By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
AMSTERDAM (Worthy News) – Dutch King Willem-Alexander has apologized for the Netherlands’ involvement in slavery and asked “forgiveness” as his ancestors did not intervene against the system at the time.
Between 1675 and 1770, the Dutch royal family earned more than 545 million euros ($595 million) from colonialism and slavery in today’s exchange rates, according to research by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.
Willem-Alexander spoke at the start of the National Commemoration of Slavery History, remembering that 150 years ago, slavery ended in all Dutch colonies. “Of all the ways in which a person can be robbed of their freedom, slavery is surely the most painful. The most degrading. The most inhuman,” said the monarch.
He said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who apologized for slavery last year. “Today, as your King and as a member of the government, I make this apology myself,” he said, prompting applause from visible emotional
“And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and my soul,” he added on a rainy day in Amsterdam. Willem-Alexander, 56, also acknowledged the role his ancestors in the House of Orange-Nassau played in slavery’s history, saying they did nothing to stop “crimes against humanity.”
The king said he had commissioned a study into the exact role of the royal family in slavery in the Netherlands.
“But today, on this day of remembrance, I ask forgiveness for the clear failure to act in the face of this crime against humanity,” he added.
Willem-Alexander’s voice appeared to break with emotion as he completed his speech before laying a wreath at the country’s national slavery monument in an Amsterdam park.
Yet critics say more must be done for those who still claim to feel the pain of their ancestors working as enslaved people.
When Prime Minister Rutte apologized in December, he stopped short of offering compensation to descendants of enslaved people.
Instead, the government is establishing a 200 million euro ($217 million) fund for initiatives that tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to improve education about the issue.
That isn’t enough for some in the Netherlands. Two groups, Black Manifesto, and The Black Archives, organized a protest march before the king’s speech Saturday under the banner “No healing without reparations.”
The Dutch colonial empire stretched from Suriname in South America to South Africa and Indonesia in Southeast Asia.
The government has acknowledged that for over 300 years, Dutch slave traders abducted and shipped hundreds of thousands of adults and children from Africa to work on plantations as enslaved laborers.
Some 75,000 did not survive the journey to the colonies, where Indigenous people were also enslaved, according to historical records.
The king noted Saturday that many names have gone in the wind, but their struggles and those involved in uprisings against slavery will always be remembered.
It is rare for a Western king to apologize for slavery. Britain’s King Charles, for instance, strongly condemned the practice but never expressed regret about the role of the British royal family in the slavery system.
Separately during a state visit to Congo last year, Belgian King Philippe expressed his “deepest regret” for the misdeeds of the colonial past.
But he declined to use the word “apology,” which was hoped for in the former Belgian colony.
Slavery was officially abolished by the Dutch in Suriname and the Caribbean islands in 1863, but it did not practically end until 10 years later. The royal apology over this wrongdoing was hailed as “historic” by Sylvana Simons, a left-wing lawmaker of Surinamese origin. “The tide is turning,” she said on social networking site Twitter.
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