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Honorable historians denounce intimidation, but what exactly are they referring to? NRC

Honorable historians denounce intimidation, but what exactly are they referring to?

NRC, By: Ombudsman Arjen Fortuin, February 9, 2024

NRC Ombudsman Bart Funnekotter

No fewer than four letters with a request for rectification were attached to the email from a lawyer. The KUKB foundation (which is committed to support Indonesian victims of Dutch rule), the Histori Bersama foundation, Jeffry Pondaag and Marjolein van Pagee all objected to an article that appeared on page 2 of the January 31 edition: ‘Historian Anne-Lot Hoek intimidated because of book about Bali’.[1]

The reason for the article was a remarkable press release from the Royal Dutch Historical Society (KNHG), which protested against “the intimidation by threatening content of historian and independent researcher Anne-Lot Hoek by activists who are or were involved in the Histori Bersama foundation and the KUKB foundation”. Professional historians were called on to speak out against this intimidation.

Hoek, author of The Struggle for Bali (2021), a study full of atrocities which previously received praise by NRC, is being attacked so severely that, according to the association of professional historians, it has led to “an infringement of the personal freedom and safety of the historian and her family”. In the article of NRC, Pondaag was referred to as an activist whose work was not given enough attention by Hoek. Van Pagee was presented as the founder of Histori Bersama.

No reasonable period?

The complaints in the four letters were largely similar: the KNHG accusation which was covered by newspaper NRC “had no factual basis” and NRC had not asked for a response (in the letters on behalf of Pondaag and the two foundations), or no reasonable period was given (in the case of Van Pagee).

Editor Bart Funnekotter had been tipped off in advance [by KNHG] about the upcoming press statement. Shortly before it became public, he contacted Histori Bersama founder Van Pagee, as a representative of the group of activist historians that the KNHG was referring to. She said she was in Indonesia; the statement was now public. Funnekotter gave Van Pagee two hours to respond. Nothing followed and NRC published the article. It was only twenty-four hours later that Van Pagee responded, displeased. Two hours is not very long, but given that there had already been contact with Van Pagee and that the issue had already been discussed, it is reasonable in my opinion.

Criticism flourishes in a group of colonial-critical historians

The latter is also the opinion of the editor-in-chief [Melle Garschagen], who told the lawyer that is representing the two organizations, that he considered it unnecessary to delay a publication about a press statement that was already widely spread. The demand for rectification was refused. NRC believes that the claims fall under the responsibility of the KNHG.

Regarding the complaint that NRC had not applied the principle of fair hearing, it should be noted that Pondaag only appears in the article as part of the criticism against Hoek. Moreover, the KNHG’s broad formulation of ‘by activists who are or were involved in the two foundations’, made it more difficult to determine which persons should have been asked to respond.

In the meantime, a question remained unanswered in the NRC article: namely what exactly Hoek’s intimidation consisted of, even though it made the headline of the story. I only read examples in which Hoek and her work was criticized: that she pays too little attention to Pondaag and other Indonesians, that she participated in a study funded by the Dutch state, which compromised her independence. Criticism that flourishes in a fairly remote part of the colonial-critical history practice, where Hoek and Van Pagee once worked together. It is easy to draw your own conclusions, however, what the article showed was not intimidation, but rather substantial criticism.

As a reader, you were left in the dark about how serious the matter was. After all, the word ‘intimidation’ can mean a lot: from a well-known Dutch person who threatens an interviewer with a ‘red card’ if he goes on to repeat an annoying question, to a group of hikers at your front door.

Funnekotter had seen and heard examples of this intimidation, which were not limited to online expressions. However, that was on a background basis; he was not allowed to publish them, partly because they could lead to legal complications. It convinced him, he says, that the story about the intimidation had not come out of thin air.

Public online sources contain some information about the polemic against Hoek, who has been called ‘bitch’ and ‘racist’, among other things, while in a post on Histori Bersama, Hoek’s husband is accused of hindering his wife’s critics in their work. I didn’t find any concrete threats, it certainly is a sad cacophony of unpleasantness that goes back several years.

Strong statement, few details

Funnekotter decided not to include examples of these manners among historians in his story. “For me, the reason for the news was that a honorable institute like the KNHG came up with such an unusual, firm statement.” He did not want to delay the news about this any further by investigation the background of the issue more thoroughly. In itself an understandable choice, because the parts of the argument that I found are far from clear.

For the reader of the message, the latter choice had disadvantages. Not only did the reader remain in the dark about the seriousness of the intimidation, it was also difficult to judge the exceptional action of the KNHG. News site also reported on the case and wrote: “ has read texts and seen images that seem to support the KNHG’s reading.” As far as Funnekotter is concerned, such a sentence could also have been included in the NRC article. I think so too, although I would have preferred to see a little more [evidence]. It is precisely when a honorable society surprises us with a strong statement with few details that there is an opportunity for journalism.

Arjen Fortuin

[1] The online version used a different title: ‘Historica Anne-Lot Hoek geïntimideerd om Indonesië-onderzoek’, which translated to English reads: ‘Historian Anne-Lot Hoek intimidated because of [involvement in Dutch-government-sponsored] Indonesia research.’

Read also:

Press release Histori Bersama – KNHG accusations

Press release Royal Dutch Historical Society – January 30 2024

Historian Anne-Lot Hoek intimidated because of Indonesia research – NRC