AMSTERDAM--Amsterdam observed Emancipation Day and the fact that the Netherlands abolished slavery 148 years ago during a ceremony on Friday that was both colourful and solemn at the same time. Speakers agreed that 1863 was so not long ago and that it was time for broad recognition.
Thousands, mainly of Surinamese descent, went to the Oosterpark, one of the larger parks in Amsterdam where the national slavery past monument has been located since 2002. People went to listen to the speeches, witness the laying of wreaths, but they also went to enjoy the food, music and the parade with participants dressed in colourful traditional clothing.
During the formal part wreaths were laid at the "Shared past, common future" July 1 monument by Second Chamber Chairlady Gerdi Verbeet, Ministers Plenipotentiary Edwin Abath of Aruba, Sheldry Osepa of Curaçao, and Mathias Voges of St. Maarten, and by Consul General of Suriname Roy Lieuw A Sie, Amsterdam Alderwoman Andrée van Es, representatives of the national slavery heritage institute NiNsee and the embassy of Ghana.
Verbeet referred to the big role of the Netherlands in the slave trade. At the height of slave trade, there were 50,000 slaves in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles, but many more had been transported on Dutch ships. She remarked that the Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish the "barbaric laws" of slavery.
"It is only a short while ago," said Verbeet who said that she would not shun this piece Dutch dark history. She said it was important to recognise and discuss this past. She said slavery still existed with young girls being forced into prostitution. But, she added, "At least authorities are now hunting down the offenders and not the victims as happened in the past."
Alderwoman Van Es pointed out that on July 1, 1863, 33,000 slaves were liberated in Suriname and 12,000 on the Antillean islands. "Today's observation presents us the opportunity to observe what happened, to recognise what that means. When we think about this, we are filled with shame," she said, adding that slavery had left "deep marks" in the mental and social structure and that there should be "broad recognition for the pain and suffering" that was caused.
National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy NiNsee President Eddy Campbell supported Van Es' call for a broadening of the recognition for the Dutch slavery past. Together with Amsterdam and Middelburg, the two main cities with historical ties to slavery, NiNsee wants to organise a big event in 2013 on the 150th anniversary.
Campbell also touched on the plans by the Dutch Government to stop the subsidy to NiNsee from January 1, 2013 as part of the broad cuts in the culture budget. "These cuts are draconic, barbaric." Campbell said it was "unacceptable" that Antillean and Surinamese participation organisations would have to shut down due to the budget cuts. He said the absence of members of the Dutch cabinet confirmed that they had no respect.
PHILIPSBURG (Sint Maarten) --Emancipation is a work in progress. This was the general sentiment expressed by Members of Parliament (MPs) and members of the Council of Ministers during a special gathering of Parliament yesterday in observance of Emancipation Day on Friday.
*****The programme for this year's celebration began with an ecumenical service at the New Testament Baptist Church in the morning. This was followed by the Parliament gathering then a luncheon hosted by the Education Minister for invited guests at the Sheer Restaurant on Front Street.
It culminated with a Cultural Parade which began at the Courthouse, made its way along Front Street up to the Emmaplein and then to the Sundial School roundabout, along the Walter Nisbeth Road (Pondfill) and turning in by the Salt Pickers Roundabout to end up at the Square where Tanny and the Boys was scheduled to entertain the public.
MPs Roy Marlin (DP), Romain Laville, Dr. Ruth Douglass and Gracita Arrindell (UP) and George Pantophlet and Dr. Lloyd Richardson (NA) attended the parliament gathering. Governor Eugene Holiday, Ministers Rhoda Arrindell, Franklin Meyers and Theo Heyliger and Dr. Louis Jeffry representing French St. Martin were also in attendance.
In remarks at the session Rhoda Arrindell knocked local newspapers for not publishing any supplement for Emancipation Day, while supplements are published for events such as Halloween.
She said from the moment she entered into government, priority number one was to make July 1 an official National Public Holiday. She said the process began in December 2010, less than two months after taking took office. "At the time, I signalled my intention to bring before Parliament a draft law that would make Emancipation Day, a national public holiday. The Council of Ministers approved the draft law more than two months ago. This draft law is making its way through the constitutionally mandated channels and I hope Parliament would be able to handle it when it returns from recess," she said.
Recognizing the importance of this day, the Council of Ministers decided to grant all government workers the day off.
The minister said emancipation did not come about as a result of a change of heart by those who had enslaved our ancestors. "It is the victory of the indomitable human spirit over the inhumanities and injustices of slavery. What we are celebrating today is therefore the hard fought freedom of our ancestors whose struggle gave testament to the saying that "men are enslaved by force but remain slaves by choice.
"This is a powerful statement that should make all of us reflect on the constitutional path we have chosen. In two referenda six years apart, the people of St. Martin chose to remain within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a choice we need to revisit; it is a choice our leaders led us into. What will history say about our choice? What will our own children say about it? Would they be able to celebrate that choice as a victory? Victory over what? Victory over who?
