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Slave monument in Oosterpark, Amsterdam. Wikipedia

Amsterdam council votes to apologise for slave-trade

Amsterdam is likely to be the first Dutch city to formally apologise for its role in the slave trade.

Published: June 26, 2019, 11:00 am

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    Amsterdam

    A majority of councillors backed the move by the leftwing council. A swing to GreenLeft in local elections last year, made it the largest party on the city council with 10 seats, helping to secure the vote.

    Seven parties holding 31 of the 45 council seats voted on Monday to apologise at next year’s Keti Koti, the annual commemoration of slavery, on July 1. July 1 1975 is a significant date in the former colony, because it marks “emancipation day”.

    The city of Amsterdam held a one-third stake in the Society of Suriname, which established and ran the slave trade in the South American colony for a century.

    Rutger Groot Wassink, Amsterdam’s alderman for social affairs and diversity, said the council’s officials would honour the decision. On top of that, he suggested that the next year should be spent researching the city’s slave-owning past in depth.

    “If you’re going to apologise, you need to know exactly what for,” he told leftist Amsterdam daily Het Parool.

    Don Ceder, of the Christen Unie party, called the decision timely: “This should have happened much earlier.” The Christen Unie is however conservative on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.

    Other parties supporting the move were GroenLinks, PvdA, SP, Bij1 and Denk.

    Dehlia Timman of another leftist party, D66 described the vote as “an historic moment”. She added: “Even though slavery has been abolished since 1863, the traces remain visible everywhere around the city today.”

    Timman concluded: “This vote is a historic moment. I hope it can end a period which has been very painful for the descendants of slaves, many of whom came to the Netherlands and have been instrumental in shaping our multicultural society. Their history must not be forgotten.”

    Representatives of Mark Rutte’s Liberals, the Christian Democrats and Thierry Baudet’s rising Forum for Democracy, voted against the move.

    Former Dutch Minister for Integration, Roger van Boxtel expressed “deep regret, tending towards remorse” for the slave trade in a statement in 2001, but stopped short of actually formally apologising.

    Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said in 2018 that the government should apologise, but his demands fell on deaf ears.

    Leiden University historian Karwan Fatah-Black, who recently published a book on the subject, said: “The council played a prominent role in the history of slavery.”

    Suriname – along with the Dutch Antilles and the island of Aruba – was where the Dutch West India Company, founded in 1621 and financed by Amsterdam’s bankers, shipped more than 600 000 Africans to work on plantations producing sugar and coffee.

    Founder of the Black Heritage Amsterdam Tour, Jennifer Tosch, is an American with Suriname roots. “My parents were born and raised in Suriname, South America.

    She set up the tour to reveal the traces of the Afro-African diaspora in Amsterdam as the city had been involved for over 250 years in slavery.

    The trade of slaves was an important part of the Amsterdam economy in the 17th and 18th century. In fact, the production of these overseas raw materials were responsible for two-thirds of the income in the capital.

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