Author Country Media Name Year Topic , Translator

Queen Wilhelmina’s Speech – Tirto

7 December 1942

Queen Wilhelmina’s Speech: the Dutch Did Not want Indonesia to be Independent

Tirto, 7 December 2020, By: Ivan Aulia Ahsan, Editor: Fahri Salam, Translation: Madito Mahardika

The Dutch viewed the Indonesian proclamation of independence on 17 August 1945 with great concern

On 7 December 1942, today 78 years ago, Queen Wilhelmina gave a speech in English. When her country, the Netherlands, was occupied by Nazi Germany, the complete government administration fled to London. The Dutch then established a government in exile in that city.

In her speech, the Queen praised the people of her colony in the Indies (which she even referred to as ‘Indonesia’) for their role in defending themselves against the Japanese invasion. She also made a sweet promise that after World War II ended, new forms of government would be established in the Dutch colonial territories. Three years later, after WWII ended, the global political situation had changed dramatically.

Illustration by

Only a few weeks after World War II ended, post-war fears immediately surfaced in the Netherlands. The Dutch were greatly concerned about how to cope with their war-torn economy.

The fear of the Dutch people increased when they observed how, throughout the world, the colonised people started to call for independence. The Dutch East Indies, their most cherished colony, also joined the decolonisation wave and wanted to become independent as the Republic of Indonesia.

At that time, the general public opinion in the Netherlands was that Sukarno’s Republic of Indonesia, which was always accused of being a “Japanese collaborator”, was nothing more than a chaotic government, incompetent to take care of itself, not knowing how to maintain peace. Therefore, the Dutch felt the need to intervene and continued to carry out their so-called sacred colonial task that had taken place for hundreds of years, namely to eradicate all disorder and enforce rust en orde (peace and order) in their most profitable colony. If necessary, with arms.

At first glance, this view appeared to be in good faith. But when the spirit of independence resonated everywhere, this perspective was outdated and contained many paradoxes: Was it necessary to use violence to eradicate disorder and establish peace? Was the Netherlands the only one capable of understanding the will of the entire Indonesian people? Or, why did the Netherlands, a country that had experienced the atrocities of the occupation by Nazi Germany, did the same against the Indonesian people?

There were political opposition groups, especially leftists in the Netherlands, who had also asked these kinds of questions in responding to the situation between Indonesia and its former coloniser.

This perspective was only shared by a minority in the Netherlands. The government in power was a coalition of the Catholic and the Democratic Party, both held moderate views concerning Indonesian independence. This coalition was pressured by the conservatives, who also represented the majority of public opinion, and finally succeeded in forcing them to take decisive and immediate action against the existence of the Republic of Indonesia.

These Dutch paradoxes were perhaps one of the greatest ironies in the history of Dutch-Indonesian relations in 1945-1949, perhaps even throughout the history of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. An irony that, whether they realised it or not, had shaped a kind of “ethical colonialism”. In this narrative,the Netherlands was the so-called righteous European master, a saviour in a mission that had to bring the indigenous Indonesians to a more civilised world, a mission civilisatrice.

“Indië verloren, rampspoed geboren”

There was this belief in the minds of most Dutch people that the loss of the Indies was an unbearable disaster. This was clearly reflected in the popular phrase echoed by the Dutch press in the early 1940s: “Indië verloren, ramspoed geboren” (Losing the Indies brings disaster).

Illustration by Tirto/Sabit

This expression originated from World War I and was popularised by Onze Vloot (Our Armada), a maritime fans group from the Netherlands that consisted of civilian sailors and members of the navy. They were a conservative nationalist group.

When the campaign for the establishment of the Indies militia, which was popularly known as Indië Weerbaar (Defence of the Indies), began to emerge during the outbreak of World War I, Onze Vloot was one of its main supporters. They were concerned about the worst-case scenario of World War I, meaning the loss of the Indies. One of the patrons of Onze Vloot was W.V. Rhemrev, a KNIL officer who was also an ardent supporter of the Indie Weerbaar agenda.

Indië verloren, ramspoed geboren” was widely used by the Dutch to express their concern. It emphasised their dependence on the Indies. This belief continued to haunt their minds and over time turned into a myth of its own in Dutch society, which at that time was plagued with post-war fears. They thought that if the Indies became independent, the main source of income would be lost and the Netherlands would be plunged into poverty.

