Dutch King Willem-Alexander expressed his remorse on Saturday for the Netherlands’ past participation in slavery and the lasting impact it has had on society. During a ceremony commemorating the 160th anniversary of the legal abolition of slavery in the Netherlands and its former Caribbean colonies, the king delivered a heartfelt apology.
“On this day of remembrance for Dutch slavery history, I humbly ask for forgiveness for this grave crime against humanity,” he stated. Recognizing that racism continues to be a prevailing issue in Dutch society, the king acknowledged that not everyone would support his apology. Nevertheless, he emphasized that times have changed and expressed his optimism, proclaiming, “Keti Koti… the chains have truly been broken,” which elicited cheers and applause from the thousands of onlookers gathered at Amsterdam’s Oosterpark, home to the national slavery monument.
“Keti Koti,” a Surinamese phrase meaning “the chain is broken,” designates July 1 as a day to commemorate slavery and celebrate freedom.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander
This apology comes as part of a broader reassessment of the Netherlands’ colonial past, encompassing its involvement in the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in former Asian colonies. In 2020, King Willem-Alexander had already apologized for the “excessive violence” inflicted during Dutch colonial rule while in Indonesia.
In December, Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged the Dutch State’s responsibility in the Atlantic slave trade, acknowledging that it had profited from it, and tendered an apology. However, Rutte clarified that the government would not provide reparations, dismissing a recommendation from an advisory panel in 2021.
A recent government-commissioned study, published last month, revealed that the House of Orange had gained approximately $600 million in today’s currency from Dutch colonies between 1675 and 1770. Most of this wealth had originated as gifts from profits generated by the Dutch East India Company’s spice trade.
Responding to growing demands for accountability, the Royal House initiated an independent investigation in December, focusing on the Royal Family’s role in colonial history. The results of this inquiry are expected to be published in 2025.