Wednesday, January 02, 2013


First published by The Jakarta Post, October 10, 2012

Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Leiden, the Netherlands | Feature | Wed, October 10 2012

Paper Edition | Page: 21

 Three Dutch institutions — the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) and the Dutch Institute for Military History (NIMH) — are proposing to launch new research into the events of 1945-49 in Indonesia; what the Dutch term “police actions” but what Indonesia calls “military aggression”. The Jakarta Post interviews KITLV research director Henk Schulte Nordholt.

Question: What is the motive behind this proposal?

Answer: It is triggered by the fact that the Dutch suffer from collective historical amnesia with regard to the events in 1945-49 in our former colony Indonesia. We only recalled what the Nazis did to us, but not what we did to the Indonesians, particularly in the period 1945-49. If we want to look into the future and move forward we have to have a firm basis of what and who we are, including our ability to confront our both dark and bright sides of the past, otherwise it remains a shaky foundation.

What is the objective?

We have three objectives. First, to investigate the nature of the violence the Dutch soldiers committed to the Indonesians. Second, to make an analysis of what kind of war invited Dutch soldiers to commit violence. Third, to find an answer why the violence committed by the Dutch soldiers remained unquestioned within Dutch society here in the Netherlands, such as the fact that Raymond Westerling — who is really a butcher — could start a career as an opera singer here after killing around 3,000 people in the Celebes.

But the Dutch soldiers were also killed and many other Dutch civilians suffered from discrimination and humiliation in the hand of Indonesians. Will the research look into that too?

That is the setting and context that we need to look into to have an understanding of the violence committed by the Dutch towards Indonesians. We will look into that, but that is secondary to the violence committed by the Dutch. Our main interest is on our own soldiers and the violence they committed toward Indonesians.

Will the research look into the Dutch property and companies that were taken over by Indonesia?

We know that Dutch special troops were active in the plantation sector. After all, the first “military aggression” or “police action” was named “operation product”, that was to liberate agricultural estate taken over by the Indonesians. So we will look into that because we are curious about what these Dutch special troops were doing in the plantation sector.

Will the research look into the history of Indonesian revolution?

No, we have no intention to re-write the history of Indonesian revolution. In this post-Soeharto era, Indonesian historiography is being interpreted with various approaches. But we specifically only want to focus on the violent role of the Dutch soldiers during the period. Dutch historian Cees Fasseur wrote a government report in 1969 about violence committed by Dutch soldiers and sociologist J.A.A van Doorn also wrote about it in 1983. But that’s it, since then there has not been any research about it.

Are you going to involve foreign (non Dutch and Indonesian) researchers to get involved in the study to help guard the objectivity?

This will be primarily a Dutch research but we certainly will ask foreign experts for advice and look for an ongoing dialogue with Indonesian colleagues.

Are some people not voicing concern over further claims similar to Rawagede? How would you deal with that?

Another lawsuit over what happened in the Celebes with regard to the brutal killing committed by Westerling is already underway. The Rawagade lawsuit has been successful and it is good that the Dutch government gave in and gave the compensation to the survivors, who were only a few because most of them have passed away due to their age. The people in Rawagede appreciated that the Dutch government admitted the mistake and offered an apology. That is more important than money.

What was the reaction from the Dutch public and veterans? Did you find support from both the Dutch government and the parliament?

Generally positive. We have also been lobbying people in the government and the parliament. However, we only have a caretaker government now, but we have received official support from some Dutch political parties: PvdA (Labor Party), SP (Socialist Party) and GL (Green Left). There is resistance from SGP (Reformed Political Party) — a fundamentalist Christian political party — which argues that we already have had enough research about this history. PVV (Party for Freedom, which is led by Geert Wilders who has Dutch-Indonesian decent) expressed no interests.

Can you explain the approaches of the study?

First, we will go to the existing literature. Second, we will delve into the archives that haven not been developed. We have experts here like Harry A. Poeze who was able to trace the life of neglected Indonesian national hero Tan Malaka. We will need his expertise, for example, to investigate where and when this execution taking place (showing the shocking picture and news of the execution of Indonesians committed by Dutch soldiers in de Volksraant July 10). Third, we will go into private collections to find more pictures like this. My hunch is that this kind of violence is an everyday feature during the war. This is also important to trace the mechanism behind this collective silence. Fourth, although very late, we will also try to find and talk to the survivors.

In 2010, a conference held by Indonesian Student Association and other organizations in Leiden resulted in a recommendation to produce a history school book regarding the events of 1945-49. It is said that the book should contain human interest stories of both Indonesian and Dutch war veterans to reduce the sensitivity and highlight human aspects of both sides, but still enable us to look into and learn from each other version of history. What do you think?

Good idea. At Dutch schools, although World War II was discussed, the history of Dutch colonialism was only a tiny part and its atrocity was non-existent. I believe there must have been a deliberate effort on the part of the Dutch government to suppress this. But the use of this kind of book will also depend on the teachers if it is only a supplementary teaching material. It would be great if the book can be integrated into the main curriculum. 

What is the biggest obstacle you anticipate in doing the research? Have you applied for the funding?

The biggest obstacle is if nobody has the courage to support the proposal. No, we have not applied for the funding. We have initiated this public debate through print media and it should be up to the government and the parliament to make a political decision on this matter. We have been lobbying and we have enough support from political parties in the Dutch parliament, but we have to wait until the upcoming election in September.

