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

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