Indonesia was the first country to proclaim its independence after the Second World War, setting in motion a significant chapter of post-colonial history by doing so. In his latest book, Revolusi, Belgian cultural historian and prolific author David van Reybrouck examines the Dutch East Indies’ past and places it in a global context. A five-year project spanning over 200 interviews with living eyewitnesses, he tells Olga and Hugh why he undertook it, and how (spoiler alert: even the dating app Tinder helped him out).
In both his new book and his previous volume on Belgian colonial history, Congo: The Epic History of a People, David says his hybrid read-and-interview research technique allows him to challenge political myopia in former colonising countries and set the stage for a fuller reckoning of the way Europe has hidden the darkest pages of its colonial history.
They also discuss what David calls a new kind of evangelisation, in the form of exporting the Western model of elections-based democracy, and his case for a lottery-based system. Drawing on his book Against Elections and innovations already taking place in Ireland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, he explains what makes elections another way of empowering elites, why exporting the Western version of the ballot box elsewhere is wrong, and how an alternative model that returns policymaking to citizens might be a solution.