What is the worst case, best case?

Worst case, nobody will agree to this proposal. Best case, we will have much better overall insight about the nature of the Dutch military operation in Indonesia during the period of Indonesia’s revolution.

Read also an article written by Lina Sidarto "War Revisited" from the same newspaper:

Visit also a special website about this planned research  (in Dutch):

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


First published by The Jakarta Post, May 2 2011
Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Amsterdam | People | Mon, May 02 2011, 9:57 PM

Wim Manuhutu (Photo by Alpha Amirrachman/JP)
 When Wim Manuhutu was appointed as one of the two directors of the Moluccan Historical Museum (currently Museum Maluku) in 1987, he vowed to run the museum professionally and without any political bias.

Hence, during the first exhibition the museum displayed pictures of four most important Malukan figures: Mr. Dr. Chr. Soumokil (second president of the of the South Moluccas or RMS), Dr. J. A. Manusama (third president of the RMS in the Netherlands), A. J. Patty, a journalist and Indonesian nationalist figure who was a member of Sarekat Ambon) and Dr. Johannes Leimena (also an Indonesian nationalist, and the minister of health in Sukarno’s government).

RMS campaigned for an independent state of Maluku and is outlawed in Indonesia while Sarekat Ambon is a pro-Indonesia organization.

Wim recalled how members of the RMS in the Netherlands were angry that the picture of their respected figures were put up side by side with the Malukans who were on the Indonesian side.

“But we have to treat both RMS and pro-Indonesia Malukans as historical facts, after all history never has a single interpretation,” he told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview.

As a result, Museum Maluku has become a neutral venue for Malukans in the Netherlands to meet and discuss Maluku’s future regardless of their political differences.

Also during the sectarian conflict, which started in 1999, the museum was the place for both Christians and Muslim Malukans in the Netherlands to meet and elaborate on an action plan to help their brothers and sisters in the conflict-torn province in Indonesia.

Wim was born on May 14, 1959, in the Malukan camp Lunetten in Vught in the province of Brabant.

His father was a Malukan teacher when he was shipped with other KNIL soldiers to the Netherlands in 1951.

His mother was an Indo-Eurasian with Batavian blood who worked as a teacher at the camp.

The Lunetten is one of two Malukan camps in the Netherlands, the other is Westerbork in the province of Drenthe.

During the decolonization of Indonesia, 12,500 Malukans arrived in the Netherlands. They lived isolated from the Dutch since they always thought that they would return to Maluku with the support of the Dutch government, which never materialized.

Hence, distrust and misunderstanding marred relations between the Malukans and the Dutch government because the Dutch did not provide enough support for their aspiration for an independent state.

While people cared for each in the camps, conflicts often erupted too within the Malukan communities due to differing religions, areas of origin or political ideologies.

Later in the ‘60s and the ‘70s the children of the people who arrived in the Netherlands in 1951 came into adulthood. However, many resorted to violence to get attention for their aspiration for an independent state.

They shocked the Dutch and Malukan societies with a series of violent incidents such as the occupation of Wassenar (1970), Amsterdam (1975), Bovensmilde (1977) and Assen (1978) and the hijacking of trains in Wijster (1975) and De Punt (1977).

The ‘80s and ‘90s were times for Malukans to reorient their position in the Netherlands, their culture and traditions as well. Later appeared a third and fourth generation, who were gradually integrated into Dutch society, but did not forget their roots.

“Museum Maluku now has become a place for every Malukan to meet and learn about their history,” said Wim, who studied history at Utrecht University and his MA thesis dealt with the expansion of Dutch rule on the island of Seram in the beginning of the 20th century.

During the large-scale violence in Maluku (1999-2004), Museum Maluku facilitated the Information and Documentation Center, which compiled and distributed news from Indonesia.

He recalled how Malukans here had been shocked with such violence and had difficulties believing that the violence really took place in their home villages, which had peaceful traditional alliances between villages.

Wim also recalled how Indonesian former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, known for his tolerant and pluralist attitude, was received warmly by Malukan communities during his visit to the Netherlands in 2000.

In a rare show of support, Malukan communities demonstrated in support of Gus Dur and his presidency, but against the military’s alleged involvement in the conflict, said Wim, who resigned from being a director of Museum Maluku in February 2009.

Asked about his opinion on SBY’s abrupt cancellation of his visit to the Netherlands, he said he regretted the incident because it had served to boost awareness of the RMS, which had launched a suit at the local Dutch court to arrest the Indonesian president over alleged human rights abuses in the province.

“Everybody knew that the court would reject the suit, as happened,” he said, adding that as a regional player and member of the G20 Indonesia should have had the courage to frankly discuss the situation, including the alleged human rights abuses in the province, with Malukan communities here.

He also said that the RMS’s aspiration for an independent state was actually no longer relevant because Indonesia had become a democracy with full-pledged decentralization and that Maluku would be better off being part of a democratic Indonesia despite many shortcomings.

He appealed to all to work together to improve the human rights situation and combat the still-rampant corruption in the province for the betterment of the people of Maluku.

