The King of the Netherlands formally apologized for his country’s role in the slave trade, saying he felt affected “personally and intensely”.
The country became a major colonial power after the 17th century, capturing territories all over the world and Dutch slave traders smuggling more than 600,000 people.
On Saturday, King Willem-Alexander described the practice as “horror”.
He said the royal family did nothing to stop it.
He was speaking at an event marking the 160th anniversary of the country’s abolition of slavery – it wasn’t clear before the event whether the king would apologize for the royal family’s role in the practice.
In June, a new study revealed that Dutch rulers received the equivalent of 545 million euros ($595 million) in today’s money between 1675 and 1770 from the colonies in which slavery was imposed.
During his speech in Amsterdam, King Willem-Alexander acknowledged that “the kings and rulers of the House of Orange have not taken any steps against [slavery]”.
“Today I stand here before you as your king and as part of the government. Today I apologize to myself,” he said.
Today, I ask forgiveness for the apparent lack of work.
Accompanied by his wife, Queen Máxima, the king acknowledged that he could not speak for the entire nation, but told the crowd that the “vast majority” of Dutch citizens “support the struggle for equality for all people, regardless of color or cultural background”.
His Majesty added, “After recognition and apology, we can work together on wounds, reconciliation and recovery.”
His speech received cheers from the crowd at the Kitty Koti Festival – the country’s annual celebration of the abolition of slavery.
During the 17th century, the Netherlands occupied large swaths of land in the regions that now make up Indonesia, South Africa, Curaçao, and West Papua, and became a major player in the transatlantic slave trade.
Thousands of people were trafficked from Africa to the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean and South America – accounting for about 5% of the total transatlantic slave trade – before the practice was outlawed in 1863.
But in the African country of Suriname, this continued through a mandatory 10-year transition period, causing untold grief and pain due to
The Netherlands generated huge wealth from the slave trade, and in the western province of Holland alone, a study by the Dutch Research Council found that 40% of economic growth between 1738 and 1780 could be attributed to trade.
Several Dutch cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have issued apologies for their role in the trade.
But the country took time to address its colonial past, and it wasn’t until 2006 that the history of Dutch slavery was added to the school curriculum.
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