‘Important to observe, recognise slavery past’

AMSTERDAM–Saturday marked the 154th year of the abolition of slavery by the Netherlands. Traditionally, Amsterdam observed the history that it shares with Suriname and the former Netherlands Antilles. Speakers made a call for recognition of this dark piece of history and the immense suffering that it has caused, and to keep fighting racism and exclusion.

Hundreds of people, mostly hailing from Suriname, gathered at the national slavery monument in Oosterpark, listened to caretaker Minister of Security and Justice Stef Blok, who represented the Dutch Government, Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Simone Kukenheim, and Director of National Institute for Dutch Slavery and its Legacy NiNsee Antoin Deul and South-African poet Diane Ferris.

Minister Blok questioned the role of the Dutch in the slavery. “How could it be that the Republic of the true freedom, as the Dutch officials liked to refer to themselves, had so little attention for the freedom of others? How could they be so blind to the right of self-determination of people, the right of people to be free?”

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According to Blok, the commemoration of slavery and the immense hurt that it caused was not sufficient for the abolition of slavery, also created the responsibility to this day to fight racism and exclusion based on race and gender. He said a racist society didn’t only hurt the individual victims, but that it affected the society in general.

The Minister called it a “great good” that people were able to commemorate the slavery past together, in freedom. He didn’t offer formal apologies that have been sought for years by slave descendants from Suriname and the former Netherlands Antilles.

Deputy Mayor and Alderman Kukenheim spoke of the “joint responsibility to prevent that this history can cause more grievance.” She said that for too long the history had been denied and played down. “History will cause even more grievance if we don’t acknowledge that the past still has an impact on the present.”

Kukenheim said it was important to keep remembering our shared history and to give recognition to what took place during the times of slavery. “Only then can there be freedom for everyone.” At the same time, people should be aware that racism doesn’t deserve a place in the Netherlands, she said.

NiNsee Director Deul said the slavery was a red thread through the Dutch history and that traces of slavery were still visible around us. “Our norms are coloured and poisoned by the times of slavery. The book is still open, history should be rewritten.”

Deul pleaded for a society where everyone had the same opportunities, and called upon the country to make a formal apology for “400 years of slavery and colonial past” and to “compensate the victims instead of only the plantation owners.”    

Contrary to some commemorations in past years, this year’s event took place in a calm atmosphere, without incidents and protests. The only disturbing factor was the loud noise produced by a large motorcycle group that passed by while Minister Blok was speaking.

Notably absent was the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary. As a result of that, no wreath was laid on behalf of the St. Maarten Government. The Ministers Plenipotentiary Juan David Yrausquin of Aruba and Anthony Begina of Curaçao were present, and laid a wreath, as did President of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ankie Broekers-Knol and President of the Second Chamber Khadija Arib, and Minister Blok.

Following the solemn ceremony, the sounding of the Last Post and the minute of silence, the Keti Koti (“Break the Chains”) Festival to celebrate the abolition of slavery. The festival included a large number of food stands selling Surinamese and Caribbean snacks and drinks.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/67339-important-to-observe-recognise-slavery-past

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