For information about Museum Maluku, visit

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


First published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday, January 09, 2011

Migratie en culturreel erfgoed: Verhalen van Javanen in Suriname, Indonesie en Nederland (Migration and cultural heritage: Stories of Javanese in Suriname, Indonesia and the Netherlands).

Editors: Lisa Djasmadi, Rosemarijn Hoeftre, Hariette Mingoen.
Publisher: KITLV Press, the Netherlands 2010
158 pages

Tracing the life history of Javanese-Surinamese
Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, The Hague | Sun, 01/09/2011 2:02 PM | Life

Book cover of  "Migratie en culturreel erfgoed: Verhalen van
Javanen in Suriname, Indonesie en Nederland"
When Lisa Djasmadi got involved in writing and editing a book on Javanese people in Suriname, she discovered many heartening stories.

She had never heard stories like them before, chronicles of how her forefathers had departed from Java and arrived in Suriname, enduring numerous hardships along the way.

“They were very poor and had to work very hard. I am very proud that they had the courage to leave their motherland, settle in Suriname and later move to the Netherlands to build a new life. Very courageous,” Lisa said during the book launching in The Hague.

The 158-page book — Migratie en culturreel erfgoed: Verhalen van Javanen in Suriname, Indonesie en Nederland (Migration and cultural heritage: Stories of Javanese in Suriname, Indonesia and the Netherlands) — was published by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in collaboration with the Memorial Foundation Committee (STICHJI) in the Netherlands, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in Indonesia and the Memorial Javanese Immigration Association (VHJI) in Suriname.

The book assembles the life stories of three groups — the Javanese who migrated and settled for good in Suriname, the people who eventually left Suriname and settled in the Netherlands and those who had settled in Suriname but decided to return to Indonesia.

Between 1890 and 1939, 32,956 Javanese arrived in Suriname, mostly as contract laborers.

Only a quarter of them returned to Java when their contracts ended. Others returned to Indonesia later, stayed in Suriname or moved to the Netherlands.

KITLV, LIPI and VHJI tracked down Javanese-Surinamese in Indonesia and Suriname and interviewed them for the book, while STICHJI utilized life history methods to record people’s stories.
For the book, Lisa, who is half-Javanese, half-Dutch, interviewed Wim Soekarman Kromoredjo, who was born in Lelydorp, Suriname, but now lives in the Netherlands.

Lisa Djasmadi, one of the editors
(Photo: Alpha Amirrachman/JP)
“I found him fascinating because he is very active in introducing Javanese traditions to the younger generation here in the Netherlands, like ludruk [Javanese theater] and gamelan [Javanese traditional orchestra]. He uses Dutch when performing ludruk to reach younger audiences,” Lisa said.

Wim, who plays both Surinamese and Indonesian versions of gamelan, says in the book that he is already accustomed to multiple identities, taking on Javanese roles at home and Dutch qualities outside the house.

A study by Verkuyten and Brug in 2004 showed that for ethnic minorities like Surinamese in the Netherlands, personal achievement was positively correlated with ethnic identity for Surinamese men, but not Surinamese women.

In Wim’s case, he sets aside his Javanese identity when outside the home and is a “real Dutch man” in the workplace.

Unlike Wim, whose parents brought him to the Netherlands, Sakri Ngadi’s grandparents brought him back to Indonesia.

“The issue of returning to Indonesia was so hot at that time that it could cause a split within families,” said Sakri, who was born in Saramacca, Suriname, but now lives in Jakarta.

Sakri’s grandparents settled in Tongar, a small village in Sumatra, where they tried to open up the forest.
But life was much harder than they expected. They were lured by wishes and hopes, as well as misleading stories that gold was everywhere in Sumatra. They were bitterly wrong.

Sakri’s grandparents and many other Surinamese regretted their decision to return to the motherland and became deeply frustrated, advising others still in Suriname not to return to Indonesia. Some returnees even committed suicide.

During Indonesia’s crisis in 1965, Sakri’s mother nervously requested he return to Suriname. He refused because he did not want to leave his grandmother alone to face the country’s bloody turbulence as his grandfather had already passed away.

After a long, difficult time, he finally found a better life after moving to Jakarta and finding work at the state banknote printer Peruri. Sakri has returned to Suriname several times to visit his mother and his siblings.
Sakri’s story is a page from the life for Javanese-Surinamese who returned to Indonesia, and is one of many difficult and saddening accounts, said Hariette Mingoen, who is one of the editors of the book.

Interestingly, many Javanese-Surinamese who determined to return to Indonesia did not return to Java, but to Sumatra instead.

This movement perhaps shows the courageous character of the Javanese from Suriname to explore another new frontier, facing an ever-uncertain future in building a new life.

One of among many groups of Javanese arriving in capital
Paramaribo, Suriname in 1923 (taken from the book, page vi)
Those who stayed in Suriname also struggled with identity issues and self-esteem. Rita Tjien Fooh-Hardjomohamad, who was born in Suriname’s capital Paramaribo, said no one in her family ever attempted to return to Indonesia.

Even after Suriname’s independence on Nov. 25, 1975, her family chose to stay in Suriname while many were moving to the Netherlands because of fears of instability in the newly independent state.

But, Rita found teenage life in rural Koewarasan restricting. Her parents were stern and raised her and her siblings under the strict rule of Islam.

“I did not have access to Javanese culture like ledek [dancer] or gamelan,” she said.

