During her speech at the Amsterdam Slavery Commemoration yesterday, Mayor Femke Halsema offered a formal apology for the city’s involvement in the Dutch slave trade and the suffering that slavery caused.
Mayor Halsema made it clear that the Executive Board of the city acknowledges their predecessors personal responsibility in the slave trade, reports NOS.
She said in her speech that, “I, on behalf of the Executive Board, apologise for the active involvement of the Amsterdam city council in the commercial system of colonial slavery and the worldwide trade in enslaved people.”
She added that it is time to recognise the role that the injustice of slavery plays in the identity of the city. This is a watershed moment, as Amsterdam is the first municipality in the Netherlands to take this step.
In her speech, Halsema made it clear that Amsterdam is apologising on behalf of the city administrators as opposed to the residents, because the administrators played a personal and major role in slavery and in opposing abolition.
Co-owner of Suriname
Amsterdam was the co-owner of the colony of Suriname (say whaatt!) Historian Pepijn Brandon tells the NOS that “the city council was therefore directly responsible for the administration of the colony.” As a result, private and administrative interests merged, leading important Amsterdam policy makers to become major investors in slavery.
Nevertheless, Halsema emphasised that “not a single Amsterdammer living now is to blame for the past.”
A visible and invisible legacy
According to Halsema, “In the 18th century, 40% of the economic growth came from slavery. In Amsterdam, almost everyone benefited from the colony of Suriname.”
This legacy is visible today in the city’s wealth of art and historic canal belt. However, Halsema emphasises that the inequality and exploitation that enabled this is much less visible and has been ignored for a long time.
Slavery was formally abolished in Suriname and the Caribbean on July 1 1863. There is a movement to commemorate this day with a public holiday, known as Keti Koti (or KetiKoti.)
Report by an advisory board
Amsterdam city council first approached the Municipal Executive to apologise in 2019. However, the Executive first wanted to investigate what role the municipality had played in the slave trade.
A report published last year highlighted the Amsterdam city council’s direct and large-scale involvement over a long period of time.
Similar moves being made in other major cities
Rotterdam and Utrecht have also carried out similar investigations, and research about their involvement. In The Hague this is still on-going. The municipality of Rotterdam found that administrators and entrepreneurs from the city were closely involved in the slave trade for centuries.
Rotterdam is also considering an apology and is in contact with the municipality of Amsterdam about this.
A national apology?
Activists have long been calling for a national apology. But prime minister Mark Rutte has declined, saying that slavery was a long time ago and that debates about an apology would “drive contradictions.”
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Feature Image: Alf van Beem/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.