Chiefs of Lebak! … if there are among us those who neglect their duties for profit, who sell justice for money, who take the water buffalo away from the poor man, and the fruits which belong to those who are hungry – who shall punish them? (Multatuli: Max Havelaar, Chapter 8)
Who can – privately- afford to buy twenty six cars? Well, obviously the Queen of Banten can.
Yesterday I heard someone saying the obsolete commonplace : “The more things change, the more the situation remains the same”. And indeed that was exactly what I thought, listening to a documentary by weathered correspondent Wilma van der Maaten on Dutch public radio: “De Koningin van Lebak“.
A lot did actually change over the years. A sharp denouncement by Multatuli then and a devastating one by Rudy Ghani spokesman of the”Front Max Havelaar“now. Once the region was called Bantam and today it´s Banten. And the main villain is not Karta Nata Negara Raden Adipati, regent of Lebak, but Banten’s self-appointed “Queen”, fake aristocratic governor Atut Chosiyah and her dynasty. However rampant corruption remained and people still suffer.
Over one hundred and sixty years after Eduard Douwes Dekker’s accusations, the majority of the people of Lebak ( and surroundings) are still poor, many of them are deprived of basic education, basic health care, basic housing and basic infrastructure and still a lot of them are being exploited by corrupt leaders, just like it was midway the 19th century. Back then the colonial administration profited or, at best, turned a blind eye on the people’s hardships and their leaders crimes. Now their modern leaders buy votes andrig elections to stay in power. They use preman to intimidate critics. They give bundles of money to bribe judges in exchange for a convenient election result. All that in order to protect their profitable “business model”: stealing taxpayers’ money meant to be spent on schools and hospitals.
The good news is that critics, activists like those of “Front Max Havelaar” ,are surfing high on the waves of anti-graft public opinion. And even better news is that the regional villains actually re under severe attack from KPK presently. Atut herself has been arrested. Her brother, Tubagus Chaeri “Wawan” Wardana, is being investigated for a number of white-collar crimes by the Corruption Eradication Commission. Her deputy, Rano Karno, has also been accused of accepting over $ 100.000 from a dubious company. And the man they bribed, the ex-Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar, has been caught also.
The bad news is that Atut´s dynasty in spite of all investigations and imminent trials, still pulls the ropes. Over ten relatives hold political office today. And even the self proclaimed ´queen´ is formally still in office. Some cynical observers fear that even if the Queen and her courtiers will have been put behind bars, another dynasty may well sprout from Banten´s fertile soil.
The people of Banten deserve better. That is: a clean administration. So may KPK prevail, may justice prevail.
My mother was a caring mother. Actually she spoiled me. Materially and immaterially. She went to any length to brighten up my life. And my memories. Including memories of my pre-memorizable times, like my birth.
For instance time after time she used to tell me -and anybody else who would listen to her- that when I was born it was all white outside because of the abundant snow which was falling that day. That of course is a very exceptional weather-condition in the Netherlands halfway April. Therefore it’s a nice romantic and symbolic detail.
I never checked the facts. Because you never should doubt what the ones you love say or do.
Alas. Last week I couldn’t resist the temptation when I visited a site ‘weerstatistieken’ (weather statistics) for other reasons. Curiosity won.
And, yes indeed, the 12th op April 1938 there wasn’t snow in the province of Utrecht. Actually the average temperature that day was 7.8 Celcius (minimum 4.4. and maximum 12.7).
One can’t even trust one’s own mother :).
In the picture above, on the left, sits my late father in law. The year is ’46, thirteen years before I met him for the first time. But I think I perceive a few of his characteristics already; self confidence and a touch of authoritarianism. Or is that just something in the eyes of this beholder?
We very much differed of opinion on any subject you can think of. For instance I’m sure today he would support Prabowo, while I would back Jokowi. We didn’t argue though. We mutually just avoided any discussion. Which I regret now. Because he could have been a great sparring partner with vast experiences at his disposal I never could dream to have myself. A man of huge ups and bitter downs and ups again. A fighter. A man uprooted twice. First because of steep upward social mobility leaving his original biotope behind. Then when he was forced to migrate to the other end of the world
Today, irreparable overdue, I think I do understand him better and even admire him.
