What does NRC | The cabinet gives the impression that it has not thought through these excuses

Apologizing is an art in itself. An art which the government, as it stands now, – despite previous apologies for small and large matters – does not seem to have mastered. Because after the leak, via NOS on Friday, that eight ministers in eight places at the same time on December 19 would apologize for the role of the Dutch state in the slave trade, there was mainly confusion and then irritation. It seems that those to whom the apologies are being made – residents of the former colonies – were not concerned with timing or what will and should be said at the time. Since then, the government has refused to say what will happen in mid-December. Except that there will be a response to the Slavery Past Dialogue Group report, which advises to apologize and that “there is also involvement from the islands and Suriname”.

Making excuses is never, and for no one, easy. Certainly not for a country that wants to right a historical injustice. Regret must be expressed, but administrators must assess the financial or political consequences thereof. Sorry needs to be said, but not in a way that makes current generations feel attacked, passed over, misunderstood, and near or near grudge.

And at the same time, an apology is only an apology if it is sincere. If it is recognized that the past has made sacrifices. If it means a turning point: never again.

There can. The way German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt 52 years ago in front of the monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, home to half a million Jews, most of whom would not survive the war, is etched in memory. Sometimes apologies don’t need words.

A Dutch mea culpa for past abuse was never so impressive. The text that the king pronounced in Indonesia in 2020 for “the derailments of violence on the Dutch side” after the Second World War was cleverly worded but clumsily executed. Like the execution of the apologies to the Dutchbat veterans and subsequently to the relatives of Srebrenica earlier this year could have been better.

Also read: The Dutch government is increasingly saying ‘sorry’. Nothing is left to chance

We could have learned from that. Moreover, it is not that the discussion of the Dutch slavery past has only just begun, nor that the movement against apologies has just started. In 2001, then integration minister Roger van Boxtel spoke of “deep regret over slavery and the slave trade”. It was expressed in 2013 by then Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher, “deep regret and remorse for how the Netherlands has handled human dignity”. Apologies from the state can only be the next step, a prelude was already this year in the Speech from the Throne.

That the cabinet now gives the impression that it has acted hastily does not testify to recognition of all sensitivities. It is painful precisely because it is about a past that continues to affect the relationship between black and white, between former colonies and the former coloniser. It is not only the choice of words that matters, but also the manner in which the apology is intended.

Now it seems that an apology should be made for the way the apology should have been made. It could never have been intended.

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