On Wedesday 2 November, the University of Groningen organized the Aletta Dialogue in Jakarta on the topic ‘development of democracy’. Speakers in front of an audience of more than 70 Groningen alumni, partners and representatives of the government were Prof. Jouke de Vries, President of the University of Groningen (UG) and Dr. Deasy Simandjuntak, Researcher of Politics and International Relations at ISEAS.
As it was the first Aletta Dialogue ever, moderator Mervin Bakker (Director International Strategy & Relations at UG) explained the rationale behind the event at the beginning of the evening. The Aletta dialogues a series of worldwide public dialogues. The theme of each dialogue will be a different topic on the crossroads of science and societal challenges. Two speakers, an expert from UG and a local/regional expert, will introduce the theme from their perspective after which a discussion follows between the experts and the audience.
The name Aletta Dialogues pays tribute to Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929), undoubtedly one of the most important and defining people in the history of UG. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to register at a university, as a regular student and the first female doctor in the country. Furthermore, she was a champion for women’s rights like birth control and voting rights. Finally, she also travelled the world (Europe, South Africa, Egypt, Middle East, India, Japan, China and Indonesia) to fight for the position of women (esp. voting rights) and wrote letters about this that were later published. Aletta Jacobs’ pioneering spirit, fight for human rights, her international outlook, and strong link to our university make her the ideal ‘face’ for the worldwide dialogue.
There are good reasons why Indonesia was chosen as the first location for the Aletta Dialogues. Not only because Indonesia is a very important partner in UG’s international strategy, but also to mark the 110th anniversary of Aletta Jacobs’ visit to Indonesia and to honour her Indonesian contemporary Raden Adjeng Kartini (1879-1904). The parallels between Kartini and Jacobs are striking. Both Kartini and Jacobs lived in the same era and were fighting in their own way and context for women’s rights. They both wrote letters about their fight and ideas, letters that were later published as books. An both women are today still seen as national forefighters and pioneers for women’s rights. In Indonesia, Kartini’s birthday on 21 April, is celebrated by all Indonesians as national women’s day.
After the introduction of the Aletta dialogue Prof. Jouke de Vries took the floor to give a short lecture on developments in Dutch democracy. He started by stating that the in the 20th century Dutch democracy has been quite stable and it was possible to take legitimate decisions. The central proposition of Prof. de Vries’ lecture was that currently, the Netherlands is no longer a stable democracy. It is confronted with 3 developments: polarisation, fragmentation and paralysis. He gave seven explanations for these developments:
After Prof. de Vries’ opening, Dr. Deasy Simandjuntak provided a different perspective from her region. Southeast Asia has been experiencing a democratic decline in the past decade. While pure authoritarian regimes are less common, many nations are in fact “hybrid regimes” or “electoral autocracies” exhibiting elements of both authoritarianism and democracy. One of the main characteristics is the existence of multi-party elections, yet which are manipulated by government elites, thereby robbing the opposition of the chance of winning. Another example is the birth of populist leaders. In Thailand, in the aftermath of the 2019 election the military-backed government dissolved an opposition party and arrested anti-government activists, sparking students’ protest demanding political reforms. In the Philippines, voters frustrated with crime and elite-based status quo voted overwhelmingly for the populist Duterte, who employed extra-judicial killings in his “war on drugs”. Southeast Asia’s democratic decline is part of a global trend of democratic regression which has swept many regions in the world.
Following the short lectures by Dr. Simandjuntak and Prof. de Vries, a lively discussion took place between the two speakers and the audience in which viewpoints were exchanged, questions were asked and ideas for future development of democracy were shared.
After the conclusion of the Aletta Dialogue, the alumni presented a plan to set up a Indonesian chapter of the University of Groningen community. The name of the chapter will be PAGI (Perkumpulan Alumni Groningen Indonesia). Prof. de Vries was very pleased with the initiative: “Staying connected with our alumni is crucial for the further success of our activities in Indonesia. Our alumni are very well placed in Indonesian society and act as our ambassadors. This helps us tremendously in realizing our ambitions in the collaboration with Indonesian partners. After our trip we are more convinced than ever that Indonesia plays a crucial role in realizing our international ambitions”.
The rest of the evening was spent networking between alumni and the other guests. All in all, a very successful evening with interesting content, lively discussions and plenty of opportunity to (re)connect with each other.
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