M. was an Indonesian man who, under the wings of a Dutch Tuan Besar in the mining business, had become a relatively successful part of the ruling class. Born in Jakarta from Indonesian parents, bred in Bandung, he bravely challenged all petty colonial prejudices. He had the guts to marry that guy’s daughter a few years before WW II. For a youngster with his background it’s rather unique that he jumped the racial hurdle and climbed a long way up the social ladder. Extraordinary in Nederlands Indië- even for intelligent, ambitious, tough, energetic, accurate, courageous and hard working Indonesians . So I guess it helped that apart from sheer accidental luck, he also was slightly opportunistic and not afraid of some infighting either.
The men in the photo had been liberated from real cruel Japanese imprisonment and hard labour less than a year before. At the time my future father in law was in the prime of his life. Being 35 he had resumed his engineering job. He wasn’t a person who used to complain, nag or talk about the hardships he had somehow managed to survive in the years between ’42 and ’45. Not then, not later when I was dating his daughter nor afterwards. He just wanted to just get on with the jobs he had been doing in pre-war colonial Indonesia. Actually he did work his but off for Dutch interests in Sawahloento (Sawahlunto), Sumatra, next in Loakulu, Borneo (Kalimantan) and after that on Biliton (Belitung) in the first decade after ’45.
Indonesia’s glorious fight to get rid of the yoke of colonialism turned his life upside down though.
After The Hague transferred sovereignty to Jakarta and independence had been won, Indonesia offered people like my father in law a choice: either be Indonesian or be Dutch from now on. Being born and bred in the archipelago, having lived there all his life, and being Indonesian in all his veins, he choose for the young republic.
In the course of the fifties it proved not to be the lucky strike. There was no enduring mutual love between RI and M. President Soekarno’s policies had become hostile to everything that could be associated with Dutch. M.’s pro Dutch past wasn’t an asset any more. Anyhow the company he still worked for in ’56 was nationalized.He lost his job and the future was bleak. He became a typical “spijtoptant”; someone who regretted his choice for Indonesian citizenship and wanted badly to move North-West. Which after a lot of effort, with the help of a few anonymous civil servants in the Dutch Embassy and a very diligent wife with a Dutch passport , happened. He and his family got tickets to board a ship to Amsterdam.
Migration is very tough on the migrants. The heart stays where the roots are. Partir c’est mourir un peu. It’s always a melancholic, sometimes a devastating, experience. And much more so if the parting includes saying goodbye forever to everything what’s dear to you; friends, family, all social network and also the scenery, scents, colour, sounds and places of beautiful memories.
M. had to start from scratch in a strange, climatological and socially chilly environment where he was not extremely welcome. A society of which he spoke the language with a slight “Indisch” accent and where the colour of his skin made him stand out in a crowd even more. And a country where the secret subtleties of it’s idiosyncratic social conventions were slightly but treacherously different from those in colonial Nederlands Indië and always remained a secret to him. Moreover the demands on the labour market in the Netherlands in the fifties where quite different from his expertise.
Yet he very soon succeeded to get his act together. M. was an active citizen in his new home town from the start .
A migrant is prone to failure. Unless he/she is inflexibly determined to succeed against the odds. Lex M. was such a man. Intelligent, ambitious, tough, energetic, accurate, courageous and hard working. As well as slightly opportunistic and not afraid of some infighting.
So this Indonesian boy from Bandung made it at home but in Bunnik, Holland, too.
I’m proud he was my father in law.
“In “A Touch of Sin,” the world isn’t an amorphous backdrop, pretty scenery for private dramas, it is a stage on which men and women struggle to fulfill basic moral obligations, including recognizing one another’s humanity” (Mahnola Dargis, New York Times, october 3, 2013.
The trouble with Chinese names is that they hardly fit my old Western brain. But just like Zhang Yimou and his muse Gong Li ( the most beautiful woman I ever saw on screen), I will not easily forget Zhang Ke Jia and his wife and favorite actress Zhao Tao.
He’s a Chinese director of arthouse movies. In modern ultra capitalistic China he’s the unwanted but necessary irritant of present day society. Authorities didn’t like his “Still Life” a few years ago. It dealt with the impact the building of the Three Gorges Dam in the Yangtze River had on a two thousand years old city, Fengzie. It has actually gradually disappeared under water at the cost of it’s inhabitants and millennia of architectural and cultural history.
