Opinion: ReparationPOSTED: 10/31/13 11:32 AM
Two Members of Parliament asked this week for my opinion about reparation – financial compensation for the sufferings Caribbean ancestors had to endure during the slavery era.
I do not consider myself a Dutchman, even though I have a Dutch passport. I consider myself an earthling, and that changes the perspective. I do not look at this issue from the Dutch colonial point of view, nor do I look at it from the other end. I like to deal with reality.
So my first reaction was that I don’t see the point of it. The reality is obviously that one could argue about, beg for compensation for the next five centuries, and never see a penny. There is no way that the Dutch are going to dive into their piggy bank to dole out money to people who have never experienced slavery – at least not of the kind they are referring to.
In my opinion reparation claims should be limited to, say, the third generation – the grandchildren of those who had to endure the injustice. After that, you’re on your own.
I remember an address by the former Education Minister of the Netherlands Antilles Omayra Leeflang at the Sundial School in 2007. Leeflang rejected whining about slavery on that occasion with the following statement: “That is not my heritage, slavery is my history. I was born free and I live free. We must not portray ourselves as victims. I have nothing with slavery, nothing. You will only become a slave again if you give yourself over to drugs and rum.”
Coming from a high profile politician, I have never forgotten this remarkable point of view. History is history. It is gone, over.
If we find slavery such a terrible practice that 1560 years later we’re still chasing the culprits with claims for hard cash, then why don’t we act against the slavery that is practiced right under our noses today?
Nobody in his right mind in the Netherlands is going to say that it was okay to subject others to slavery. Amsterdam has its stylish National Slavery Monument in the Oosterpark. It is an expression of the empathy modern day Dutch feel with the victims of that time. It is also a permanent reminder, a bit like the Auschwitz Monument Jan Wolkers designed for the Dutch Auschwitz Committee.
This monument, originally located at the Ooster Cemetery moved in 1993 to the Wertheim Park in Amsterdam. It consists of broken mirrors and carries the text Never Again Auschwitz. The mirrors reflect the sky. Wolkers, who died in 2007, said that the monument symbolizes that after Auschwitz the sky will never be whole again.
Never again. That should also be the credo for those who work hard to keep the slavery history a part of the country’s psyche.
It is of course terrible what happened at the time. I have no argument there. But it is done – it is history.
What we ought to deal with right now is the present with that history in mind. Never again.
The reality is that all those who eat, drink, sleep and dream slavery until they are blue in the face turn a blind eye to what is happening today. Yes, we do have a National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking now, and that is a step in the right direction. This is the address to report exploitation. As a first step, it is okay, but it still feels a bit like a passive and reactive approach.
Where was the outrage when, in 2012, the owner of the Border Bar was sentenced for exploitation, human trafficking and robbing prostitutes of their freedom? There was not a single politician around who even dared open her or his mouth.
Remembering the slavery history – as we do every year on July 1 – only becomes meaningful if it is embedded in what is happening right now. And don’t start with me about those 6-months contracts. The true slavery today takes place in our brothels – legal and illegal – but according to the 2011 Crime Analysis report also in retail, domestic service, security companies, landscaping and construction.
The report refers specifically to immigrant retailers that recruit staff in their countries of origin. It does not take a university degree to conclude that the researchers refer to Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs. These days we call the conditions prostitutes and employees in other sectors are subjected to exploitation. This is the political correct word for slavery – because that’s what it really is. Nobody on the decision making level is prepared to acknowledge this, let alone take action to improve the situation.
I find all this rather weird. Politicians are honing their knives in a bid to squeeze compensation out of the old colonial power and at the same time, they condone slavery at home.
It is especially this lackluster attitude that makes the few hairs I have go on end when the discussion turns to reparation. It is incredibly hypocritical and a strong additional argument against reparation.
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