The Dutch government is poised to make a formal apology for slavery and set up a €200 million fund for projects aimed at raising awareness of the Netherlands’ past as a slaving nation, RTL reported on Thursday evening.
In addition, the cabinet will allocate €27 million to develop a museum about slavery, RTL said. In total, nine government ministries are contributing to the project.
The apology, which has not yet been officially confirmed, will be made in mid December and is a direct response to recommendations made by a home affairs ministry commission last year.
There have been several strong hints this year that an apology was in the making, and a majority of MPs have called on the cabinet to do so.
In addition, prime minister Mark Rutte said during a short official visit to the former Dutch colony of Suriname in September that ‘the time is right for recognition’. In 2023 it will be 150 years since Dutch legislation to abolish slavery was actually enacted.
This, the prime minister said, meant ‘recognition of the horrific suffering inflicted on those who were enslaved. Recognition of the struggle and resistance that there was… And, of course, recognition of the social impact of the period of slavery on the present day,’ Rutte said.
Despite pressure from two of the coalition parties, Rutte has always refused to apologise for the Dutch role in slavery, saying it would not be appropriate. However, in June, broadcaster NOS said the government would make a formal apology in the autumn.
Slavery was finally abolished in the former colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles on July 1,1863.
However, slaves in Suriname were only fully freed in 1873, since the law stipulated that there was to be a mandatory 10-year transition period. Owners were also paid compensation of 300 guilders for every enslaved person they released.
At its height in the 1770s, slavery generated over 10% of the gross domestic product of Holland, the richest of the seven Dutch provinces which made up the republic, according to social history researchers.
The income from the tobacco trade, sugar processing and shipbuilding was boosted by the use of slave labour used to grow crops on plantations, according to researchers at the International Institute for Social History.
Other professions, such as notaries and bankers, also benefited from slavery. As a whole, slavery generated some 5.2% of the Netherlands’ GDP – just slightly less than the proportion generated by Rotterdam port today.
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