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Netherlands King Losing The Carriage After Criticisms About The Dutch Colonial Past

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch king ruled out Thursday using, for now at least, the royal family’s “Golden Carriage,” one side of which bears a painting that critics say glorifies the Netherlands’ colonial past, including its role in the global slave trade.

The announcement was an acknowledgement of the heated debate about the carriage as the Netherlands reckons with the grim sides of its history as a 17th-century colonial superpower, including Dutch merchants making vast fortunes from slaves.

“The Golden Carriage will only be able to drive again when the Netherlands is ready and that is not the case now,” King Willem-Alexander said in a video message.

Netherlands King Losing The Carriage After Criticisms About The Dutch Colonial Past

One side of the vehicle is decorated with a painting called “Tribute from the Colonies” that shows Black and Asian people, one of them kneeling, offering goods to a seated young white woman who symbolizes the Netherlands.

The carriage is currently on display in an Amsterdam museum following a lengthy restoration. In the past it has been used to carry Dutch monarchs through the streets of The Hague to the state opening of Parliament each September.

“There is no point in condemning and disqualifying what has happened through the lens of our time,” the king said. “Simply banning historical objects and symbols is certainly not a solution either. Instead, a concerted effort is needed that goes deeper and takes longer. An effort that unites us instead of divides us.”

Anti-racism activist and co-founder of The Black Archives in Amsterdam, Mitchell Esajas, called the king’s statement “a good sign,” but also the “bare minimum” the monarch could have said.

“He says the past should not be looked at from the perspective and values of the present … and I think that’s a fallacy because also in the historical context slavery can be seen as a crime against humanity and a violent system,” he said. “I think that argument is often used as an excuse to kind of polish away the violent history of it.”

The Netherlands, along with many other nations, has been revisiting its colonial history in a process spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the world after the death of Black man George Floyd in the United States.

Last year, the country’s national museum, the Rijksmuseum, staged a major exhibition that took an unflinching look at the country’s role in the slave trade, and Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema apologized for the extensive involvement of the Dutch capital’s former governors in the trade.

Halsema said she wanted to “engrave the great injustice of colonial slavery into our city’s identity.”

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‘Sorry Is Not Enough,’ Caribbean States Say of British Slavery Apologies

LONDON — British financial institutions that benefited from slavery such as Lloyd’s of London should go further than saying sorry for their role in the Atlantic slave trade and atone for their sins by funding Caribbean development, the region’s countries said.

At least 10 million Africans were shackled into the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the often brutal voyage, ended up toiling on plantations in the Americas.

While the history of Europe’s scramble for African slaves has been widely known for centuries, the death of George Floyd in the United States has prompted a sweeping global reassessment of racism and the financing of the slave trade.

The Lloyd’s of London insurance market apologized on Thursday for its “shameful” role in the 18th Century Atlantic slave trade and pledged to fund opportunities for black and ethnic minority people.

But a regional alliance of Caribbean countries said that Britain’s institutions should go much further than simply apologising and give some of the wealth back to the Caribbean by funding development at the epicentre of the slave trade.

“It is not enough to say sorry,” said Hilary Beckles, chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission which was set up by Caribbean countries to seek reparations from former colonial powers such as the United Kingdom, France and Portugal.

“We are not asking for anything as mendicant as handing out cheques to people on street corners,” Beckles told Reuters from Jamaica. “The issue of money is secondary, but in this instance the moral discharge of one’s duty does require in a market economy that you contribute towards development.”

There was no immediate reply from Lloyd’s of London to a request for comment.


Beckles, a Barbadian historian, said the antecedents of many British and European banks, as well as an array of accompanying institutions in the City of London, “drank from the well of Caribbean slavery.”

The Bank of England apologised for what it called the “inexcusable connections” of some past governors and directors to slavery, and said it would remove any portraits of them from display anywhere on its premises.

The history of several other British financial firms, including Barclays (BARC.L), is also under fresh scrutiny.

“Unfortunately, one cannot go back and remake the history but you can make atonement: it is not enough to make your apology as a public spectacle, it is not enough to present it as public relations exercise,” said Beckles.

“It is not about public relations – it is about a negotiated settlement whereby everyone finds closure within a moral framework,” he said. “To say sorry and issue a press release is disrespectful – it does not fly with the people who were victimized.”

British institutions, he said, should sit down with Caribbean nations to fund development projects – or even consider a sort of “Marshall Plan” to give some of the plundered wealth back – a reference to the U.S. aid given to Europe after the destruction of World War Two.

“The British legacy of slavery and colonalisation has left the black community in quite a mess,” Beckles said, adding that he was not calling for litigation of any kind.

“All the institutions that created this mess really have to come and help in practical ways to clean it up.”

On Britain’s broader reassessment of its past, Beckles said public consciousness was catching up with history.

“Public consciousness is catching up with history: that moment has come. British public morality has caught up with its own institutional history of slavery.”


Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by William Maclean

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