Today, King Willem-Alexander has apologized for the role the Netherlands played in slavery. He did this during a speech at the national commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the Oosterpark in Amsterdam. “Today I stand before you. As your king and part of the government, I make these apologies myself today,” the king said. “They are intensely experienced by me with heart and soul.”
The king compared the historical situation in Suriname and the Caribbean with that in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. “What was taken for granted within this city and within this country did not apply outside our borders. Here slavery was forbidden. Not overseas.” He called slavery of all forms of unfreedom “the most hurtful, the most humiliating, the most degrading”; a crime against humanity. “Seeing a fellow human being as a commodity that you can dispose of at your discretion. Like a willless tool to make a profit. That you can chain up, trade, brand, torture, punish, even kill with impunity.”
His apologies, which were met with loud cheers and applause, also had a personal part. The king asked for “forgiveness” and said that the stadtholders and kings, the Orange-Nassau family, had done nothing against slavery. Many attendees reacted emotionally to Willem-Alexander’s words – someone from the audience shouted “finally!”
In the meantime, an investigation into the role of the House of Orange-Nassau in colonial history is underway on behalf of the king. Although the investigation into his family has not yet been completed, the king said that his relatives – even though they complied with the laws in force at the time – were morally wrong because they did not act against the injustice. “The Second World War taught us that you cannot hide behind laws to the extreme when fellow human beings are reduced to beasts and are at the mercy of those in power,” the king said.
In an effort to be vigilant about the social polarization he has long been concerned about, the king also targeted Dutch people who find apologizing “so long after the abolition of slavery excessive.” Because, according to Willem-Alexander, most people “do support the fight for equality of all people, regardless of color or cultural background”, he called on the Keti Koti commemorators to open their hearts “to all those people who are not here today, but who do want to work with you on a society in which everyone can participate fully”. His call: “Respect that there are differences in experience, background, and imagination.”