In order to liberate herself, Rita aspired to a university education. She ended up getting a two-year diploma in history in order to get a teaching job, as she did not want to burden her family for too long.

She became fascinated with history and eventually became the director of the National Archives, which often collaborates with similar institutions in Indonesia and the Netherlands.

Rita said, “Javanese women have to know what they stand for. They must be self-assured and know their own identity and not deny it. We are in Suriname, so we must be a part of Surinamese society, but we will never lose sight of our identity as Javanese”.

The book project included young Javanese-Surinamese who acted as interviewers in the Netherlands, “to make them appreciate the legacy of the history of their ancestors,” Hariette said.

The book is not intended as an academic book, she said. It was written by Javanese-Surinamese about themselves.

“This is the first book of its kind that comprehensively covers three historically significant countries: Suriname, Indonesia and the Netherlands,” she said.

After the book launch in The Hague, Erasmus Huis in Jakarta plans to have its own book launch with related activities on Jan. 20, 2011. A photo exhibition will run from Jan. 20 to Feb. 18, 2011. More info can be found at:

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Nico Schulte Nordholt
(Photo: Alpha Amirrachman/JP)
First published in The Jakarta Post, July 8, 2010

Nico Schulte Nordholt: Dutch scholar demands ‘genuine’ recognition of 1945 independence

Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Leiden | Thu, 07/08/2010 9:18 AM | People

When Nico Schulte Nordholt and other prominent Dutch intellectuals signed and launched a petition demanding that the Dutch government should genuinely, in a political and moral sense, recognize Aug. 17, 1945, instead of Dec. 27, 1949, as the birth of Indonesia’s independence, they were shrugged off by many quarters of Dutch society.

This is because the then Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister, Ben Bot, when attending the national flag ceremony at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta in 2005, had already stated the Dutch government accepted Aug. 17, 1945 as the historical start point of Indonesian independence.

“However, for the signatories of the petition this official stance of the Dutch government is not sufficient.”

The signatories are convinced, he said, “that the acceptance of Aug. 17, 1945 as a historical fact is significantly different from our plea to a genuine recognition, in a political and a moral sense, of Aug. 17, 1945 as the birth of Indonesia’s independence,” Nordholt said during a recent discussion. It was on “pluralization of narratives on the history of Indonesian independence,” recently held at Leiden University.

So why is “acceptance” not enough?

“By using ‘acceptance’, indeed a historical event, namely the proclamation, is no longer denied, but with ‘acceptance’ one does not acknowledge the deeper meaning of this proclamation, namely the fact that the Indonesian people have the right to proclaim their independence on the moment their leaders choose to act.

‘Recognition’ also implies the acknowledgment of the strong nationalist movement that had led to this proclamation, with all its political implications, also for the present,” said Nordholt.

Born on Oct. 1, 1940, in Kefamenanoe, the capital of Timor Tengah Utara in West Timor province, Nordholt has long ties with Indonesia.

His father, Herman Gerrit Nordholt, was a local official within the colonial administration. From 1936 to 1947 the family spent their time in Indonesia, including during the turbulent period of Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
He recalled how the Japanese imprisoned all the members of his family without trial for three years.

He also remembered how his mother, Oetje Zielhuis, taught his two elder sisters, Johanna Gezina and Neeltje, school lessons at home.

After the Japanese surrender, many Dutch people returned home. However, his father was again posted in Kefamenanoe. He often accompanied his father on his duties when touring his district.

This experience gave Nordholt a sense of the pulse of the society he later lived in for many years again. In 1947, just two years after Sukarno and Hatta declared Indonesia’s independence, his family returned to the Netherlands.

Asked if the petition would also do any good to Dutch society, he said there were four groups of “victims of history” residing in the Netherlands.

First, these were veteran soldiers who had served the Dutch East Indies; second, the “Eurasians” with Dutch and Indonesian backgrounds — many of whom had severely suffered atrocities during the independence movement.

The third group were the Moluccans, the ex-Dutch East Indies Army soldiers, shipped to the Netherlands with their families under the false argument of a “temporary arrangement”; and fourth, the Papuans, who arrived in the Netherlands after 1969.

“Recognition also implies the acknowledgment of the strong nationalist movement that had led to this proclamation.”

He said if the Dutch eventually and genuinely recognize Aug. 17 1945 as Indonesia’s day of independence, they should first settle the remaining problems that beset these groups of victims of history, including any family members currently living in the Netherlands.

Later, Nordholt’s father became a history teacher, and in the 1960s he became professor in anthropology at the Free University in Amsterdam.

Nordholt finally decided to take up anthropology too. However, in 1961, when starting his studies,, Indonesia was closed to the Dutch, due to the dispute between the Netherlands and Indonesia over West Papua. Hence, his studies shifted among others to North Africa and Morocco.

In 1966, bilateral relations improved. He then followed lectures with Wim F. Wertheim at the University of Amsterdam.

A renown professor, Wertheim was regarded as the expert on modern Indonesia and was known for his strong support for Indonesia’s independence revolution.

Nordholt completed his masters thesis in 1968 on the Pamong Praja, members of the nobility recruited into the colonial administration, who became the embrio of the nation’s future bureaucracy.

His PhD research was on the role of the district head under the New Order from 1969 to 1979.

