PRESS RELEASE: K.U.K.B. files police report against the Rijksmuseum for its racist use of the term ‘Bersiap’
On January 21, 2022, Jeffry Pondaag, chairman of the Komite Utang Kehormatan Belanda (K.U.K.B., Committee Dutch Honorary Debts), filed a police report against the Rijksmuseum and curator Harm Stevens and Director Taco Dibbits.
K.U.K.B. Foundation is known, among other things, for the successful lawsuits against the Dutch state regarding the 1947-massacre in the West-Javanese village of Rawagede. Apart from that, Jeffry Pondaag is also the person who denounced the use of the Golden Carriage and put the matter on the Dutch agenda again.
Last week an opinion piece of Indonesian curator Bonnie Triyana caused quite a stir in the Netherlands. In his article he announced that the Rijksmuseum had decided not to use the term ‘Bersiap’ anymore in the upcoming exhibition ‘Revolusi’ because of its racist connotation. However, after the Federatie of Indische Nederlanders (FIN, Federation of Dutch-Indies people) reported the Indonesian curator to the police, the Rijksmuseum publicly distanced itself from Bonnie Triyana’s statement. They denied it is a racist term and said they would continue to use it. That decision is the reason that K.U.K.B. has decided to report Rijksmuseum, its director and the curator to the police.
Stigmatizing and humiliating
The Rijksmuseum knowingly continues to use a term that stigmatizes Indonesians in a colonial way. The whole concept of the Bersiap supports the racist cliché that Indonesians are savages. The term is also used to legitimize colonialism, based on the assumption that ‘where two parties fight, two are to blame’.
Yet, colonialism is a fundamental denial of human rights as described in the UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV). The word Bersiap erases colonial power relations and thus ignores this UN resolution. Further, the Bersiap is wrongly presented as an ethnic struggle while it was a freedom struggle against a foreign occupier. By ignoring the real cause (the occupation) and framing the Bersiap as ethnic violence, the Indonesian dead are being erased. The term is therefore ethnocentric and gives the impression that Indonesian lives do not matter. That is racism. Moreover, the Dutch occupation ended in March 1942 with the invasion of Japan. The Japanese forced out the Dutch only within three days by bike!
The ‘Bersiap‘ is not a period
In Dutch historiography, the Bersiap is described as a separate period in which only Indonesians, between 1945 and 1946, took up arms. This is incorrect. Apart from the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA), the colonial army (the KNIL), also the British colonial army came to Indonesia in 1945. British (-Indian) soldiers used violence against Indonesians, such as the bombing of Surabaya. In this way the British helped their European brothers to realize the reoccupation. Presenting the Bersiap as a period of unilateral Indonesian violence erases the tens of thousands of civilian deaths from the British bombing of Surabaya. Also in other places there were countless acts of Dutch violence, including provocations.
These Dutch provocations led to violence. An example of this is the decision of the Indo-European Victor Willem Ploegman who hoisted a Dutch flag on September 19, 1945, on a hotel in Surabaya. Because his action denied the existence of the Republik Indonesia, the situation escalated quickly. Indonesian youth climbed onto the roof to tear off the blue part from the flag, after which they hoisted the red and white flag. Similar Dutch provocations happened in other places, leading to violent responses.
Instead of using the racist term Bersiap, it is better to talk about the War of Independence (Perang Kemerdekaan) or the Revolutionary War (Perjuangan Revolusi), rather than pretending that only colonial lives matter.
August 17, 1945, Independence Day
When referring to the period of the struggle as ‘the War of Independence’, that took place between 1945-1949, one recognizes the fact that Indonesia has been independent since August 17, 1945. For almost 77 years, the Netherlands refused to legally recognize this date. ‘If the Netherlands regards the country as their property until 1949 and considers the inhabitants colonial subjects, then who are the people who (according to the Dutch) committed ‘Bersiap murders’?’, asks chairman Jeffry Pondaag. ‘Since the Netherlands uses December 27, 1949 as the date that Indonesia became independent, they cannot speak of ‘Indonesians’ as citizens of an existing country. The state of Indonesia, and Indonesian as nationality, is exactly what they do not recognize! During the colonial occupation Indonesians were not citizens but ‘subjects’. If we follow the reasoning of the Netherlands, they murdered their own ‘subjects’ between 1945-1949. Yet, whatever reasoning we follow, it is racist anyway’, says Pondaag. He concludes: ‘The Netherlands cannot have it both ways. The Indonesian population, which numbered about 70 to 100 million people around 1945, were not considered human beings, remember the signs that prohibited entrance for dogs and natives.’
In this way, the Bersiap is used as a means to avoid the legal recognition of August 17, 1945 as the date of independence. ‘Another fact that is never being explained is that the (Indo-) Dutch people who were murdered during that period, were perpetrators within the colonial system and had a role in the occupation,’ says Pondaag. Therefore, the K.U.K.B. Foundation states that the term ‘Bersiap’ is not only racist, it is also a form of history falsification.
K.U.K.B.-Secretary Christa Soeters
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Jeffry Pondaag about the inconsistency of the ‘Bersiap’ (2:47 min.)