vrijdag, juni 18, 2021

A telling view on the relationship The Netherlands/Indonesia

uitzicht op BandungIn the introduction of his book Revolusi, Indonesië en het onstaan van de nieuwe wereld (Revolusi, Indonesia and the birth of the new world), published at the end of last year, David van Reybrouk introduces the mail boat as the perfect metaphor for the colonial society in the Dutch East Indies. Depending on your race or class distinction you travelled on deck 1, 2 or 3. In the chapter called The colonial mail boat the writer uses many personal stories to illustrate how this division worked in practice.

This part of the book commences with the dramatic occurrence on 25 October 1936 when off the coast of Soerabaja a beautiful, graceful looking mail boat, built at Feyenoord in Rotterdam, sank. Everybody, from whichever deck, perished the same way in the sea. Is this a sign of the coming end of colonial domination some thirty years later?

Hundreds of eye witnesses

Revolusi is a rich book. It paints a wider picture, but is especially so readable and fascinating because it tells how people made history and how they experienced it. Van Reybrouck shows how Dutch expansion in South-East Asia started in 1605 with a trading post in Ambon and how the colony grew, like bits of a puzzle being added, till it covered in 1914 the entire area of what is now Indonesia. The largest part of the book deals with the 20th century and the fight for independence. Hundreds of eye witnesses of over 90 years old were interviewed by Van Reybrouck. He did his utmost to find the last witnesses, whose personal experience could bring history closer. He found them in the far reaches of Indonesia, in Japan, in Nepal and, of course, also in The Netherlands. You notice how he approaches his discussion partners with love and respect and how he creates an atmosphere where they dare to entrust him with their deepest experiences and most painful memories.

Increase in exploitation

While reading I realise how little I really know about it all. Around the Moluccan isles there was lively trading, centuries before the Dutch arrived. The Netherlands were not planning to start a colony. It wanted to trade. But above all The Netherlands wanted to own the trade monopoly, and to that end you need to exercise power. Extreme violence was not abhorred as shown by the genocide on the island of Banda, now 400 years ago.

Everything was part of the trade, people included. Slave markets had been practice for centuries in Asia, and the VOC (the Netherlands United East Indies Company/Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) made eager use of them. This happened before the better known transatlantic trade in enslaved people.

huis waar Eduard Douwes Dekker gewoond heeftMore and more the Dutch East Indies became a colony. An increase in exploitation happened during the 19th century, was given the name culture system and was initiated by king William I. Van Reybrouck showed a connection new to me. When Belgium separated from The Netherlands in 1830, our country lacked important revenue. So these had better come from the Dutch East Indies. Van Reybrouck writes that during the 1850’s a third of the Dutch state income came via this culture system. This injustice inspired Eduard Douwes Dekker to write the classic 'Max Havelaar', under the pseudonym of Multatuli, thus initiating the end of the culture system. But not of colonialism.

The Netherlands considered possession of the colony as completely self-evident. Even after World War II it did not dawn on liberated The Netherlands, that her most beautiful colony might also want to be free. Two days after Japan capitulated on 15 August 1945 and without foreknowledge of The Netherlands Soekarno declared Indonesia’s independence. After this the writer does not speak any longer about the Dutch East Indies, but about the Republic of Indonesia. A republic which was not recognized, that had to be fought against and with which had to be negotiated.

Linggajati Agreement

Concerning the latter issue: Most constructive, according to him, where the negotiations which led to the Linggajati Agreement. They started in Jakarta in October 1946. Main negotiator for The Netherlands was former prime-minister Willem Schermerhorn and for Indonesia Soetan Sjarir, prime-minister under Soekarno. Schermerhorn kept a detailed diary, which Van Reybrouch read. He writes: ‘His diary shows in a moving way that world history is always a matter of personal relationships, people who do not know each other at first and who do or do not learn to trust each other.’ In this case understanding and even appreciation grew, which led to a cease fire after just two weeks of negotiations. At the beginning of November the time was there for formal and diplomatic negotiations. For this occasion a neutral spot had to be found and it was found in the village of Linggajati, Kuningan, in the northern part of Java, on the slopes of the Ciremai volcano. A beautiful colonial villa with a large garden was chosen as meeting place.

The Linggajati Agreement was concluded on 15 November 1946. It comprised in short a United States of Indonesia, which would be part of the Netherlands-Indonesia Union, under the direction of the Crown. This Union apart from The Netherlands also included Suriname and the Dutch West Indies.

tuin van het museum in LinggajatiHistory could have ended here, Van Reybrouck writes. But matters went a different way. While the Republican leaders maintained their stance towards the agreement, the Dutch government was suspicious. When Schermerhorn returned to The Netherlands, he had a lot of explaining to do and he could not prevent The Netherlands imposing further demands and conditions. Because of the Dutch amendments the Linggajati Agreement no longer was a treaty between two equal partners, and that upset Indonesia. It resulted in violence, lots of violence. The chance for a harmonious decolonization was gone.

Even so the Linggajati Agreement has a positive sound. The negotiations which led to it, were unique. For the first time colonizer and colonized talked to each other on equal footing. As the two delegations grew closer towards each other, understanding and trust grew. It showed how enemies can become friends. It is an example how peace negotiations can lead to a positive result for both parties. The Indonesian government realized its importance and turned the villa in Linggajati into a museum.

One of the people over 90 that was interviewed is Joty ter Kulve-van Os, for a long time connected to Moral Re-Armament/Initiatives of Change. It so happened that the beautiful villa where the Linggajati Agreement came to be, the house is where she grew up. Her brother Willem van Os discovered during one of his travels that their family home had become a museum. Because brother and sister realized how important the message of Linggajati is in our divided world, they decided to support the museum financially through the Foundation Friends of Linggajati. This work has now been taken on by the Indonesia Netherlands Society (INS). Now 93, Joty ter Kulve still considers her life’s mission to work towards good relations between her two countries, Indonesia and The Netherlands. In her opinion, this museum contributes towards this, as does the book of David van Reybrouck.

Forgiveness asked for superior attitude

The critical reception the main negotiator Willem Schermerhorn faced in The Netherlands is reminiscent of an experience of Dirk de Loor, mayor in Delft 1953-1965. De Loor was a fervent adherent of the ideas of Moral Re-Armament, the precursor of Initiatives of Change. Members in the team were very concerned about the relationship with Indonesia. In many different ways they tried to help improve this relationship, for example by making contact with Indonesian nationalists coming to our country for studies or negotiations with the Dutch government. For this reason the team had cooperated in a programme for partners of the negotiators to the Round-Table conference about Indonesian independence held in The Hague in 1949. Recently I talked to Tjits Hoekstra, now 101, who during this time had become friends with Mrs. Hatta, wife of the vice-president Mohammad Hatta, negotiator on behalf of the Republic Indonesia. Till the death of Mrs Hatta they have been corresponding.

De Loor also got involved with the country through his contacts with Indonesians. In 1958 he participated in an international Moral Re-Armament conference in Baguio in the Philippines. There Japanese politicians and high officials apologized for what Japan had done during the war. An Indonesian delegation participated as well. The fact that the Indonesians refused to speak Dutch with him, although proficient in the language, was a matter of disquiet to him. He understood that the misconduct from the past stood between them. After an inner struggle he asked to speak the following day. In public he asked the Indonesians present for forgiveness for the superior attitude of the Dutch and for the black pages written by The Netherlands in the history of Indonesia. The Philippine radio made mention of this and the Indonesian ambassador in Manilla sped to Baguio to speak with De Loor.

His words, positively received by the Indonesians met with a storm of protest in The Netherlands. Voices called for his deposition as Mayor of Delft. This did not happen, but he did have to justify himself in many places, also in the Senate, of which he was a member from 1955 till1969. All the same there were also voices pointing out the inconsistency of Dutch people not finding it necessary to apologize, yet demanding this apology of the Japanese and the Germans. Later more understanding for his action grew. During the commemoration of his passing in 1992 the then president of the Senate Herman Tjeenk Willink remembered this occurrence and quoted with approval some of the sentences from De Loor’s speech at the time.

Connection with Indonesia

I am one of the many Dutch with a connection to Indonesia. My grandparents left the island of Marken in 1919 with a toddler and a baby, my mother, to settle in the then Dutch East Indies. My grandfather left his fishing boat to his brother. In a magazine of the association ‘Het Nederlandsche Zeewezen’ dated December 1928 I read that, as he was an experienced fisherman, he was sent out to take charge of a fishing project. When that project became too expensive, he was put to work piloting in Soerabaja, but from the interview I understand that he also continued advising the fishery.

In the pictures I see my grandfather in a white tropical suit and my grandmother in a light summer dress. What a difference to the Marken traditional dress they were accustomed to wear. When I try to live into their lives I think: what an incredible enterprising step to leave their beloved island for this. It was unheard of at the time for people from Marken to travel so far.

In 1934 my grandfather got cancer and went back by boat to The Netherlands. From a letter written on the boat, I read that he did not consider his task in the East Indies finished. My grandmother followed him on the next boat with five children. They just arrived in time in Amsterdam to say goodbye to him before he died. He was unable to finish what he saw as his task.

De brug der helden in SoerabajaIt is could be that the book Revolusi touched me even more deeply because of my family’s connection. How does the work my grandfather did for the fishery, for the piloting, relate to everything else that also happened in Soerabaja in those years? I understand from letters and documents that he was conscientious in his work, his intention doubtless good, but it took place within a wrong system. My mother had a wonderful carefree youth, but she was situated in a segregated society on deck 1. How did they deal with the inequality? Were they aware of their privileges? Did they ever feel that something was not right? I will never know.

What I do know is that the country where my mother lived for the first 15 years of her life, shaped her. Her stories also took root in me. In 2006 I visited Indonesia together with my husband. To my surprise, when the plane landed in Jakarta, I was moved to tears. In Soerabaja I tried to conjure up what their life had been like. I regret not having returned there sooner together with my mother.

Hennie de Pous-de Jonge
Translated by Lotty Wolvekamp

Photo captions from top to bottom: 
*Bandung, the view from a hotel room
*The house where Eduard Douwes Dekker lived, the town then called Lebak. Now called Rangasbitung. And the street name is Jalan Multatuli.
* The garden of the museum in Linggajati
* During the conference in Baguio: Dirk de Loor with Indonesian Police Commissioner Soermarsono and his wife, and with A. Piereno, president of the Indonesian National Youth Front, Marh 1958.
* The Bridge of the Heroes in Soerabaja, where Indonesians stood firm against the Dutch during the war of independence.