"Dispereert niet, ontsiet Uwe vyanden niet, daer en is ter werelt niet dat ons kan hinderen noch deeren, want God is met ons", Jan Pieterszoon Coen ( 1587-1629)
(Despair not, and don't spare your enemies; there is nothing in this world which can hinder us nor harm us; because God is on our side.)
During the "SAIL" Amsterdam, 2005, Ruchama Noorda and Brian McKenna made a series of photographs inspired by the excessive decorations and chaotic compositions of 17th century Dutch painting. Their large colour prints were made on location as part of the "Art-for-Sail" initiative.
The Sail is a homage to the Dutch nautical history and mercantile spirit. The quoted passage above comes from a Dutch national hero, Jan Pieterszooon Coen, Gouverneur-Generaal of the United East-Indian-Indian Company: the V.O.C. of the 17th Century, the first multinational corporation, complete with rich share-holders.
The "Goldon-Age" was not only a century of adventure and cultural flowering, but also a century of exploiting people, brutal oppression, and massacres. Such as the genocide of the Molucca Banda islands, where in 1621 almost the plenary population were destroyed. Approximately 15,000 men, women, and children were killed, the survivors turned into slaves. The reasons for this were to maintain a nutmeg monopoly under the inspired leadership of J.P. Coen (whose bust decorates the front of Amsterdam's Tropen Museum).
Contemporary multinationals draw inspiration from the Golden-Century. In 2002 the 400 year anniversary of the VOC's establishment was marked with large-scale celebrations, financed (and thus decorated) by Dutch government and businesses, ABN - Amro for instance, giving the whole affair a rather strange character. The Dutch Trade - Society, established in 1824 was the direct continuation of the VOC which was later absorbed by the General Bank of the Netherlands (ABN). This bank are the direct heir to the fortunes of a hand-full of families who became extremely rich from the plundering and killing in the Indonesian Archipelago. 1
The 4th centennial of the United East-Indian-Indian company was used to try and obscure the history of colonial crime and to promote the current neo-colonial movements of Dutch multinationals. A number of multinational corporations are sponsoring the Sail 2005 and this year the Royal Navy are joining the party. The Navy will be in full recruitment action in search of the next generation of mariners through the use of a "Navy Village" where visitors can get a full view of Navy promotion material.
Akzo Nobel will also sponsor the Sail 2005. Akzo became a multinational over the centuries, through the strategic alliance of various companies, and in 1994 they merged with the company known as Nobel, originally from Sweden. Nobel was the company of Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) who initiated the famous "Nobel Prize". The Prize most certainly resulted from feelings of guilt, a sense of debt to humanity and ultimately were an attempt to purify his name in perpetuity. In 1888 a French newspaper mistook the death of Alfred Nobel's brother to be the death of Alfred Nobel. They wrote a scathing obituary which depicted Nobel as a trader in death, a man who became rich from bringing war and suffering to others, inventor of explosives with which entire armies could blow each other up. In reaction, Alfred Nobel became depressed at first but later decided that he wanted to leave a more positive impression behind, after his death. In his last will and testament he stipulated that his estate should be used to fund which would distribute prizes to those people who "conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" through their work.
"den handel sonder d'oorloge, noch d'oorloge sonder den handel nyet en gemainteneert connen werden."
(We can not trade without war, nor can we maintain war without trade.)
Military violence and capital still walk hand-in-hand. The VOC linked shipping and trade to war and with multinational political power in their hands, reserved the right to conduct war. Why was so much political power granted to a privately owned company, a pure top-down tyranny, with purely commercial interests?
The thinking of Jan Pieterszoon Coen is still alive these days and he even has a Prize with his name on it too: The Jan Pieterszoon Coen Prize of Ernst & Young for the best performance of an Information and Communication Technologies Company. According to this Prize's webpage, J.P. Coen's name is invoked in the objectives of the prize, to award stimulating entrepreneurship, vision, and "not being afraid" in combination with "global thinking and local acting".
As in the Golden-Age, business today profits from war and "peace missions" which periodically appear. The Dutch contribution to the U.S. led war in Iraq (Episode II) can be explained by the age-old and seemingly preferred method of realizing political and economic interests. By supporting White House policy of pre-emptive, unjust, illegal war and destruction, Dutch companies would profit. "The Americans promised companies from the countries who helped with the "liberation" of Iraq a preferential treatment dividing up the tasks of rebuilding Iraq." 2
The decision to make Iraq "free" had no humanitarian grounds whatsoever. It concerned hard economic interests, a fight for consumer markets, investments, and the control of raw materials. Using the Dutch army to satisfy imperialistic business interests shamefully fits well into Dutch economic tradition.
The "theme" of Sail 2005 is "Tolerance, Understanding, and Friendship". Perhaps a more honest theme would be, "Murder, Hypocrisy, and Exploitation".
1 Freek Kallenberg, ravage # 5, 05/05/2002