Is the Indische Kwestie a Human Rights Violation?

The Indo Project Editorial Series

Indische Kwestie- Part V

By Inez Hollander Lake, Ph.D.

In this fifth and final part of our editorial series on the Indische Kwestie, I would like to summarize what has happened with the Indische Kwestie in the last few decades.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, general apathy from the Dutch government towards the Indische Kwestie seemed to have been rooted in indifference and a lack of historical knowledge and awareness about the war and its aftermath in the Dutch East Indies. 

This changed significantly in the 1990s when new and combative organizations (KJBB, Kinderen van de Japanse Bezetting en Bersiap 1941-1949 and JES, Japanse Ereschulden) started raising their voices. Yet the Indisch Platform (IP), which would represent the Indo and Indies population in its negotiations with the government, was never fully in synch with its constituents who, in the end, might have had inflated expectations about what IP could accomplish in terms of negotiations and compensations.

In 2001, another organization was born, i.e. SVJ (Stichting Vervolgingsslachtoffers Jappenkampen) who felt that the 250 million guilders which had been earmarked by Prime Minister Wim Kok should not be reserved exclusively for the people who had ended up in the Japanese internment camps, but be distributed among all victims of the war in the Indies, so that, for example, the so-called Buitenkampers would be eligible as well. However, the Dutch government indicated that it would only talk to IP, so somewhat reluctantly, SVJ then merged with IP. 

Eventually, all of this resulted in Het Gebaar (The Gesture) which, in the end, the Indo and Indies communities considered as only a partial resolution of the Indische Kwestie. One of the funded initiatives of Het Gebaar was an ambitious historical research project into the war and its aftermath but the IP was kept out of it, and little came out of it, except for books by Peter Keppy and Hans Meijer who established and confirmed that for years the Dutch government and parliament were simply disinclined to resolve the Indische Kwestie. 

At the same time, the Indies and Indo communities bear part of the blame. In-fighting, a lack of collaboration among groups as well as mismanagement of IP and its organization around a unified mission as to what the expectations were vis à vis the government made any further negotiations with the government difficult. In 2012, all subsidies for the IP were stopped and the organization had to fund itself. In the meantime, and in spite of Meijer’s and Keppy’s conclusions, the government had insisted repeatedly that compensations paid out under Het Gebaar meant that the Indische Kwestie was resolved once and for all.

Nonetheless, in 2015, the Dutch government agreed to the Backpay Arrangement of those surviving soldiers and civil servants who were in the Dutch East Indies during the war. The estimate was that this number consisted of about 1100 survivors, but so far only a mere 600 have claimed the individual and one-time compensation of 25,000 euros.

The government has now closed this matter indefinitely, even though new leaders have stood up in the Indies and Indo community with foremost among them Peggy Stein, who started a petition and who also has a Facebook group page, entitled De Indische Kwestie. 

A sheer reluctance to repay the victims of the war in the Dutch East Indies, as well as a lack of education and information as to what exactly happened in that war by subsequent cabinets forms a sharp contrast with how Dutch Jews and resistance people (inside the Netherlands) were treated after the war. This mirrors the on-going misperception that the damages (material and otherwise) of the war in the Netherlands were more severe than the damages of the war in the Dutch East Indies. 

Even though the situation and suffering in the Indies during the war have entered the public consciousness more prominently, there is a common perception among us of having been mistreated, slighted and having been invisible for years. 

Particular pain points are the lack of compensation for loss of life, lost property, bank accounts, and insurance policies, the costs related to migration to the Netherlands, the lack of recognition and care for trauma victims of the war and Bersiap, and the subsequent chilly reception and discrimination in the Netherlands right after the war. 

Also, compared to other Allied countries who were involved in the same war in Asia (France, Britain, Australia etc.), the Dutch government has a particularly shabby record in addressing the needs, trauma care, refugee care and compensation for damages of a group of people whose contributions and cash flow from the Indies to the Netherlands cannot be dissociated from the wealthy country the Netherlands became and still is. In other words, they fulfilled their part of the bargain, but they got very little in return. 

Now that the first generation is dying, the Dutch government may think the case is closed, but we know, from study after study, that the kind of trauma of interned families and war victims is transferable to the next generation(s). I once received a fan mail from a man who had read my book Silenced Voices (Ohio University Press, 2008). He thanked me for my book, because, he argued, he finally understood what his family had been through. Even though he was born right after the war, all his surviving family members had been in camps, and he added that he hadn’t had a happy childhood as he felt he had grown up in a camp himself, having internalized their trauma, even after the war was over. 

As far as the Dutch public consciousness goes, there is still a huge blind spot, to wit, a lack of public awareness with regard to the fate of both the Indies-Dutch and Indo-Dutch, who, after returning to the Netherlands after the war, started a double diaspora to the US, Australia, South Africa etc. This large group and their descendants were typically excluded from any form of compensation or recognition as they had left the Netherlands voluntarily (never mind, that they never felt welcome in the first place). 

The Indo Project is of the opinion that this international group, for which The Indo Project forms the global portal, ought to put pressure on the Dutch government and work with groups in the Netherlands to give this story the international platform and attention so that there is greater international awareness as well vis à vis the fate of our people during the war in Asia. 

