Dutch Central Bank and province of Noord-Holland apologize for historic roles in slavery
On Friday's national commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) and province of Noord-Holland both apologized for their roles in slavery in the 19th century. This makes Noord-Holland the first province to offer an apology.
Commissioner of the King of the province, Arthur van Dijk, offered the apology on behalf of Noord-Holland at the opening of an exhibition about slavery in the provincial house in Haarlem. He directed his words to "the descendants of the enslaved, people who still experience the injustice of that time today," saying "we distance ourselves" from what Dutch authorities did to innocent people at the time.
"As a province, we want to look openly into the past because in a free and democratic country there is and must be room for everyone's story," Van Dijk said. "Certainly if that story is still too little known and recognized and still hurts, generation to generation. We do this not only by making excuses, but by looking to the future together, learning from the past, talk a lot about it, listen carefully to each other and give each other space."
In his speech, the commissioner also considered the history of enslavement of the provincial government, Paviljoen Welgelegen. It was built at the end of the 18th century as the country house of the wealthy banker Henry Hope. Research commissioned by the province showed that Hope earned money from loans to plantations in the Caribbean, among other things, and that the pavilion was built with money that was partly earned by slavery.
The provincial house "symbolizes the light and the dark from our past. And it also says something about our future: because the choice for light and dark is there every day. And that choice is ours," Van Dijk said.
Earlier this year, historians released research findings showing that DNB was involved in slavery in various ways. At a commemoration in Amsterdam on Friday, DNB President Klaas Knot apologized to all descendants of enslaved people.
"Apologies to all the people who were reduced to their skin color by the personal choices of my predecessors. In recent months I heard many personal stories, stories about suffering, but also about resistance and struggle. What I learned, what I heard, hurt me. It brought the suffering of then and now very close," Knot said. "The conversations I had made it clear that the suffering of a long time ago is far from over. That that battle is far from over."
DNB will not give financial compensation for damage suffered in the past. "The question is whether the suffering that was caused a few hundred years ago, or whether that could be compensated," Knot said afterwards. "But as far as compensation should be, then that is more in the path of the government, and not in the path of DNB. Because slavery as a whole is much greater than DNB's involvement."
The bank did, however, set up a fund for projects that help reduce the impact of the slavery history, which includes an amount of 5 million euros for the next 10 years. An additional 5 million euros will also go to one-off projects with an educational purpose, such as the National Slavery Museum, and DNB wants to make its own organizations more diverse and inclusive.
Researchers from Leiden University concluded in February that DNB's seed capital, founded in 1814, partly came from entrepreneurs with direct interests in plantation slavery. Some central bank administrators were themselves involved in running plantations where enslaved people worked. DNB also received goods made using slave labor as collateral for loans and facilitated compensation payments to slave owners.
Knot said in February that the conclusions were solid. However, DNB did not immediately apologize, because the institution first wanted to hold discussions with its own employees and civil society organisations. According to DNB, slavery has created arrears that are "difficult to catch up."
After large-scale anti-racism protests in June 2020, the Provincial Council of Noord-Holland adopted a motion to draw attention to racism, discrimination and the history of slavery within the province as well.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times