No apology from Dutch PM for Netherlands’ history of slavery

Mark Rutte said officially saying sorry for the Netherlands’ ‘distant past’ risked dividing society

epa08521447 Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus (L) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (R) in the House of Representatives during a debate on institutional racism in the Netherlands, in The Hague, the Netherlands, 01 July 2020.  EPA/PHIL NIJHUIS
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The Dutch prime minister is refusing to officially apologise for the Netherlands’ history of slavery because it risks dividing society, despite pressure to do so from his coalition partners in government.

Mark Rutte, who was speaking at parliament in The Hague as the Netherlands marked 157 years since it abolished slavery, said the time was not right.

“For some people that goes too far. Can you hold people alive today responsible for the distant past?” Mr Rutte said.

“And with that, apologies carry the risk of polarising society instead of giving rise to dialogue and inclusion.”

His comments followed a government announcement that a nationwide conversation would be created to look at the country’s links to slavery, including as plantation owners in Dutch colonies in the Caribbean.

The assessment of the Netherlands’ slave-trading past will focus on “how the slavery history still influences our daily lives,” Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said. “I hope that it will open the eyes of many Dutch people, young and old,” she added.

Amsterdam’s Mayor, Femke Halsema, said the Black Lives Matter movement had created “an unstoppable new people's movement”. The city is investigating its own links with slavery.

“It's a movement that is not destroying traditions, but helping to improve traditions and create new traditions that doesn't wipe out our past, but adds new histories,” she said.

More than 10,000 people descended on Amsterdam in support of the Black Lives Matter movement last month.

In June, Mr Rutte acknowledged that more needed to be done to rid the country of racism, in comments following the global outrage over the death of George Floyd in the United States.

“What you have witnessed for a while in the Netherlands is that the horrible death of George Floyd has stirred up a lot. This triggers something where we say: ‘We really need to stamp out racism,’” Mr Rutte said after meeting with activists.

"What can you as a society do to combat this poison on the one hand, and at the same time ensure that people are as well-prepared as possible to be successful in this society?"