The one evil sentence from Rutte’s slave speech – Joop

24-12-2022

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Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s speech on the ongoing suffering caused by slavery was overwhelmingly good. Even Sylvana Simons had words of praise: “I can only express my appreciation for the words chosen today,” she tweeted. Rejection came from people who said they hadn’t seen the speech. It cannot be called criticism, because it is not an assessment. They just shout. “I didn’t see anything to it, but I thought it was worthless.” You can’t seriously count that.

However, there was a catch. Legal philosopher Wouter Veraart checked Rutte’s text and came across the small print. At least that’s what the professor at the Free University of Trouw claimed. Rutte had said “We who live here and now can only recognize and condemn slavery in the clearest terms as a crime against humanity.” His audience nodded in agreement, but according to Veraart, marriage is in the “here and now”. In the letter to Parliament about the apologies, the government even talks about “according to applicable legal and moral norms and values”. This wording is intended to prevent the victims’ descendants from making compensation claims. A fear that constantly affects the discussion, although such a claim has never been successful, not even in a country like France, where it is legally established that slavery is a crime against humanity.

Even apart from the legal argument, it is not a trivial detail. Prime Minister Rutte says that with today’s knowledge, slavery is a crime in the most serious category. But yes, those were different times then. It was normal at the time, like so many wrong things. That sounds like the wrong kind of excuse. Besides, it’s not quite right. Slavery is not ok now and it wasn’t then.

For example, the Netherlands has for centuries had a relatively small but very influential religious community that arose in the 16th century, the Anabaptists. Numerous celebrities, from Rembrandt to Cornelis Lely, are associated with this movement. Along the river Vecht between Amsterdam and Utrecht, you can still find huge country estates that were built by wealthy Anabaptists. They amassed their wealth through whaling. They had plunged into this because their faith prevented them from committing slavery. It was not finished that they treat fellow human beings in this way.

They weren’t the only ones. There was a constant debate in society about whether slavery was acceptable. Hugo de Groot, founder of international law, also considered it. And opinions differed. For example, a popular view was that Christians should never be enslaved. Another sign of awareness that something was wrong with slavery. Moreover, attitudes were often changed because the slave trade was so temptingly lucrative.

Money is still a decisive argument in the debate, as can be seen from the interpretation of the disclaimer in Rutte’s speech: prevention of damage. Of course, it cannot be the case that we now have to bleed for the crimes of our ancestors, it says. It sounds like reasonable reasoning, but it is only used to one’s own advantage. After all, you can also apply the logic in reverse: why should we still profit from those crimes? Because we do. The prosperous position of the Netherlands, we are on average Europe’s richest inhabitants, can be traced back to this. And to the rest of colonialism. Indonesia was the most profitable colony in the world until World War II.

If you really believe that you have nothing to do with what your ancestors were up to, then you should also abolish the inheritance law. There is much to be said for this, but not much support for it. The justification therefore mainly works the other way, to its own advantage. That is how it has always been. The Dutch slave owners were financially compensated after the abolition, the victims were not. Haiti, the country freed in 1804 by a successful uprising among the enslaved, had to pay reparations to France after the declaration of independence, for more than 130 years until 1957. These payments are partly responsible for Haiti’s continued existence. continues to be the poorest country in the world, according to research by the New York Times. In 2003, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France repay. It was not appreciated by the country of Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité. A year later, Aristide was deposed in a coup in collaboration with France. The story is not so easy to explain.

Slavery was finally abolished in the 19th century following the actions of what we would now call feminists. Also in the Netherlands. They knew what it was like to be without rights. After all, married women had the same legal status as a child, an attitude that persisted in the Netherlands well into the 1950s. And it didn’t stop there. Until 1991, the CDA was able to prevent marital rape from becoming a criminal offence. A man could rape his wife as many times as he wanted for the ruling party. After all, she had no right to protection. What does that position remind you of?

Feminists are still leading the way. Black Lives Matter, the movement that gave new impetus to the racism and slavery debate in the Netherlands, was founded by women.

Slavery may be history, but that doesn’t mean it’s behind us. The lines continue to the present, more straight than we ourselves want to recognize with today’s knowledge. In that sense, there is also something to be said about Rutte’s striking sentence from his otherwise equally impressive and much-needed speech. Great opportunity for the king to rectify this next year at Keti Koti, the marking of the abolition.

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