The King of the Netherlands apologizes for slavery

Repentance and duty of memory. The King of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander issued his official apology on Saturday for the involvement of his country and his dynasty in slavery, saying he was “personally and extremely” touched. “Today I stand before you as a king and a member of the government. Today I apologize to you personally,” Willem-Alexander said to cheers at an event marking 150 years of freeing slaves in the former Dutch colonies, at Amsterdam’s Oosterpark.

Thousands of descendants of people enslaved in the former South American colony of Suriname as well as the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao attended these celebrations. “I feel this deep in my heart and in my soul,” the king said. The slave trade and slavery are recognized as crimes against humanity. “The kings of the House of Orange (from whom the current monarch descends) did nothing to prevent it. Today, I apologize for this inaction,” added Willem-Alexander.

“We need repairs”

Commemorations marking the real end of slavery in the colonies take place every year in Amsterdam, a celebration called “Keti Koti”, or “breaking the chains” in Sranantongo (one of the languages ​​of Suriname). They take on particular significance this year after the government presented an official apology in December for the Netherlands’ slavery past. The audience welcomed the king’s apologies.

“He asked forgiveness from the people of Suriname,” welcomed AFP Abmena Ryssan, 67, present at the ceremony, in a colorful tunic and wearing a traditional headdress adorned with the Surinamese flag. “Maybe now he can do something for black people,” he added. “It’s a start,” said Lulu Helder, a teacher and descendant of slaves, who watched the king’s speech a few kilometers away, broadcast live on national television. “We need reparations,” she said. “He took responsibility, so I forgive him,” said Arnolda Vaal, 50, dressed in traditional slave garb.

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Descendants of enslaved people had asked the king to issue an official apology. Since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, the Netherlands has engaged in an often difficult debate on its colonial past which made it one of the richest countries in the world. Slavery helped fund the Dutch “Golden Age”, a period of prosperity through maritime trade in the 16th and 17th centuries. The country trafficked about 600,000 Africans, mostly to South America and the Caribbean.

The “beginning of a long road”

According to a report commissioned by the Dutch Interior Ministry and published in June, between 1675 and 1770 the colonies brought the royal family the equivalent of 545 million euros, at a time when slavery was widespread. . The current king’s distant ancestors, William III, William IV and William V of Orange-Nassau were among the greatest beneficiaries of what is described in the report as a “deliberate, structural and long-lasting involvement” in slavery.

Prime Minister Rutte presented the government’s official apology in December for the role of the Dutch state in 250 years of slavery, which he described as a “crime against humanity”. In his Christmas speech, the King of the Netherlands had welcomed these apologies, and declared that these were the “beginning of a long road”. While the official abolition of slavery in the Dutch colonies dates back 160 years, its actual application is only 150 years old.

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