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Saut Situmorang replies Ariel Heryanto – Boemipoetra

Saut Situmorang replies to Ariel Heryanto’s piece in The Conversation

Boemipoetra, January 31, 2022, By: Saut Situmorang

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Ariel Heryanto (AH): When are you ready to face the “Bersiap”? Exploring the polemic about a violent period in Indonesia right after the 1945-Proclamation

Because an Indonesian scholar was reported to the police in the Netherlands, the Indonesian public looked back on the violence after the 1945 Proclamation which was rarely discussed.

Saut Situmorang

Saut Situmorang (SS): Which Indonesian public are you referring to?! As far as I know, only a few Indonesians bother to talk about it, namely some Indonesian historians and pro-Dutch Indonesian Diaspora like Ariel Heryanto himself. The Indonesian public in Indonesia generally doesn’t talk about it, don’t even care!


AH: The “Bersiap” controversy was sparked by an article in the Netherlands with the provocative title ‘Delete the Term Bersiap, because it is racist’. The author is Bonnie Triyana, one of the four curators of an exhibition on the Indonesian Revolution at the Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In the second paragraph it is written that the exhibition curator team has decided not to use the term “Bersiap”.

SS: The controversy ONLY happened in the Netherlands! The problem is (but not explained by Ariel Heryanto!) that the term “Bersiap” is a term coined by the Dutch whose meaning is very tendentious to defend Dutch colonial interests in the period 1945-1949. Indonesia does NOT know the term! What we know is the term “war of independence” or “war of revolution”. It made me wonder why Ariel Heryanto did NOT explain the true meaning of the Dutch-made term!


AH: In order to understand this issue clearly, we need to be free from the trap of the Dutch/Indonesian dichotomy that has captured the public discussion of Dutch East Indies colonialism for decades.

SS: What a laughable and ahistorical statement! Why do we need to be free from the trap of the Dutch/Indonesian dichotomy when the issue is the History of Dutch Colonialism in Indonesia?! So for Ariel Heryanto it is not important that colonialism took place for hundreds of years? The Dutch colonization could simply be put aside in order to “understand the problem clearly”?! Clearly for and for whom?!

AH: “Bersiap” was often understood narrowly as post-proclamation “anti-colonial” violence by the colonized against the Dutch or other citizens who were considered their allies. A number of testimonies, such as the Indonesian journalist Kwee Thiam Tjing in his book Indonesia Dalem Api dan Bara, as well as several eye-witnesses who spoke to me orally provide a broader picture.

SS: Why using the word “narrowly”?! Was the period that the Dutch call “Bersiap” NOT the period when the Dutch re-entered Indonesia again, which had proclaimed its independence, to re-colonize it?! Hello, Ariel! So for Ariel Heryanto the War Against the Return of the Netherlands is NOT an anti-colonial war!

AH: Perpetrators, victims and their motivations vary. There are political factors, there are racial animosities, there is sexual violence, there are various looting of property without any political content or racism but social class.

SS: Because Ariel Heryanto REFUSE to consider the background of Dutch Colonialism as a Context, that’s all he can say! Bottom line: For Ariel Heryanto, what he calls “violence” is caused by everything EXCEPT Dutch colonialism! Indonesians have always liked to create violence, whether political, racial or sexual!

AH: Many people believe that Indo (European-Indonesian) descendants are the main victims, although there is a possibility that the Indonesian victims are even higher.

Bonnie rejects the term “Bersiap” because according to him the term “always frames only Indonesian perpetrators of violence as savages”.

Always? Some people were surprised by the accusation. Unfortunately, Bonnie did not provide a single example of this grave accusation.

SS: Well, Ariel Hertanto himself didn’t give a single example to refute what Bonnie Triyana said above! Deny it with proof that it’s wrong!



AH: The “Bersiap” controversy exploded, not just because of an opinion article or this year’s exhibition. The source of the problem: for decades this incident has not been included in the official discourse of national history in the Netherlands or in Indonesia. It is only painfully discussed by some suburban residents scattered in various regions of the world. It is only recently that more and more young people are starting to know.

SS: Why did the incident of “Bersiap,” which is a Dutch-made colonial discourse, has to be included in the official discourse of Indonesian national history?! Why should the Dutch colonial perspective on its colonial actions in Indonesia become the official discourse of Indonesian National History?! Again he is unable to explain.

