A national holiday on 1 July, a national investigation into the colonial past and an agency that fights racism and discrimination: the four major cities are asking the new cabinet to be more involved in the slavery past.
In a joint letter to the House of Representatives, the boards of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht ask the nascent cabinet to bring ‘the hidden and inconvenient history’ out of the shadows.
“The stories of the slavery past and colonial history must be discussed openly,” say the four responsible aldermen, including Amsterdam administrator Rutger Groot Wassink.
Over the past year, studies into the colonial past of the cities and their involvement in the slave trade and slavery were published in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, while Utrecht and The Hague are working on such studies. The four cities also want a national survey. “It is not only cities that have a past,” the letter states. “The Netherlands has a multicolored and polyphonic society, but personal stories are not shared enough.”
According to the letter writers, the outcome of such a national survey can also serve as a building block for an answer to the question whether the Netherlands should apologize for its role in transatlantic slavery. The city of Amsterdam will probably apologize on 1 July in the Oosterpark during the national commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Rotterdam has announced that it will make a decision about this later this year.
The cities also ask for the already announced arrival of a National Coordinator to Combat Racism to be expanded with a National Bureau of Racism and Discrimination. This agency should develop national policies to promote inclusion and counter-discrimination, conduct research and also be empowered to impose sanctions on government-funded organizations that engage in discrimination or racism.
Another item on the wish list is a national holiday on July 1, the day of the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colonies in 1863. ‘By commemorating society takes responsibility, but it also commits itself to a society and a future in which there is no room for racism and inequality of opportunity. It should be a day to mourn and celebrate, to look at lessons learned from the past and a shared future.”
Within the Afro-Surinamese community there have been calls for some time to make 1 July a day off, as is also the case in Suriname. A majority of the Amsterdam city council supported that request with a motion last year. In 2023 it will be 150 years since the legal abolition of slavery became practice. The commemoration of that year is seen as an appropriate moment for the introduction of the new holiday.
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