The Japanese have been very savvy about raising awareness in the US for the unfair internment of Japanese-American citizens by the Roosevelt administration during WWII. In fact, they’ve been so successful that when you google Japanese internment camps, the top most search results point to the camps in the US and not to the camps in Asia… 

A general lack of synergy between Indies-Dutch and Indo-Dutch communities worldwide may have disastrous consequences for the overall and international recognition for the suffering of our relatives during WWII. Importantly, we cannot keep pointing fingers at the Dutch government; we also have to blame Japanese revisionism and denials with regard to war atrocities and the lack of war memorials and museums in Indonesia itself. But the Indo community also needs to do some soul searching as this community has been part of the problem: The “Laat maar” (let it be) mentality will lead to a further silencing and sabotaging of rightful compensation and recognition for the loss of life and suffering our relatives endured during the Japanese occupation. 

The Indo Project is a non-profit and all-volunteer organization and needs your support (financial and otherwise) to keep fighting an injustice that, since the ending of the war in 1945, still hasn’t found any closure from a Dutch and international point of view. 

6 Comments on “Is the Indische Kwestie a Human Rights Violation?

  1. These articles help me understand my mother and how she raised my brother and me. I’ve always thought it unfair that there was little acknowledgement of the atrocities the Dutch ( indische ) endured. My mother only spoke of the camps 2 times. She only created one sculpture of those times in the camps. I have done research of my family and am amazed at my lineage on my mothers side.

  2. Thank you for posting. I was really surprised to see so many familiar questions and issues shared by others here. Being a second generation offspring from a family that survived from this, I always had questions about where our family came from..but it was always a dark subject.

  3. Both my parents and brother and sister-laws were in the Japanese camps. They all were part of the kitchen crew. My father has a scar on his head from the Japanese and Indonesia mistreatment. The only one survivor is my mother who is 90 years old today living in trauma whenever there is loud abrupt noise.We left Indonesia in 1956 a part of my childhood I rather not discussed because of the experience. I was the most light colored skin child and always had to be hidden because my parents were afraid that I might be hurt by the Indonesians during the bersiap where they would treat Dutch heritage people like animals. Our houses were burned and people killed just because they had a Dutch nationality even though my maternal grandmother is pure Indonesian.I still have no desire to visit Indonesia and a picture of President Soekarno makes my blood boil. We were not treated well in the Netherlands either upon arrival because we were not considered Dutch. Nobody would have anything to do with those “Bruintjes”. Constant bullying and discrimination was part of our lives in the Netherlands so my parents decided to immigrate to the United States. I believe the government paid for this trip to get rid of us but the trip from Indonesia to Holland my parents had to pay back. The people from social zaken came often to collect payments for the trip, our clothes, housing, etc. but they left the Hungarian refugees alone at that time. The Hungarians had better housing, jobs etc. Shame on the Dutch government to withhold payments that are due to us.

  4. Hello (Ms. Inez Hollander),

    For the purpose of keeping abreast with the current issue of the Indische Kwestie and that I have read this whole editorial work, I wish to thank Ms. Inez Hollander for the succinct elaboration.

    The issue is probably one of the historical episodes in which a birth of a new nation-state could be so emotional and its repercussions could affect so many people in so many ways. In this manner, as a person belonging to a group of people I joined to (The Indo Project), it is my natural response to empathize with the personal horryfying experience one could have in the narration of your article-work.

    It doesnt take a giant step to, not only to feel belonging to this group of people but also my willingness to volunteer to help with this cause.

    My educational background is in international affairs (from U.S. institution (sociology, psychology, economic, quantitative methodology, and political science). At this particular juncture, (with your permission), I could draw up the whole article work and transform it in the form of an e-book (among other possible ways)that can be stored virtually so that people could download from their android/smartphones and in this way, exposure and dissemination can be a step towards a goal of contacting relevant public exposure.

    Thank you, I believe my email is in store with the IndoProject for further contact.

    User name: ecm digw
    Residence: West Java

    • Hello Inez,

      I replied to your email address as given above.

      There are a couple of things I wish to elucidate, namely:
      a). the whole write-up of the Indische Kwestie series, which I suggested to be consolidated to an e-book form, (authored: Inez Hollander, Ph.D.).
      b). the substantive issues of the Indische Kwestie itself.

      As for point b) above and as my academic specialization was quantitative methodology (core: Political Risk Analysis/Assessment) then, applied theoretical terms that have been usually used by international body/government insurance scheme in recent decades are:

      * Expropriation
      * War Damage
      * Civil Strife Damage
      * Contract Repudiation
      * Event Intervention, etc.

      Now, these are specific terms used for, unfortunately, businesses. Terms used to attribute to the so-called “Socio-Political Losses.” As I wasnt trained traditionally in international law as a degree. Legal precedents and cases involving the issues of losses have been the realm of lawyers to litigate.

      And, as this last series pointed out in the title, Is [it} a “HUMAN RIGHTS” violation? As you know, “human rights issues also fall within an international body jurisdiction!

      In any case, I shouldnt argue for the theoretical aspects of the Indische Kwestie Issues. However, to choose the best option (social, political, legal case/s) would be the ground work to keep the awareness going and to clearly elucidate what could or should be achieved ) i.e. class actions, talks, conferences, etc.

      There could be many more things to say; however, we wish to clearly involve all points for a win-win solutions with the relevant parties.

      Best wishes and a new follow up article to the Indische Kwestie I noticed here (in the IndoProject website) a couple of days ago.

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