Rutte’s speech today: Apologies for slavery history, or not yet?
It will finally become clear if Prime Minister Mark Rutte's “significant moment” will be an actual apology from the Dutch Cabinet for the country’s past history involving slavery, or whether it will be little more than a “starter pistol” for the commemorative year 2023 in which the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery will be commemorated. After weeks of leaks, anger, dissatisfaction, conversations in the prime minister’s residence, and an urgent visit by Deputy Prime Minister Sigrid Kaag to Suriname to smooth out the wrinkles, Rutte will give a speech at the National Archives in The Hague on Monday afternoon.
So far, Rutte has refused to say whether he will apologize on behalf of the government. For weeks, the prime minister has only talked about the day containing a “meaningful moment.” However, Legal Protection Minister Franc Weerwind seemed to confirm an apology weeks ago. Invitees concerned with the handling of the history of slavery in Suriname and the Caribbean Netherlands were also told in the Catshuis, the prime minister’s official residence, that the Cabinet is committed to formally apologizing on 19 December.
It is precisely that date, as well as the speed at which the Cabinet now seems to be racing towards an apology, that have upset and irritated many people. Many advocates would rather see this happen during Keti Koti on 1 July, the day in which the abolition of slavery is celebrated annually. That date has similar meaning as the Liberation Day celebrations in the Netherlands on 5 May, one of the guests representing Surinamese groups recently said after a conversation in the Cathuis.
Many people also do not understand why the Cabinet is suddenly in such a hurry. It is said that this has to do with the elections for the provincial governments in March, and how that then affects the composition of the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate. The current coalition fears that political relations will then have changed to such an extent that there will no longer be enough political support for an apology.
In addition to the date, it bothers many advocates and representatives that they have not yet been involved in developing the content of an apology, and especially the words used in the statement. One recently said that the government should at least acknowledge and clearly state that the past history of slavery is a crime against humanity.
If apologies are offered on Monday, the question is whether they will be accepted, and by whom. Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs of Sint Maarten has apparently said she would not accept it.
In 2023 it will be exactly 160 years ago that the ten-year phasing out of slavery was announced in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The practice will have fully came to an end 150 years ago.
Reporting by ANP