The Year of Remembrance for the History of Slavery is Coming to an End, but “The Angel Has Not Been Lifted Yet”

National celebration of slavery’s past at Oosterpark last year

Noos News

  • Anneke Pollack

    Local editor

  • Anneke Pollack

    Local editor

There was hope, emotion and joy in Amsterdam’s Oosterpark as King Willem-Alexander kicked off the Year of Slavery Remembrance on 1 July 2023 with an apology. Now, almost a year later, the mood is very different. “There is no period, no comma, just backwards space with this new government coming in,” says Mitchell Isagas of The Black Archives, a black heritage archive.

In the run-up to the anniversary year, Prime Minister Rutte apologized for the Dutch slavery past. “We do this, on the cusp of an important commemorative year, to find the way forward together,” Rutte said on December 19, 2022. “We share not only the past, but also the future, so today we put a comma, there is no point.”

A fund for the awareness and rehabilitation of the Curaçao-Tula freedom fighter was established, a slavery museum was initiated and a national commemoration committee was established. There were also activities throughout the year, from theater to podcasts, from discussions to music gatherings.

But the proceeds of the commemorative year are viewed to varying degrees within the black community. Isagas’ doubts had already begun with the words of King Willem-Alexander, who at the beginning of the anniversary year asked for forgiveness for his predecessors’ inaction in this crime against humanity. “Ten Kundrai, times have changed,” the king said. “But not in a positive sense,” says Isagas, referring to the arrival of a new government with the Freedom Party as the largest party.

So the question is how the anniversary year will be concluded on July 1 in Oosterpark. The King is not present this year, but Chamber President Bosma (PVV) is present. The man who as an MP indicated last year that he considered the Awareness Fund a gift to left-wing activists.

“It doesn’t matter to me at all, go do something useful with this money. I don’t want to be informed, stop it. The slavery racket has been going on for years. It’s $200 million worth of propaganda and indoctrination.” Bosma said at the time.

Former BIJ1 MP Sylvana Simons, who left the House of Representatives at the end of last year, warned on the eve of the year of celebration that recovery measures are worth more than symbolic words. “The Awareness Fund, the Slavery Museum, and investments in education about the colonial and slavery past are not structural and do not contribute to improving the material reality of descendants,” Simons said. “Awareness is essential, but the group that needs the least awareness is still the most affected by the tangible legacy of slavery.”

The Advisory Board of the Dialogue Group on the History of Slavery also advised in 2021 to work on recognition, apology and healing. These first two points have been achieved, but there is no recovery yet, says former board chairman Dagmar Oudshoorn. “People think about payments when they think about recovery, but it is much broader than that. It is correcting what happened in the past and combating its impact. We are still at the decimal point, not at some point.”

Oudshoorn also sees the danger of having a “backspace,” which is what Esajas is talking about. “We will have to see if there will be a back-distance. Let’s say Chamber President Bosma’s announced presence is a slap in the face to the community for his statements.”

The outgoing Minister of Education, Culture and Science was responsible for commemorating the history of slavery. He is less pessimistic. “For me, this is the most important thing I have witnessed as a minister. Many people felt heard and seen. I feel we have crossed the threshold together. The Prime Minister’s apology and the King’s request for clemency are irrevocable.”

The head of the National Institute for the History and Legacy of Dutch Slavery (NiNsee) Linda Neutmeyer has doubts about whether the ultimate goal of the Year of Remembrance of the History of Slavery has been achieved. “The sting is not over yet, and the social and economic obstacles have not yet been recovered. The rehabilitation of Tula, the museum of slavery that will be created, is good and important. But the question is – in the end of the day “Whether this really helps the most vulnerable.”

For example, she wished more money would go to education, but she considers it positive that €100 million would be allocated to policy intensification. With the arrival of the new government, Neutemeyer hopes he can make progress, especially in local governments. “We will not give up on our shoulders.”

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