Surinamese people living in the Netherlands have mixed feelings about Rutte’s apology, including Randolph Leiton.


He said Rutte’s words had done little to ease the pain of the enslaved people’s descendants. “Those apologies, they came too late. There is so much suffering and hatred in the people about slavery that it cannot be settled in one day, one date,” Leiton argued.

“It will take time. Whether it will ever be ok is the question. There is still a lot of discrimination there. And the people of the Netherlands are not aware of slavery because it was simply not taught at school. So the children do not know what slavery is,” he added.

Others fear that former colonies might claim billion of euros in compensation from Dutch taxpayers.

That’s why Waldo Koendjbiharie wasn’t happy about Rutte’s speech. “Everything in the world is about money. People want to be compensated, don’t they? But it’s been so long. Those people have not experienced slavery themselves, but everyone is standing up right now to claim compensation,” he complained.

However, Sylvana Simons, a prominent Surinamese-born Dutch politician, and former television presenter, was visibly moved after hearing Rutte’s apology. “These words came with a certain amount of sincerity. The comments came 160 years too late but were really necessary. Just a year and a half ago, he didn’t see the point of apologizing. Therefore, this statement was invaluable, not only for me but especially for the generations before me,” she said.

The Dutch government had previously expressed deep regret for the nation’s historical role in slavery but stopped short of a formal apology. It’s now hoping Rutte’s apology will help overcome deep-rooted differences in the Netherlands.

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