December 19, 2022 | 11:30 a.m
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Netherlands on Monday appear poised to finally embark on a path that leads to a formal apology for its corrupt 250-year history of slavery.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte delivers a speech in The Hague on slavery at what he calls a “meaningful moment” while Dutch ministers travel to seven former colonies in South America and the Caribbean for the event.
Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch finance minister and deputy prime minister, said during an official visit to Suriname last week that a “process” would begin leading to “another incredibly important moment on July 1 next year”.
Descendants of Dutch slavery will then celebrate 150 years of freedom from slavery in an annual celebration called “Keti Koti” (Breaking the Chains) in Suriname.
But the plan has sparked controversy, with groups and some of the countries concerned criticizing the move as hasty and saying the Netherlands’ lack of consultation smacks of a still-colonial stance.
As a result, Rutte has still not confirmed that he will actually apologize, saying last week that details of his speech are “something I really want to keep under wraps until Monday”.
Local media said “everything indicates he will actually apologize” for the Dutch role in a deal that has caused centuries of untold misery, but it remained uncertain.
The Dutch financed their “Golden Age” of empire and culture in the 16th and 17th centuries by shipping around 600,000 Africans in the slave trade, mostly to South America and the Caribbean.
At the height of their colonial empire, the United Provinces, now known as the Netherlands, had colonies such as Suriname, the Caribbean island of Curaçao, South Africa and Indonesia, where the Dutch East India Company was based in the 17th century.
In recent years, the Netherlands has grappled with the fact that its Rembrandt- and Vermeer-filled museums and historic cities were largely built on the backs of this brutality.
Spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, she has also raised questions about racism in Dutch society.
Domestic pressure mounts as the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht formally apologize for the slave trade.
Rutte has long resisted, previously saying slavery was too far gone and an apology would spark tensions in a country where the far right remains strong.
Now he has changed course, but not everyone liked that.
Sint Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs told Dutch media on Saturday the island would not accept a Dutch apology if it was made on Monday.
“Let me be clear that we will not accept an apology until our advisory committee has spoken about it and we as a country have spoken about it,” she said.
The fact that another Dutch minister sent to Suriname, Franc Weerwind, is himself of Surinamese descent drew criticism from the slavery restitution group there for being a “descendant of enslaved people”.
On Monday, Dutch cabinet ministers would be in Suriname, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Curaçao, Saba and St. Eustatius to “discuss the cabinet’s response and what it means on the ground with those present” after the Dutch prime minister spoke, he said the government.
Slavery was officially abolished in Suriname and other Dutch-held countries on July 1, 1863, but the practice did not end until 1873 after a 10-year “transition period”.
Slavery memorial groups say any apology should be made on the 150th anniversary of that date in 2023, rather than the “arbitrary” December 19 of that year.