How does the National Slavery Museum become ‘belonging to all of us’?

The new National Slavery Museum should be located on Java Island in Amsterdam. It should be 9,000 square meters in size and should mainly be about the transatlantic slave trade from Africa.

A committee of three quartermasters wrote this in an advisory report after discussions with more than five thousand stakeholders from the Netherlands, Suriname and the Caribbean islands. The proposal forms the basis for the decision that the municipality and the cabinet will take later this year on the construction of the new museum.

According to the committee, the head of Java Island is the most suitable location for the museum, which should open in 2030. The wish is to build an iconic building on the IJ, for which an international competition will be held.

Councilor Touria Meliani (Culture, GroenLinks) said on Thursday during the presentation of the advice that the design of the museum will be quite a task “that will demand a lot from our imagination and empathy”. Because, Meliani said, slavery has caused suffering in countless places around the world. “How do we do justice to all these facets? How do we ensure that all communities feel represented in this? That this will become a museum of all of us?”

The quartermasters have now come up with a solution to divide the museum into different time periods. Visitors can choose which periods of slavery they view, and whether they want to see, for example, the stories of the African diaspora or those of the Asian diaspora.

The advice also includes proposals for, among other things, a children’s area, a quiet area and a public park in front of the entrance, where visitors can “process the intense content of the museum”.

‘Place of honor in the palace of lies’

Whether this is all feasible remains to be seen. The municipality of Amsterdam and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science have each released 29 million euros, but that is not yet enough. Additional money must be raised from funds.

And after the House of Representatives elections of November 2023, another uncertain factor has been added: the PVV. The big election winner, who is currently trying to form a coalition with other right-wing parties, is strongly opposed to the plan. PVV member Martin Bosma, now Speaker of the House, sees the Slavery Museum as “propaganda”. he said in a debate in Parliament last year. “This ministry finances the museums in which our heroes are insulted. Willem van Oranje, Michiel de Ruyter, Witte de With, they are all ridiculed,” said Bosma. “Who are still heroes? Apparently the racist murderers of babies, toddlers and teachers. They will soon get a place of honor in the palace of lies that will be called the Slavery Museum. They will get a statue, just pay attention.”

Stories of ordinary people

The plans for the Slavery Museum sound different. Ex-politician John Leerdam, one of the quartermasters, explained at the presentation how he wants to put the stories of ordinary people at the center of the museum. Such as the story of two teachers in Curaçao. “In 1973 they wanted to teach the children at school about Tula, who rebelled against slavery and was publicly murdered for it. When the school board found out that the two teachers were talking about Tula, they were fired. At that time it was forbidden to talk about the history of slavery.”

By showing these types of stories, the museum wants to show how slavery still continues, says Leerdam. “We spoke to the children of the two teachers, who now have grandchildren of their own. We heard how the pain of dismissal had been passed on to their great-grandchildren. But they were also proud of their great-grandparents, who contributed to change. Just like we want to turn these teachers in the museum into heroes.”