The mayor of Amsterdam has apologised for former governors’ extensive involvement in the global slave trade, saying the moment had come for the city to confront its grim history.
Debate about the city’s role in the slave trade has been going on for years but has gained more attention amid the global reckoning with racial injustice that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“It is time to engrave the great injustice of colonial slavery into our city’s identity. With big-hearted and unconditional recognition,” said the mayor, Femke Halsema. “Because we want to be a government for those for whom the past is painful and its legacy a burden.”
She stressed that “not a single Amsterdammer alive today is to blame for the past”.
The Dutch government has in the past expressed deep regret for the nation’s historical role in slavery, but has stopped short of a formal apology. The prime minister, Mark Rutte, said last year that such an apology could polarise society.Advertisementhttps://9dce8e19bbb1563cd63a13a2800b21a7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
An independent commission that discussed the issue in recent months issued a report on Thursday advising the central government to apologise, saying it would “help heal historic suffering”.
The interior minister, Kajsa Ollongren, attended the ceremony in Amsterdam where the mayor spoke but did not comment directly on the call for a government apology.
Patrick Mathurin, a black activist and actor, said some in the Netherlands tried to ignore the country’s colonial past, “but through our activism, we forced them to look at it. And also what happened, of course, with George Floyd made it all … evolve faster.”
Halsema said history cast a shadow that reached into the present day. “The city officials and the ruling elite who, in their hunger for profit and power, participated in the trade in enslaved people, in doing so entrenched a system of oppression based on skin colour and race,” she said. “The past from which our city still draws its distinctive commercial spirit is therefore indivisible from the persistent racism that still festers.”
She closed her speech with the words: “On behalf of the College of Mayor and Alderpersons, I apologise.” Cheers and applause erupted from the small group of invited guests sitting on socially distanced white chairs.
The apology came during an annual ceremony marking the abolition of slavery in Dutch colonies in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles on 1 July 1863. The anniversary is now known as Keti Koti (Chains Broken).
Halsema said research showed that “from the end of the 16th century until well into the 19th century, Amsterdam’s involvement was direct, worldwide, large-scale, multifaceted and protracted.”
Amsterdam municipality is not alone in apologising for its role in slavery. In 2007 the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, made an emotional speech apologising for the city’s involvement.
The Dutch national museum, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is currently staging an exhibition, Slavery, examining the country’s role in the slave trade.
Source : The Guardian