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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized Monday on behalf of his government for Netherlands’ participation in slavery and the slave trade. However, the apology and recognition are not being met with actionable steps or concrete plans for repair and reparations.
Rutte said, “Today I apologize,” in a 20-minute speech that was greeted with silence by an invited audience at the National Archive.
“For centuries long the Dutch state and its representatives facilitated, stimulated, preserved and profited from slavery,” he said. “For that I offer the apologies of the Dutch government.”
The Netherlands apology marks the first European country to apologize for its historic role in the slave trade. But the move comes amid heated debate and racial controversies that show the European nation still hasn’t come to terms with its colonial past.
BREAKING: The Dutch PM apologized for the Netherlands’ role in slavery, calling it a crime against humanity.
The Dutch enslaved 1.7 million people, with the slave trade funding about 40% of the country’s growth during its “golden age.” Direct reparations were not announced. pic.twitter.com/cXntQ1Q60y
— AJ+ (@ajplus) December 19, 2022
In lieu of reparations, the government is planning to set up a 200 million euro ($213 million) fund for projects that raise awareness of the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to boost education about the issue.
Rutte told reporters after the speech that the government is not offering compensation to “people — grandchildren or great grandchildren of enslaved people.”
All of the racism, none of the reparations
The Netherlands has long been accused of looking the other way when it comes to racism, even when it’s in front of — or smeared onto their faces.
One example is the caricatured racism of Zwarte Piet, the characters in Dutch parades in the run up to Christmas who are traditionally portrayed by White people in blackface.
While Netherlands is the first to admit its wrongdoing, European nations have long tolerated racism in public and even dined in its richness in private.
In 2012, then-Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth cut a slice from a Golliwogg blackface style.
It was reported Adelsohn-Liljeroth looked back at the chuckling crowd and screamed in mock pain while the cake was cut.
Words aren’t enough
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.
In my speech about the role of the Netherlands in the history of slavery I apologised on behalf of the government for the past actions of the Dutch State.
— Mark Rutte (@MinPres) December 19, 2022
NBC News reports Rutte went ahead with the apology even though some activist groups in the Netherlands and its former colonies had urged him to wait until July 1 of next year.
Activists consider next year the 150th anniversary because many enslaved people were forced to continue working in plantations for a decade after abolition. In some minds, this is yet another decision made without the inclusion of Black citizens.
Mitchell Esajas, director of an organization called The Black Archives and a member of activist group Black Manifest, did not attend the speech despite being invited because of what he called the “almost insulting” lack of consultations with the Black community.
“Reparation wasn’t even mentioned,” Esajas said. “So, beautiful words, but it’s not clear what the next concrete steps will be.”