“Together with several other citizens of Denmark, we declare to be troubled about a deeply regrettable past, in which the forefathers of the population on the US Virgin Islands were enslaved and against their will were forced to labor for masters, many of whom came from Denmark. For this, although belated, we apologize in the spirit of love,” Jørgen Bøytler, pastor of the Moravian Church in Denmark, says in the one-page statement. “The amount of human sorrow, pain and despair caused by the slavery cannot be imagined. The lack of respect of the human dignity of the people, who against their will were enslaved, is not comprehendible for us today. The injustice caused by our forefathers to the forefathers of the population of the islands is inexcusable,” he goes on to say.
Denmark’s presence in the U.S. Virgin Islands began in 1666 and for more than a century, people of African descent were forcibly being brought across the Atlantic Ocean as slaves to labor in plantations, in homes of planters and other entities owned by people of Danish origin and people of other nationalities. “Commodities produced through slave labor on the islands, including sugar and rum were instrument in the creation of an increasing wealth in Denmark,” the church’s statement declares.
“It is time to face the past. It is time to share, in honesty and humbleness, the feelings and thoughts, we as 21st Century Danes have. Doing this will allow neither the people of the US Virgin Islands, nor the people of Denmark to forget the past. However, the hope is that doing so, will help all of us in unison to seek a future, in which mutual understanding, love and respect set our course as two peoples, which through a troubled past are bound together. It is time for reconciliation of our hearts and minds,” church leaders said in the statement.
The church’s actions stand in contrast to the official position of the Danish government. The nation is quick to acknowledge slavery was bad, but balks at going from that step to then taking responsibility for the wealth its monarchy derived from the slave trade or the troubles within the islands it populated with men and women violently taken their from their homes and forced into chattel bondage.
In 2013, a left-leaning political party moved in the Danish Parliament for an apology. The country’s government rejected the idea, but declared it recognizes the evils of slavery in its past. It issued a formal statement saying it will not issue a formal apology or pay reparations to the U.S. Virgin Islands arguing that there are no living former Danish slave owners or slaves to apologize or to apologize to.
The formal statement came after the small far-left Danish political party Enhedslisten, or Unity Party, in November called on the government of Denmark to apologize for its role in the transatlantic slave trade.
The party, a coalition of several smaller parties called “Enhedslisten” or “Unity Party,” or Red-Green Alliance, controls 12 seats in the 175-seat Danish parliament, making it the fifth largest party in parliament, and the fourth largest left of center party. It is a member of the current governing coalition of parties.
The far-right Dansk Folkeparti, which has 22 seats in parliament, said that Denmark shouldn’t be held responsible for something that happened “200 years ago.” DF spokesperson Soren Espersen told Politiken newspaper in Denmark.
In 2008 the Danish government issued a statement also saying slavery was a terrible atrocity and a part of Danish and world history, also without any statement of apology for historical actions.