AH: Until now, the thing that stands out in the current debate is the dichotomy of Indonesia versus the Netherlands. It’s as if there are two camps that are absolutely opposite, each uniformly united in his stronghold.

SS: That’s how the History of Colonialism is everywhere, Mister Ariel! Please show me what’s not!

AH: Fortunately, not all citizens in the Netherlands and Indonesia are swayed by such a black-and-white view. But as usual, the voice of the most extreme in a controversy is heard the loudest in the public sphere.

SS: As usual, again he failed to show any evidence.


AH: Not black and white

The Dutch and Indonesian people did not uniformly respond to “Bersiap”. The proof is that the Rijkmuseum is clamped by two contradictory legal charges. It was sued by the Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts (KUKB) because of continuing to use the term “Bersiap”. Previously, the museum (besides Bonnie) was threatened with being sued by the Federatie Indische Nederlanders (FIN) or the Federation of Dutch-Indo people, if they removed the term.

SS: The Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts (KUKB) is NOT Indonesian people, Ariel! Focus, bro, focus, ckckck…


AH: The plaintiffs and defendants are both Dutch citizens. But none of them represent Dutch society in general.

So it is strange if there are accusations that the term “Bersiap” is only interpreted there and “always only frames Indonesian perpetrators of violence as savages”.

SS: The meaning of the term “Bersiap” for the Dutch was indeed “only interpreted there” and “always only frames Indonesian perpetrators of violence as savages”. Just look at the contents of the articles in the Dutch mass media that write about it. And why did Ariel not show the opposite evidence?! KUKB is a very minority voice in the Netherlands and they were the first to seriously and actively voice their rejection of the use of the term “Bersiap” in the Netherlands until they succeeded in prosecuting the Dutch government for war crimes committed by the Dutch in Indonesia during the period called “Bersiap”! The victory of the Indonesian victims over the Dutch war crimes in Rawa Gede and South Sulawesi was the result of the work of the KUKB!

AH: If present-day Dutch society in general was as harmonious as the debate envisioned, perhaps there would not be an exhibition on the Indonesian revolution there this year. No Indonesians were invited to be members of the curatorial team. There is no debate about “Bersiap” which is currently rife.

SS: How come you read the naivety of this discourse! Is it true that the exhibition is intended to provide an opportunity for Indonesia to speak about the “Bersiap” period, right?! Is the exhibition an Indonesian initiative? So why did one of the two Indonesian curators write a protest about the use of the term “Bersiap” in the exhibition, the reaction in the Netherlands was so tacky?! Even the director of the museum and one of the Dutch curators did not support the contents of Bonnie Triyana’s writing and referred to it in the media as “Bonnie Triyana’s personal opinion”! Didn’t the debate about “Bersiap” flare up after Bonnie Triyana’s writing appeared in a media in the Netherlands?! Hello, anybody home?!

AH: The accusation that Indonesia denies “Bersiap” is as misguided as the accusation that the Netherlands denies the crimes of Dutch colonialism. Indonesians have been discussing the topic of Bersiap for several years, even though it has been neglected in official state discourse. Even the historical magazine that Bonnie leads, used the term.

SS: How come there is no evidence that “Indonesians have been discussing the topic of Bersiap for several years?! Historia magazine also uses the term, in the sense that Bonnie Triyana wrote in his article which caused the colonial reaction to be tacky or in another sense? Why did the professor write like this, tsk tsk…

AH: The crimes of the Dutch army (under the commander of the Dutch troops Raymond Westerling, famous for the Westerling Massacre (1946-1947) in South Sulawesi) during the Indonesian Revolution were thoroughly exposed in the film De Oost, a Dutch production itself.

SS: Then why?! Isn’t it natural and time for the Dutch to start deconstructing their colonial history, as their government continues to propagate, both in schools and in the mass media? This film is NOT the voice of the majority of the Dutch, let alone the voice of the Dutch government, that’s why this film was heavily attacked, including by Westerling’s daughter, who claimed that the film was an Indonesian production!

AH: The official discourse on national history is structured around the dichotomous framework of colonizer/colonized, friend/foe, good/evil. There is hardly any space between or outside the two camps that are absolutely and absolutely opposed. This official thought proliferates in everyday social life in various forms, from speeches, posters, films, to comics and jokes.

SS: For Ariel Heryanto, the history of colonialism is gray, so the colonialists are one hundred percent innocent. Indonesians who were colonized by the Dutch for hundreds of years is the fault of the Indonesians too, not just the Dutch’s fault, even though the Dutch were the only lucky ones from the colonization!

