Van Heutsz, National Monument of Shame
Van Heutsz, National Monument of Shame
Van Heutsz, National Monument of Shame
2018
Olympiaplein
Amsterdam

Van Heutsz, National Monument of Shame 2018

I regularly look with embarrassment at the Dutch East Indies-Netherlands monument at the Olympiaplein in Amsterdam. This beautiful monument was built in 1935, and originally dedicated to Governor-General Joannes Benedictus van Heutsz (1851-1924). In 2004 Van Heutsz’s name was erased and the monument re-signified to remind us of the good relationship between The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies between 1596 and 1949. "It depicts the many memories to our colonial past in Indonesia and, with respect to their heritage, looks at the future."
But the ghost of the Governor-General always looms in this historical idyll and continues to haunt the place. A small plaque at the back of the construction does reveals that it previously was dedicated to him, but the monument insists to disable any association with a colonial history in the course of which Van Heutsz murdered thousands of innocent people, and for which he has been honoured for more than half a century. While bringing peace, we can read on the plaque, Van Heutsz is held resposible by many for a black page of Dutch history in Atjeh. It excludes every option that the entire colonial period can be considered a black page.
But I do indeed wish to remember the history of Van Heutsz (the slaughterer of Atjeh) and I believe we have the perfect place to etch in stone his current disrepute and the painful memory of his atrocities. I therefore call for reinstating the name Van Heutsz and his portrait in their original position, re-turning or re-framing the monument to serve as a national pillory, a National Monument of Shame, and recall an abhorrent episode in colonial history. The Van Heutsz pillory should nests itself in the national consciousness as a concept of the dual work of commemoration. For emancipatory reasons!  Precisely between honouring and dishonouring lies the space for observing history in an unprejudiced manner. The pillory is in essence the equivalent of the statue that has fallen out of favour: if we believe a monument is no longer a suitable embodiment of changing historical views, reframing it as a pillory allows it to endure, and to sustain our critical inquiry. An explanatory plaque at the rear then will even not be necessary.