Mayor of Amsterdam apologises for city’s role in the slave trade

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.

Personal responsibility

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.)

READ MORE | Keti Koti and its significance in the Netherlands

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.”

What are your thoughts on Mayor Halsema’s apology? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Alf van Beem/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

Jen Lorimer 🇿🇼
An avid tea drinker, Jen was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She moved to Utrecht in 2017 to pursue her history degree. She loves people-watching, canoeing the Utrecht canals, and observing how the Dutch come alive in summer. Having been traumatised by a Dutch circle party, Jen wants to help equip other internationals with tips and tricks to survive and thrive in this wonderful flat country.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am no fan of Mark Rutte, but at least he is right in not “apologizing” for something he didn’t do. Why doesn’t Halsema apologize for the Amsterdam Council not stopping the Nazi deportation and slaughter of Jewish residents in the 1930-40s? Must be because the Nazis were Socialists, like her … or … because apologizing for something she had absolutely nothing to do with is insane. (Unless it serves to advance Critical Race Theory.)

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