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< Current local time in Suriname – Paramaribo
PARAMARIBO—The Dutch Government has given a lukewarm reaction to the petition for compensation the Surinamese Committee Reparations Slavery Past deposited at the Dutch embassy in Paramaribo. Committee chairman Armand Zunder said the letter he received says little.
“It was a diplomatic signal. It is just a confirmation of receipt of our petition and then a referral to the speech Social Affairs Minister Lodewijk Asscher gave at the slavery abolition anniversary celebrations on July 1st in the Oosterpark in Amsterdam,” Zunder told journalists. Asscher had then said that people today cannot be held responsible for what their forefathers did, and that the Dutch Government views the “stain of shame on its history with deep regret”.
Zunder had filed the first ever petition to The Netherlands for reparations to the descendants of slaves and natives in June, in which the Committee requests that the Netherlands acknowledges that people suffered.
AMSTERDAM—A working group of human right experts –lead by Jamaican university professor Verene Shepherd- has called on the Dutch Government to take the lead in the ongoing debate about a tradition many Black people in the country find offensive. The experts recommended on Tuesday that Government facilitate an “open, inclusive, non-confrontational and respectful” debate on whether Zwarte Piet, the wacky blackfaced helper of bearded gift-giver Sinterklaas should undergo a change.
This year the opposition against the portrayal has reached new heights, with for the first time a townhall hearing by the Mayor of Amsterdam, at which opponents could voice their views. Their opposition against the beloved Dutch tradition has met with resistance from conventionalist Dutch people, oftentimes accompanied by blatant racist slurs.
The working group of UN independent human rights experts had become part of the heated Zwarte Piet debate earlier this year, after receiving complaints “from individuals and civil society organizations in the Netherlands” that the portrayal of the helper of bearded do-gooder Sinterklaas “perpetuates a negative stereotype and derogatory image of Africans and people of African descent.”
PARAMARIBO–Suriname is getting a monument for the 45 Dutch soldiers who died while serving in the country. The memorial will be unveiled on November 27th, just days after another statue that pays homage to the fighters who perished during the interior war that raged in the eighties. That monument will be unveiled on November 25th, Suriname’s 38th Independence Day.
The Dutch monument was produced in the Netherlands and shipped to Suriname. It is an initiative of the foundation of retirees of the Dutch Army’s Tropical Detachment TRIS that was stationed in Suriname from the Second World War until the independence in November 1975.
In total there were some 15,000 soldiers stationed in Suriname from 1945 to 1975. Those who the monument pays homage to, died of several causes, ranging from tropical diseases to traffic accidents and even mishaps with landmines. The remains of 25 have been shipped back to the Netherlands, but many still lay buried at cemeteries in Suriname.
AMSTERDAM—Atop the heated discussion about the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) a leading art historian has provided unmistakable proof that the slavish helper of Sinterklaas has his origins in child slavery. “Fascinating and disturbing at the same time,” Dutch newspaper Volkskrant quoted Elmer Korin on Thursday. The art history teacher of the University of Amsterdam was referring to a 1687 painting by Michiel van Musscher on which appears diplomat ‘Thomas van Hees with his cousins’; in the back of the distinguished gentleman a boy of African heritage is pictured, obviously their slave. He is identified in the painting’s ledger as ‘Thomas the Negro, 17 years old.’
Korin believes Zwarte Piet was modeled after this boy. “It’s clear that he was a slave; the metal collar around his neck sure does proof that. This boy is the predecessor of Zwarte Piet,” he said.
He believes this painting and others that feature 17th century portraits of Black servants in Europe are a clear indication of how Zwarte Piet became a fixture in Dutch folklore. “These were child slaves. In fact, with this knowledge, White people should show some good judgment and no longer want Zwarte Piet.” Volkskrant, a leading evening newspaper editorialized that if there’s one person who could be considered an authority on this, it’s Korin. The story lists the historian’s long list of achievements to support this statement.
PARAMARIBO–The work done in Suriname on the matter of reparations may well make the country a suitable test case in CARICOM’s intentions to file suit for compensation against the region’s former colonizers. Suriname’s National Reparations Committee (NRC) reported this in a press release issued on Monday, following its participation in the first Regional Reparations Conference in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Suriname was represented by Armand Zunder and Guno Rijssel, respectively Chairman and Secretary of the NRC. At the conference, which has been described as a success, Zunder was chosen as one of the vice chairs of the Regional Reparations Commission; UWI Professor Hilary Beckles was elected as Chairperson.
The establishment of formal structures was considered a first milestone since Caricom Heads of State last July passed their “historic” resolution which requested each member state to document the effects of European genocide against the region’s indigenous people, the slave trade and the enslavement of Africans.
AMSTERDAM–The decision by the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to jointly approach the matter of reparations for descendants of African slaves in the region, has received a “thumbs up” from Suriname’s diaspora in The Netherlands. Barryl Biekman, chairlady of the National Platform Slavery Past LPS in The Netherlands last Friday called the resolution to establish a Caricom Reparations Commission “a historical accomplishment”. She extended congratulations in a letter she sent to Suriname’s Committee .
