Rijksmuseum reported to the police for using term ‘bersiap’ in exhibition
NOS, January 21, 2022
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The Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts [K.U.K.B.], which defends victims of Dutch colonialism, has reported the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to the police for discrimination and group insult. The reason is the use of the term ‘bersiap’ in the exhibition Revolusi! about the Indonesian independence struggle. According to the foundation, this term is racist and stigmatizing.
In addition to the museum itself, a police report has also been filed against museum director Taco Dibbits and curator Harm Stevens. The police report was submitted online today, says Jeffry Pondaag of the Committee.
Bersiap means ‘stand by’ in Indonesian. In the Netherlands, the term is used for the violent period immediately after the end of the Second World War, in the struggle for independence from Indonesia. Young fighters then attacked not only Indo-Dutchmen, but also Chinese and Moluccans, anyone suspected of supporting the Dutch colonizer.
Initially, it seemed that the term would not be used in the Rijksmuseum’s exhibition. Indonesian guest curator and historian Bonnie Triyana wrote in an opinion piece in NRC that the term was avoided because it has a racist connotation. Later, the museum reported that this was not the case.
Director Dibbits told NRC that the term will not be banned and that, as far as he is concerned, it is not racist. “We explain the term, we interpret it and place it in the historical context of all the violence at that time.” In the interview, he emphasizes that Triyana wrote an opinion piece. “It was written in a personal capacity.”
The Committee on Dutch Honorary Debts is outraged about this. “The Rijksmuseum is knowingly continuing the use of the term that stigmatizes Indonesians in a colonial way,” reads a statement on the committee’s website. “The whole concept of the bersiap feeds the racist cliché that Indonesians are savages. The term is also used to legitimize colonialism by talking along the lines of: where two fight, two are to blame.”
According to the Committee, the word bersiap erases colonial power relations. It is “wrongly presented as an ethnic struggle while it was a freedom struggle against a foreign occupier”. This erases the Indonesian dead, says Pondaag.
The Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts previously worked for the victims of the massacre that Dutch soldiers inflicted in Rawagede on Java in 1947.