The King of the Netherlands apologizes for his country’s role in slavery on the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Dutch King Willem-Alexander on Saturday apologized for his country’s role in slavery and pleaded in a historic speech that was greeted with cheers and cheers at an event commemorating the anniversary of the abolition of slavery for forgiveness.

The king’s speech followed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s apology late last year for the country’s role in the slave trade and slavery. It is part of a broader exploration of colonial history in the West that has been fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years.

In an emotional speech, Willem-Alexander referred to this apology when he said in front of invited guests and spectators: “Today I stand before you. Today, as your King and as a Member of Government, I apologize to myself. And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and soul.”

The King said he had commissioned a study into the exact role of the Royal House of Orange-Nassau in slavery in the Netherlands.

“But today, on this Memorial Day, I ask forgiveness for the apparent inaction in the face of this crime against humanity,” he added.

Willem-Alexander’s voice seemed to break with emotion as he finished his speech before laying a wreath at the country’s national slavery memorial in an Amsterdam park.

Some people want words to be backed up by actions.

“Honestly, I’m feeling good, but I’m still looking forward to something more than an apology. For example, reparations,” said 28-year-old Doelja Refos.

“I don’t feel like we’re done. We’re definitely not there yet,” Refos added.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized for the role of royalty in slavery and asked for forgiveness.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized for the role of royalty in slavery and asked for forgiveness.

Peter Dejong via Associated Press

Former MP John Leerdam told Dutch broadcaster NOS that tears ran down his cheeks when the king apologized. “It’s a historic moment and we have to recognize that,” he said.

On July 1, 1863, slavery was abolished in Suriname and the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean, but most of the enslaved laborers were forced to work on the plantations for another ten years. Saturday’s memorial service and speech mark the beginning of a year of events to mark the 150th anniversary of July 1, 1873.

Research published last month showed that the king’s ancestors made what is now the equivalent of 545 million euros ($595 million) from slavery, including profits from stocks that were effectively gifted to them.

When Rutte apologized in December, he refrained from offering compensation to the descendants of enslaved people.

Instead, the government is setting up a €200 million fund for initiatives that address the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and improve education on the issue.

That’s not enough for some in the Netherlands. Two groups, Black Manifesto and The Black Archives, organized a protest march ahead of the King’s speech on Saturday, themed “No Healing Without Reparation”.

“A lot of people, including myself, my group, The Black Archives and Black Manifesto, say that an apology is not enough. An apology should be accompanied by some form of redemption and redemption or redemption,” said Mitchell Esajas, director of the Black Archives.

Demonstrators dressed in colorful traditional clothing at a Surinamese celebration of the abolition of slavery. The enslaved people are forbidden from wearing shoes and colorful clothing, organizers said.

“As we commemorate our ancestors on this day, we also feel free, we can wear what we want and we can show the rest of the world that we are free,” said Regina Benescia-van Windt, 72.

The often brutal colonial history of the Netherlands has again come under critical scrutiny following the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement.

A groundbreaking exhibition at the National Museum of Art and History in 2021 took an unflinching look at slavery in Dutch colonies. In the same year, a report described Dutch involvement in slavery as a crime against humanity and linked it to the ongoing institutional racism in the Netherlands described in the report.

The Dutch first became involved in the transatlantic slave trade in the late 15th century and became a major trader in the mid-17th century. According to Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert on Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University, the Dutch West India Company eventually became the largest transatlantic slave trader.

Authorities in the Netherlands aren’t the only ones apologizing for historic abuses.

In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries. King Philippe of Belgium has expressed his “deepest regret” at the abuses in Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church’s role in slavery. Americans had emotionally charged arguments over the destruction of statues of slave owners in the South.

In April, King Charles III signaled for the first time his support for research into the British monarchy’s links to slavery after a document identified an ancestor with shares in a slave-trading company, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.

Charles and his eldest son, Prince William, have expressed their sadness at slavery but failed to acknowledge the Crown’s ties to trade.

During a ceremony at which Barbados became a republic two years ago, Charles referred to “the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery that stains our history forever”. English settlers used African slaves to turn the island into a prosperous sugar colony.

Willem-Alexander acknowledged that not everyone in the Netherlands supports an apology but called for unity.

“There is no blueprint for the process of healing, reconciliation and recovery,” he said. “Together we are breaking new ground. So let’s support and guide each other.”

Mike Corder reported from Ede, Netherlands.

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