The mayor of Amsterdam apologized for the significant involvement of former governors in the global slave trade, saying the time has come for the city to confront its dark history.
The debate over the city’s role in the slave trade has been going on for years, but has drawn more attention amid the global toll of racial injustice that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“It is time to engrave the great injustice of colonial slavery in the identity of our city. With generous and unconditional gratitude, ”said 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 Amsterdam resident living today is to blame for the past”.
The Dutch government has in the past expressed deep regret for the nation’s historic role in slavery, but stopped before issuing a formal apology. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last year that such an apology could polarize society.
An independent commission that has discussed the issue in recent months released a report Thursday advising the central government to apologize, saying it “would help heal historic suffering.”
Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren attended the ceremony in Amsterdam where the mayor spoke but did not directly comment on the government’s call for an apology.
Patrick Mathurin, a black activist and actor, said that some in the Netherlands have tried to ignore the country’s colonial past, “but through our activism we have forced them to watch it. And also what happened, of course, with George Floyd made everything… evolve faster.
Halsema said history cast a shadow that stretches to the present day. “City officials and the ruling elite who, in their thirst for profit and power, participated in the enslaved trade, thus established a system of oppression based on skin color and race,” she declared. “The past from which our city still draws its distinctive commercial spirit is therefore inseparable from the persistent racism that still simmers. “
She closed her speech with these words: “On behalf of the College of Mayors and Aldermen, I apologize. Cheers and applause erupted from the small group of guests seated in socially distant white chairs.
The apology was presented at an annual ceremony marking the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colonies of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles on July 1, 1863. The anniversary is now known as Keti Koti (Broken chains).
Halsema said the research showed that “from the late 16th century until the 19th century, Amsterdam’s involvement was direct, global, large-scale, multifaceted and prolonged.”
The municipality of Amsterdam is not the only one to apologize for its role in slavery. In 2007, the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, gave a touching speech to apologize for the city’s involvement.
The Dutch national museum, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is currently organizing an exhibition, Slavery, which examines the country’s role in the slave trade.