Colonies of Benevolence have formally received European Heritage Label

This month, the visitor centers of the Colonies of Benevolence in the Netherlands and Belgium were officially awarded the European Heritage Label.

People on stage during the award ceremony
Image: ©Bryan Proult
Award ceremony of the European Heritage Label

Since 2013, the European Heritage Label has been awarded to heritage sites across Europe for their symbolic value for Europe, their role in European history and the activities they organise. The seven Colonies of Benevolence form a transnational heritage site, consisting of the Dutch colonies of Frederiksoord, Wilhelminaoord, Willemsoord, Ommerschans and Veenhuizen, and the Belgian colonies of Wortel and Merksplas.

Award ceremony
On 13 June, the official award ceremony took place in Brussels, where representatives from all the new European Heritage Label sites were present. Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, awarded the European Heritage Label to the new sites. These are sites of two consecutive selection years, 2019 and 2021 because the previous award ceremony could not take place due to the corona measures. Ten sites were added to the list in 2019, including the Colonies of Benevolence, and twelve sites were added to the list in 2021.

A total of sixty sites in Europe have the European Heritage Label. In the Netherlands, Camp Westerbork Memorial Centre (since 2013), the Peace Palace (since 2013) and the Maastricht Treaty (since 2017) have the European Heritage Label. In Belgium, the Wortel and Merksplas colony are the only sites in Flanders with the European Heritage Label.

Colonies of Benevolence

The Colonies of Benevolence are awarded the European Heritage Label because they symbolise the long evolution in European thinking about socially marginalised people and the difficult recognition of their rights as full members of society, as now enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This makes the Colonies of Benevolence a symbol of European values. The Dutch institutions that are already telling the story of the colonies and propagating the European Heritage Label are the Prison Museum in Veenhuizen and Museum de Proefkolonie in Frederiksoord. For Belgium, this is the visitor centre in Merksplas. After the festive award ceremony in Brussels, the Colonies of Benevolence will continue their activities to emphasize the European dimension of the sites.

European Heritage Label
The next selection round for the European Heritage Label will take place in 2023. The national pre-selections have started for this. Keep an eye on DutchCulture's European Heritage Label page for the application procedure in the Netherlands.

Every country that takes part in the European Heritage Label has their own national coordinator: for the Netherlands this function is represented by the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE). The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Raad voor Cultuur, and DutchCulture are closely involved with the coordination, nomination and communication of the label.