(P16) Colonial Asian history under fire. New perspectives of postcolonialism in the former empires due to BLM protests and discussions on slavery
Wed 14:30-16:00 K10 | 2.40
- Fridus Steijlen VU/KITLV
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BLM, a postcolonial debate and Moluccan ambivalence
Fridus Steijlen VU/KITLV
When in 2020 the BLM movement reached the Netherlands, some Moluccan activists joined the BLM protests. They also added to the movement by including events in Dutch history, like the killing of the people of the Moluccan islands of Banda in 1621 by VOC official JP Coen. They contributed by organizing demonstrations at the statue of JP Coen in his hometown Hoorn. This Moluccan contribution was applauded by a part of the Moluccan community, but declined by others. The latter not perse because people agreed with the actions of Coen, but because solidarity with ‘black people’ was not on the agenda of those who did not agree.
2020 was not the first time there were expressions of solidarity between Moluccans and other postcolonial migrants. In the 1970ies large groups of Moluccan youngsters were studying Frans Fanon and Anton de Kom. And they were setting up a postcolonial debate that was also dealing with the position and history of their fathers who were siding with the Dutch colonial power in Indonesia. Back then there were also Moluccans who did not want to join this bridging to other postcolonial migrants histories.
There is a sort of ambivalence in the relation between the Moluccan community and postcolonial debates. There is a willing to be critical, but as soon as it comes close to the own family history many leave the discussion and return to the foremost solidarity with older generations.
In my paper I will dwell through the earlier and recent bridges between postcolonial migrant histories in relation to a postcolonial debate. I will question what the differences in time are and whether or not BLM may have changed the arena. Or that BLM was an event that revealed processes that already were on the way.
De Oost and postcolonial BLM- and antislavery critiques
Esther Captain Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenku
In May 2021 the film ‘De Oost’ (The East) was released, following the experiences of Johan de Vries, a Dutch soldier deployed in the Indonesian archipelago, formerly known as the colony Dutch East Indies. The movie describes how Johan is fascinated by the charismatic commander Raymond Westerling and in following his orders, becomes complicit of committing war crimes. Since its release, ‘De Oost’ has become the most debated Dutch movie of the last decades. It has sparked reactions from various sides, ranging from veterans who served as military between 1945-1949 to postcolonial activists nowadays. In analyzing the reception of this film, I will trace down elements of postcolonial BLM- and antislavery critiques and how various generations are influenced and/or inspired by these movements.
Decolonizing communities, from the personal to the public
Stephanie Welvaart NIOD
This paper will examine how people in the Netherlands with ancestral connection to Indonesia commit themselves in multiple ways to challenge the incomplete dominant Dutch historical narrative on colonialism and slavery. It will show how different generations come together with a dedication to achieve decolonization outside as well as inside their communities and how the supposed ‘momentum’ for change can pose opportunities as well as challenges for their practices. Among others, these are practices connected to the (political) lobby and protests against the glorification of colonial perpetrators and the VOC, the Dutch excluding commemorations of the end of WWII in Indonesia and lobby for including the Dutch history of slavery in Asia in Dutch museums.
Remembering South East Asian Anticolonialism
Sander van der Horst Leiden University
Caused by growing concerns over the legacies of the Dutch colonial past as well as the global rise in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the imperial history of the Netherlands has come under growing public scrutiny. One of the results of this renewed critical stance towards Dutch colonialism is the attention being devoted to the resistance and revolt once undertaken by colonized peoples in the Dutch colonial and postcolonial world.
Part of this renewed focus lies on modern anticolonial and antiracist figures, of which the Surinamese writer and activist Anton de Kom (1898-1945) is one of the most prominent examples. Within the span of a year, De Kom has not only been added to the national historical canon of the Netherlands but the Dutch government also promised to make amends concerning the maltreatment of the De Kom by colonial authorities. Additionally, grassroots organization are now pushing for a second statue of De Kom – after another one has already been erected in Amsterdam – in The Hague, the place where De Kom lived and worked.
The story of Anton de Kom is emblematic for a larger shift occurring in Dutch memory culture surrounding colonialism. This change can partly be explained by the active engagements of institutes like the Black Archives, which aims to disclose Dutch histories of Black anticolonial and anti-racist individuals and groups. The push for anticolonial figures like De Kom, however, also poses some crucial questions for the memory politics of Dutch colonialism as a whole. Why does one, for example, search in vain for the revival of (Dutch) South East Asian anticolonial figures like Mohammed Hatta, Roestam Effendi or Nico Palar, amongst many others? What explains the imbalance between a vivid Dutch ‘Black’ memory culture on the one hand and a seemingly absent (Dutch) South East Asian one on the other? Does the public attention for historical figures like Anton de Kom open up new avenues for remembering South East Asian anticolonialism?
This paper aims to approach these pressing questions through the framework of Michael Rothberg’s multidirectional memory. It thereby focusses on different ‘mnemonic communities’ surrounding Dutch colonial history and their focus (or lack thereof) on modern anticolonial figureheads. It argues that the inclusion of South East Asian anticolonial history within a postcolonial memory culture of the Netherlands is vital in coming to terms with the Dutch imperial history as a whole.
A critical engagement with colonial history in the Netherlands sometimes came to the fore in the last decades and was transferred from a first generation of postcolonial thinkers to a second and third generation. Since May 2020, this debate has been accelerated and intensified by two contemporary developments. First the growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the US that very soon reached the shores of Europe. In the Netherlands decedents of postcolonial migrants became active in the movement adding their own demands concerning racism and the colonial to the support for the American protest. The second development is the intensifying debate on slavery history of the Netherlands, due to the BLM movement and research on this history in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Discussions related to the position of Afro-Americans and the transatlantic slave trade sharpened the debate about post coloniality and the Dutch colonial history in Asia. It sharpens the discussion for example by adding notions of slavery in Asia and structural racism originating in the colonial empire and still existing today. In this context perpetrators of colonial violence like VOC merchant JP Coen (responsible in 1621 for the murder of more then10.000 inhabitants of the island of Banda in an attempt to settle a spice-trade monopoly) were rediscovered and made object of heavy societal debates.
In other European countries we saw the same developments. In the UK for example statues of the slaveholder Edward Colson in Bristol; was taken down and replaced by a statue of a BLM protester, which later was also removed. The recent discussions are not only held in the closed settings of academia, but held in the public domain with a lot of performative actions.
Making it a broad discussion with many stakeholders.
In this panel we want to bring together scholars, activists, artists or others from European countries with Asian colonial pasts (France, the UK and the Netherlands) working on postcolonialism and the national colonial debates, to compare the recent accelerating discussions in these countries and try identify and explain differences and similarities.