On April 25, at an event commemorating the Portuguese “Carnation Revolution” in 1974, Portuguese President De Sousa said that Portugal should apologise for its historical slave trade and take corresponding responsibilities. This is the first time a Portuguese leader has suggested that the country apologise for this history.
Portuguese President Rebelo de Sousa: We take full responsibility for what we do; it’s not just an apology for what we did. There is no doubt that apologising is the right thing to do, and sometimes apologising is the easiest thing to do: apologise, turn around, and mission accomplished. This alone is not enough; for the sake of the future, we should take responsibility for what we have done in the past, whether these things were good or bad.
De Sousa acknowledged that during the colonial period, the Portuguese exploited indigenous peoples, implemented slavery, and sacrificed the interests of Brazil and Brazilians. From the 15th century to the 19th century, about 6 million Africans were kidnapped by Portuguese ships and sold as slaves to Brazil and other places.
Regarding De Sousa’s statement, Brazilian Human Rights Minister Silvio Almeida responded that the Portuguese government had taken an “extremely important step” and that “Brazil still suffers from the legacy of slavery. The exploitation of millions of slaves is a step towards reducing social inequality.” Some social activists of African descent in Portugal said that these reflective discourses need corresponding measures and commitments.
In December 2022, Dutch Prime Minister Rutte apologised for the historical behaviour of the country’s slave trade. In May 2021, the German Foreign Ministry issued a statement acknowledging that Germany had committed genocide against the Herero and Nama people in the former colony of Namibia. In November 2017, during his visit to Ghana, then-Danish Foreign Minister Samuelsen apologised to Ghana for Denmark’s historical slave trade.
Some scholars believe that European countries’ acknowledgment of colonial history and apology is just an “important step”, and there is still a lot to do to heal historical wounds. The harm caused by European colonial history to other countries cannot be made up and repaid by just apologising.