The reality was that from an economic perspective, the existence of the Indies was of great value to the Netherlands, at least in the last century and a half of the Dutch colonial period. The pillars of the Dutch economy did not lie in the domestic economic activities in their own country, but rather through their colonial activities.

If the colonial occupation would end, God only knows how devastated the Netherlands would be. Such myths seem to be constantly propagated by the government to seek justification and public support for its colonial agenda in the Indies.

Later, when Indonesia became legitimately independent in 1949, “Indië verloren, ramspoed geboren” proved to be a myth. Without the Indies, the Dutch economic recovery took place very quickly, especially with the aid provided by the United States through the Marshall Plan.

The Marshall Plan was a US program providing aid to Western Europe following the post-war devastation. This aid was paid in instalments over a period of three years (1948-1951).

The Netherlands was one of the top five countries that received aid out of 16 recipient countries. The Netherlands received US$1,128 million in total (US$376 million annually on average), a fantastic amount considering that the Gross Domestic Product of the Netherlands in 1938 was “only” around US$280 million.

With the large amount of aid they received; the Netherlands managed to be one of the European economic powers in the late 1950s. This was achieved without the agenda to re-exploit the Indies. [1]

Colonial Paternalism

Another prominent Dutch attitude was colonial paternalism, which was a common feature of colonial society.

The relationship between the coloniser and the colonised was seen as comparable to the relationship between a father and his children. The colonisers always regarded the colonised people as “children” who needed the guidance of “the father”.

The inhabitants of the Indies, in this case, were considered immature children that did not yet reach adulthood. Therefore, the father had to guide and nurture them until they would become adults, or until they were mature enough to take care of themselves. But the problem was, the Netherlands had never clearly defined when the children would reach adulthood.

An illustration that clearly showed the father-child relationship was the relation between the Javanese nobles and the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Every Javanese ruler was obliged by the colonial government to call and treat the Governor-General in Batavia as their parent with the nickname “eyang” (grandparent).

This kind of paternalistic attitude was intertwined with the myth of “Indië verloren, ramspoed geboren” and gave birth to the colonial mentality in the Netherlands. This mentality made Dutch people extremely anxious of all developments related to “Indonesia Merdeka” (Independent Indonesia). Because of this mentality, the Dutch were increasingly possessive towards the Indies, determined as they were to maintain their colony at any cost. The result was fatal for both sides: a war was inevitable.

Dutch Realistic Attitude

The Dutch prepared themselves as best as they could for the day that the Indies would slip out of their hands. They used the speech of the Queen of the Netherlands, which she gave on 7 December 1942, as a justification to prevent this from happening.

In her speech, the Queen essentially promised the Indies to become a commonwealth country, a federation that would have its government within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Again and again, Lieutenant Governor General H.J. van Mook referred to this speech in every negotiation with Indonesia during 1945-1947.

Van Mook’s perspective was considered outdated by Indonesians. In Sejarah Nasional Indonesia Jilid IV (the National History of Indonesia, Volume IV), this perspective is referred to as “a state of mind that is still based upon the Rijkseenheidsgedachte (the idea of the unity of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)” (p. 132).

The idea originated in the second half of the 20th century and was popularised by progressive groups in the Netherlands. The idea was to emphasise the importance of freedom in establishing self-government for the people of the Indies, but still within the unity bond between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Indies.

Many Dutch politicians in the 1940s came from these progressive groups. At that time, they were so progressive that they got high resistance in their own country thanks to the conservative groups.

Although the politicians seemed progressive regarding the Dutch-Indonesian relationship, they remained to adhere to the old line of thought: the Indies must not be allowed to be one hundred per cent independent.

The Netherlands was, from time to time, faced with a dilemma; H. J. van Mook, in this case, was the most legitimate representation of that ambivalence. Van Mook, a man known for his progressive ideas regarding the future of the Dutch East Indies ever since he was young, had to accept the political realities that were brewing at that time.

Thus, paradoxical fears, ambivalence, and colonial prestige were clearly reflected in the Dutch people towards the independence of the Indonesian Republic. This factor continued to widen the gap between the Netherlands and Indonesia during that critical period.

The Netherlands did not want Indonesia to end up as the nationalists wanted it to be, but rather an “Indonesia” which they reshaped into a “new colony” based on their own design.

[1] In fact, the Netherlands forced Indonesia to pay 4.5 billion guilders for the transfer of sovereignty, which in turn contributed greatly to the Netherlands economic recovery efforts. For further information, please check the article ‘The Indonesian Injection‘ by Lambert Giebels, or see other related publications on our website: