TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Dutch King Willem Alexander will refrain from using a royal carriage riddled in controversy for years for its depiction of colonial slavery, the king announced on Thursday, January 14.
“The Golden Coach will only ride again once the Netherlands is ready for it, and currently that is not the case,” King Willem Alexander said in a video announcement released on Thursday, January 13.
The Gouden Koets was a gift from the city of Amsterdam to Queen Wilhelmina in 1898, and has been used on key public occasions by the Dutch royal family for over a century. On the side of a carriage is the painting ‘Homage from the Colonies’, showing the Dutch Queen on a throne, surrounded by bowing and kneeling colonial subjects, including Indonesians.
“All citizens of this country must feel like equals, and believe that they have equal opportunities. This includes those Dutch citizens who were not free in the East or the West,” Willem Alexander said. Many people were enslaved under Dutch colonial rule in the Indonesian archipelago and territories in the Caribbean. “As long as there are people in the Netherlands who still feel the pain of discrimination, the shadow of the past still plays a part in the present days, and it is not over yet,” the King said.
The carriage and its symbolism have already sparked outcry, particularly within the Dutch migrant groups with ties to the former colonies, for many years. This has intensified in the past decade, including calls by Jeffry Pondaag of the Dutch-based Committee of Dutch Debts of Honor KUKB to ban the coach altogether. In the past two years, this discussion was spurred further by the global Black Lives Matter movements.
Since 2015, the carriage has been in restoration, and then displayed at the Amsterdam Museum in the exhibition ‘The Golden Coach’, opened by King Willem Alexander in June 2020. In addition to telling the coach’s historical background, the exhibition also underlined public discussions over the future of the controversial golden vehicle.
The King’s decision has received mixed reactions. The daily Het Algemeen Dagblad said Willem Alexander’s decision was “wise”. “It’s good that it was decided not to paint over the panel, as was suggested earlier. We must not try to rewrite history by partially destroying it.”
Jozephine Trehy, who covers the Dutch Royal family for national Dutch broadcaster NOS, said it was “clear that Willem Alexander did not want to choose sides, and he indeed cannot do that as King. The role of a king is to connect people, but this is difficult in a discussion where people’s views are so sharply divided.”
“It remains vague what exactly must occur within the public discussion in order for the Golden Coach to be used again,” Trehy said.
Mitchell Esajas, the founder of the black heritage foundation the Black Archives, pointed out on Dutch NPO Radio 1: “I can’t imagine that people from the black community, and those who are critical about the colonial past would ever think differently about this (the Golden Coach).”
Linawati Sidarto, Amsterdam