Opinion: No Democratization without Decolonization

Dear Editor,

In case you haven’t heard, there are university students protesting on the streets of Amsterdam. They are irate at what they consider the authoritarian and deceitful attitude of the board of directors of the University of Amsterdam! They claim that they are being told, “just shut up and accept what we say is good for you”.

Before forcefully being evicted by police officers on horses, students occupied university buildings to protest what they viewed as directors sacrificing their right to proper education at the expense of making profit; selling university buildings and cancelling certain studies based on economic calculations. All about and for the Euros! One of the battle cries of the students is “no real estate speculation with education money”.

The protesting students have been joined by brilliant minds and dedicated teachers—younger university staff—who more than likely will never get a permanent contract that will enable them to get a mortgage to buy a house and raise a proper family if they wish to do so. These university lecturers demand “sustainable career opportunities for all staff”. And, in an act of unprecedented solidarity, their well established colleagues with endowed chairs have joined the battle by championing more “democratization and decentralization of university governance”. A real revolution is taking place. A revolution for a more thorough democratization of Dutch society.

One would however commit a grave mistake by thinking that the struggle is solely for more democratization of education. The students and staff of the University of Amsterdam are also striving for the country to recognize the need to decolonize. The link is well captured in the latest slogan of the protest, namely, “No Democracy without Decolonization.”

As colleagues of the University of St. Martin (USM) we welcome this move, as for far too long these two terms, namely, democracy and decolonization, have been employed separately. As, for far too long, the struggles for a decent society on both sides of our Dutch Kingdom have been artificially kept apart. To bring the fight of our people, people who carry a Dutch passport, people with a work and residence permit, and people who are irregular migrants, people who are brown and pinkish, together, we need to be precise on what we mean by democracy and decolonization, for both are the recipes of a decent society: a society where institutions do not humiliate its citizens nor other human beings.

Democracy is a non-violent means of ruling and transitioning of government, and it is a culture. Any society, with enough judicial and police constraints, and politicians who care that the rest of the world is watching, can do the former. Elections will be held and voters will have some say in how they are governed. Democracy as a culture, on the other hand, is much harder to accomplish. You see as a culture, meaning, ethical advices on how to live coupled to moral habits of action, democracy, brings forth persons who are concerned for the welfare of their kin, neighbors, and strangers.

But democracy, which Winston Churchill termed in 1947, “the worst form of government, except for those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, needs to be decolonized. If it isn’t decolonized, democratic culture can house racism, class oppression, sexism, xenophobia, and religious or atheist intolerance. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Churchill, the prime minister of imperial Great Britain, uttered his qualification of democracy at a time when the down-pressed peoples in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, and the Caribbean were fighting for their right to be Human by way of political independence.

Political independence was a means, while the end was, and still is, the creation of a new understanding of humanity. This is what decolonization means. We still haven’t achieved this.

The term decolonization, reminds us that the identities we have inherited in all parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on the islands as well as in the Netherlands, are distorted. They blind us from seeing the precious and precarious humanity in the other, and therewith in ourselves. The Martinican poet, politician, and intellectual, Aime Cesaire, presciently made us aware that colonialism not only brutalizes the colonized, it also decivilizes the colonizer. What this means is that decolonization must take place on both sides of our trans-Atlantic Kingdom.

The slogan of the student protest, “No Democratization without Decolonization”, speaks to the fact that the Netherlands urgently needs to be decolonized to salvage and safeguard its democratic culture. If it doesn’t most persons, including the Board of Directors of the University of Amsterdam, will never be able to truly accept the newcomers from the Caribbean and the former colonies that now reside or were born in the Netherlands. These newcomers will be treated as not really Dutch, as second rate Dutch, as scapegoats to warrant uncouth behavior. This is what the Dutch Professor Annelies Moors was getting at when she wrote on her Facebook page,

“the Board of the University of Amsterdam in its indictment to evict used as one of its arguments that not only students were occupying the Maagdenhuis. Security has spotted ‘two young probably Moroccan boys, too young to be students…. ‘ Is there a specific ruling prohibiting ‘Moroccan boys’ from entering a university building? Isn’t this called elite racism?”

Similar sentiments have been uttered by other prominent university Professors, lecturers, as well as by student organizations for diversity such as “Amsterdam United”. The New University, the representatives of Amsterdam United, emphasize is an Inclusive University. A decolonized university that recognizes that once you “thingify” newcomers, it is but a short step to do so with the oldcomers too! All Dutch become means to an end for profit sake, the way humans in the colonies were treated!

The student protest seems a battle that is far away, but it isn’t, for until the Netherlands as a whole can mirror this image of the future that the students and the staff of the University of Amsterdam strive for, our Kingdom of the Netherlands will remain troubled with mutual accusations and mistrust. Perhaps this is the way to understand, whether you agree or not with individual statements, why so many Dutch Caribbean politicians, on all six Antillean islands, mistrust the intentions of their counterparts in the Netherlands. Perhaps their battle cry is “No Integrity with Decolonization”. But that is for others to decide.

 

Authored and co-signed by: Dr. Francio Guadeloupe, Interim President/Dean of Academics, University of St. Martin (USM). Along with Drs. Erwin Wolthuis, Head of Business & Hospitality Division (USM); Drs. Sharelly Emanuelson; Mr. Pedro de Weever, B.A.; Drs. Khalilah Peters; Dr. Natasha Gittens all lecturers at USM.

 

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