The Dutch royal family will not use a ceremonial golden coach for the time being, because society is not yet ready for it, king Willem-Alexander said on Thursday in a video message.
In the last decade, the horse-drawn coach, traditionally used for formal occasions such as budget day, has repeatedly come under fire for a painted panel which depicts scenes of colonialism.
The coach has been out of use for five years during a period of renovation and it had been unclear whether its future will now only be as a museum piece, because of the wider debate about the Dutch role in slavery and depictions of the so-called Golden Age.
‘Our history has many things to be proud of, but it also offers lessons in recognising mistakes and avoiding them in the future,’ the king said in his video message. ‘We cannot rewrite the past. But we can try to come to terms with it together. That applies to the colonial past as well.’
The king said simply banning objects and symbols from history or judging them by today’s norms, is not the solution. ‘We need a concerted effort that goes deeper and lasts longer, an effort that unites us rather than divides us,’ he said.
The coach is currently the centrepiece in an exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum, which will end in February.
‘As long as people live in the Netherlands who feel the pain of discrimination on a daily basis, the past is still casting a shadow,’ the king said. ‘The golden coach will only be able to drive again when the Netherlands is ready for it, and that is not yet the case.’
Amsterdam Museum welcomed the king’s statement and said that it is making the coach, which is in a courtyard, available to the public to view at no cost (although the museum itself is closed).
‘We understand the king’s decision,’ said artistic director Margriet Schavemaker in a statement. ‘As a museum we think – precisely because we have experienced this in our own exhibition – that an object like the Golden Coach comes into its own in a museum context because there is room for deeper understanding and nuance which can start a conversation.
‘We believe as a museum that the Netherlands is systematically changing in the way it handles its colonial past, and how it thinks about a controversial piece of heritage like the Golden Coach.’
It is not clear if the coach will go on display elsewhere when the Amsterdam Museum exhibition closes at the end of February.
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