In the last few weeks, The Netherlands’ colonial closet was ripped wide open in a fight about who gets to determine what the former colonial power did and did not do in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). It started with the Revolusi exhibit in the Rijksmuseum about the Indonesian independence, which is now open to the public. National newspaper NRC Handelsblad triggered the Indies and Dutch Indo community by posting a story about one of the Indonesian curators who said that the word Bersiap (the period of genocidal killings of Dutch civilians by Indonesian freedom fighters) should be omitted from the exhibit as it was considered “racist” vis à vis the Indonesian people. This led to a lawsuit and counter lawsuit against the museum, as well as the museum’s damage control that the word would be included.
Reviews of the exhibit have been mixed. While the exhibit has tried to view this historical event from the various different angles, it raises more questions than that it provides answers. Dutch people have been insufficiently educated about the Dutch East Indies, WWII in the East, and decolonization, so this does not come as a surprise. While the objects are compelling, the larger frame of reference is missing, and maybe that has been intentional due to its sensitive nature.
When the ruckus and name calling on social media had died down, it was time to release the Decolonization Report, which was not assigned by the Dutch government but certainly subsidized by the Dutch taxpayer. War archives and research institutions, as well as several historians worked on this report (Over de grens it is called— a pun that may conceal its bias as it means, “across the border” as well as “crossing boundaries”) which has focused on the violence by Dutch troops during the bloody independence war with Indonesia (1945-1949). Only one out of the five volumes is dedicated to the Bersiap. This may have to do with the fact that the researchers have undercounted victims of the Bersiap, whereas Indonesian fatalities far outstripped those. The Indo Project has not received the report, but will read it and report back but so far, from what we have been able to glean from the casualty numbers, there seems to be a statistical error as the numbers don’t match the numbers that have been cited previously by other researchers.
Shortly after the report was released, Prime Minister Mark Rutte gave a press conference in which he apologized to the Indonesians for the structural violence (killings, torture, the burning down of kampongs etc.) that had been committed by Dutch troops during the independence war. The next day, one of the leading historians of the report mentioned that the word “war crimes” should have been used, while omitting that war crimes had also been committed by the Indonesians during the Bersiap and the independence war. The Dutch national newspaper De Telegraaf did a poll in which the majority (89%) of Dutch respondents questioned the neutrality of the report (emphasis on Dutch violence and not Indonesian violence) and the stereotyping of Dutch veterans as war criminals. Veterans’ organizations did not deny excesses of violence (which happen in many of these kinds of conflicts) but also pointed out the difficulty of the mission, the circumstances of the times and the fact that many of the troops also performed humanitarian tasks and helped the local population. Rutte did mention that the blame fell on the (misguided) Dutch government of the time, and not individual soldiers, but the cat clearly was out of the bag and it was a serious emotional blow to the remaining 4000 veterans who are still alive.
Since then, the Facebook group “Geen oorlogsmisdadiger” (No war criminal) has posted stories of veterans — many of which are posted by the children of veterans. We urge you to send in your or your father’s/grandfather’s story (and you can do so in English) to. The stories are collected and will put into book form and will be presented to the Tweede Kamer (Dutch Parliament).
How has The Indo Project been involved in this and what is our stance?
1. TIP has been asked to join a petition to have a Bersiap monument erected in The Hague.
2. One of our monthly donors asked TIP to sign on or promote a letter asking the King to bid his excuses to the Indische Community (similar to what he did towards the Indonesians in the past),
3. More recently, TIP was among a list of groups mentioned on Indische Kwestie 2.0 (IK 2.0) Facebook Page which made it look like TIP supported their court action to delay the presentation of the results of the NIOD Enquiry, the day before the results were to be published. The Moesson (magazine) made it clear that it would not support the IK 2.0 court case. There have been other court actions taken by groups who are either pro the Indische Nederlanders or pro the Indonesians versions of the decolonization process. Everyone is jumping into the fray; even the academic community joined by providing their own versions backed by research.
Why provide you with this background? While all these activities are going on, there might be times TIP will be asked about its stance, and maybe you, individually, will be asked for your views or sign on to an action, as a representative of TIP.
The Executive Board members met earlier this week to ensure that TIP makes clear its stance within and outside the organization, that TIP will not join in the turmoil as though it was some type of competitive endeavor.
TIP will not be part of any court case or take part in the jostling and backbiting between people or their organizations. However, this organization does believe in the privilege of those who want to exercise their rights.
- TIP acknowledges the suffering, sacrifices, and extreme violence perpetrated by both sides, Dutch and Indonesians alike, against each other during the period 1945-1950, and are deeply saddened by it as many of our own families have been affected by these acts.
TIP acknowledges that the decolonization process of the former Dutch East Indies was an utter failure on the part of the Dutch Government, which not only affected the Indonesians, but the Indo Europeans, Indo Chinese and Molukkers as well. Many lost their homeland, their possessions, and in addition, were forced to repatriate to a country that was not prepared to accept them as Dutch nationals.
- TIP is deeply troubled that even today, after more than 75 years have passed, new facts are coming to light that the Dutch Government has suppressed as a way to manage any scandals that might have arisen from the publicizing of those facts.
- TIP believes that the time has come to conduct some type of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” whose central purpose is to bring grievances to the table that are based on factual documentation. This body would also be tasked to promote reconciliation and forgiveness among the Dutch and Indonesian perpetrators and victims of the decolonization process.
TIP recognizes the fact that the history of the people whose roots are in the former Dutch East Indies have fallen into a chasm in between Dutch and Indonesian history, and as a consequence, is often overlooked. Their trauma and victimization have been marginalized.
- TIP will continue to focus on its mission of preserving, promoting, and celebrating the history and culture of the people whose roots are in the former Dutch East Indies, now more than ever. It will do so by raising awareness, promoting unity, and educating others by way of using factual historical information and helping elevate others who elect to do the same.