Europe Boundless

Installation Europe Boundless. Photo: Dietmar Walser

Since the 15th century, the interest of the European powers had been concentrated on overseas areas. This was owed to scientific curiosity, missionary fervor, craving for power, and—most of all— greed. Indigenous populations frequently paid for European ambitions with their life or their labor while the local elites would often collaborate with their new masters. All European maritime powers were colonial powers, even though some—such as Germany—only for a brief period. With the attainment of independence from Spain, the Netherlands had started already in the early 17thcentury to build a colonial empire. Part of it was, for instance, the “Dutch East Indies,” today’s Indonesia, whose population had to carry out forced labor for the Netherlands’ benefit over centuries. One of the early European critics of colonialism was David Wijnkoop (1876–1941) who espoused a democratic Indonesia. The son of a prominent rabbi founded the Communist Party of Holland and its party organ “De Tribune.” The magazine vehemently supported the Indonesian independence movement and aimed for its readership to solidarize with the island peoples.
^ David Wijnkoop, ca. 1935, © Nationaal Archief/Collectie Spaarnestad
< Harry van Kruiningen, election campaign poster of the Communist Party of Holland, 1933, © International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam > Workers battling the oil pollution in the Niger Delta caused by Shell, © Ed Kashi After the Second World War, a process began for which the economist Moritz Julius Bonn (1873–1965) had already previously coined the term decolonization. Between 1947 and 1990, all former European colonies—in part, through paying the price of armed conflicts—gained their independence, among them also Nigeria, which was a British colony until 1960. However, by no means did this put an end to the systematic exploitation of regional natural resources and of the local population for the benefit of European interests as pursued, for instance, by the Shell Group. The company traces back to the Jewish dealer in curiosities Marcus Samuel (1799–1872) in London who imported shells to England. One of his sons expanded the business into an oil-producing, -refining, and -transporting company. Ultimately, the early-20th-century merger with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company brought about Royal Dutch Shell, today a global corporation that faces, time and again, massive lawsuits. According to expert estimates, two million tons of crude oil have flown into the Niger Delta in the past fifty years as a result of poor safety standards implemented by the corporation. Environmental pollution strips the population off their livelihood and drastically reduces their life expectancy. Moreover, Shell is accused of complicity in killing environmental activists in Nigeria.