By Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized Monday on behalf of his government for the Netherlands’ role in slavery and the slave trade, in a speech welcomed by activists as historic but lacking in concrete plans for repair and reparations.
“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech that was greeted with silence by an invited audience at the National Archive.
Ahead of the speech, Waldo Koendjbiharie, a retiree who was born in Suriname but lived for years in the Netherlands, said an apology was not enough. “It’s about money. Apologies are words and with those words you can’t buy anything,” he said.
Rutte told reporters after the speech that the government is not offering compensation to “people — grandchildren or great grandchildren of enslaved people.”
Instead, it is establishing a 200 million-euro ($212 million) fund for initiatives to help tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to boost education about the issue.
Rutte apologized “for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all enslaved people worldwide who have suffered from those actions, to their daughters and sons, and to all their descendants into the here and now.”
Dutch ministers fanned out Monday to discuss the issue in Suriname and former colonies that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands — Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten as well as three Caribbean islands that are officially special municipalities in the Netherlands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.
In Suriname, , the small South American nation where Dutch plantation owners generated huge profits through the use of enslaved labor, the largest opposition party, NDP, condemned the Dutch government for failing to adequately consult descendants of enslaved people in the country. Activists in the country say that what’s really needed is compensation.
“The NDP therefore expresses its disapproval of this unilateral decision-making process and notes that the Netherlands is comfortably taking on the role of the mother country again,” the party said in a statement.
The year starting July 1, 2023, will be a slavery memorial year in which the Netherlands “will pause to reflect on this painful history. And on how this history still plays a negative role in the lives of many today,” the government says.
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, said Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert in Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University.
In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. In June, King Philippe of Belgium expressed “deepest regrets” for abuses in Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the church’s role in slavery. Americans have had emotionally charged fights over taking down statues of slaveholders in the South.
Now the Netherlands has joined their ranks.
But for some in the Black community, the notable day was tinged with disappointment. “For a lot of people, it’s a very beautiful and historic moment but with — in Dutch we say — a bitter taste … and it should have been a historic moment with a sweet taste,” Esajas said.