On the invitation of prominent scholar Selo Sumardjan, he lectured at the Faculty of Political and Social Science, at the University of Indonesia in 1981.

Nordholt also joined the Commission of Dialogue formed by the Dutch NGO, Novib, to support the then newly established Institute for Legal Assistance (LBH). The Institute rapidly became a thorn in the government’s side for its critical voice on issues related to justice.

He recalled when he once sat with future president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid at Lake Toba, while sharing durian, after a conference in August 1983, Gus Dur told him about his determination to democratize Indonesia using NU (Nahdlatul Ulama, the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia) as his platform when he was elected as NU Chairman.

In December 1984 when the late Gus Dur chaired the NU, Nordholt was also at the center of Indonesia’s pro-democracy movement in the 1990s.

Until 2008 Nordholt, who last taught at the Twente University in the Netherlands, still travels frequently to Indonesia for research, his persistent passion.

Photo: Alpha Amirrachman/JP


Mintardjo (Photo by Alpha Amirrachman/JP)
First published in The Jakarta Post, March 30, 2010

Mintardjo: Indonesian at heart

Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Oegstgeest, the Netherlands | Tue, 03/30/2010 8:51 AM | Life

When young Mintardjo was sent to Helsinki, Finland, to attend the 1962 communist World Youth Festival and later to communist Romania to study, little did he know he would not return to Indonesia for many years because of unexpected political developments.

Just three years after he left his homeland, the then popular Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) collapsed and carnage among its followers ensued.

“I was not allowed to return to my homeland,” he told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview at his modest house.

Now living in exile in the Netherlands, Mintardjo shows his love for Indonesia by earnestly helping Indonesian students studying in the country regardless of their ideology or religion — providing them with accommodation, transport and a place to gather for social activities.

Born in Bagelan, Purworejo, June 6, 1936, Mintardjo attended several schools, including the Holland Indische School in Purwokerto, where he stayed with his grandfather, and a Catholic-oriented Kanisius school in his hometown of Purworejo.

Just two months before Indonesia proclaimed its independence in August 1945, the Japanese arrested his father, accusing him of organizing two revolts against the Japanese.

In 1948, his father was shot dead, some say by the Indonesian military at the time (TNI), while others claim it was by the Dutch colonial army (KNIL). So Mintardjo was forced yet again to hop from one school to another.

Although Mintardjo always made time to attend various political gatherings regardless of their political orientation, he was never a member of any association. He preferred to be involved in organizing sports events such as soccer and volleyball matches for local youth. He became a member of a soccer player association alongside members of Young Indonesia, an organization created by the Youth Congress during the 1928 Youth Pledge.

So when Young Indonesia asked Mintardjo to attend the 8th World Youth Festival in 1962 in Helsinki, it was to help organize its soccer team.

Many national youth organizations joined the Helsinki youth summit, such as the People Youth, affiliated to the PKI, Indonesia’s Muslim Youth (PII), the Association of Christian Students of Republic of Indonesia (PMKRI), the National Movement of Indonesian Students and the Concentration of Indonesian Student Movement (CGMI), which is affiliated with the PKI.

Then in a twist of fate, he received two callings from the small Eastern European country of Romania.

During the festival, Mintardjo first received an invitation from Romania Youth, affiliated with the Romanian Communist Party, to attend its independence day celebrations. Then Indonesian ambassador Sukrisno also offered him a chance to study in Romania.

Mintardjo’s life changed from that moment on.

After 1965, where the PKI’s power was removed and millions of its members executed, Indonesian ambassadors explained to Indonesian citizens living overseas at that time that they did not know what exactly had happened and “their position was to leave all matters to president Sukarno, the great leader of the revolution”.

Mintardjo and students initially agreed but were then asked to change their stand to support General Soeharto’s government.

When he and many of his friends steadfastly refused, their citizenship was scrapped against their own will in April 1967.

Mintardjo finally graduated from Vladimir University in 1969 in political economy. Later he worked as a civil servant at the Romanian tourism ministry and married Romanian Liliana Gabirella. They have three children — Heru Tjahjo, Ratnawati and Nurkasih.

When Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed and his communist regime collapsed during the 1989 bloody revolution, Mintardjo sought political asylum in the Netherlands.

But Mintardjo still longed for the warmness of his home country.

Staying in Oegstgeest, very close to Leiden, Mintardjo welcomed to his house many Indonesian students who were studying in Leiden, a university known for its excellent Indonesian and Islamic study center.

In fact, it has almost become a tradition for students to use his modest house as a venue for activities, from the election Indonesian Student Association (PPI) executives to monthly discussions where students or guests present their scientific papers.

“I remember Pak Min and his wife cooked for about 50 people who performed at the Indonesian Cultural Night in Rotterdam,” recalled Michael Putrawenas, former secretary-general of the PPI in the Netherlands.

His bicycle also became the “official” vehicle for PPI executives, said current PPI Leiden vice president Hilman Latief.

Mintardjo was also actively involved in every student discussion.

