Keti Koti Festival Shines Light on Groningen’s Dark Past – VIDEO

By Emily Zaal & Stéphanie Hamel

Groningen’s cultural scene is hosting a large scale Keti Koti festival on July 1st. After a year of discussions about its role in the Dutch slave trade, is now the time for the northern city to offer a formal apology?

June 30, 2022. Tomorrow, the Keti Koti Groningen Festival will take place in the A-Kerk, the Forum, the Groninger Museum and several other venues. Celebrated every 1st of July, Keti Koti (Surinamese for “the chain is broken) commemorates the aboliton of slavery in Suriname and the former Dutch Antilles.

Until recently, Groningen’s participation in the Dutch slave trade was relatively unknown to the public. However, for more than two centuries, Groningen was actively involved with the West India Company (WIC), which dealt heavily with the transatlantic trading of enslaved human beings.

The Bitterzoet Erfgoed (Bittersweet Heritage) project shed light on this history, with several exhibitions and events that shaped Groningen’s cultural landscape this year. They are now behind the Keti Koti Groningen Festival which will allow people to visit the exhibitions for free and watch films on the topic of slavery and emancipation – besides the traditional food and music festivities.

Roberto Refos will also be present. A chairman for Comité 30 Juni 1 Juli, Refos strives to create dialogue around The Netherlands’s complex heritage and race relations. Amongst other goals, the Comité advocates for the creation of commemorative monuments to slavery, making Keti Koti a national bank holiday and for the local and national governments to offer public apologies for their parts in these past crimes.

Some of these demands have been gaining prominence: many companies are already giving their employees a day off for Keti Koti – while the cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam gave public apologies for their role in the slave trade. However, on a national level, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is still reluctant to take that latter step.

In Groningen, political party D66 initiated a motion for the Municipality Council to conduct thorough research on the city’s ties to slavery. Supported by GroenLinks, 100%Groningen, Partij voor de Dieren Student & Stad, and Christenunie, the motion was adopted by the majority of the council. Municipality Councilor Jim Lo-A-Njoe told 9to5 that a final report on the research should be expected by early 2023. Lo-A-Njoe also confirmed that a monument commemorating slavery is in the works, and should be inaugurated for next year’s Keti Koti.

It is still too early to tell whether Groningen will join other Dutch cities and offer a public apology. However, by acknowledging its share in the Netherlands’s dark history, the city in the north might also help shift the national conversation.

For more information on the Keti Koti Groningen festival events, consult the program here.

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