The public watching the Kingdom-wide, live speech of Prime Minister Mark Rutte on December 19, 2022.
THE HAGUE--The Dutch government is sticking to creating an awareness fund for the Dutch slavery past and is not inclined to go over to reparatory justice compensation.
This became clear during a 10-hour plenary debate in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday about the December 19, 2022, apologies of the Dutch State for its role in the Dutch slavery past and the establishing of a 200-million-euro awareness fund.
Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Hanke Bruins Slot explained that the fund will focus on three themes: knowledge and awareness, recognising and commemorating; the carry-over effect; and the processing of the slavery past.
The minister announced that monuments would also be created in Aruba, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Curaçao and St. Maarten already have slavery monuments. She mentioned the rehabilitation of the Curaçao freedom and resistance fighter Tula and making the colonial archives accessible for Aruba and St. Maarten. These efforts will take place in consultation with the islands, the descendants of enslaved people and involved organisations.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during Wednesday’s debate that he was not in favour of securing the slavery past apologies of the Dutch State in a law. “If you secure that in a law, you will get a legislation procedure, discussions, amendments and you run the risk of your words being changed and getting a different meaning. The objective of the apologies for the historic suffering from the side of government and the step towards reconciliation could be delayed and blurred. We don’t want that. What we do want is to legally establish the awareness fund,” said Rutte.
Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvana Simons of the BIJ1 party had specifically asked to secure the apologies of the Dutch State in a Kingdom Consensus Law, “to make sure that the equal involvement of the communities in question is binding, with special focus on our overseas Kingdom citizens.”
Simons said that the steps announced by the Dutch government, such as an awareness fund, the 29-million-euro National Slavery Museum and investments in education about the colonial and slavery past, were not structural and did not contribute to the “material reality of the descendants.” She said that a National Slavery Museum was “nice”, but that an extended branch in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom was “indispensable”.
MP Inge van Dijk of the Christian Democratic Party CDA said that the focal areas, namely knowledge and awareness, recognising and commemorating, the carry-over effect and processing, were the “right elements”.
Van Dijk said that knowledge was an “important ingredient” to get children and adults acquainted with the slavery past, “being honest about this past, and also about the injustice and pain. [Also critical is – Ed.] knowledge about the carry-over effect into the present, to work together on a better future.” She said the CDA was in favour of an awareness fund which focussed not on compensation for damage from the past, but rather on stopping the damaging effects of the past in the present.
MP Pim van Strien of the liberal democratic VVD party concurred that it was important to increase the knowledge about the slavery past and the Dutch role, and to give it more attention in schools, museums and archives, and to highlight the stories of enslaved people and historic icons, such as Tula.
“This way, we embrace, strengthen and enrich our shared history – connecting, not polarising,” said Van Strien, who noted that for this reason, reparatory justice compensation was an “absolute no-go” for the VVD. “Who would have to pay what to whom? I want a confirmation of government that there will be no reparatory justice payments. Let’s not introduce new demarcations, but build bridges.”
MP Christine Teunissen of the Party for Animals PvdD asked government to make sure that there was sufficient attention for the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom in the awareness fund and the National Slavery Museum. “Apologies will not change the past, but it is an essential step in a national reconciliation process in a Kingdom process between different population groups that share a past. The Kingdom deserves this.”
“We need to continue with recovery,” said MP Jesse Klaver of the green left party GroenLinks. “That comes with a change of attitude. That does not only have to do with policy or money, but how we deal with other countries, especially in the other parts of the Kingdom.” Klaver said that in offering apologies for the colonial past, government should also take into consideration how this past carried over in the present relations with the Caribbean part of the Kingdom.
For the Socialist Party (SP), the apologies came too late and have been polarised for too long, said MP Renske Leijtens. She said that the premise of these apologies was not the shared history, but a single history. “It would be worth a lot for the SP if, after the apologies and after the comma has been set, we can build on a joint history. We do that by also knowing our history.”
MP Don Ceder of the ChristianUnion started his contribution by paying tribute to his ancestors who were enslaved in Suriname. “We all have our own past, but together we jointly give content to our shared future, understanding the past, but also recognising what took place. Not because somebody in the Netherlands today would still be culpable for what happened then, but because the slavery past within many communities in our country and the Kingdom has left a painful scar,” he said.
MP Kati Piri of the Labour Party PvdA said that it was important for the Second Chamber, in the commemoration year of the Dutch abolition of slavery, to give ample attention to the black pages of our history and the carry-over effects in the present, and to talk about giving content to what comes after the comma, as Prime Minister Rutte said in his speech on December 19.
“It is about awareness, recognition and recovery. After the apologies, it is now time to work on reconciliation. It is special to see how resistance heroes are slowly securing a place in the collective consciousness: the Curaçao hero Tula, Boni who led the resistance in Suriname from the jungle, the courageous Virginia Dementiricia in Aruba, the known and unknown heroes who deserve a prominent place in our history books,” said Piri.
MP Salima Belhaj of the Democratic Party D66 said that the apologies of the Dutch State were issued thanks to all past and current resistance fighters. “Without their perseverance, personal offers and conviction, there would have been no apologies. Deep, deep respect for them, for the activists, intellectuals, scientists, politicians, individuals and organisations who have displayed super-human patience at times.”
Rutte expressed his admiration for the Curaçao freedom and resistance fighter Tula. “He was a wise, greatly developed man,” said Rutte, praising Tula for his ability to develop himself with very limited access to methods of knowledge, books and education. “Respect for this man, who also stands for the Marrons, for Jolicoeur, Baron, One-Tété Lohkay and all great names.”