Dutch cities ask government to recognise abolition of slavery with national holiday

Dutch cities ask government to recognise abolition of slavery with national holiday

As the United States celebrated Juneteenth as a national holiday for the first time this year, a number of major cities in the Netherlands have asked the Dutch government to recognise the abolition of slavery with a national holiday here as well. 

Should Keti Koti be a national holiday?

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden passed legislation officially recognising the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States on June 19, and the public holiday was celebrated on Friday, June 18 for the first time, as the official holiday fell on a Saturday this year. 

Linda Nooitmeer, chair of the National Institute of Dutch Slavery History and Legacy (NiNsee), praised the US’ decision to recognise the significant day in history, calling it a “real step” towards worldwide recognition of the history of slavery. 

To further this recognition, Nooitmeer said she would like to see Keti Koti (“broken chains”) recognised as a national holiday in the Netherlands to celebrate the abolition of slavery in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles on July 1, 1863, and honour the lives lost. “When we commemorate the victims together, we recognise that the history of slavery has had an impact and continues to have an impact,” Nooitmeer explained. “Then you can also ask what we are going to do to nullify its effects."

Recognising the Netherlands' history and the Dutch slave trade

A number of Dutch cities have supported Nooitmeer’s call, as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht urged the cabinet to make Keti Koti (July 1) a national holiday. Councillor for Amsterdam, Nenita La Rose from the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), believes the holiday can aid national reflection on the Netherlands’ history and the ongoing impact of slavery. 

In a letter to the cabinet, the cities call for “the hidden and inconvenient history” of slavery to be brought out of the shadows, allowing for “the stories of the slavery past and colonial history [to] be discussed openly.” In addition to making Keti Koti a holiday, the cities would like to see a national survey conducted into the role the Netherlands played in the slave trade, and would like a National Bureau of Racism and Discrimination to be established.

Nooitmeer has, however, said that the holiday can only work if it operates as a first step towards taking further action to combat the long-term effects of slavery. “Concrete measures must follow,” she says. “Investments in Afro-Dutch communities in the Netherlands and in the former colonies, combating abuses in the housing and labour market. Something must be done, otherwise, such a day will remain symbolic."

Thumb: National Monument to Slavery, via Stadsarchief Amsterdam / Martin Alberts.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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