The King of the Netherlands on Thursday 13/1 refused to drive the royal family’s chariot, at least for the time being. On one side of the train are paintings that critics say glorify Dutch colonialism, including its role in the global slave trade.
The announcement is an acknowledgment of the heated debate about the medium, as the Netherlands faces a bleak side to its history as a 17th-century colonial superpower, including Dutch traders who profited heavily from slavery.
“The Kencana Train will only be used again when the Netherlands is ready and this is not the case at the moment,” King Willem-Alexander said in a video message.
One side of the cart is decorated with a painting called “Tribute from the Colonial Lands,” which shows Asians and Blacks, one of whom is kneeling, delivering goods to a young white woman on the throne representing the Netherlands.
After lengthy repairs, the train is now on display in the Amsterdam museum. In the past, chariots were used to transport Dutch kings through the streets of The Hague to the opening of parliament each September.
“There is no point in condemning and disqualifying what is happening from the window of our time,” said the King. “Just banning symbols and historical objects is not the solution, of course. What is required is a deeper and more time-consuming collaborative effort. An effort that unites us, not divides us.”
Mitchell Eajas, an anti-racist activist and co-founder of The Black Archives in Amsterdam, called the king’s statement a “good sign”, but it was also the “minimal” the king could say.
“He said that the past should not be seen from the perspective and values of the present… and I think that is wrong because in the historical context, slavery can also be considered as a crime against humanity and a system of violence.” said. “I think this argument is often used as an excuse to cover up its violent history.”
The Netherlands, along with many other countries, revisited its colonial history ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the world after the death of a black man, George Floyd, in the United States.
Last year, the Netherlands’ national museum, the Rijksmuseum, hosted an important exhibition highlighting the country’s role in the slave trade. Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema apologized for the heavy involvement of former governors in the Dutch capital in trade.
Halsema said she wanted to engrave the great injustice of colonial slavery into her city’s identity. [uh/ab]