An Emotional King Apologizes for Dutch Role in Slave Trade

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands' ancestors got very rich off the trade
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 2, 2023 1:50 PM CDT
Dutch King's Voice Breaks as He Apologizes for Slavery
Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized for the royal house's role in slavery at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the country abolishing slavery in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Saturday, July 1, 2023.   (Remko de Waal/Pool Photo via AP)

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands apologized Saturday for his country's role in slavery and asked for forgiveness during a historic speech greeted by cheers and whoops at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Dutch colonies, per the AP. The king's speech followed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's apology late last year for the country's role in the slave trade and slavery. In his emotional address, Willem-Alexander referred back to the prime minister's apology as he told a crowd of invited guests and onlookers: "Today, I stand before you. Today, as your king and as a member of the government, I make this apology myself. And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and my soul."

The king said he has commissioned a study into the exact role of the royal House of Orange-Nassau in slavery in the Netherlands. "But today, on this day of remembrance, I ask forgiveness for the clear failure to act in the face of this crime against humanity," he added. Willem-Alexander's voice appeared to break with emotion as he completed his speech before laying a wreath at the country's national slavery monument in an Amsterdam park. Slavery was abolished in the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean on July 1, 1863, but most of the enslaved laborers were forced to continue working on plantations for another decade. Saturday's commemoration and speech started a year of events to mark the 150th anniversary.

Research published last month showed that the king's ancestors earned the modern-day equivalent of 545 million euros ($595 million) from slavery, including profits from shares that were effectively given to them as gifts. When Rutte apologized in December, he stopped short of offering compensation to descendants of enslaved people. Instead, the government is establishing a 200 million-euro ($217 million) fund for initiatives that tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to improve education about the topic. Critics say it's not enough.

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Two groups, Black Manifesto and The Black Archives, organized a protest march before the king's speech Saturday under the banner "No healing without reparations." The Dutch first became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1500s and became a major trader in the mid-1600s. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest trans-Atlantic slave trader, according to Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert in Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University.

(More Netherlands stories.)

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