Colonial memory and forgetting in the Netherlands and Indonesia

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The article addresses cultural memory in the Netherlands and Indonesia about mass violence committed during Dutch colonialism in the nineteenth and twentieth century. In both cases it questions the conception, expressed by various observers of both countries, that colonial violence has been forgotten in the sense that there are no traces of it left in the public sphere. In the case of the Netherlands, it is argued that colonial violence is again and again experienced as ‘absent’ because of issues with what I will call its ‘memorability’: the degree to which a past is memorable, easy to remember within certain frames of remembrance. Using Ann Laura Stoler's notion of ‘cultural aphasia’, which indicates a lack of language in a culture to address certain issues, I argue that traces of colonial violence are widely present in the Netherlands, but that there is a difficulty to give them a meaning within a national framework. With this analysis, I depart from an intentionalist perspective on cultural memory in which there are specific groups in society that through conspiracies create a cover-up of colonialism, and I want to show that in fact the victims of Dutch colonialism are not memorable within the mnemonic community of the Netherlands because dominant discourses do not produce them as belonging to Dutch national history. In the Indonesian case, with a special focus on Aceh, it is argued that far from being absent, memory of colonial violence is highly contested.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-461
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Genocide Research
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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