Caricom heads of government last July agreed on collaborative follow-up action on the matter of reparations for native genocide and slavery; national reparations committees will be established in each member state with the chair of each committee sitting on the regional Commission, chaired by Prime Minister Fruendel Stuart of Barbados. St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago will provide political oversight. Caricom has meanwhile enlisted the help of a prominent British human rights law firm to assist in the matter.
Biekman commended Suriname for appointing economist Armand Zunder to the lead of the National Reparations Committee. “A logical choice, seeing Mr. Zunder’s previous achievements regarding the reparations issue,” she wrote.
AMSTERDAM–The call for an apology for slavery from the Dutch authorities got an unprecedented boost last Saturday, when the Council of Churches released a statement in which it acknowledged its involvement in the inhumane practice. “As churches we know of our part in this blemished past and we have to acknowledge that theology was misused to justify slavery,” the statement said. The council said it regretted that it did not have these insights earlier.
“(Slavery) is a story of white Dutchmen, of Government and also of the church,” said Council chairman Klaas van de Kamp in a televised discussion on Friday. He said the church held a prominent place in the community back then, but systematically chose to look the other way. “We have a beautiful gospel, but we failed to apply it. Instead we chose to make money (from slavery),” Van de Kamp said. He said it is time the white Dutchman acknowledges his role in the “black holocaust.”
The extensive statement by the Council was presented to the Moravian Church on Saturday at a ceremony in the north Holland city of Amersfoort. It was addressed to the “churches and the descendants of people who were once traded and put to work as slaves.” The statement noted that descendants live in Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, the Dutch Caribbean and the Netherlands.
By Marvin A. Hokstam
AMSTERDAM–Derk Vermeer, Chairman of the Board of the Royal Tropical Institute KIT in Amsterdam sounded full of confidence last Monday when he said that all efforts were being made to keep the institute’s historical collections in the Tropical museum and the KIT Library accessible to the public. KIT harbors one of the most comprehensive collections that detail Dutch colonial dealings in the Caribbean, and social media has buzzed alive lately with fears that much of this colonial heritage may get lost per January 1st 2014 when budget cuts take effect. But Vermeer said there is a solution. “I trust that the collection will not get lost; everything that involves our colonial heritage will remain accessible one way or the other,” he said resolutely.
His response may console the thousands of people who have raised their voices in recent months in fear that much of their history on display at the stately building at Mauritskade in Amsterdam would disappear. KIT’s fate has been in the balance since 2011, when Government announced that the institute would have to make do with 20 million euros less in subsidies; with half of their budget gone, , the library will be closed and museum faces in any case a reduction with 23 of the 52 jobs, 35 % of the staff. KIT’s Research and Intercultural Professionals Departments are among the lucky ones to escape unscathed.
“Talk about erasure,” St. Maartener Deborah Jack reacted last weekend when she heard the news. She was one of many who are expressing shock with what some call Dutch disinterest in its colonial history. “Dutch politicians and even a lot of Dutch people wouldn’t mind (the KIT collections disappearing), as they don’t feel that part of their history is important and/or feel it’s an embarrassment they want nothing to do with,” worldly Dutchwoman Sasha Dees commented.
The objections are also taking official form. Close to 10,000 people from all over the world have so far signed a petition that urges the Rutte Kabinet and the Second Chamber to grant structural financing and keep the museum open. The petition called the budget-cuts a “frontal attack on the flagship store of ethnology museums”. Urging preservation of the expertise and the collection at the Tropics Museum for future generations, it warned that “when the prestigious library and museum are closed, knowledge will be destroyed that will never be restored.” The petition will be presented to Government and Parliament on June 17th.
PARAMARIBO–With just over a month to go before Suriname (and other former Dutch colonies) marks the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, an Afro-Surinamese foundation has refueled the calls for an apology from the Netherlands. Rudi Bottse, chairman of the Broki (Bridge) Collective said that if the Dutch don’t apologize in 2013, he will lodge a complaint at international organizations against the former colonizer.
“If the Dutch don’t apologize this year, I will seek support from other countries with a slavery past to bring this matter to the attention of the European Union and the Unit Nations and force the Netherlands to formally apologize,” Bottse said.
The history of Slavery in the former Dutch colonies is about as old as Dutch colonial history. Over more than three centuries a lively slave trade existed, during which the Dutch shipped an estimated one million Africans from their continent to work on plantations in “the new world”. Slavery was officially abolished on July 1st 1863, but it has always remained a sour point that the Netherlands didn’t actually free the slaves out of humanity and never offered a formal apology to their descendants.
While the USA in 2008 passed a formal resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation and a London Mayor in 2007 apologized for that part of Britain’s history that is tainted by the slave trade, the Dutch have so far stopped short of saying they regret slavery took place.
AMSTERDAM–A foundation has kicked off a donation drive in the Netherlands to raise the funds to erect a national slavery monument in Suriname. Winston Wirth of Green Hearts Foundation International (GHFI) said at the foundation’s first information session in Amsterdam that the intention is to raise at least US$ 400,000.
The intention to erect monument that would pay homage to the heroes of the days when slavery was norm, was first announced last February by President Bouterse. “The national heroes should be honored with a monument that is a powerful tribute,” the President said then. Veteran artist Erwien de Vries, who also sculpted the Slavery Monument in Amsterdam’s Oostpark, has offered to create the monument, but it turns out that the necessary funds are not in Government’s budget.