The Dutch government wrestled with the vexed issue of an apology for slavery on Thursday after groups in former colonies criticised reported plans for one later this month.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after meeting representatives of the groups in The Hague that there would be a “meaningful moment” on the subject on December 19.
But he did not confirm earlier media reports that it would involve a formal apology by Dutch ministers travelling to former colonies, plus funding for a slavery museum.
Groups from former colonies such as Suriname in South America and Caribbean countries have opposed the “arbitrary” December date, and said they were not consulted.
They want any apology to come on July 1, 2023, the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in Dutch-held lands, which had funded an economic and cultural “Golden Age” of the Netherlands.
“You assume it will be done in a way that both parties are satisfied with, but that is absolutely not the case with us,” said Johan Roozer, chairman of the Surinamese National Commemoration of Slavery Remembrance Committee.
He said Rutte wanted to stick to December 19 because of the “changing political situation”, with Dutch far-right parties rising in the polls and opposing any apology.
Rutte said the government wanted to “make a success” of the date and that it was part of a “process”. Rutte also hit out at the “extremely unfortunate” leaking by Dutch media of the date.
The Netherlands has been slowly coming to grips with the legacy of its colonial history and its role in 250 years of slavery in Suriname, Brazil, the Caribbean, Asia and South Africa.
The city of Amsterdam has formally apologised for its role in the slave trade, while the city’s Rijksmuseum last year held the first exhibition confronting the issue.
Slavery helped fund the Dutch “Golden Age” that built Amsterdam’s famed canal houses and produced the art that now fills the Rijksmuseum and other galleries. ©AFP