Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. (Reuters/Yves Herman file photo)
THE HAGUE–The Dutch government has no plans at the moment to offer an apology for slavery and the Dutch role in the slave trade, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during an often heated debate on racism and discrimination on Wednesday evening. Two of the four coalition parties – centre-democrat D66 and Christian Union – had called on the government to take a stand, but Rutte said a formal apology could end up increasing polarisation.
“I understand the request and I know what an apology can mean,” Rutte told Members of the Dutch Parliament. “The question is, can you hold the people who are alive today responsible for the past? Some could experience that as painful. The debate is certainly not over.” The cabinet has set up a special committee to look into slavery and its impact on the present, and an apology will certainly come on board, the prime minister said.
More importantly, there is no parliamentary majority for an apology, Dutch public broadcaster NOS pointed out. The debate, called by D66, Labour PvdA and green-left GroenLinks, came just weeks after Rutte and parliamentary leader of the conservative VVD party Klaas Dijkhoff admitted that there is a problem with racism in the Netherlands. The parties wanted to discuss getting strict on staffing agencies that are willing to discriminate, banning ethnic profiling as practiced by the police and the tax office, as well as discussing an apology for the Dutch role in the slave trade. However, said de Volkskrant newspaper in its report on the discussion, the idea might have been noble, but in practice the debate was more of a slanging match between neighbours.
The first contribution, by PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher, degenerated into a row about “whataboutism, picking at old wounds and preaching to the converted,” de Volkskrant said. GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver called leader of Party for Freedom PVV Geert Wilders an “idiot” and Wilders called Klaver a “political hooligan” with party members who voted for “communist mass murderers.” Kees van der Staaij, leader of the fundamentalist Protestant party SGP, went as far as to say that “unborn lives matter” while Esther Ouwehand of the pro-animal PvdD compared turning a blind eye to racism to conditions in factory farms. Despite the rancour, Rutte did agree to look into the option of having 2023 declared the year to remember slavery.
It will then be 150 years since slavery was finally abolished in the Dutch colonies. GroenLinks and D66 came up with the proposal, and Rutte said, “It is a good idea.”