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30 of 100 years WUR was spent to support colonial agenda?

The title of this article describes my impression when I read the Resource Magazine no. 11, 25 January 2018, 12th volume, with the main cover line “Made in the East Indies” and supporting cover line “The Wageningen global brand first developed in the colony” (in international edition). In this edition, there is also a 4-page feature article titled “Cradle of a Global Brand” (p. 12-15). As it explains above the title, the article is about “the Wageningen trail in Indonesia” and meant to celebrate the centenary of Wageningen University.

Regarding that article, I collected opinions from different people, not only Indonesian but also from Dutch and another international students’ association (SAW-Student Alliance Wageningen). I found that some people have common concerns on general nuance, framing, discourse and detail of the article. It has a bit too much patting on the back with colonial view.

The article stated the reference of 1949 as the independence of Indonesia. It made me think that this article has political nuance to justify Dutch government agenda about war crime (police action) from 1945-1949. In fact in 1995, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands recognized Indonesia’s independence date Aug. 17, 1945. Although finally in the new edition, Resource has made correction the independence issue, but there is no public apology related to this sensitive issue. The writer of the article admitted that there is no political intention from the article, however his attitude in the meeting that we had, makes me still think that the article does mean to be political (in his old colonial mind). Resource has ignored the socio-cultural context of colonial problems, that there are hundreds or thousands of students in Wageningen from former colonies.

Besides, unfortunately, some mistakes were not corrected in the following edition.

First, the article mentioned that start of struggle for independence in Indonesia is 1945. The fact is it was actually begun in May 1908, which is commemorated as the “Day of National Awakening”. This mistake because really humiliated Indonesian independence movement. This independence has enabled the country to send thousand of students to WUR. Currently, there are about 300 Indonesian and 70 of them are PhD, it means that there are more than 20 research projects in cooperation of Indonesian and WUR.

Second, I concern the nuance of cover page. Seeing through semiotics and post-colonial perspectives, we are willing to question the cover page, including cover picture and cover lines. In the year of 2018, through the newest edition of Resource, we can see that decolonization (of the mind) is practically nonsense. We might call it the reproduction of colonial mentality, or de-decolonization; when the former colonizer is trapped in the myopia of colonial era. The tension is always there between (ex-)colonizer and (ex-)colonized, no matter how many ‘dialogues’ both have had. Colonialism is the history of past and of today. It was reproduced through everyday practices. Resource’s January edition is one banal example of it.

From perspective of postcolonial studies, the article seems to legitimize the colonialism, imperialism and its legacy. It was framed that Indonesian was being passive and had no contribution at all to the agriculture development. Yet in fact, for example; subak (social irrigation) system was emerged from local practices. Besides, there were still many other contributions ignored. We know that the article was trying to make WUR looks like hero for Indonesia from the past. However, it wasn’t and anyhow the point of international cooperation is both sides contribution, not one-sided and undermining other side’s works.

From semiotics perspective, the article really brought back colonialism narration and endorsing colonial gaze. It can be seen from selection of the images and word choices. Image in the cover page proved it, it brought nuance of enslaving person in color. In word choices, also in the cover page, you used East indies and “in the colony”, instead of calling it Indonesia. In the text, the article also really like to use words such as colonial laboratory and Dutch East Indies. We believe you know that Indonesia is not the colony anymore and we are never proud to be ex-of it.

As an addition, there are also some flaws in the article “Cradle of a Global Brand”. The campus location of IPB should be ‘Darmaga’, not ‘Bramaga’ as stated in page 12. The van Ophuijsen spelling through the word ‘Pasoeroean’ might also contain suspicion on the romanticism of colonial past. Bogor is not Javanese city, but it is Sundanese city in Java island. Likewise, the 1992 rift could be considered as moment for WU to be research university. One of the researchers from that period admitted that at that time WU had more focus to fundamental and molecular research and far from the farmers.

I understand that resource want to get more readers, yet we think that colonial approach is not appropriate. It’s indeed written in context of 100 years WUR but we find it a rather weird interpretation of the changing role WUR might have played over time. Though noted here and there (but not always factually) it’s been largely pulled out of its socio-political context. Colonial era is not something to celebrate, thousands of people were died and suffered because of it. Resource should be sensitive about it.

We should not say that the centenary of WUR to also celebrate that 30 of 100 years old WUR was spent to support colonial agenda. Overall, that edition lacks respect to Indonesia sovereignty in development. I expect it should be written as objective history without disadvantaging other party.

Colonialism is not international cooperation. It left historical wounds for Indonesia. If you would like to raise the cooperation angle, the content of the article could be combined with information about the Indonesian contribution in the history, from the perspective of the farmers, elder Indonesians, the storytellers, and other objective informants, or from the voice of a scholar from Indonesia. For example, there are many effective practices from local farmers that even brought to Suriname for plantation industry.

Basically, to opening up our view on the world, tell us history by also taking perspectives of different contributions into account, not the histories a grave disservice.

Stop reproduction of colonial mentality.


Iskandar Mafil and friends


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