Looking back, the FSF seminar was truly an amazing experience. Of course all participants will say that when writing a review. But believe me, I’m not just being polite here. I think that none of us did expect the turn that the seminar was about to take when we first arrived at the hotel in Den Haag. We knew that the Frans Seda Foundation selected us with the hope that our different backgrounds could create new collaborations in order to strengthen the relation between our countries.
The first day, still not having a clue what direction the seminar would take, we brainstormed about a variety of topics. Such as: social justice, equality and empowerment. Yet I wondered how we could turn these themes, which were still quite vague, into something concrete.
The answer came the other morning when we visited the Foreign Affairs Ministry. With my background in history I was perhaps the only one in the group that knew so well how difficult our past had been and how that had affected our relationship in recent decades. It was the presentation at the Foreign Affairs Ministry that led to serious questions. We realized that the colonial past is generally ignored – or at least only slightly referred to – in our cultural, business and diplomatic relations. Many of the participants agreed that we actually could not move on when the so-called ‘elephant in the room’ was never addressed. We realized that mutual trust and understanding is not only key in relationships from people to people but also important from country to country.
The following days we started serious talks and discussions. The sessions were intense, deep and therefore exhausting too. It almost felt as if the Netherlands and Indonesia were ‘in therapy’, reflecting on painful issues of the past. We asked ourselves how we as descendants could deal with the legacy. The atmosphere was very open; there was nothing that could not be discussed.
Eventually we came up with a proposal to start a project named “Ayo our History is alive” with the idea to organize exhibitions and education programs. The enthusiasm of our group really touched me. In my mind I thought: wow, this is how reconciliation looks like. Something that is not shallow, not glossing over the uneasy parts in our relationship.
Personally this was a confirmation that the theme of my work is not only relevant for historians only. Before that I might have thought that my research was only interesting for a very select group of people. But through the seminar I learned that this part of history also resonated with the interests of others.
I truly believe that I made friends for life. Until today many of us still stay in touch. I find that something amazing. Can’t wait to hear the experience of the participants of this year. Good luck for Frans Seda Foundation to build new bridges that are sustainable and strong!
Marjolein van Pagee