Yesterday we saw Shang Ke Jia’s most recent one: “A touch of sin” (Tian zhu ding). It’s in a style which is functionally slow and sometimes reminds of early Zhang Yimou films and at other moments accelerates and makes Quentin Tarantino come to one’s mind. Though during the violent confrontation in the opening scenes I even had reminiscences of Bertolucci’s “Once upon a time in the West”. All in all another beautiful, rich, moving but also distressing film by this director.
Inspired by dramatic incidents which were in the Chinese social media, it tells the stories of four ordinary people. A man fighting local corruption in vain, a worker discovering the advantage of using fire-weapons, a desperate young man involuntary job-hopping to earn enough to financially satisfy his mother and a young woman psychologically abused by her married lover and physically assaulted by clients in a massage club, hoping in a hopeless situation. “Three murderers and a suicide” might have been an alternative title.
The film is an artistic exploration of China’s dark affair with money. The system spectacularly prospers but Zhang Ke Jia warns that violence is dramatically eroding the social fabric. Actually in the end the economic success story, the country’s rise to super power, is beneficial to the happy few only. For others it’s extremely tough. Tough to survive, especially tough to survive as someone true to oneself. An observation the Chinese authorities obviously don’t like.
“A touch of sin” was a winner at the Festival of Cannes but is forbidden in the People’s Republic. The people in power don’t want Zhang Ke Jia to spoil their fiction by his fiction.
The other day a union of young members of the at present largest and most influential Dutch political party, launched a proposal in which they want the leadership to start procedures to ban male circumcision in the Netherlands. Female circumcision is illegal already, but these young politicians stressed male circumcision also violates human rights, especially children’s rights. Therefore in their opinion this practice in Judaism and Islam should be banned by law. They think claims based on an interpretation of freedom of religion, should not always prevail over secular human rights.
The initiative actually doesn’t stand a chance. But it came to mind when I watched TV yesterday night. Then Simon Schama, the author of “History of the Jews”, was interviewed. In the course of the conversation with host Adriaan van Dis he came up with a joke. Told in my own words:
A Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish Rabbi were hiding in a log cabin, which actually was a small Vodka bar, trying to survive a snowstorm in Siberia. All three of them were on a mission to convert people to their religion. So, with the help of some alcohol, they got into an argument about who was best at his job. In order to settle the matter once and for all, one of them suddenly, out of the blue, said that each one of them individually should trace a bear and try to covert the beast once the storm would be over. And so they did after the weather had improved. Next day the priest and minister returned. The first one told he had found a hungry bear and converted it by feeding it a lot of host, the sacramental bread. He said: “The bear eagerly ate the Eucharist bread and is a child of the Church of Rome now”. Then the minister told he also had found a bear. It was a very dirty one seriously wanting some cleaning. So he brought it to a river and poured water on it’s filthy fur. He said: “The grateful bear is baptised now and so became a child of Jesus”. After quite some time the two of them saw the Rabbi stumbling into the shabby bar. His clothes were torn. His nose was swollen, his skull was bleeding and one of his arms was broken. The priest and minister asked what had happened. Then the Rabbi answered ” I don’t think circumcision is the best way to convert bears after all”.
I agree with the Rabbi :). Or rather I sympathize with the bear.
I’d better explain.
When I was four years old my parents had my tonsils removed. For medical reasons. A really painful experience at that state of surgery in the forties of last century. It’s my one huge childhood’s trauma. Ever since a shiver runs down my spine when a person with a sharp instrument comes near. Imagine what happens if anyone would target my very much loved foreskin without any medical necessity.
Of course Schama was not making a case against male circumcision. But I take the liberty to simply abuse his anecdote to state that I can’t see why a specific ritual can be the quintessence of faith and religion. Not the offering and eating of sacramental bread, nor the baptising and neither the circumcision. After all such a ritual is nothing but a fossilized and sometimes absurd or even damaging custom. By consequence they can be abolished and replaced by something different. Which is very recommendable if it implies invasion of children’s physical integrity without any medical reason. Abolishment does not necessarily harm the spiritual meaning and experience of the religion.
So I back the – unfortunately prospectless – action by the rookies of that conservative political party I usually totally disagree with.