“If you’re neglected year after year, this forgiveness process is the same.”
If Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) apologizes for Dutch slavery at 3pm on Monday, a lot could go wrong, whether on behalf of the government or not. Are they really apologizing? Or will it stay with the ‘meaningful moment’ so often called by cabinet members in recent days? If they apologize, what words does the Prime Minister use?
Apologizing for slavery and the trade of enslaved people is not easy, says Linda Nuitmeier. “But if Rutte chooses her words, they can really make a big difference.” Nuitmeer was born in Suriname in 1974 and came to the Netherlands with his family at the age of 16. When slavery was abolished in 1863, his great-grandfather chose the surname ‘Nuitmeer’ so that his descendants would not suffer this. Linda Nooitmeer is the head of the National Dutch Slavery History and Legacy (NiNsee), and Prime Minister Rutte will speak at the National Archives on Monday. NiNSee has advised municipalities and institutions such as banks that have apologized for their role in the history of slavery in recent years.
What words do you think should be reflected in Root’s speech?
“It is important that he immediately make it clear that transatlantic slavery and the slave trade are crimes against humanity. People’s dignity and humanity have been stripped away. That realization must be reflected in apologies. Slavery is often not described this way at the administrative level. The first administrator to openly admit this is Utrecht Mayor Sharon Dijksma, who earlier this year in her He apologized on behalf of the municipality.
And you have advised Dijksma in words.
“Dijksma wanted to be in good contact with all organizations of Dutch people with African roots. She allowed herself to be fed: what words can I use and what can’t I use? That’s how she came to us. We didn’t write the text, but we gave the words.
What do you think should be central to the message about the role of the Netherlands?
“Rutte must make it clear on behalf of the government that slavery and the trade in enslaved peoples is not an excess, but an organized system. It is imposed from above, not a development of history. It is a four-hundred-year-old practice. The States-General, constitutionally the predecessor of the House of Representatives, agreed to it. The Netherlands benefited economically from it. ” said.
What do you think about the objections of the six Surinamese organizations seeking forgiveness through summary proceedings? They believe that the cabinet was rushed and that outside parties were not involved enough in the apology.
“So many people, so many tastes. The African-Dutch community is often seen as one group, but this issue makes it clear that is not the case. I hear a lot of people saying: the apology is 160 years too late. Other companies are very dated, I’m not. I think it’s good to have excuses. But I know where that feeling comes from. Our experience is that we don’t ask, and that experience has been built up over the years. It was invisible for a long time and that feeling is now coming out. If you continue to be ignored, year after year, this process is one too many.”
Do you agree?
She thinks for a moment. Then he says diplomatically: “There is a lot of unrest and it has to have its place. It’s hard to poll on apologies, you’re always fooling people. But I am looking forward to Rudd’s speech,” he said.
But has the government made it clear enough about what it is going to do?
“You will never fully agree, but I appreciate the steps the cabinet has taken. Frank Weirwind has helped the conversation. [minister voor Rechtsbescherming, D66] In the cabinet.” Weirwind has Surinamese parents. “It helps any organization when descendants of enslaved people participate in the conversation, they provide a different perspective.”
But has the cabinet in the Netherlands raised enough awareness?
“I sometimes hear the Dutch say angrily: ‘Why do you need excuses? Nobody speaks on my behalf’. No, it’s not speaking on behalf of the individual Dutch people. The state takes its responsibility, not the citizen. So, it’s not an apology from one person to another, but a macro one. It should also be clear that the scale is there. We have to keep it that way.”
Why did forgiveness take so long?
“I have been living in the Netherlands since 1990. People’s image of their country was sunny. It is about tolerance, about a country where there is enough space for everyone. Racism, the worst things we’ve experienced as a family, is usually seen as a development. Slavery in Dutch textbooks is not entirely focused on the past. This came after the African-Dutch community continued to draw attention. There is no dialogue in science either. If you start talking about slavery, you will hear three things: it was a long time ago, it wasn’t bad, and there was no economic benefit to the Netherlands. There is never room to recognize that this is a for-profit organization. In that situation, forgiveness was out of the question. That attitude has caused a wound in the Afro-Dutch community.
How did the mood change after that?
“Individuals and organizations have been involved since the 1990s. In 1995, Roy Kaikusi Kronberg of the Eer en Herstel foundation was the first citizen to send letters to ministers, in which he first pleaded for an apology for the Netherlands’ slave past. As was the naming of racism, it was very sensitive at the time. Kronberg wrote in a letter in the Volkskrant at the time: “Belatedly [premier] Kok condemns everything our forefathers have done to the Surinamese people in the last four hundred years, apologizes and promises to get well.
Linda Nuitmeier: “After that it was quiet for a long time. NiNSee was founded in 2002 and we apologized but lost the grant and lost our influence. It was only after Black Lives Matter emerged in America that the mood in the Netherlands changed. Since then, everything has accelerated. There is a greater awareness of racism and the colonial past. It’s even harder, see the Foreign Office’s report on institutional racism. But the Netherlands is beginning to see its own history differently. I had just come back from shopping, and an old acquaintance told me that he had bought a book of Robt. Such steps are very important. Ewald van Vugt’s roof level is a nod to the Dutch colonial past.
Forgiveness is mostly institutional, you said. But what do they mean to you personally?
“This is very important to me. The last few days I realized that I am part of this moment. My name, my family history. I’m sure my great-grandfather would have liked this recognition. That realization hit me hard. It’s special that it’s happening now,” he said.
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