“I am happy if students remain critical and have a balanced perspective about issues,” said Mintardjo, who also initiated the establishment of the Inter-Generation Dialogue association and later Sapulidi Foundation, which strengthens Indonesian younger and older generations residing in the Netherlands.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Chalik Hamid
(Photo by Alpha Amirrachman/JP)
Firts published in The Jakarta Post, Monday, January 5, 2009 11:24 AM


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Diemen, the Netherlands | Mon, 01/05/2009 11:06 AM | Lifestyle

When poet Chalik Hamid left Indonesia on Feb. 4, 1965, to study journalism in Albania, he had no idea he would not return for 30 years.

Just seven months after he had left the country -- and his pregnant wife -- Indonesia experienced some of the defining moments in its modern history: the killing of the generals, the fall of the giant Indonesian Communist Party and the alleged massacre of its followers.

Because of his own communist history, even though he was far away in Albania, Chalik's life was changed forever.

The Indonesian Communist Party -- then the world's third-largest political party with three million members -- was accused by some sections in the military of attempting to stage a coup d'etat and of having a role in killing the generals.

Indonesia found itself caught in a bitter feud between two competing ideologies: communism and capitalism.

Capitalism won, with the support of the United States, and Indonesia underwent years of bloodbath with the alleged massacre of around half a million followers of the Indonesian Communist Party.

Although Chalik was abroad, the fact he had been sent there by the country's first president Sukarno, who was accused of siding with the left, turned out to be a lifelong curse.

Like many others who were sent abroad to study, Chalik lost his Indonesian citizenship and was barred from returning home by the New Order regime, which was seeking to eradicate all communist influences in the country.

Chalik was not allowed to see his wife Sri Sutiati, whom he had married in May 1964. He also had to bury his dream of seeing his baby daughter Chasrita, who was born on March 19, 1965 -- barely a month after he left the country.

"I was distressed and disoriented," Chalik told The Jakarta Post at the 20th anniversary celebration of Vereniging Persaudaraan, an organization that gathers hundreds of former students who were barred from going home following the events of 1965.

At the gathering, Chalik read some of the poems from his recently released book Mawar Merah (Red Roses), published by Ultimus.

"I couldn't sleep for months, trying to grasp what was actually going on in my beloved homeland," he said.

He dealt with the stress by running long distances -- and continuing his lifelong love of writing poetry.

Born in the city of Kisaran, Asahan, North Sumatra, on May 16, 1938, Chalik graduated from Taman Siswa junior high school in Kisaran in 1958 before going onto SMA Pembaruan high school in Medan. He continued his studies at Art Academy in Medan and Aliarcham Social Science Academy in Jakarta.

In junior high school, Chalik industriously wrote poems, which were published in Taman Siswa's magazine and Lembaga daily.

Later his work was published in Jalan Baru, Harian Harapan, Waspada, Indonesia Baru, Gotong Royong, Harian Patriot and Cerdas in Medan. He also sent his work to publications in Jakarta such as Bintang Timur and Harian Rakyat.

He once received a literary award from Harian Rakyat for his distinguished work.

In his youth, Chalik often read his poems and short stories on the state-run radio RRI in Medan under the guidance of Prof. Bakri Siregar and Sy. Anjasmara.

He also liked to perform in dramas, taking a lead role in productions of dramatic adaptations, including Utuy Tatang Sontani's Si Kabayan, Dostoyevsky's Dosa dan Hukuman (Crime and Punishment) and Pramoedya Ananta Toer's Orang-orang Baru dari Banten (New People from Banten).

These plays were often directed by famous artists of the time, including Bakri Siregar, Hr. Bandaharo, Sy. Anjasmara, Aziz Akbar and Kamaludin Rangkuty.

As a student, Chalik was also active in Indonesia's student association. He was elected chairman of the Sumatra branch in 1961 during its sixth congress in Jakarta, and from 1961 to 1964 was chairman of the Medan branch of Lekra (People's Cultural League) and one of the presidium at North Sumatra's Lekra.

Lekra is the cultural and literary wing of the Indonesian Communist Party, which had a sizable membership from artists from various fields.

As a young student activist, Chalik was critical of any form of exploitation. He once led a movement spraying graffiti on the American General Council building in Medan to protest against the takeover of a plantation in Sumatra by a foreign joint-plantation corporation.

But the events of 1965 crushed his activism and his dream to develop Indonesia's literary world.

The one bright spot was that the Albanian government continued his scholarship until he graduated from the University of Tirana in 1969.

He had to resist calling his wife because he feared any form of direct communication could endanger her family.

"I sent my letters to my family through a third country like Peru, and this could take months," Chalik said.

Many family members of those associated with the banned Indonesian Communist Party had to undergo a harsh, often unimaginable life. They abruptly became social pariahs; they were unable to apply for government jobs or enroll in university.

Even children were "tagged" with the so-called Surat Bebas PKI, a certificate indicating that they were free from elements of the Indonesian Communist Party.

He later learned that his wife and daughter were forced to go into hiding in Kisaran, Java and Medan.

"Sri was finally captured and thrown in jail in 1967 without trial."

"She was only released in 1979. She went to see my mother to ask permission to marry my friend Astaman," Chalik said, adding he was relieved by her choice because her new husband was his friend and their marriage would be good for their daughter.

Chalik later married an Albanian woman, Katerina, with whom he had two children, Hervis and Rahardi, and worked as a radio broadcaster and translator at the Indonesian section of Tirana radio.

"People in South Sumatra could listen to Tirana radio," he said with a smile.

