Indonesians discuss 1945-1949 colonial war and aftermath


Meeting of Indonesians in Amsterdam, 11 October 2013, Batara Hutagalung with glasses

As this blog wrote before, on 9 October 2013 there was a meeting in the Dutch parliament building in The Hague. It was between two MPs and a delegation of pro-human rights Indonesians, arrived for the occasion from Indonesia or living in the Netherlands. The subject was war crimes by Dutch troops during the colonial war in Indonesia, 1945-1949; and how to resolve this bloody issue on a basis of reconciliation with dignity and truth.

As not all Indonesians in the Netherlands interested in this had been able to attend that The Hague meeting, two days later, on 11 October, there was a meeting for them in Amsterdam. The ages of those present varied from twenties to over eighty. All photos with this blog post were made with a mobile phone.

Human rights activist Batara Hutagalung said that, after travelling from Indonesia, he had not just met the members of parliament, but also a widow of a Dutch soldier who had refused to fight Indonesians (see also the book here).

This soldier, born in 1927, in 1947 had refused to go to the war in Indonesia. He had to hide from military police until 1951. He had died in 2001.

Book about Surabaya 1945

Batara Hutagalung mentioned that in 1989 he had written a book about the British military attack on Surabaya city in Indonesia in 1945. That attack caused 20,000 victims, of whom 90% were civilians. 150,000 refugees had to flee from Surabaya. The book was not centered on the fighting between British forces and Indonesian soldiers defending Surabaya, but on the question Why this attack?

In England, the Dutch government had agreed with Clement Attlee’s British government that British forces would help the Dutch government to re-establish colonial rule in Indonesia. For that aim, there were two Australian divisions in eastern Indonesia, and three British Indian divisions landed on Java.

The United States government was more ambivalent than the British one about re-establishing Dutch rule in Indonesia. The US government then aimed to take over from the British empire as biggest world power, and too much power for the British’s junior partners in The Hague might undermine that.

Indonesia had proclaimed its independence in August 1945 according to the 1933 Montevideo convention. United States President Woodrow Wilson and many others had proclaimed the right of nations to self-determination. This was included in the Atlantic Charter of Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941. In 1942, Dutch Queen Wilhelmina in a speech about Asian colonial issues had said she agreed with the Atlantic Charter. For the first time ever, she had used the word “Indonesia” instead of “Dutch East Indies”.

Mr Batara Hutagalung continued that the British government should accept responsibility for the war crimes of the attack on Surabaya. The Australian government should accept responsibility as well. In eastern Indonesia, there were two Australian divisions under General Sir Leslie James Morshead; some of their soldiers had killed civilians. His own Australian soldiers, Batara Hutagalung said, did not like General Morsehead. They called him Ming the Merciless, after the villain in Flash Gordon comics. In July 1945, Morsehead’s forces handed over eastern Indonesia to Dutch colonial rule.

Many people don’t know how the British and Australian governments had prepared the ground for Dutch military aggression in Indonesia. Eg, Harry van Bommel, Dutch Socialist Party member of parliament who had worked on Indonesia for a long time, said at the 9 October The Hague meeting that so far he had not known about the Australian role.

What will happen now, to study this history and to get correct lessons from it? In south Sulawesi, there were many war crimes by Dutch soldiers. The vice governor of this province has promised that at the end of October, there will be a seminar at a university there; about the British and Australian roles in preparing the ground for later Dutch war crimes there, like by Captain Westerling. Professor Anthony Reid has discussed this in his works.

On 8 December 1947, peace negotiations started between the Dutch government and the Indonesian republic, on the US warship Renville. However, one day later came the Rawagedeh massacre, during which Dutch troops killed 431 West Javan villagers. In 1969, the Dutch government published the so-called Excessennota, claiming only twenty people had been killed in Rawagedeh.

In 1948, the Dutch government signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Very shortly afterwards, however, that same government started the second military “police” action in Indonesia, violating many human rights. Including violations of the 1899 The Hague Convention.

Batara Hutagalung said that the figures of the Dutch government’s 1969 Excessennota had proved to be too low in various instances. So, these figures should be multiplied. If you do that, then one can estimate that Dutch soldiers killed 1,5 million Indonesians, mainly civilians, in 1945-1949.

In 1986, the United Nations declared that there is no statute of limitations for war crimes. Not for German nazi war crimes in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Also not for war crimes in Indonesia.

The Dutch government should recognize the 1945 Indonesian declaration of independence. They have done so de facto, but not yet de jure. An argument against this might be that the same country can be recognized only once, not twice. The Dutch government, however, has recognized various countries more than once. Like Estonia after World War I and in the nineteen nineties; Serbia before World War I and again in the twenty-first century.

Meeting in Amsterdam, on 11 October 2013

Someone in the audience said that the government of Indonesia is not doing enough for recognition of the 1945 Indonesian declaration of independence. The others agreed.

The main lesson for the future is that things like this should not happen again.

To help with this, there are plans for a seminar in the Netherlands. There were plans for this already in 2005. However, for years, there was no money. Recently, that problem seems to have been solved. There seems to be light at the end of the financial tunnel.

Member of Parliament Angelien Eijsink had said in The Hague that especially young people should be invited to the seminar. University students; but trade school pupils as well. And journalism school students, someone in the audience remarked.

This seminar, Batara Hutagalung said, is second track diplomacy. People to people diplomacy, which can help to cause reconciliation with dignity, closing this bloody chapter.

We will meet again.

10 thoughts on “Indonesians discuss 1945-1949 colonial war and aftermath

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