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):