Book Launch Dutch Research, Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden: ‘Bridging the Narratives’
March 5, 2023, by Histori Bersama
On February 2, 2023, the Dutch government-sponsored research project on ‘extreme violence’ presented two new publications to the public in Leiden. The first one is ‘Onze Revolutie‘ (Our Revolution), a translated selection of Indonesian writings on the struggle for independence. The second book is called ‘Revolutionary Worlds. Local Perspectives and Dynamics during the Indonesian Independence War, 1945-1949.’ The latter is written by Dutch and Indonesian historians. On the website of the publisher, they state that the book is:
‘the result of a collaboration between the Indonesian research project Proklamasi Kemerdekaan, Revolusi dan Perang di Indonesia (‘Proclamation of Independence, Revolution and War in Indonesia’, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta) and the Dutch research group of the Regional Studies project, under the umbrella of the research programme Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia, 1945-1950.’
Since the launching of the project in 2017, Histori Bersama was critical of this large-scale investigation that had cost 4.1 million Euros. Many times, in different occasions, we have warned for the political motivations behind this project. We believe that the financing of the project serves the political agenda of the Dutch government. In fact, the way the outcome of this research is used is not very different from 1969, when the Dutch government based its formal position on the so-called ‘Excessennota’ to justify Dutch war crimes.
When Jeffry Pondaag and Francisca Pattipilohy (two Indonesians in the Netherlands) wrote an open letter to the Dutch government, Histori Bersama decided to support their criticism. We published and shared the letter in Dutch, English and Indonesian. Subsequently, 138 people co-signed the letter.
After being ignored for some time, we managed to enforce a closed round table meeting at the NIOD in Amsterdam on January 31, 2019. Already then, we questioned the Indonesian collaboration:
We find it remarkable that the Dutch research team always refused to reveal the names of the Indonesian historians who participated, they also did not want to specify how much of the 4.1 million Euros budget was transferred to Indonesia exactly. They claimed that the Indonesian team operated completely independent from the Dutch team and hence it was up to them to reply. However, the so-called ‘independence’ does not correspond with the ‘close cooperation’ that the Dutch announced during the kick-off event of the research in 2017. In our opinion, the independent team that Indonesian historian Bambang Purwanto requested was not respected at all, as his involvement was framed as a close collaboration instead.
Dutch government’s position remains unchallenged
More importantly, none of the researchers, Dutch and Indonesians alike, seems to have a problem with the official statement of the Dutch government, as expressed in a second official response that was published on December 14, 2022. Then, based on the outcome of the research the Dutch government maintained that Dutch soldiers did not commit war crimes between 1945 and 1949. This is in line with the fact that the Dutch state, until today, does not legally acknowledge 1945 as the date that Indonesia became independent. Clearly, the Dutch government still considers the conflict a domestic affair, not an international conflict, let alone a ‘war’, which corresponds with the Dutch historical name for the war: ‘the police actions’.
Court cases only ‘one of the factors’
At the meeting in Leiden last February, (check video below) KUKB-chair Jeffry Pondaag stated that the researchers should acknowledge that if his organization, the Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts (KUBK) did not win court cases against the Dutch State, they would not be sitting there. KITLV-employee Ireen Hoogenboom then replied that she agreed with him that the court cases were an important factor that eventually resulted in the financial support of the government for the new large-scale investigation in which she participated. However, she emphasized that the court cases were only one of the many factors that played a role in this. (The official story is that not the court cases but the book of government employee Rémy Limpach convinced the government that additional research was necessary.) Not surprisingly, even though Hoogenboom said she agreed with Pondaag, she did not comment on the deliberate and systematic exclusion of KUKB by her and her fellow historians.
Dutch political manipulation
When Indonesian journalist Fitria Jelyta, and former chair of Histori Bersama, asked the researchers (see video below) whether they included the racist three-layered apartheidssystem to their analysis, Indonesian historian Abdul Wahid replied that almost every chapter acknowledges that the system of segregation based on race caused a lot of suffering for Indonesians and that this was the historical root of the violence that erupted in 1945. (With which he seemed to refer to Indonesian anti-colonial violence in particular, which Dutch historians call ‘the bersiap’.) He also finds it important to oppose the narrative of formal Indonesian history education and offer his fellow Indonesians a critical approach, as history could otherwise ‘be easily manipulated for certain political purposes.’ The question is, however, why he is only concerned with political manipulation in the Indonesian context? Why is he not bothered by the manipulation of the Dutch government? His work is now used to claim that the Dutch did not commit war crimes against his ancestors!
Besides, it is not true that the book includes the impact of the racist apartheidssystem as important point of analysis. In the PDF of the book, the word ‘apartheid’ does not appear at all, while the word ‘racism’ is only used twice.
KUKB-chair Jeffry Pondaag: The most important is not mentioned here: the year 2011. If that didn’t happen… The Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts (KUBK) then won a case in the Dutch court in which the Dutch State was sued for Rawagede. If that didn’t happen, you would not be here all together. My second question, the Netherlands always talks about ‘the Dutch East Indies’…but is an area 18,000 km away, Dutch property? I find it problematic that the moderator is not Indonesian. What I also want to say to the ladies and gentlemen that study history…what are you going to do with the people that were murdered and executed and of which I have a namelist? With 830 names, that were discovered by NIMH. What are you going to do with it? Secondly… this is my uncle who is executed. I never got to know him. The oldest brother of my father I have known. When my uncle was executed, I wasn’t born yet. Why was he executed? Because he owned a map. A map with the location of oil, gold and other resources on it. That is why he was executed.
