Rutte response to defaced statues: "You cannot get rid of history"
Vandalizing statues and monuments built in honor of Dutch historical figures is not a solution in the debate around racial equality, Prime Minister Mark Rutte contested on Friday. Instead, he believes, statues offer an opportunity to reflect on both the positive and the negative aspects of history.
"You cannot say: I will erase a statue. I'll throw it in the IJsselmeer and then that history no longer exists. So recognize that that history is there, see the pluses and minuses, and talk about it," Rutte asserted at a press conference following a meeting with the cabinet.
He also wondered where the line gets drawn. He spoke of the wealth generated from the the 17th through 19th centuries thanks in large part to the Dutch East Indies Company and the country's colonialist history. "You can say, then we are going to destroy all those buildings that we paid for it, the City Hall in Amsterdam, now the Royal Palace, because we are now ashamed. Or do you say, 'It is good to know that these buildings carry a history in relation to their financing,'" he said. He suggested using websites and other means to teach people about history and the context around some iconic buildings.
The Prime Minister's statements come after a group of activists defaced the statues of Piet Hein and Pim Fortuyn and on the Witte de With art center in Rotterdam on Friday. The action was intended to criticize the "glorification of Dutch colonialism" as well as the "martyrdom" of Pim Fortuyn, the activists said.
Similar defacements and removals of statues have been reported across the globe in recent days, with activists demanding an end to symbolism which they believe represents a legacy of hate and oppression.
Rutte, however, who holds a Degree in Dutch history from Leiden University, added at the press conference that while he commiserates with the plight of the activists, an understanding of the historical context should be pursued by all. "Certain statues evoke memories of parts of our history for which we may now be less proud. You need to discuss that and explain that together. You cannot get rid of history," said the Prime Minister.