Governing parties say no to apology for slavery
The governing Christian Democrats and Labour Party have rejected a call by Socialist Party MP Harry van Bommel for Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende to apologise to Surinam for the Netherlands' part in the slave trade. Kathleen Ferrier of the Christian Democrats (CDA) and Chantal Gill'ard of the Labour Party (PvdA) think a Dutch apology would do nothing to benefit the relationship between the two countries. By RNW Caribbean Section.
Socialist Party MP Harry van Bommel thinks the Prime Minister should offer Surinam an apology for the Dutch slave trade when he visits to the Surinamese capital Paramaribo with Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen next week. Surinam, a small South American country sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana, is a former Dutch colony, which gained independence in 1975. A sizeable proportion of its small population are descended from slaves. The Netherlands abolished slavery only in 1863, as the last European country to do so, but it has never offered any apology for its part in the slave trade.
Focus on education
Kathleen Ferrier, Christian Democrat MP and daughter of Surinam's first president, thinks a Dutch apology for slavery would only be of any value if it were Surinam that called for it.
"If the Surinamese government announced, 'We can't carry on like this with the Netherlands, it still bothers us,' it would be a different matter from this appeal by Mr Bommel."
Ms Ferrier argues for a stronger focus on education on the two countries' common history.
"The Netherlands' role in slavery should be in the history books. Every child should learn about it."
She also thinks it should be easier for Surinamese students to find a work experience placement in the Netherlands.
"You would then have an exchange between people who have something important to share. People should know about every aspect of history, including slavery."
Labour MP and Surinam spokeswoman Chantal Gill'ard doesn't see the point of an apology.
"Demand an apology, and then? What structural benefit would an apology provide? It would be more valuable for us to learn from the past and see that the abolition of slavery liberated both the Netherlands and Surinam. It's time we did so."
Both economic necessity on the part of the Netherlands and the slaves' struggle for freedom contributed to the abolition of slavery. Ms Gill'ard stresses the Dutch role.
"The Netherlands was liberated from the ideas about slaves and the practices that went along with them."
Ms Gill'ard wonders on whose behalf Mr Van Bommel is making his appeal. She says the Surinamese embassy has no interest in apologies. She is unmoved by the large group of ethnically African Surinamese who have been campaigning for an apology for years.
"It doesn't impress me, it doesn't make much contribution to the future."
If there is enough public support, Ms Gill'ard says she will put forward the case in parliament for 1 July to become a public holiday in the Netherlands to commemorate the abolition of slavery, mirroring Emancipation Day in Surinam.
9 May 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands World 2008]