With friends he produced a magazine called Api Pemuda Indonesia (API, The Fire of Indonesian Youth), with an English edition Indonesian Tribune, to attack the New Order government.

However, he had to seek political asylum in the Netherlands in 1989 after communism crumbled in many parts of Eastern Europe.

Chalik finally visited Indonesia in 1995, when he stayed in the house of his ex-wife's family -- a rather awkward situation, he found.

He has since visited Indonesia six times. He divorced his Albanian wife and married an Indonesian woman, Nur Aisah, in 2003.

The bitterness he feels about his life is reflected in Mawar Merah, in which he writes: "...the house is deserted, the room has lost its inhabitants, children and wife are kept waiting ... I have lost my eternal friend..."

But despite the bitterness, his love of his home country remains intact, he writes:

"... forty years I was barred from stepping foot on my homeland, but I am still loyal, I am still in love (with her)..."


Photo: CHALIK HAMID (JP/Alpha Amirrachman)

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Emha Ainun Najib
(Photo by Alpha Amirrachman/JP)
First published in The Jakarta Post, October 18, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Deventer, the Netherlands | Sat, 10/18/2008 11:16 AM | People

When a group of priests from the Dutch Protestant Church approached renowned Indonesian poet and Muslim scholar Emha Ainun Najib to ask him to stage a performance of his musical band Kiai Kanjeng in the Netherlands, Emha did not think twice about accepting.

The offer was made not long after the release of Geert Wilder's controversial movie Fitna.

"They wanted us to help reduce the tension and enhance understanding among religious communities," Emha told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of Kiai Kanjeng's performance at the Islamic Cultural Center in Deventer, the Netherlands.

He acknowledged there was a section of the Muslim community that spoke the language of intolerance and that was committed to acts of violence against those whose religions or opinions differed from theirs.

"The world has seen tension among religious communities. I have never seen such a growing hostility in my life ... When I was a child, things like this never happened," said Emha, also known as the "renaissance figure of Indonesian culture".

Emha is unlike other Muslim leaders, who are often in a state of denial regarding the gap between the normative and the practice of Islam.

"We have laws that should anticipate this and deal with (those who commit violence)," he said between puffs of a kretek (Indonesian clove cigarette) during a stroll in downtown Deventer.

"However, there are also other groups who advocate peace and tolerance among us, and we should give them more chances so their voices can be heard by people all over the world," he said, giving the example of the Dutch Muslim and Protestant Women's Association in Deventer, which aims to foster understanding among religious communities.

Emha's musical group, Kiai Kanjeng, is currently embarking on a tour in several cities in the Netherlands: Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam, Zwolle, Leeuwarden, Deventer, Nijmegen and Etten-Leur from Oct. 8 to Oct. 19.

Emha has also held dialogues with various religious communities during his cultural tour here.

"The spirit is to recognize humanity everywhere in every nation, group and religion, and to respect and love all humanity, wherever it exists.

"The East is in the West, and the West is in the East," said Emha, whose wife and singer Novia Kolopaking is also a member of Kiai Kanjeng's 15-strong entourage.

Muhammad (Emha) Ainun Nadjib was born in Jombang, East Java, on May 27, 1953, the fourth of 15 children.

He was expelled from Gontor Ponorogo Islamic boarding school near Surakarta for leading a demonstration against the school's security department during his third year of study.

He later graduated from Muhammadiyah senior high school but later only managed to study for one semester at the Faculty of Economics at Gadjah Mada University.

Emha's first anthology of poetry titled "M" Frustasi (the Frustration of "M") was published in 1975. With his colleagues, he set up theater group Teater Dinasti. It did not take long for him to establish himself as a foremost figure on Yogyakarta's poetry scene.

Living for five years on Yogyakarta's downtown Jl. Malioboro, Emha studied literature with his most revered Sufi-teacher Umbu Landu Paranggi, who is believed to have led a mystical life.

Umbu greatly influenced Emha's work, which is often described as deeply religious and philosophical but esthetic.

He was later involved in various literary debates over ideas he introduced, which included "contextual literature" and "literature of liberation". The former rejects elitism in the arts and the latter campaigns for more freedom in the arts.

Between the 1970s and 1980s, Emha was most productive in producing poetry. Some of his works from this period include Sajak-sajak Sepanjang Jalan (Poems Along the Road, 1977), Tak Mati-Mati (The Immortal, 1978) and Tidur Yang Panjang (Long Sleep, undated).

Some of his essays, poems and play performances satirized the repressive Soeharto regime. As a result, Emha earned a certain measure of "notoriety" and often was in the company of a security entourage.

While he was threatened with defamation against the regime, Emha was persistent in pursuing dialogue. He was once involved in a heated debate with the then chief of social and political department of the Indonesian military Syarwan Hamid in the media on the course of the nation.

From 1984 to 1986, Emha lived in Amsterdam and The Hague, the Netherlands. In The Hague, he assisted Prof. C. Brower of the Institute of Social Studies in conducting workshops on religion, culture and development.

"The themes were mostly political messages against authoritarian regimes," he recalled, adding that it was during the heyday of Soeharto in Indonesia, and Pinochet in Chile.

He said his stay in the Netherlands was a critical juncture in his life, "It contributed to my personal transformation".

