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[Nettime-nl] Tjebbe van Tijen: PORTRAITS OF HOPE AND PEACE: Desi Bouters
Geert Lovink on Mon, 9 Dec 2013 11:28:55 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-nl] Tjebbe van Tijen: PORTRAITS OF HOPE AND PEACE: Desi Bouterse and the legacy of Nelson Mandela

From: Tjebbe van Tijen via Chello <t.tijen {AT} chello.nl>

PORTRAITS OF HOPE AND PEACE: Desi Bouterse and the legacy of Nelson Mandela
Door Tjebbe van Tijen

The news-tableau picture that belongs to this article can be found here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/7141213 {AT} N04/11274889925/

Desi Bouterse the actual president of the Republic of Surinam will also attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

GFC News from Surinam quotes Bouterse (in Dutch) in this way: Friday 6 December

“Met verslagenheid nemen wij kennis van het overlijden van Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, een oprechte volksleider en de laatste grote visionaire wereldleider van de afgelopen eeuw”. Dit zegt President Desi Bouterse in een zojuist uitgegeven verklaring.

“Met groot ontzag en dankbaarheid kijk ik terug op de strijd die Nelson Mandela persistent heeft geleverd tegen ongelijkheid, onderdrukking en discriminatie- een strijd die verbetering in de levens van miljoenen mensen teweeg heeft gebracht en tot dusver voor onmogelijk werd gehouden.” (...) “Nelson Mandela zal voor mij persoonlijk, alsook voor vele anderen, een grote inspiratie blijven voor volharding in het geloof dat het creëren van een betere wereld voor ons en onze kinderen wel degelijk mogelijk is. Een man die leefde met het idee van vrijheid maar, meer nog, bereid was te sterven voor echte vrijheid.”"

This is two days before the yearly commemoration of what is called the Decembermoorden (the December Murders), political murders that took place in December 1982 and for which which Bouterse is one of the main persons held responsible. For decades now he has managed to evade prosecution, with one of the measures an amnesty law promulgated by his own government.

Last year Paramaribo saw a silent protest march on April the 11th against the evasion from justice of Bouterse, with demonstrators wearing T-shirt with portraits of the 15 murdered prominent Surinam citizens in 1982. This was right after the amnesty law had been forced through parliament.

This theme of portraits reminded me of the painting with four portraits handed by Desi Bouterse to President Hugo Chavez in November 2010 when he visited Paramaribo. The painting by the - deceased - Surinam artist Ruben Karsters, caries the title: "Portrait of Hope and Peace" and shows four faces: Gandhi, Mandela, Malcolm X and Luther King. (*)

Neither Bouterse nor Chavez have had the honour to shake hands or embrace Nelson Mandela (who is known for embracing and hand shakes with all kind of people, including his former enemies, like Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands a former supporter of Apartheid, and Margaret Thatcher) but both do understand that honouring "a great man" is meant to have some of his glory reflect upon your own person. 

When it comes to a quantitative comparison of the cost in human lives of related struggles for freedom or power (depending on how one wants to read a particular historical period), than Chavez and Bouterse are in other categories, as they have acted in other places and circumstances, than Nelson Mandela. 

The Anti-Apartheid struggle in the period 1984-1995 has been full of violence. Violence on several levels, from guerrilla and anti-guerrilla confrontations with the reigning White Power in South Africa, to fractional fighting between different black Anti-Apartheid movements and reprisals against (supposed) traitors, often with the emblematic horror of a burning rubber tire necklace. The pre 1984 period had instances of violence, with the Sharpeville shooting in 1960 of demonstrating blacks, as the most known massacre (70 or more death). In total over twenty thousand casualties, with black victims as a majority. To detail how many of these have fallen because of fractional (ANC versus IFP/Inkatha Freedom Party and Pan Africanist Congress/AZAPO militants, also because of related inter-tribal strive), will lead to a whole complicated expose., whereas I just want to show the different scale of violence, and point to over-simplified view of violence and victims, being only the product of a confrontation between white and black in South Africa.

Violence during the reign of Chavez in Venezuela is also of a different order from that of Bouterse. First of all Venezuela in comparison with other South American countries, especially Peru, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, has a less violent history, which does not mean that there are only a few victims to count. Total state and state related casualties over five decades may run in a few tens of thousands. Coups, counter-coups, guerrilla, fights for land, violence against indigenous people: Battle of Puerto Cabello (1962); El Amaro (1988), Coraczo (1989), counter coup against Chavez (1992), and a very bad history of extra-juridical killings and prison circumstances, mount up to big numbers, nothing in comparison with the number of victims caused by the Bouterse regime in Surinam, which runs at most in something like fifty (some related to (faked) inland guerilla actions, resulting in the Moiwana massacre in 1986). I may have overseen some other incidents (let me know).

Was all that violence in the name of Peace, or at least in the hope of gaining it?

