Apr 13, 2023 at 10:04 PMUpdate: 2 hours ago
The city council of Vlissingen thinks with fourteen against twelve votes that the Zeeland city should apologize for the slavery past on July 1. The council decision is surprising, because in the run-up to the vote, the proponents were in the minority.
The Vlissingen SGP wanted to change the proposal to apologize for the role of the city on Thursday evening. The apologies should not mainly revolve around the role of the city council, but rather the “insufficient and one-sided attention” of Vlissingen for the slavery past in recent decades.
There must also be an apology for “the insufficient understanding of the feelings of the descendants of the enslaved”. In addition, according to the SGP, the city could express “sincere regret only for its own mistakes”.
Keti Koti Zeeland says in a response that apologies for the slavery past of “a city like Vlissingen” are important. “They can contribute to the awareness of the Dutch that slavery has been earned everywhere in our country,” spokesperson Angelique Duijndam told NU.nl.
“Traces of that history can not only be found in large cities such as Amsterdam, but also in less obvious places, such as Drenthe and Overijssel.”
‘Apologies are not about personal responsibility’
The latest addition of the SGP, which did not make it, is “bitter” according to Keti Koti Zeeland. “Excuses for the slavery past are not about personal responsibility,” explains Duijndam. “They are about responsibility as a driver. About what went wrong in the past. Not about your own mistakes.”
The well-known admiral Michiel de Ruyter was born in 1607 in Vlissingen. Historians differ on whether he was involved in the trade in enslaved people and the colonization of areas outside the Netherlands.
A statue of the controversial admiral overlooks the sea in Vlissingen. In and around the city are still the stately homes of merchants who became rich in the former colonies.
The Vlissingen Lampsinshuis was built in 1641 by a wealthy colonial shipowner. It is now a museum. Photo: Rene Olsthoorn
Criticism of ‘passive’ mayor and aldermen
The Vlissingen city council discussed a proposal from the ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, SP, PvdA and D66 under the watchful eye of many media on Thursday evening.
The five parties wanted the mayor and aldermen to apologize on July 1 on behalf of the city council for the city’s slavery past. It will then be exactly 150 years ago that slavery in the Netherlands was also over in practice.
Two Vlissingers addressed the city council. “Apologies are not empty words”, Margaret Koster responded to earlier statements by 50PLUS.
Julien ‘Jules’ Bottse also spoke. The descendant of enslaved people and “a resident of the city for 53 years” strongly denied that apologies for the proponents would revolve around financial compensation. “That is flatly untrue. I stand here for recognition.”
Several Vlissingen parties criticized the mayor and aldermen of the city. The executive board should have shown more initiative, instead of submitting a decision about apologizing to the city council.
The history of slavery in Vlissingen in brief
Between 1750 and 1780 Vlissingen ships transported about 60,000 enslaved people from Africa. By way of comparison: Vlissingen itself then had about ten thousand inhabitants. In a study commissioned by the municipality, published in 2021, Vlissingen is called “the undisputed capital of the Dutch slave trade”.
At the height of the Flushing trade in enslaved people, possibly a quarter of the local economy was directly or indirectly linked to transatlantic trade.
Vlissingen were involved in the establishment of colonies for enslaved people. They contributed, according to researchers, to the emergence of “the slave-labour-based plantation economy”.
‘We are still benefiting from, for example, the potato’
In December 2022, the cabinet apologized on behalf of the State for the Dutch slavery past. Prime Minister Mark Rutte concluded that racism and discrimination in the present are partly the result of the slavery past. The cabinet promised, among other things, to set up a fund to counteract the effects of that past.
Nevertheless, Duijndam of Keti Koti Zeeland thinks that “all cities individually” should also apologize. That would help to make the Dutch more aware of the influence of the past on the present.
“The ‘traditionally Dutch’ potatoes on our plate? The corn cobs that we feed our cows with? They originated in South America,” she says. “Thanks to colonial history, we now benefit from this, just like from our slavery past. In the Netherlands, we are masters at looking away from our past and how that affects our current lives.”
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