Back in Indonesia, the father of Letto band's vocalist Noe set up a monthly gathering known as Padhang Bulan (Full Moon) in 1989 in Jombang, East Java, which attracted thousands of supporters who were enthusiastic about music, poetry and religious and socio-political debating.

Ironically, this is when he produced Santri-Santri Khidir (Students of Khidir) with the Salahudin Theatre in 1990, staged on the field of Islamic boarding school Gontor, which had expelled him many years before.

Emha was engaged in the reform movement that led to the downfall of Soeharto's regime in 1998. He was among nine prominent Muslim leaders invited to meet then president Soeharto minutes before he resigned. However, his role in ensuring the smooth exit of Soeharto has always been misunderstood and controversial.

He set up another monthly gathering called Kenduri Cinta (Feast of Love) in 2000 to stimulate love among people affected by displacement and poverty.

In recent years, Emha has traveled abroad extensively, including to Australia, the U.S., the UK and Europe, either participating in literary festivals or embarking on cultural tours with Kiai Kanjeng.

However, according to Ian L. Betts, author of Jalan Sunyi Emha (Emha's Silent Pilgrimage), despite Emha's popularity and his massive influence on Indonesia's social discourse, his work is not really part of the Indonesian literary mainstream.

Still, in 2005 he received The Muslim News Award of Islamic Excellence in London. A year later, at a series of keynote panels at the Melbourne Writer's Festival, Emha spoke on Islam and relations between Indonesia and Australia post-Bali terrorist bombing.

When asked why there is still religious tension among communities nowadays, Emha said, "there has been misinterpretation of the holy book".

Emha argued that most of the Koran could be re-interpreted. He metaphorically compared the belief system to rice grains, which he said must be well cooked before becoming "edible" for all people.

He said there were some terminologies in Islam that had been misunderstood, even by Muslims. He cited as examples tafsir and jihad.

"Tafsir denotes attention, evaluation, assessment, in-depth analysis, drawing conclusions and making choices about a thing or situation," he said.

"Jihad means struggle or effort. A man or woman who works to support a family is performing jihad, anyone who works in the social interest can be said to be a mujahid, or one who conducts jihad."

Lastly, Emha said, the religious tension was also due to the social, political and economic interests of certain sections of society that were benefiting from such tensions.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Photo by Alpha Amirrachmman/JP
First published in The Jakarta Post, Thursday, June 12, 2008

Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Delft, the Netherlands | Thu, 06/12/2008 10:18 AM | Potpourri

In a time when competition is high and a hedonistic way of life sometimes pervasive, a training program recently tried to inject new spirit into people's lives at an Indonesian Diaspora meeting in the Netherlands.

The Emotional and Spiritual Quotient (ESQ), founded by Ary Ginandjar, is a multi-media training program to encourage personal growth in leadership, well-being and Islamic spiritual values.

The three-day course is conducted in a theatrical manner, sometimes directly engaging -- and challenging -- participants.

"Do you love your children or God?" yelled trainer Syamsul Rahman against the backdrop of a movie of the Prophet Ibrahim, who was instructed by God to slaughter his son Ismail.

Syamsul said that after the training, participants would not be bogged down with despair over the loss of loved ones or when they fail to reach their targets in work.

"There is always a blessing in disguise," he said on the sidelines of the presentation, adding that participants were gently encouraged to reflect on many aspects of their life, both the successes and failures.

Syamsul was flown in from Indonesia to deliver the recent training in a huge sport gym in the city of Delft, between Rotterdam and the Hague.

Creative leadership exercises and games were also presented to pump up the intellectual, social and entrepreneurial aspects of the participants.

William Satriaputra de Weerd, an Indonesian living in the Netherlands who organized the training, said there had been 350 ESQ alumni in the country since it was first conducted in 2006.

"Thirty-six participants today are from around Europe such as the Netherlands, France and the UK," said William, who has lived in the Netherlands since 1974.

Couple Mujilah and Hans Ham from Amsterdam said the training had given them time to reflect on their everyday lives.

"It releases us from our regular stress," said Mujilah.

"The training is a breakthrough in examining the human mind; it goes beyond contemporary approaches," said surgeon Hisham from London.

His wife, IT consultant Azlin, said they had promising careers and money but something had been missing. "We have found it here," she said.

Ahmad Fathan Aniq from Leiden had a slightly different perspective.

"While I don't really agree with using scientific explanations for the Koran, because it restricts the holy book into time-space bounds, the leadership and emotional development in the training is really mentally refreshing."

"I feel that I have been able to revitalize all the positive values that are already embedded but underdeveloped deep in our psyches," he said.

The first day of the training fell under the theme Inner Journey, where participants joined interactive dialogues filled with philosophical stories, exercises and games to enable them to identify their personal potential.

The second day was Outer Journey, introducing participants to the vastness of the universe and the unlimited potential it offers our lives.

The last day focused on Building Creativity, exploring possible action, missions in life, character building and self-control.

While a majority of the participants were Muslims, anyone was welcome in the course, William said.
"Now there are around 500,000 alumni in Indonesia and 3,000 of them are non-Muslims," Syamsul added.

Syamsul said due to the increasing demand, founder Ary was now in the process of designing "ESQ Universal" to reach wider audiences including non-Muslims "so that everyone can fully benefit from this program".