I think we know the answer. No, it was not, at least not entirely so. This leads us to the question of the actual admiration of the deceased hero Nelson Mandela and maybe also to a reflection on the failure of non-violent struggle in India as propagated by Gandhi. The partition of the former British colony into nowadays India and Pakistan could not be prevented by Gandhi. It's victims run in the hundreds of thousands, half a million being a commonly used statistic figure. South Africa, a country where Gandhi first practised his non-violent ways of political action, saw the opposite of a partition, when finally the Apartheid system, with its 'thuislanden' for the blacks (homelands) was abandoned. The fear for massive violence between the black and the white race (as it had been envisaged for several generations of colonial rule) evaporated, still what came out was far from an equalitarian society. Was it Mandela personally who helped to prevent a violent change to post Apartheid, or was it also - at least partly - a demise of the Apartheid ideology and its politics of separation. In the end 'class' interest were stronger than the ideology of 'race', divisions of wealth in South African society have only slightly by raised, the dividing line being now one of 'class' instead of 'race'.

The quadruple figureheads in the painting 'Portraits of Hope and Peace' are an odd combination, when one takes in account not only the combination of Gandhi and Mandela (non-violent and violent, as ANC developed into an organisation that saw violence as a needed tool for change), but also the combination of Martin Luther King with Malcolm X, having completely different 'dreams' as how to change society for the better.

Malcolm X, was at first a 'black suprematist' - seeing the whites as 'devils'. He was not for abandoning, but instituting segregation in America, creating separate domains for the 'black nation' and the whites, this as a preparation for the return to the African continent. As a black muslim he evolved though over time in his opinions, arriving at another vision when doing his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, seeing muslims from all over the world, from all colours, together, an other option for unity, beyond race.

How to understand the complexity of peace seeking leaders, confronted with unresolved violent incidents from the past?

The rise to power of a group of lower military officers in 1980, of whom Bouterse was juste one, was not a conspiracy but an odd set of circumstances - as always - that led to the fall of the government of that time and a period of non-parliamnetray rule in an atmosphere of late Cold War tensions in a American continental setting. I personally remember the atmosphere of that time in Paramaribo, spring/summer 1980, and the lack of insight of those sergeants into what could be a social revolution in their country. Cuba as a model, a model taken with blind romanticism, without any knowledge of what actually happened there just over two decades ago, let alone how Cuba had developed into an authoritarian and in the end autocratic system. Small wonder the rise of a figure like Bouterse, in the end just another caudillo, manoeuvring endlessly not for the sake of Hope for Peace, but or his own personal and family interest.

Like many others I dislike the praising of Mandela as the last great leader in the world. I think 'great leaders' are more part of our problems than that they are the ones to solve them. Still Mandela developed into a statesman over time, while Bouterse is nothing else than a corrupt and criminal populist party leader.
The two photographs used in this tableau by courtesy of Hijn BIjnen, Paramaribo.

(*) On the web site All Voices one can find this detailed description of how the painting can be seen - also - an article published in commemoration of the painter: "Master Artist of Suriname Professor Ruben Karsters passes on"; Paramaribo : Suriname | Mar 07, 2013 at 9:15 AM PST BY Milton Drepaul:

The poet and writer, Ivan A. Khayiat, describes Karsters' approach in this way: "Karsters has spent the better part of sixty years seeking to perceive objects in ever-deepening clarity – to the point of seeking out ever-deeply every subtle, hidden nuance of tone, colour, shade and shadow – ever-present in the world of objective reality. This is the devout passion of Ruben Karsters’ artistic consciousness."
The President of Suriname honored Karsters in 2010 by selecting the now famous “Portrait of Hope and Peace: The Four Ms” as his official state gift to the late President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, in November 2010. The Directors of the AlphaMax had commissioned this painting in 2007 to inspire young leaders with the outstanding life work of four of the most transformative leaders of the 20th century.
Khayiat describes the Karsters’ masterpiece in his review, Indian Resonances in Suriname, thus: [The painting is]... a nostalgic reflective study of four masters of politics by the master of art himself. The glowing liberated faces of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela appear above the contemplative, serious – almost troubled - busts of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the American freedom fighters, also men of colour. Indeed, gazing to his left, the beaming, joyous face of the Mahatma, the apostle of peace, clad in white – the son of India and father of the modern independence movement – appears to have inoculated and infected his dancing counterpart, Nelson Mandela: both freedom fighters ironically were dramatically pitted at differing periods against entrenched Dutch supremacy and interests in Southern Africa.

An MSNBC online poll in December 2010 voted Bouterse’s gift to Chavez as one of the top three ‘Most Appropriate Gifts” given by one head of state to another. Today, as we learned that President Chavez has also passed away, we reflect that perhaps the divine forces want us to cement the link between President Bouterse, President Chavez, Ruben Karsters, and the ideals expressed in “A Portrait of Hope and Peace” which has been the focus of AlphaMax Academy's creative work since 2007.
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