Six years ago the statue of Peter Stuyvesant was removed from the secondary school in Curaçao that bore its name. The former Minister of Education responsible for its removal had immediately promised an alternative location for the statue. Today no one seems to know its whereabouts. The current Minister gave local authorities two weeks to find the statue. It’s unknown what she plans to do once it has been located.
In the months preceding the removal of Peter Stuyvesant’s statue, activists contended that Stuyvesant was an extreme racist who targeted blacks, Catholics, Jews and energetically tried to deny them any basic rights. Counter protesters felt that Stuyvesant, Director-General of Curaçao from 1645-1664, had become part of our heritage and that his statue should remain as a historical symbol.
History cannot be erased. That’s correct. But should we remember history or historical facts with statues that celebrate those who have perpetuated heinous acts? Or do we, while not denying history, honor those who fought against atrocities committed throughout history? Protests and counter protests on symbols of hate have been going on in the U.S. (Confederate symbols), South Africa (Apartheid symbols), Canada (symbols linked with the genocide of the Canadian original population ) and elsewhere for some time now. Germany doesn’t have a single Hitler statue. Germany will never fail to remember its bloody history, but not via Nazi statues. The German example may be a bit extreme, but it makes the point.
Returning to Peter Stuyvesant, it is very interesting to go back in history, as I did in an article I wrote in February 2011, and establish that the statue of Stuyvesant has absolutely nothing to do with honoring his place in the history of Curaçao. The statue arrived in Curaçao in 1940 (almost three centuries after his death) simply because of a whim of a single man, Wybo Jan Goslinga.
According to the monthly Neerlandia, March 1944, Dutchman Wybo Goslinga, Education Inspector in Curaçao, held a speech in 1939 as member of a local service club in which he made a strong appeal to have a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, a ‘very brave man’. He was fascinated with a statue he had seen earlier in New York. He then convinced the KLM Director to go to New York to negotiate with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the designer of the Stuyvesant’s statue in New York (see picture) and was able to convince her to make an identical copy at cost price. Mid-1940, the statue arrives in Curaçao. And then the problems started.
According to the above mentioned edition of Neerlandia, nobody knew what to do with the statue or where to place it. The statue spent the first year after its arrival in a dusty barrack of Curaçao’s International Airport, Hato. Then a lucky break in 1941. In that year Curaçao’s first secondary school was founded and Goslinga, still passionate about Stuyvesant, named the school after his hero and automatically decided that the statue would be placed in front of the new school. The statue was moved from Hato to.. a dusty gym facility where it would stay for two more years because the Department of Public Works did not consider this project to be a priority. Finally the statue was placed in front of the school, Peter Stuyvesant College, in 1943. It should be obvious that the presence of the Stuyvesant’s statue on Curaçao is bereft of any kind of historical meaning whatsoever.
Interestingly, a Jewish activist group is now demanding New York City’s Mayor de Blasio to scrub all traces of the anti-Semitic ex Dutch governor from city property -even Stuyvesant High School and the original Stuyvesant statue in Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Park- as part of his campaign to rid the city of ‘symbols or hate.’ Meanwhile we wait and see if and when the Stuyvesant’s statue in Curaçao is located. It should not come as a surprise if it turns up in a dusty barrack somewhere because l’histoire se répète.