Dutch literary prize ceremony scrapped in controversy over Desi Bouterse

Photo: Raúl Neijhorst via Wikiportret.nl
Photo: Raúl Neijhorst via Wikiportret.nl

Surinamese writer Astrid Roemer will still be given the Dutch language literary award Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, but without a formal ceremony, the organisers have confirmed, following an outcry surrounding comments made by Roemer about former Suriname president Desi Bouterse.

At the end of July, Roemer, 74, wrote a Facebook post in which she said the Surinamese community had needed Bouterse to become more self-aware. She has also called for a statue to be erected to him and refused to call him a murderer.

Bouterse, who was ousted as president last year, grabbed power in Suriname in the so-called ‘sergeants’ coup’ of 1980. Two years later, after several attempted counter coups, 15 of his political opponents were rounded up and murdered in the infamous December killings, effectively establishing a dictatorship under Bouterse with a puppet government.

He has always denied any involvement in the deaths but in In 2019, a Surinamese court said Bouterse should be jailed for his role in the murders.


Roemers comments have caused anger in parts of the Surinamese community, with a special committee set up to remember the victims saying she was ‘anti-democratic’ and ‘anti-rule of law’, and calling on the Nederlandse Taalunie not to award her the prize at all.

The committee told Nieuwsuur on Tuesday that the writer’s comments were inappropriate and that it would be wrong to hold a celebratory award ceremony.

Nevertheless, the ‘personal points of view of authors’ do not have a role in the assessment of their work, the committee, which includes both Dutch and Flemish education ministers, said.

Roemer herself told Nieuwsuur she is sticking to her words and that she is pleased the ceremony will not go ahead. ‘There would be protests during the ceremony and I do not want my guests to feel uncomfortable,’ she said. ‘I have even been called an NSB member (Dutch Nazi) while I been resisting and writing about racism for 50 years.’

Suriname became a Dutch colony in the 17th century and gained full independence in 1975.

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