The Dutch government apologizes for the country’s past slavery

After abolishing slavery, it took almost 160 years for the Netherlands to formally revisit its colonial memory.

On February 17, 2022, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued his first apology for systematic use. extreme cruelty” By the Dutch army against combatants during the period of Indonesian independence between 1945 and 1949. After a few days he ” justify the meaning and experience of former slavery “.

It was in the 17th century, during the conquest of a part of Brazil acquired from the Portuguese, that the Dutch West India Company (WIC), a maritime trading company, became interested in the slave trade. ” WIC also acquires another stronghold in West Africa. Elmina Castle in Ghana becomes a Dutch trading post on the continent where they arrange for slaves to leave. An estimated 600,000 Africans would board Dutch seagoing ships, accounting for about 6% of the slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries. This was reported by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

Symbolic history

The death of George Floyd in 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement have reignited debates in European countries about the colonial past and its legacy. In the same year, Prime Minister Rutte later “decided to establish a commission. a dialogue about former slavery Officials from the Slavery Past Dialogue, whose first report was published in 2021, “ recognize, apologize and make amends » colonial crimes.

The Black Lives Matter movement was a turning point and led to commemorative mobilization in various countries around the question: what to do with this colonial and enslaved past of unequal treatment and inherited discrimination, especially against black people in the public space? ? Says Sébastien Ledoux, researcher in modern history at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, professor of Sciences Po Paris and expert on memory issues.

The Dutch government’s presentation of its measures today is therefore in line with the findings of the Slavery Past Dialogue report. Among them, a fund of 200 million will be financed for the transfer of colonial memory and education in the Netherlands. An additional 27 million will be released for the construction of the slavery museum.

Dutch government representatives will also have to travel to the former Dutch colonies of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Suriname to present the Kingdom’s apologies to the former colonized countries. population. However, the preferred date is disputed. Colonial memory organizations regret that they were not consulted on the choice of the date and are calling for an official apology on July 1, 2023, the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in the former Dutch colonies.

One would assume that this would be done to the satisfaction of both parties, but this is definitely not the case for us.Johan Ruzer, chairman of the National Committee for the Remembrance of Suriname Slavery, told NOS public television.

A thorough knowledge of the past is essential to understanding the evolution of history and its consequences on today’s population. King Willem-Alexander

The royal family

The desire to shed light on the past was echoed even in the royal sphere. King Willem-Alexander launched an independent inquiry in November 2022 into his family’s role in the colonial history of the Netherlands. The research is expected to last three years and will be conducted by Leiden University.

A thorough knowledge of the past is essential to understanding the evolution of history and its consequences on the population today. said King Willem-Iskander, whose ancestors are believed to have had slaves. The Orange-Nassau family is also said to have benefited from the cash flow of the Dutch East India Company, one of the most successful and powerful European trading companies of the 16th century.

Another study will focus on the provenance of items from royal collections. The research will be led by art historian Rudi Eckart and Valika Smeulders from the Rijksmuseum. “ lombok treasure will be especially focused. These gems and gold and silver jewelry have been claimed by Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, for several months.

Indonesia is also demanding the return of eight works of art and natural history collections held in a number of Dutch museums, including the famous Dutch museums.Java man“, has been identified as the first Homo erectus ever exhumed. It consists of fossil remains discovered in 1891 and 1892 by the Dutchman Eugène Dubois on the island of Java, then part of the Dutch East Indies.

Only 35% of the Dutch are in favor of an apology

If the Dutch initiative has attracted international attention, opinion is more divided among the Dutch population. RFI reports that only 35% of Dutch people would support such an apology. A finding shared in other former colonial powers, observes Sebastien Ledoux. “ There is always a section of the population that mobilizes to avoid any pretext politics and thinks that we are in the framework of 200-400 years past and past situation. Unlike the reparations issues mentioned for World War II, this is a matter of a more distant past. the expert explains.

Some historians are surprised that their country can be considered to have a colonial past today. Sébastien Ledoux, Lecturer at Sciences Po Paris and expert on memory issues

The professor continues that recognizing one’s country as a former colonial power is not always clear to others. ” In Spain, for example, disputes arise over the country’s role in the violent colonization of the Americas. Spanish historical issues, even today, revolve above all around Francoism. Some historians are surprised, even in Spain, that their country can be considered to have a colonial past today. »

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