Indonesia Freedom Movement – 4

Contemporary Identity

How do these heritage projects work internally to create or shore up national identity?  We can look both at the identity of the Dutch, who retain an interest in Indonesia’s colonial heritage because it is also their heritage, and also at the identity of the Indonesians, who’s colonized past is still part of contemporary identity.  Is Indonesian identity anti-colonialist, or is it a hybrid identity, incorporating Indonesian nationalism and a colonial history?  The project of heritage preservation is inherently a nationalist project – as Lowenthal says, “To neglect heritage is a cardinal sin, to invoke it a national duty.”However, in the post-colonial setting, nationalism can be anticolonial, so how in the case of these two preservation projects are nationalism and the colonial past reconciled?

Dutch Identity

The National Archives project demonstrates that there is a continuing Dutch identity in Indonesia that has an interest in the material remains of the Dutch colony.  The Dutch business interests that operate in Indonesia are run by Dutch citizens, who have enough of an interest in their colonial legacy to contribute funds and effort to preserving it.  It might even be possible to speak of a continuing Dutch economic colonialism that supports the presence of over sixty Dutch businesses in Indonesia.  The National Archives Building was restored by the Dutch businesses not for themselves, however, but as a gift to the Indonesians.  At least this was the stated goal – we have to assume some specifically Dutch interest in retaining the appearance of the property, since if their only interest was in the Indonesian community, they could have simply built a new cultural center, rather than making an Indonesian cultural center that is housed in a Dutch colonial building.  Thus, I feel that this project benefits both the Dutch identity, as represented by Dutch continuing to live in Indonesia, and Indonesians, the recipients of this gift.  It is important to qualify, however, which Indonesians are able to make use of the gift – the former National Archives Building is now a site for exhibitions and wedding receptions, both of which are exclusive presumably to the upper class that can afford exhibition admission and lavish wedding receptions. The attention to local inclusion in the project, such as the Balinese painters and the consideration of public opinion, seems overblown considering the final result.

A Dutch interest and identity can also be suspected in the project to renovate the Dutch Historic Urban Center, at least by looking at Ronald Gill’s research supporting a renewed effort in this direction in the 1990s.  His research was financed by both Dutch and Indonesian institutions, and another restoration project he mentions, the North Jakarta Development Project, is jointly supported again by Dutch and Indonesian governmental entities.  It might be argued that these issues of development are being aided by the Dutch government as a residue of the Ethical Policy of the last stage of their colonial project in Indonesia.  As Anne McClintock suggests, the descriptor “postcolonial” inappropriately suggests a rupture with the colonial period, which may indeed not be completely past.