Following the open letter with concerns criticism regarding the Dutch 4-year research program ‘Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950‘, a closed round table discussion took place at NIOD in Amsterdam, on Thursday, January 31, 2019. This is one of the video messages that was shown, with specific questions and comments for NIOD by Dr. Annemarie Toebosch, Head Dutch and Flemish Studies, University of Michigan:
“Goedemiddag, mijn naam is Annemarie Toebosch. I will continue in English.
I am talking to you from my office at the University of Michigan where I run the fastest growing Dutch program in the United States. We teach language and culture here, and the core of our curriculum is our race and ethnicity education. This core fits with the mission of my institution.
I just finished teaching 100 students about Anne Frank and her legacy. They look at, what my students do is they look at the Diary as a human rights document, and in parts of the course they hold it up against human rights violations in Dutch and American history, as it relates to racism in society today.
NIOD and people associated with NIOD have a solid stamp on this course and on our program. My students visit the NIOD website for information, I send them there to do their research all the time. They read articles by David Barnouw, who was also a lecturer in this program. They read Harry Paape, several articles by him, and they read articles by Dienke Hondius, who has worked in collaborations with NIOD, and whom I’m talking to about a visit, possibly, to this campus to talk about Dutch slavery in the United States. And Evelien Gans would have been our memorial lecturer here three months ago.
And when I heard that NIOD was involved in this ’45-’49 research study, my heart sank right through this office floor. I do not know how to reconcile this.
Here is a national genocide center that has decided to put itself shoulder to shoulder with, as I understand from the people in the room with you today, with a research institute under the Dutch Ministry of Defense, a research institute that consults the Dutch state, as it defends itself against war crimes, claims of war crimes. As we say in the United States, this does not pass the smell test.
But that is not even my biggest concern. I have read NIOD’s defense of this research, on their website, in a description of the year in review at Pakhuis de Zwijger, and where is colonialism in this? Where is colonialism? Piet Hagen and 350 years of colonial oppression are buried somewhere down at the end of a paragraph. And this is not ok. For a national genocide center, 350 years of rape, torture, exploitation, and slavery should be the beginning, the middle and the end of your research. It should not be a side note, it should not be an after-thought.And anything less than that is a whitewashing of history.
Gans and Hondius were very clear and brave about this: “nivellering”, the Dutch word “nivellering”, leveling. We cannot level the suffering of Jews in a genocide with the suffering of the non-Jewish Dutch in WWII. And here is NIOD, in a glaring case of double standard, signing its name under a study that in its very conception has a cultural relativistic view of human rights violations.It’s an attitude of “let’s look at ’45-’49 from all sides, let’s look at it from all perspectives, all sides.
And I’ve heard this before, not long ago. I heard this attitude from my current president, who, after Charlottesville, seeing neo-nazis walk down the streets of Charlottesville said there were bad parties on both sides, bad people on both sides. In Indonesia? There were no bad people on both sides. There was one bad party of one side, and the rest fell out from this.
Because ’45-’49 is not the story of ’45-’49. It’s the story of 350 years of oppression and human rights violations. And human rights are absolute. They can not be negotiated in the Dutch polder. They are in their definition non-negotiable. And so it’s very troubling that a genocide center, which is a hop and skip away from the international court, the international criminal court in The Hague, has apparently found a way to look past this.
And so my question is specifically for NIOD: How do I explain NIOD in a human rights curriculum, this coming week when I step into class and my students and I read Barnouw together. This is not, I’m not making a political statement here, I have no agenda. This is, I am genuinely stuck here. My students implicitly trust the research direction I send them in, the websites I send them to, and I do not know how to explain this. I do not know how to explain NIOD’s role in this research, and so I don’t know how NIOD knows how to explain this to the Netherlands, to the world.
And so I hope that NIOD has a “moment van bezinning”, a moment of reflection today in this meeting, and clearly, unequivocally distances itself from any cultural relativism in the face of oppression.
And so I ask NIOD that it advocate for the inclusion of all important court documents of ’45-’49 cases against the Dutch state. Sit down with Jeffry Pondaag, sit down with Liesbeth Zegveld, find the most important documents, and include them in the write up of this study. I say that also because the truth will out; documents will come to light. And NIOD knows this. NIOD understands what happens when you bury documents, such as documents about a ship called the Van Imhoff, you know what I’m talking about.
And so, that’s one question I have for you. The other question I have for NIOD is that you advocate for an independent write up of the conclusion of this research, not by one of the three research institutes that signed on the dotted line here, but by an independent institution, a write up, a conclusion that 350 years of oppression deserves. Because you are the genocide center. Thank you.”