The dark side of Dutch history

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

For school children, students and anyone curious about Dutch history there is the Canon of the Netherlands. It's a list of the 50 most important people and events in Dutch history. Critics complain that it pays too little attention to the negative and shameful side of the past. They argue for a Black Canon (Zwarte Canon).

Like many nations, the Dutch are rather proud of their history. Fortunately, there are many highlights and exploits to report. Six years ago, the main facts about Dutch history were put together in a list by an expert committee.

In it
That resulted in the Canon of the Netherlands, in the words of the committee a list of "knowledge that everyone should have about the history and culture of the Netherlands." The canon now forms the backbone of history education in the Netherlands.

What's in it? There are historical figures such as Erasmus, Rembrandt and Anne Frank, but also things like the first sentence written in Dutch, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), the floods of 1953 and the multicultural society.

Not in it
However, there is criticism of the canon by historian Chris van der Heijden, among others. He points out that there at least two dark chapters in Dutch history missing from the official canon: the Dutch slave trade and the failure to prevent mass murder in Bosnian Srebrenica.

Mr Van der Heijden wants to guard against the idea that "the past history of the fatherland was a fairy tale." Thus, the fact that the tough and profitable trade in the former Dutch East Indies (included in the Canon, of course) caused much grief and misery (not mentioned in the Canon).

The historian is therefore calling for a Black Canon, an overview of the darker pages of Dutch history. He hopes to cooperate with public and social media to produce such a list.

RNW has put together a list of 15 dark chapters in Dutch history. Can you suggest more historical events the Dutch should really be ashamed about?