"Slavery was an evil system of mad exploitation and dehumanizing oppression. It stigmatized both the oppressed and the oppressor. The effects of Slavery are still very much with us today. Its psychological impact still lingers on. It is like a deeply infected wound which we think is cured by bandaging it. The smell it oozes out alone is toxic. The only way for it to heal would be to cleanse the wound, sanitize it, disinfect it, and apply an ointment that may burn us, before drying it up. What we have been doing thus far, is seeking short-cuts to real and enduring freedom. There is no short cut to freedom. There is no measure for it either. You cannot be half-free, somewhat free, or almost free: you are either free or not. And freedom, in my humble view, is the condition sine qua non for progress."
Gracita Arrindell said she is confident that after the draft legislation is submitted to Parliament and is reviewed by the relevant advisory councils, on July 1, 2012, the people of St. Maarten will be able to observe Emancipation Day as an official national holiday.
She said Friday's observance was "yet another important step in our nation's political history as we strive to evolve not only in the process of building our governmental institutions but more so, as we strive to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery clothed in its myriad forms."
"While our young nation has faced a number of challenges, and will continue to do so, as we move forward we must chart our own course for the future of all our people. Emancipation is an ongoing process. There simply is no expiration date," she said.
Gracita Arrindell continued: "In the past eight months several Members of Parliament, members of government, as well as citizens have expressed their strong reservations about the manner in which ... we the people of St. Maarten remain shackled to, and by, some of the vestiges of our colonial history.
"In keeping with our new constitutional status, we might be a more autonomous political entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in some respects, but in some ways we are even more shackled than before...Today, as I have done before, I state boldly: Some of the challenges we face today, could and should have been avoided, if only, collectively we had the courage to stand up, draw a line in the sand and say, 'so far and no further.'
"We still have a lot of work to do if St. Maarten is to attain its full measure of the right of self-determination. This is just the start, not the end."
Gracita Arrindell said to the more than 102 nationalities in St. Maarten: "If you choose to come here to make a living, a new life, come out and celebrate with us, not only when convenient. On our way to becoming a full self-governing country, as the people's representatives, we are challenged to come together and to continue building a strong and viable nation. Everyone is needed onboard. Everyone has important roles to play.
"I take pride in the fact, and I am grateful, as I am sure we all are grateful, to be able to play critical roles in this process of emancipation and nation-building. Let us not fail our people."
Don't lose focus
Speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party MP Roy Marlin said this is the first time that St. Maarten as a country is in a position to officially observe Emancipation Day. He said while the meaning of this day is remembered, we must not lose focus and realise that in this many people around the world today are still subjected to slavery servitude.
He said Emancipation Day is a time to reflect on how far we have come as a people and how far we still have to go. "It will live on as long as we acknowledge the achievement of our forefathers who suffered for us," Marlin said adding that it was because of their struggles that St. Maarten is able to form a government.
Speaking on behalf of the National Alliance MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson said it was NA's leader William Marlin who had first brought the idea of making Emancipation Day an official holiday to the floor of the former Netherlands Antilles Parliament, but it was turned down because Curacao's Flag Day was being observed on July 2.
He applauded the Culture Minister for taking up the task to making this day an official holiday now that St. Maarten has become a county. We must remember, he said, that our freedom did not come easily. "We must reflect on our situation in the present and see how it compares to what it was then," Richardson said adding that while we are a free people, if there are economically and educationally constraints, we are still in some sort of bondage. "If educationally we do not find the means to give every person who occupies this island the freedom and the means by which they can be educated freely based on their capabilities and not the judgement of others we still would consider ourselves enslaved hence it is incumbent on us who in our minds feel we are free to insist and ensure that the opportunity is given to extend to those less fortunate than us.
"It is in this vein that members in this house attacked the six months contract because there was and still are abuses of the exercises of power domination and more so economic gain for this society and we can go on and try to cite problems that still exist in this community. We would rather look on the positive side and see if we can encourage all of us to take part in the emancipation of ourselves, but everyone we come into contact with in this community where we hold jurisdiction that's why we are one of pride. We just want the freedom to be able to develop ourselves without restrictions, without obstructions so that we could then through our hearts give back to whoever once they are human beings and form part of this and other communities of the world."
MP Romain Laville, who spoke on behalf of the United People's (UP) Party, asked whether we are truly emancipated. He said emancipation speaks of political rights that people may have the ability to choose whichever party, persons or individuals they see that have the vested interest for them and their kids. It speaks, he added, about equality no matter a person's skin colour creed race.
Tourism Minister Franklin Meyers said freedom is something that fuels "our very soul," while "slavery makes it weak." He said freedom is a desire that comes from within.
Emancipation Day is not just a time that was fought for, it is a time to reflect on the struggle of our forefathers. "The struggle must still go on," he said adding that St. Maarten is a place in the Caribbean that he can say is truly free.