Leonard Blussé is Professor Emeritus in the History of European-Asian Relations at the University of Leiden Institute for History. He is a specialist in Early Modern History of Southeast and East Asia; the History of Overseas Chinese and in Global History. His recent publications include: Visible Cities Canton, Nagasaki and Batavia and the Coming of the
Americans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2008; Ryu to Mitsubachi, Chugokukai-eki no orandajin yonhyakunenshi, (The Dragon and the Honeybees, four hundred years of Dutch activities on the China Coast) transl. Fukami Sumio, Fujita Kayoko, Koike Makoto, Tokyo: Koyo Shobo, 2008; Bitter Bonds, A Colonial Divorce Drama of the Seventeenth Century. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers 2002.
How to cope with the uncomfortable past? Dutch colonialism and resistance
(by Pieter Emmer and Leonard Blussé)
For many decades the colonial expansion as well as the resistance against the German occupation have given rise to the creation of a number of colonial and resistance heroes, of a large number of street names, statues as well as specialised museums. Recently, both periods have come under critical scrutiny. The benefits of Dutch colonial rule now seem to pale in view of the long list of crimes against humanity such as slavery, the violence used to supress rebellions, and – in more recent times the Dutch war crimes during the war of decolonisation in the Dutch East Indies/Indonesia between 1945 and 1949.
The same volte-face occurred in the popular appreciation of the role of the Dutch during the German occupation. Rather than the heroic acts of resistance such as sabotage or sheltering Jews, it appeared that the number of Dutch resistance fighters was modest, while the number of collaborators as well as the percentage of murdered Jews were higher than in other occupied countries.
These changes in the appreciation of Dutch colonialism and the Dutch behaviour during the Occupation have put into question the many street names, statues, plaques, etc called after the heroes of Dutch colonial rule and the Resistance. What to do? Remove the statues and rename the streets? Or leave them and provide additional information on information boards? In addition, some of the (distant) relatives of some of the victims of the Dutch role in the decolonisation war as well as of the former slaves have formulated claims for compensation.Should the Dutch government pay up?
Key words: colonial expansion, Dutch colonialism, Dutch Resistance, historical myths