Historic involvement in slavery is a very painful, significant, and - until recently - underexposed part of our shared history. For a whole year, extra attention will be paid to this history throughout the Kingdom: the Slavery Memorial Year will run from 1 July 2023 to 1 July 2024.
Slavery Memorial Year
For over 300 years, adults and children from various parts of Africa, were abducted and shipped across the Atlantic in inhuman conditions - mostly by Dutch slave traders - to the former Dutch colonies of Suriname and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten. The indigenous peoples of the numerous Dutch colonies were not spared either. In Asia, enslaved people were traded to areas under the administration of the United East India Company (VOC). For generations, people were born into slavery. They were forced into slave labour for their entire lives, serving the Dutch plantation owners.
On 1 July 1863, slavery was abolished by law in Suriname and the Caribbean islands, then colonies of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Nevertheless, a large proportion of the enslaved population had to continue working on the plantations under state supervision for a further 10 years in order to mitigate the "loss caused by this measure" to the plantation owners. Accordingly, for many in the then kingdom, slavery did not actually end until 1 July 1873. 1 July 2023 will mark 150 years since that event.
From 1858 until long after 1873, contract labour also subjected people from Asia to hard labour in Suriname under Dutch colonial rule.
During the Memorial Year, the Kingdom of the Netherlands will pause to reflect on this painful history. And on how this history still plays a negative role in the lives of many today. The Government of the Netherlands supports initiatives by or in collaboration with the various groups and communities with a relationship to historic slavery. In this way, the Slavery Memorial Year will develop organically from the ground up within our communities.
The grant schemes
June and July 2023 will mark the grand opening of the Slavery Memorial Year across the Kingdom, and July 2024 will mark its close. Through this memorial year, the Government of the Netherlands hopes to contribute to permanently increasing knowledge and interconnectivity within society.
In addition, the Cabinet will make two million euros available for the organisation of activities during Slavery Memorial Year by, for example, community organisations and cultural institutions. This will enable larger institutions and small local initiatives or individuals alike to apply for funding to organise social and/or cultural activities. This will be conducted through two cultural funds: The Mondrian Fund and the Cultural Participation Fund.
Initiators such as museums, theatres and archives, as well as private initiators such as artists, creatives or organisers, can apply for funding to organise an activity during the Slavery Memorial Year. The Mondriaan Fund and the Cultural Participation Fund will assess the applications independently, through a representative assessment committee with knowledge of historic slavery and the communities involved. Anyone in the Kingdom wishing to organise an activity as part of the Slavery Memorial Year can apply. Information can be found on the websites of the Mondriaan Fund and the Cultural Participation Fund.
During the memorial year, we will reflect throughout the Kingdom on historic slavery. This comes 150 years after the actual abolition of slavery in the then Dutch colonies in 1873. In this year, the 10-year period of state supervision, instituted after the formal abolition of slavery in 1863, ended. Nevertheless, from 1858 until long after 1873, contract labour also subjected peoples from Asia to hard labour in Suriname under Dutch colonial rule, in which patterns adopted from slavery were often still continued.
Our history of slavery is a very painful but significant, and - until recently - underexposed part of our history as a Kingdom. It is a past that has shaped society as we know it today and is therefore a history that binds us all. It is a past that is still reverberating; it has effects in the present that cause people still suffer in their daily lives, for example in the form of discrimination and racism. There is therefore a need to recognise this past. Through this memorial year, the Government of the Netherlands hopes to contribute to lasting knowledge, enhancement and interconnection within society.
This memorial year is aimed at the whole society throughout the Kingdom.
For a year running from 1 July 2023 to 1 July 2024, we will mark the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Kingdom. The Government of the Netherlands will launch the year by focusing on commemoration and content programming, and will organise an event to close the year. In addition, the Government will provide two million euros through two State Culture Funds to facilitate cultural, social and educational activities undertaken by the community. At the core of this are the perspectives of all the different groups and communities that are part of this hitherto underexposed past, who wish to reflect on the use of slaves in the Kingdom of the Netherlands during that time, and the period of contract labour thereafter.
While the Government of the Netherlands understands that for many people in our society, the Memorial Year is part of a wider call for recognition, the organisation of the Memorial Year is separate from any consideration of designating July 1 as a bank holiday. The government will include this issue in the Cabinet response to the Dialogue Group's report. In general, it is not up to the Cabinet to determine whether Dutch citizens are free from work on national holidays, as this is set out in collective agreements and/or employment contracts.
1 July 2023 is a very significant, symbolic and familiar date in relation to the history of slavery. On 1 July 1863, slavery was formally abolished in the former colonies. It is also the date when the National Historic Slavery Remembrance Day takes place.
The starting point of the Memorial Year is the history of trans-Atlantic slavery in Suriname and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten.
Slavery also existed in other places in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We explicitly also offer space to hitherto underexposed perspectives with a relationship to Dutch historic slavery during the memorial year.
These perspectives include, but are not limited to: the indigenous peoples enslaved in Suriname, slavery in the East (or former Dutch East Indies) and the contract labour of Chinese, Javanese and Hindustanis in particular in Suriname, as well as, for example, Moluccan, Ghanaian and South African communities.
The history of slavery is a very painful and significant part of our history. Within the history of slavery, the perspectives of the communities involved, and their descendants, are underexposed. The term ‘shared’ is used to designate that these underexposed perspectives should be part of our shared past. By taking these steps, the Government of the Netherlands aims to contribute to focusing attention, lasting knowledge and recognition for our shared past and its spillover into the present.
The Mondrian Fund and the Cultural Participation Fund will each draw up a grant scheme for the Memorial Year for applicants from across the Kingdom including the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten. Through these two schemes, a wide variety of (cultural) organisations, communities, archives and individuals can develop activities that commemorate slavery and share and increase knowledge about historic slavery.
The different ways in which the two funds operate ensures low-threshold schemes. Through these two schemes, different types of applications from both larger institutions and small local initiatives, as well as communities , individuals and cultural organisations, can be facilitated.
The Cabinet will come up with a response to the Dialogue Group's advisory report this autumn. A careful and considered response is at the heart of this. That is why the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Trade and the Minister and State Secretary for Home Affairs have been visiting Suriname and the Caribbean part of the Kingdom recently. The Cabinet response will also address the recommendation of the Dialogue Group, to make apologies and make reparations.