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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Apology for slavery: is it enough?
In the end Europe agreed to say sorry for the part it played in the slave trade in Africa.

It didn't, however, amount to a formal apology, with EU countries carefully avoiding any legal consequences.

Some member states, such as Belgium, were keen to push an ethical line at the World Conference against Racism.

But was it all worth it? Did Europe go far enough with its expression of regret ? Or shouldn't it have apologised at all?

For this Europewide debate, Mark Reid brought together Colette Braeckmann, a specialist on Europe-African relations with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, and the historian Professor Norman Davies of Oxford University.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

I personally feel no need to say sorry for anything that took place and ended well before I was born. This is just another example of Europe being asked to shoulder the blame for everything and anybody. All those countries asking for us to say sorry are just trying to distract attention from their own grossly criminal governments of today. So no, I have no time for any of them and I would resent any more money being wasted on the criminals who are in charge of them, whose sole contribution to their county is to steal everything of value and kill anyone who gets in their way.
Greg, GB & NL

For European countries to apologize for slavery is far too much. There must not be a new "white man's burden", this time of guilt. The abolition of slavery was a European initiative, let us not forget that. Let us remember also that "slavery" in the classical sense - human beings being bought and sold as chattels - survived in some African countries longer than anywhere else, and has not quite disappeared yet. And perhaps the descendants of the African chieftains who made fortunes selling Africans into slavery should be called upon to make what amends they still can.
Peter, Netherlands


It is a sign of maturity and a sign of a cultural sensitivity

Antonio, Canada
The apology should stand, as a affirmation to the people of Africa and the world, that what was done in the past is being recognized as a wrong. It is a first step in the right direction for the Europeans to begin to recognize the evil that was done onto the people of Africa. It is a sign of maturity and a sign of a cultural sensitivity brought forth by recent progress thru education and recent information technology.

We as a world have learned so much (in such little time )and yet, still have much more to learn but only when we can say "sorry" can we begin to approach the road to forgiveness. I support the idea of saying "sorry" It is the first step. As to compensate for the conditions of the past it is impossible to put a value on it - for the world in that time was a different place, a different universe. So, with all due respect we should look to the future and think of creative ways to make life better for everyone.
Antonio, Canada

An apology will probably be of some significance, as all rituals are. But perhaps as something more concrete what Europe could do was to include much much more on its role in slavery in its school curricula and let each generation grow up with a greater consciousness of international history. In Britain at least, it seems there is still relatively little being taught or examined in schools on its role as an imperial power or its slave trade. I am a Chinese 18-year-old from an post-colonial country in South-East Asia and the language I think is in that of my country's colonial masters, so I fervently believe Europeans should be made much clearer about how they've left their scars/marks on other peoples for the last 500-odd years.
Teng Qian Xi, Singapore

What an utter farce. The blame culture that is spreading around the globe means that everyone is trying to sue someone else for their misfortune. Historical crimes can hardly be attributed to the descendants of the perpetrators. Does this mean the UK can seek compensation from the descendants of the Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans, Normans who plundered this island? Look to the past for guidance and learn from it to make the present and future better not to perpetuate ancient hostilities.
Mike Parker, England

It should be a closure to a final chapter by apologising."Europe has done some good to Africa too"
Amadou Mbye, Sweden

The majority of inhabitants of European countries at the time were virtually slaves to the Ruling Classes (they didn't have a vote). If any compensation is paid it should come from the descendants of those involved in the trade only.
Ian, England


Not a single racist will have been deterred by the farce we have just witnessed in Durban

Felland, UK
As someone who is descended from African slaves, I'd like to know, to whom were the European states apologising? It means absolutely nothing to me, nor very much to my dead ancestors. It's another of the trite and pointless gestures the West spends its time making. My guess is that not a single racist will have been deterred by the farce we have just witnessed in Durban.
Felland, UK

Apologise? To whom? When? This is a tempest in a teapot over recent events, but what about historical slavery issues going back thousands of years? What about slavery going on today? There is something wrong with today's generation being responsible for the errors a hundred plus years ago, and then having to pay compensation when the beneficiaries and the victims are long in the grave. This smacks more of monetary reward for the undeserving.
DK, Canada

Rather than opening old wounds and creating a resentment among Europeans that was not present before, perhaps Europe should instead promise to combat slavery wherever it may be found today. There is plenty of suffering in the world today without having to meander about the sufferings of the past.
Michael Gahan, Dublin, Ireland

Rather than apologise for the past, learn from it - and make the present a model for the future.
Robert del Valle, USA

They got away lightly, I still think they need to go back and visit every country to see the damage they have caused, broken families, and scattered souls. Shame, shame, shame.
James, Nigeria

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See also:

09 Sep 01 | Africa
Anti-racism plan hammered out
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