donderdag, oktober 20, 2022

Linggarjati: bridge to the future?

From 6 August to 2 September, Willem Jansen, program coordinator at IofC The Netherlands, visited IofC Indonesia, aiming to explore multiple perspectives on the Dutch-Indonesian colonial past (see photo on the right). How does this history affect the contemporary relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands? How does it make itself felt in private and public spaces? And are Indonesian young adults waiting for an apology from the Netherlands after 77 years of independence?

Recently, Mark Rutte, Prime Minister to the Netherlands, again apologized for the pain that veterans suffered during the Indonesian War of Independence and for the atrocities committed by the Dutch during this period. On August 15, the day on which the Dutch commemorate the end of the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, the Indonesian ambassador in the Netherlands was asked to participate in the ceremony. Some Dutch Indonesians found the ambassador’s inclusion inappropriate, arguing that Indonesia first needs to apologize for its involvement in the bersiap, a term that refers to the post-war period marked by xenophobic violence towards white Dutch people and people of mixed Indonesian and European descent. These tensions illustrate that we are still grappling with our colonial past. But how pervasive is this history in Indonesia?

Fort Vredeburg, Fort Rotterdam, and water management in a rainforest
In the cities that I visited, I found pervasive tangible memories of the colonial past, such as the colonial buildings that dominate the inner cities of Yogyakarta, Bandung on Java, and Makassar on Sulawesi in particular. Not far from these buildings, you’ll usually find a VOC (Dutch East India Company) trading building, a fortress, and a colonial church, in other words, the symbolic trilogy of economy, power, and religion.

A massive park on the outskirts of Bandung is a fine example of Indonesia’s gorgeous natural scenery. If you dig a little deeper through this area of rainforest, you walk straight through a tunnel that the Dutch carved through volcanic rock. A little further down this path you’ll find a hydroelectric power station built by the Dutch, fully intact. The waterfall serves as a power supply. I also visited Fort Rotterdam at the heart of Makassar on Sulawesi. In colonial times, costly spices such as indigo, cinnamon, and sugar were brought here to be shipped via the Makassar Strait to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Traveling uphill to Linggarjati
During my visit, I learned that the Dutch ambassador in Indonesia is interested in generating renewed interest for the Linggarjati Agreement (also spelled as 'Linggadjati), named after the village where it was negotiated between the Dutch colonial government and the Republic of Indonesia in 1946.* However, I found out that the Indonesian government is not interested in raising awareness about Indonesia’s colonial past. But perhaps we need the attention of Indonesian young adults instead to stimulate this awareness, I thought.

Let’s return to the Linggarjati Agreement for more context. The agreement proposed that Indonesia would gain independence whilst remaining a constituent of the Dutch monarchy. This concisely formulated treaty included a number of articles that both Indonesian and Dutch leaders found acceptable. However, the Indonesian leaders eventually withdrew from the agreement, finding its many ifs and buts discouraging. Their withdrawal resulted in military interventions in Indonesia by the Dutch armed forces (these interventions are euphemistically and controversially called ‘police actions’ to this very day). Many human rights violations could have been prevented if the proposed policy in the Linggarjati Agreement had been implemented. But what is the point of dwelling on this alternative version of history, young adults wonder.

Food for thought. On 17 August, Independence Day, the Indonesian IofC team and I headed into the mountains to further contemplate these questions. The team prefers to celebrate this day in a quiet place, far away from the city’s hustle and bustle. We visited the house in which Joty ter Kulve-van Os (1927 – 2022) was born, which now functions as a museum dedicated to the Linggarjati negotiations. We could not have found a better place to ponder the weight of this extraordinary historical event and what it means to us.

I recognized the house/museum from a whimsical poster by Peter van Dongen (see photo on the top left). It appears well-maintained from the outside, sporting Indonesia’s national colors. On the inside, I recognized a familiar scene from a documentary starring Joty: the negotiating table, the bedrooms of the delegates, the fishing pond, and the pictures on the wall. Most members of the Indonesian team had never visited this museum or even heard of Linggarjati.

In search of 'the spirit' of Linggarjati
For our reflections, we sought inspiration in the lovely garden behind the museum and we imagined that its tranquillity and natural beauty must have made quite an impact on the negotiators. One member remarked that it was extraordinary that the Dutch and Indonesian leaders, sworn enemies after all, had been so close to each other during the negotiations: even the bedrooms had been shared!

The daughter of a local leader had proposed that Lingarjatti should be the place for the negotiations—a small village that was geographically situated between colonial Jakarta (Batavia) and Yogyakarta and where the Republic of Indonesia already held de facto power. Still, the mutual relationship between the different leaders remained friendly, not hostile. The devoutly Christian Willem Schermerhorn, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, got along well with the younger, Muslim Soetan Sjahrir, the first Prime Minister of Indonesia. The former British ambassador to Egypt, Lord Killearn, who acted as an intermediary in the early stages of negotiating the agreement, is still praised for his supportive role during the negotiations (see photo on the right: Schermerhorn, Killearn and Sjahrir shaking hands).

Despite the failure of the agreement, we concluded that the conditions during the negotiations had been ideal and should’ve led to success: a carefully chosen place, good preparations, the formation of friendly relationships, shared meals and even shared bedrooms. These conditions lend themselves easily to an interpretation of IofC’s values. Our visit to the museum was a fine tribute to Joty ter Kulve-van Os. The day after our visit, a Dutch newspaper published a moving in memoriam about her life and her birthplace in Linggarjati.

The beginning of the (colonial) end
On my last day in Indonesia, I visited a museum about the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung in 1955. This building was designed in Art Deco style by a Dutch architect and in 1955, President Soekarno changed its Dutch name to Gedung Merdeka, Museum of Freedom. Most notably the museum displays pictures of an impressive procession through Bandung, which consisted of many Asian and African world leaders, such as Muhammed Ali (Pakistan), Abdul Nasser (Egypt), and Nkruma (Ghana).

The conference with delegates from 18 Asian and African countries aimed to build toward a new world order without colonialism. Ten years after its independence, Indonesia had the honor of hosting the conference. A 1955 Dutch newspaper article about the conference stated that Asia and Africa shook off their ‘inferiority complex’ and claimed their role in a new world peace during this historic event. The conference was concluded with the Datasila, the ten principles of Bandung. The first two articles propose (1) respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations; and (2) respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. The principles offered a glimpse into a promising future free from imperialism.

'We won the war, didn’t we?'
How does Indonesia receive the Dutch government's apologies? Are the Dutch too preoccupied with their hidden past while the younger Indonesians are optimistically looking toward the future? So it seems. Alfred Birney, who wrote ‘The Interpreter of Java’, aptly remarked: ‘What it is with all these apologies from the Netherlands to Indonesia lately? We (the Indonesians) won the war, didn’t we?’ Here Birney expresses his winner’s mentality and attitude towards the colonial past, an understandable but somewhat divisive attitude. In contrast, in the spirit of Linggarjati, the Indonesian IofC team and I, representing the Dutch IofC team, carefully built a bridge toward reconciliation and the future.

By Willem Jansen.
Transl. Shereen Siwpersad.
Sources: Wikipedia (photo Schermerhorn, Killearn, and Sjahrir) and IofC.

Read Willem's earlier article here about building trust in Indonesia. 

*Multiple spellings are possible, such as Linggadjati, Linggajati and Linggarjati. In this article we have chosen the latter, after name of the aforementioned museum.