To allow the country to elaborate its colonial past, King Willem-Alexander has decided to give up the historic golden carriage, the Golden Coach, depicting black men kneeling before white masters, at the center of a debate on racism and slavery.
“We cannot rewrite the past. We can try to accept it together. This also applies to the colonial past, ”King Willem-Alexander said in an official video message.
“As long as there are people in the Netherlands who feel the pain of discrimination on a daily basis, the past will still cast its shadow over the present,” continued the 54-year-old sovereign.
Hence the decision to leave the Gouden Koets parked until further notice, the name of the sumptuous royal carriage finely gilded in gold and drawn by horses, usually circulating through the streets of Amsterdam on the occasion of official ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms, to conduct the monarch in Parliament for his annual opening speech.
“The Gouden Koets can only be used again when the Netherlands are ready for it. This is currently not the case, ”said King Willem-Alexander. Actually it has not been used since 2015 and for 5 years it stood still for its complete restoration, which now sees the precious carriage on display in Amsterdam in an exhibition dedicated to the colonial step of Holland.
The controversial painting on the left side, entitled “Tribute from the colonies”, depicts black and Asian people, one of them kneeling, in the act of offering goods, such as cocoa and cane sugar, to a young white woman seated on a throne which symbolizes Holland. The painting also depicts a white boy handing a book to a black child, a scene that Dutch painter Nicolaas van der Waay defined in 1896 as “civilization”.
The carriage, a gift from the city of Amsterdam to Princess Wilhelmina for her investiture in 1898, is in Dutch Renaissance style and in teak wood, much of which is covered with gold leaf. As early as 2011, two Dutch MPs proposed to remove the discord panel.
Taking over from his mother Beatrix after her abdication in 2013, King Wilhem-Alexander is among the most informal and progressive European rulers: he never wore the crown and in 2021 he broke with the tradition of the day of the Koningsdag, the “King’s Day” , which on the day of his birthday – his is April 27 – foresees big celebrations in Amsterdam, organized above all by the Oranjecomité, the orange committees.
In the Netherlands as in other European countries, the recurring debate on the colonial past and slavery has returned to the center of society and politics in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement born in the United States, in the wake of the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis .