After years of wrestling, the Netherlands wants to apologize for slavery in its former colonies. However, there is controversy and criticism from former colonies about the date of December 19, which has not yet been officially confirmed, and the form of the apology. In the 19th century, the Netherlands were the third largest colonial power in the world.
The fact that Franc Weerwind, a Dutch minister who is himself a descendant of slaves, is said to be in the former colony of Suriname on December 19 caused a stir. In Suriname, this was met with criticism, a representative of the Surinamese organization for the memory of slavery in the Netherlands demanded that "a white person" in Suriname should apologize, the media reported. The small state on the northeast coast of South America became independent in 1975 and has around 600,000 inhabitants.
Surinamese clubs want a different date
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that Weerwind's visit would be maintained. The color of a minister's skin could not play a role in a gesture related to slavery. In order to calm things down and to discuss the planned gesture of apology, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag will travel to Suriname in the coming week, her ministry confirmed to broadcaster NOS on Sunday.
Prime Minister Rutte has so far left open what is to happen on December 19th. It was made public that, in addition to an apology from the government, various ministers should also travel to former colonies on the day to apologize on site. Explaining the planned gesture in advance would partially destroy it, Rutte explained.
Meanwhile, Surinamese associations want to use an urgent procedure to ensure that the apology is not made on an arbitrary date but on July 1 next year, 160 years after the Netherlands officially abolished slavery. They also do not feel involved, as reported by the ANP news agency.
Claims on Dutch state and society
Interest groups submitted a list of demands to the government. The acknowledgment of slavery, apologies and reparations should be enshrined in law, the organizations find, as the broadcaster NOS reported on Saturday. The government must also take care of combating discrimination against the descendants of slaves that is still having an impact today. The use of the so-called N-word must be punishable, and the "Zwarte Piet" (Black Peter), the Dutch version of Knecht Ruprecht, must be banned. The Netherlands should also cancel debts to the Caribbean islands and Suriname. The term N-word describes a racist term for black people that used to be used in the past.
Next year the Netherlands will commemorate the end of slavery. Above all, descendants of slaves and residents of the former colonies had campaigned for an apology. For years, Prime Minister Rutte's government had refused. A commission set up by the government then declared in July that the Netherlands had to apologize and actively work to combat the consequences, such as racism.