Multatuli was the pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), arguably the most famous and best nineteenth century Dutch author.
A former civil servant in the Dutch colony of Indonesia, his most famous book was the novel Max Havelaar.
In it, Multatuli scathingly attacked the oppressive practice of Dutch colonialism.
He was also a strong critic of Dutch society, including oppression of poor people, the role of Christianity as in practice state religion, etc.
Now, every year, there is a lecture in either Breda in The Netherlands or Louvain in Belgium, to commemorate Multatuli.
So far, so good.
The organizers of the lecture say: ‘In the Multatuli lectures, the possibilities and opportunities for both the national and the international community are being investigated of it being enriched by meeting between people of different cultures’.
So far, so good.
Certainly at a time of rising bigotry, including government sponsored bigotry.
However, what do the organizers write in their invitation of this years’ lecture?
Proudly, they announce “two good quality lecturers”.
They are: “Mr Gerard Kleisterlee, president and chief executive officer of Royal Philips Electronics”.
Philips is one of the big capitalist monopolies of The Netherlands.
Multatuli was a sharp critic of the role of Dutch big business in Indonesia.
Royal Dutch Shell oil was built by exploitation of Indonesia. So, to a large extent, was Unilever.
So, an extremely unexpected person, Mr Kleisterlee, to properly honour Multatuli.
The other lecturer is Ms Agnes van der Hoeven, minister in the Dutch Rightist government coalition for international development.
Though she is a sort of moderate within the government on the subject of Muslim-bashing, and is hated by anti-Islamic extremists for that, she is still part of an unpopular government coalition where her colleague Zalm officially declared “war on extreme Islam” in George W Bush style.
So, as representatives of big business and Rightist government, respectively, probably not the best two lecturers that the organizers would have been able to find.
Maybe the clue is in the last words of the invitation to the lecture.
They say the invitation is by “Colonel Eric T. Linssen, chairman”.
High ranking army officers have often had good relationships to big businessmen and Rightist politicians.
Maybe forget Multatuli’s remark in his Max Havelaar on the Dutch army in Indonesia: “a village where the Dutch army had arrived. So, it was on fire”?