Moderator Wim Manuhutu: So, different questions…let’s skip the question about the moderator. But, no… there were important questions that were raised.
Ireen Hoogenboom (KITLV): The first question… well, it was not a question but a statement. I can respond to this… I think many of us agree, but I will do it out of my own name. I agree! Absolutely. The fact that those court cases were run in 2011… it changed…that a judge has spoken his verdict that really changed the way people think in the Netherlands…and that has led to…eventually being able to get funding to do a research like this. It was one very important factor, among also other factors…but it was very important… So…
Moderator Wim Manuhutu: Thank you Ireen [Hoogenboom]. Martijn [Eikchoff].
Martijn Eikchoff (NIOD-director): I want to say something about the Dutch East Indies, we had a lot of discussions in the Dutch research group and also I know that the Indonesian group had discussions about the terminology. And we also had discussions as a group as a whole. And of course we are aware of what you say when you say ‘the Dutch East Indies’, that there’s a kind of frame placed upon the Indonesian archipelago. And one of the things I think Mr. Bambang was really helping us with in this respect… Because you grow up with these words, we are all aware that they have a connotation…that has problems… We also want to communicate with the different societies which we are [taking] part in… Well, maybe Mr. Bambang…you can explain yourself how you helped us with the term ‘Indonesian archipelago’ in the 19th century and how we dealt with that.
Bambang Purwanto, head History Department at UGM: Can I do it? Can I… I will reply the question in Indonesian. I’m afraid that people will think I cannot speak Indonesian anymore. I will reply in Indonesian. Later I will convey to the moderator…buy the books, read them…to see which terminology we have used. The Indonesian islands: the Indonesian archipelago. No single word about ‘the Dutch East Indies’…except when we talk about ‘the Dutch East Indies government’. This, because this is a historical reality…the Dutch East Indies government is a historical reality that we cannot erase.
KUKB-chair Jeffry Pondaag: It is possible! Don’t falsify history!
Moderator Wim Manuhutu: Please, respect Professor Purwanto who is responding to you. Be polite when he answers you. Please, sorry mr. Pondaag…
Bambang Purwanto, head History Department at UGM: It’s a question of perspective. There is the Dutch perspective and the Indonesian. That’s why the Indonesian perspective…don’t jump into conclusions… From the Indonesian perspective, it is the Indonesian archipelago.
Fitria Jelyta: Hi my name is Fitria Jelyta, I’m a journalist, I’m an Indonesian journalist working for the Dutch news website Nu.nl. Thank you so much for your presentation and for the contribution you made to voice Indonesian perspectives that were, for a long time, not available here in the Netherlands. And still isn’t. My question is actually two-folded. First of all I’m very curious about…of course I haven’t read the book yet and I’m really looking forward to… But I’m very curious about whether or not the apartheid that Dutch colonization has caused in Indonesia is being spoken about in your works. Whether or not it’s in this book or maybe in later works or in previous works, I would also like to know. Because in the Dutch telling of history, if one grew up here in the Netherlands it’s very telling that this side of history is not at all known. It’s being erased, completely. That we as a nation were not allowed to have education. We were not allowed to speak Dutch. We were compared with… monkeys. And animals. Is this shown in your work at all? That’s my first question. And the second one is, when I talk to Indonesians, about our history, my Indonesian brothers and sisters in Indonesia. And I talk about how the Dutch people tell our history…claim it as their own, they say: ‘okay but it’s already done, we already won, we already have a country. And you are here, and you are doing very important work, how would you convince them to contribute? In their own perspective? And in their own discipline to spread the message of Indonesians and our history and our legacy. Thank you.
Moderator Wim Manuhutu: So, who would like to respond to those two questions? One about the racial inequality, apartheid…both legal as well as social and political. And the other, basically about ownership of history. And co-ownership perhaps. That is perhaps the basis of collaboration. So who would like to first kick-off the response… A volunteer…
Participating Indonesian researcher Abdul Wahid: Well actually it was discussed quite nicely in the presentation of Apriani and Anne van der Veer. They are really showing how the segregation of ethnicity or race has caused a lot… And that became ‘the longue durée’ historical root of the violence that erupted during the period. That’s why, as my colleague Roel has described nicely, our research really sees that, whatever happened in this period, has a very long root. And that’s why, I think that almost all the chapters mention it in one way or another. For the second question, if I can understand you correctly… Well… at least we can really say that we tried to write really critical. And that’s really… if we can come to that level…then we become mature as a nation. So I think that’s very important to accept that, okay… Aside from the glorious things, that we have learnt at school…There are many things that we also need to know about what was happening on the ground, in the society, which is, to many extent, actually, still alive in the memory of our people today. And if we don’t provide them with this critical approach it could be easily manipulated for certain political purposes.