Critics Indonesia-research (45-49) demand round table discussion
Histori Bersama, January 29, 2019
After criticism of the 4-year research program ‘Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950‘, a closed round table discussion will take place on Thursday, January 31. Following the meeting, there is a 4:00 PM press conference in front of the NIOD-building, Herengracht 380, Amsterdam.
After the launching of the study in September 2017, Jeffry Pondaag and Francisca Pattipilohy sent an open letter with objections to the Dutch government. The letter, which has since been signed 137 individuals and organizations, challenges, among other things, a research program in which three and a half centuries of colonialism and racism are not points of departure. The critics think it is a problem that the research focuses on violence on both sides, as if the Dutch-Indies colony was a legitimate government. The Indonesian anticolonial violence during the so called ‘Bersiap period’ is presented as an important factor in the violence and loss of control. The research hereby gives the appearance of “it takes two to tango” and guilt on both sides. From a decolonial perspective, we cannot justify that no distinction is made in academic research between occupiers and oppressed. As Francisca Pattipilohy pointed out in the public introduction of the open letter: “Why does this research focus solely on violence? The violence is a mere consequence of the cause: Dutch colonialism.”
Conflicts of interest
In addition, there is a conflict of interest where the perspective of the former colonized is not considered as the guiding principle. This research represents the perpetrators and not the victims of Dutch colonialism. Late 2016, the government decided it would still finance new research into 1945-1949. The dissertation research of Dutch-Swiss Rémy Limpach was reported as the deciding factor. However, the writers of the open letter find the way in which the government and the three research institutes have embraced Limpach highly questionable. Not least, because critical Indonesian voices are silenced. Limpach’s book adds hardly any new facts and is written from the perspective of the occupier. What’s more, he is employed by NIMH, which falls directly under the Ministry of Defense. In reality, it was the court cases of foundation Komite Utang Kehormatan Belanda (K.U.K.B.) that forced the Dutch state as well as the Dutch public to confront the facts since 2008. The way the research team keeps K.U.K.B. at arm’s length is telling. For example, the foundation was not approached to participate in the exploratory meeting. Also, K.U.K.B. chairperson Jeffry Pondaag was not invited to the research kick-off to share what drives him and why he has been actively involved with this topic for these many years. The most problematic part of the participation of NIMH in this research is that Limpach and his team are responsible for the historic verification of the Indonesian claims that Pondaag introduces. In so doing, the research places itself on the side of the perpetrators and not the victims. It is also remarkable that an former general has been asked to be on the scientific advice committee.
As expected, the government dismissed the open the open letter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Histori Bersama in a February 2018 letter that the criticism of the research is not a matter for the minister to involve himself with.
KITLV director Gert Oostindie, one of the project leaders of the study and the person who wants to write its synthesis, dismissed the criticism as “too bizarre for words” and stated that “the idea that I justify colonialism is absurd”. Oostindie thinks that historians should not take moral stands: “We do not want to say what were we good or bad [sic].”
Laborious email exchange
After a difficult and long email exchange, Jeffry Pondaag was finally invited in September 2018 to speak at the second public meeting. 92-year-old Mrs. Pattipilohy, with whom Pondaag had prepared the letter, was ignored. Because of this, Pondaag was forced to give up 5 minutes of his speaking time so that Pattipilohy could speak to the audience in Pakhuis de Zwijger via her self-initiated video-message. Thursday’s round table discussion is the result of this same difficult email exchange between Pondaag and the research team. Together with Mrs. Pattipilohy and a number of those who signed the open letter, he will meet with the directors of the three research institutes and some researchers.Initially, the researchers did not want the meeting to be public or recorded. After extensive pressuring by the critics, they have now agreed that the closed meeting can be recorded. Also, Pondaag had asked for an afternoon-long meeting to cover all topics, given the length of the open letter. This request was also rejected. The researchers are only willing to give two hours of their time to meet with the critics.
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