Joy but also criticism after king’s formal apology for Dutch history of slavery

King Willem-Alexander apologized for the Netherlands’ role in the history of slavery in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark on Saturday. The Dutch king gave a speech on the occasion of the National Commemoration of Slavery Past. Although the speech was met with much applause, there were also critical voices who had hoped for more.

Members of the Dutch parliament who attended the commemoration of slavery in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark were impressed by King Willem-Alexander’s speech. Following Prime Minister Mark Rutte in December, the monarch apologized for the Dutch history of slavery.

Don Ceder (Christian Union) spoke of a “historic moment.” He said that he saw many people shed a tear when the king apologized. Prime Minister Mark Rutte had done likewise earlier. But the king “also represents the institution that has been the highest authority for centuries,” Ceder said. The fact that he is now repeating those apologies is “not only beautiful, but it also has a healing effect. I think it has really unleashed something”.

D66 member Jorien Wuite took Willem-Alexander’s speech with a “warm heart.” “I think we made history together today,” she said. This also sets the tone for the Netherlands internationally, she believes. Wuite also pointed to the king’s prominent position in the Caribbean part of the kingdom. “We should not underestimate that. When it (the apology) comes out of his mouth, it has even more meaning.”

Also, Curaçao Prime Minister Gilmar “Pik” Pisas said in his speech on Saturday during the commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Curaçao that the apology by the Netherlands “represents a historic moment and is a recognition of past suffering and pain.” He also praised the king’s call for forgiveness. “We appreciate it very much,” he said.

According to Pisas, the Netherlands has shown “courage and a sense of responsibility” to “address painful issues from the past,” and called the apologies an important change in relations between Curaçao and the Netherlands.

Now, he said, the country must work on social stability. The Minister of Education, Culture, Science, and Culture of Curaçao, Sithree van Heydoorn, also expressed his views in this direction in his speech. He said that “for a long time we in Curaçao did not talk about the dark period of slavery. Some even downplayed the horrors and ridiculed the period.”

But that has now changed. There is change. Curaçao is stepping out of the shadow of the past, says Van Heydoorn. According to him, apologies from the Netherlands are an important part of that.

“This is not only a historic moment in the existence of the Netherlands, but also an incredibly emotional one,” said Rabin Baldewsingh, the National Coordinator Against Discrimination and Racism (NCDR) in a response to King Willem-Alexander’s apology for the Netherlands’ slavery past.

“Of course it’s striking that he apologized,” Baldewsingh said. “But what really touched me is that our king dared to make himself so small here in public and ask for forgiveness. I was very touched by that forgiveness. For me, the king is the embodiment of change, of a changing time. What I also liked very much was that he really tried to involve and bring along the whole Netherlands, even those who have doubts.

The king’s apology also led to calls for more action. For instance, activist Jerry Afriyie of the Netherlands Becomes Better Foundation said after the ceremony that the Dutch king “put the dots on the i” during the National Commemoration of Slavery History in Amsterdam. “Now it is up to all of us, but especially the politicians, to press ahead and ensure that it is not just words, but that it is also translated into deeds,” Afriyie stressed.

Also among the visitors who attended Willem-Alexander’s speech in Amsterdam were skeptics who wanted to see more action. “The words don’t mean much to me. I want to see action first. Maybe it will mean something to me afterwards. It would have been nicer if the king had promised something concrete, or had already done so,” said one listener.

Reporting by ANP

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