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Lecturer and students taking action: 'Anton de Kom deserves a statue in The Hague’

Why doesn't the Surinamese resistance hero and independence fighter Anton de Kom have a memorial site in his former hometown, The Hague, while there are streets named after colonial leaders? The students of university lecturer Anne Marieke Van der Wal-Rémy are committed to the erection of a statue.

'In the first semester of 2020, I was talking with a group of students of African Studies about the link between the Second World War and decolonisation,' Van der Wal-Rémy explains. ‘During the war, many African soldiers fought on the side of colonial rulers. After the war ended, their fight turned into a fight against imperialism. The decolonisation movement gained momentum. To my students, this made sense: the fight against one oppressive system turned into a resistance against another. Outside of the university, however, people hardly know of the link between the global fight against fascism and Nazism and the following fight against imperialism. Therefore, the students are talking with Van der Wal-Rémy about ways to pay more attention to the history of minority groups.

Adding, not taking away

At first, it was just a discussion during class, but then came summer. After the violent death of George Floyd, protests against (institutional) racism are taking place all over the world. Various statues of colonial rulers are pulled from their pedestals or defaced. Van der Wal-Rémy: 'The discussion we had in the lecture hall flared up again. We are not necessarily against the removal of problematic statues, but we noticed that their destruction evoked a lot of negative emotions. People felt like something was taken away from them. We wanted to put a positive spin on the situation. In order to include everyone in society in the story, we wanted to focus not on what should be removed, but on what should be added to make the heritage landscape more inclusive.'

Anton de Kom quickly came into the picture. During the first lockdown, Van der Wal-Rémy had made a series of videos about memorial sites in The Hague to liven up her online classes. One of these she recorded near the former residence of De Kom. ‘I noticed that there was nothing to see there. There was no plaque saying that he had lived there, there was no statue. But all of the surrounding streets were named after colonial rulers. Very ironic.’ 

Statue to create awareness

The students and Van der Wal-Rémy decided to commit to erecting a statue of De Kom in The Hague. He already has a statue in Amsterdam but it was in The Hague where he worked and where he was a member of the resistance. Supported by students of Latin American Studies, the Africa Committee of study association BASIS gets to work. A website is built, a lecture is organised and since this week there is an official foundation to accept donations and collect signatures.

 ‘In the future, we want to campaign for awareness, for example by giving more lectures and recording videos,' says Van der Wal-Rémy. ‘In addition, we are going to talk to the municipality of The Hague. We think there is momentum now. Since our first discussion, Anton de Kom has been included in the canon of history education and the Dutch government has rehabilitated him. If a statue were to be added to that, his story could be told even better. We could, for instance, include him in existing historical city walks.’

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