... in colonialism

Remembering liberation Dutch style

During Thursdays Anniek van Hardeveld memorial race i was doing a checkppoint (yes i know i am getting lazy and slow these days…) on the head of java island. The checkpoint was at the memorial for the employees of the N.V. Nederlandse Scheepvaartmaatschapij who had died ‘at sea or wherever on the shore’ while defending the ‘liberty of their country’.

The memorial is a rather simple one made from stone. It has a 3 meter-or-so high stone base on top of which there is a 3 meter high sculpture of a sailor gazing to the west (into the sunset? after his dead comrades? at Amsterdam central station?). The base of the monument is covered by plates of shiny black marble (or something like that). Inscribed in gold on these plates are the names of the employees who died between 1940 and 1945.

Now while waiting for the first racers to arrive i started to read the names and was stuck by the fact that every second of them sounded non-dutch to me (which of course is not strange at al as we are talking about sailors here who have always been a motley crue). Took me a while to figure out that i was in fact looking at the section of the monument that lists non-dutch people. that’s right, when they set up this monument these freedom-lovin’, injustice-hatin’ Dutch people decided not to mix then names of the Dutch people and foreigners who had sailed, fought and died together. Instead they decided to list them in separate sections of the monument, The dutch with first and last names and the others only with what seems to be their last names/nick names:

Now the monument was set up in 1950, and lots of people have argued that it was ok for the Dutch to be a little bit racist back then (like it was ok that the first thing the Dutch did after being liberated was sending troops to indonesia to make sure they could go on repressing the locals some more). Guess the times were indeed a bit different then, but the fact that nobody bothers to change this fuck-up while once a year an official delegation comes along to lay down flowers also tells a fair bit about our times. So this post is dedicated to the memory of:

alimin bin alisin, abdoelatip, asan, asikin, alidjojo, astro, adoel, ardjosari, ardjiman, assan, birhasan, boewang, darboes, dasoekie, djokomarie, doelsenen, doelmanan, djojo, djin, gani, haje, ahmat emery, jamin, kadir, ladin, mat, maodin, martalie, marliat, madani, matalie, mail, moein, martiman, moeljo, moebin, matalowie, mohamad ramli, maohamad moein, moekasim, moenawie, oesman, odder, noh, oesin, ossin, rabanie, ridoean, roen, saian, safie, sanoesie, saharie, sakiman, saimin, sarie, sarmadie, satie, seehan, seger, soek, soekie, soemo, soerio, tahir & tarip

(To me this also looks a bit like they ran out of space and decided not to honour people with names in the u to z range…)

The sudden stardom of the third world city

23 Mar 2006 | 417 words | europe colonialism delhi urbanism modernity india

Rana Dasgupta has just published an essay of the same name on his site in which he explores the devellopments behind the recent rise to media stardom of cities like Johannisburg, Bombay, Caracas, Lagos and Nairobi. from the essay:

Dismissive talk of Chinese “sweatshops” that would never meet EU regulations does nothing to dispel the sense of a stupendous fertility, for the contents of every western household are “Made in China”, and most Europeans and Americans are so entirely ignorant about how things are made that the production of the objects in their lives seems a kind of Asian alchemy. There is more: the Third-World city has many economies, not just one, and even this they are exporting. Large parts of western cities are now gleefully given over to an international pirate economy of CDs, DVDs, computer software and branded goods manufactured in Lagos or Shenzhen at almost the same time as the Parisian and Californian originals, and almost to the same quality.

[…] The happy fiction of Europe’s robust liberalism is in severe doubt as it fails even to accommodate a single group of dissenters: politically articulate Muslims who wish to assert a different vision of social life and law. Compared to this, my adopted city of Delhi, which has its own disputes and violence, seems positively tranquil when one reflects that it must balance the life demands of 15 million people with so many languages and cosmologies, and such varied notions of commerce, law, healthcare and education, that they are not a “population” in the European sense at all. “When will all the camels and cows depart, when will all these strange human varieties finally be banished and India become modern?” tourists ask. They forget two crucial truths - first, that Europe’s centuries-long project to banish all life forms it could not understand or empathise with was a destructively violent process; second, and most importantly, that Delhi already is modern, and this - all this - is what it looks like. It is an alternative kind of modernity: a swirling, agglomerative kind that seems, at this point in history, to be more capable than the western version of sustaining radical diversity - to be better equipped, perhaps, for the principle of globalisation.

This brings us to the most perverse suspicion of all. Perhaps the Third-World city is more than simply the source of the things that will define the future, but actually is the future of the western city.

Go read the entire text here.

Back from Bruxelles

16 Sep 2005 | 402 words | brussels belgium colonialism cities

I was back in bruxelles yesterday after a way to lo long time. This city is definitely my favorite city in Europe as it manages to surprise me every time i am there, even if it is only for one rainy evening spent in an restaurant waiting for the night train to berlin (of course the fact that there actually is a night train connection to berlin makes Bruxelles stand out above such mediocre places as Amsterdam!). On the way from the restaurant to the Gare de midi i came across two remarkable things the first being a little store specialized in plastic model sets that proudly displayed a 1/35 reenactment of belgium’s not-so-glorious colonial past (please excuse the shitty quality of the night time phone cam pic):

belgians rule africans in 1/35

The second was the etablissement that i entered in order to get one last drink before boarding the train. by the outside of it (and i could not see much as it rained and my glasses were totally covered with spray water) it looked like some upscale minimalist bar: big steel framed glass windows, neutral withe lightening shining from a clean white interior with some kind of expressionistic painting on the long wall. once inside i realized that i had totally mistaken the place. instead of a bar i had entered a north african tea house and now i was getting confused and slightly hostile looks from the all male patrons. the place was unlike every tea house i have been to before. the interior design was straight from bauhaus, the espresso machines would make every coffee shop owner in berlin-mitte become jealous and there was indeed a more or less expressionist mural with a middle eastern or north african market scene on the wall facing the bar.

So instead of another drink i settled for a delicious peppermint tea had a chat with mohammed who would not believe my age and of whom in turn i would not believe that he was a student and watched a bit of al-jazeerha on the giant flat screen TV’s before heading out to catchmy train.

This is exactly why i love bruxelles so much: more often than not the visual representation of things completely defies what the way i am (we are?) conditioned….

update [27.05.06]: here is another shot of the (now slightly rearranged) window display that i took this morning:

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: