Fresh start

Fresh start

The report on historical artefacts from St. Eustatius being used for a slavery exhibition at the newly-restored “Rijksmusuem” in Amsterdam (see related story) is inspiring for several reasons. First, it reflects an increasing acknowledgement from the Netherlands of major involvement in this shameful practice as well as its impact on the European country’s development and that of its colonies at the time.

According to historian Walter Hellebrand, Statia’s role was significant, with more enslaved people on the island during the late 1700s than its current population. To have that widely recognised at a kingdom level via the Dutch national historical museum is certainly relevant in terms of promoting cultural identity.

It can also add to the growing reputation of St. Eustatius as a heritage tourism destination. The island’s special relationship with the United States plays a major part in that, having been the first territory to salute the newly-declared-independent country’s flag on November 16, 1776.

The next Statia-America Day is around the corner, but the milestone 250th anniversary will be in 2026. There have been proposals to make it a big deal and even invite as guests of honour King of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander and the US President, whoever that might be by then.

Those concerned might want to rekindle those plans during the annual commemorations in 10 days, because the idea can have major long-term benefits. Such an event would be sure to get some publicity in both nations and beyond, putting “the Golden Rock” in the spotlight as a place where one can see, experience and learn interesting things, offering more than sun, sea and sand.

Another positive development was Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops saying while on the island that he looks forward to restoring democracy there, although the same party and most persons who were in power when the Netherlands intervened and took over the local administration in February 2018 earned three of the five Island Council seats in last month’s election. This indicates a willingness on his part to make a fresh start regardless, and the same can be said about statements by the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) majority faction.

Let bygones be bygones.