AH: Descendants are victims again

In the “Bersiap” debate which is confined to the Dutch/Indonesian dichotomy, the global Indo identity has once again become a victim, after they became victims in the 1940-1950s. This Indo identity refers to people of mixed European and Indonesian descent.

SS: Ariel Heryanto should explain here why. Why did the Indo-Dutch people become victims? What was the position and social, economic and political status of the Indos during the Dutch colonial period? Do they consider themselves part of Indonesia or the Netherlands? Shouldn’t elementary things about the historical background of the Indos like this have to be discussed if we are really serious about creating a clear historical discourse? From the very beginning of his writing, Ariel Heryanto only accuses Indonesians, instead he tends to slander! It’s very black and white even though the pretensions of history must be interpreted in gray!

AH: Their figures and voices were excluded because it was not easy to enter from one of the Dutch/Indonesian camps in the debate.

In the Netherlands, they are not Indonesian. But they are considered “less Dutch” because they are “polluted” by “Indonesian” elements. Meanwhile in Indonesia, they are Dutch and positioned in the enemy’s stronghold, because they are not fully “native”. The Dutch/Indonesian dichotomy is still maintained by some citizens in both countries, which have a long history of glorifying ethnic or racial “purity” fictions.

SS: In the Dutch East Indies era, what was the status of the Indos in the social hierarchy of colonial society? What positioned them as “not fully indigenous” were Indonesians or themselves?! Indonesia has a long history of “glorifying the fiction of ethnic or racial “purity”?! Where’s the example?! The existence of Indians, Chinese and Arabs and their centuries-old culture in Indonesia, is this an example of the “long history of glorifying the fiction of ethnic or racial “purity”?! Was the first racial genocide that occurred in Indonesia in 1740 in Batavia carried out by Indonesians? Has there been a racial genocide before in Indonesia? How about it, Ariel?

AH: Because of “Bersiap”, thousands of Indonesians tried to save themselves by evacuating to various parts of the world.

SS: If the Dutch did not try to re-colonize Indonesia and were supported by the majority of the Indos, would this exodus happen? Hello, Ariel!

AH: Many have settled in their own homeland (Indonesia), either because they chose or were left behind.

Those who fled felt alienated in a new place, including the Netherlands. In some countries, to this day they form gatherings while reminiscing about Tempo Doeloe. Tempoe Doelole refers to a popular term used by various associations to refer to a period in the Dutch East Indies before it was called Indonesia.

SS: Colonial nostalgia for the land they once colonized. Orientalism of the colonizers who have become losers. And tragically, this is considered important for an Indonesian intellectual!

AH: The ones in the Netherlands don’t just gather for nostalgia. They are actively involved in local political issues, for example active in FIN

It seems that only Indos in Indonesia are not organized in a formal organization. They differ not only from Indos on other continents. They are also different from the Peranakan Chinese, Arab and Indian communities in their homeland, as well as neighboring countries, who are gathered in various organizations and appear publicly to celebrate their ancestral heritage.

Before the pandemic, I interviewed a number of Indo residents in Java as part of a research that was hampered by the pandemic. My initial impression is that the trauma from the “Bersiap” period is still heavy for them. It’s as if they are willing to let the identity and history of their ancestors disappear and leave the younger generation ignorant.

SS: What about the trauma of the Indonesians over the hundreds of years of Dutch colonialism, Ariel? I lost my ancestral village in Batak Land because the Dutch burned it and forbade it to be re-inhabited because the villagers helped Sisingamangaraja XII against the Dutch. Why aren’t you interested in writing about this, Ariel? Why don’t you interview the Westerling Victims in Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi, Ariel? There are still many of them who are still alive compared to those Indo idols of yours!

AH: Questions for the younger generation

The future belongs to the younger generation of all ethnic backgrounds. To understand the future, they deserve to understand the present. To understand the present, they need to understand the past.

They are free to ask: after decades of being discussed without getting much public attention, why is it only now that “Bersiap” is suddenly being debated. Why does it still tend to be debated with the black and white dichotomy framework of the past century? No need to wait for the answer from the older generation like me.

SS: My advice for the younger generation of Indonesia: Study history properly, honestly, not because you want to get funds from outside Indonesia and for the sake of an academic career that has mediocre achievements. Don’t forget to read Postcolonial and Decolonial Theory books so that you don’t look tacky like the Third World “intellectuals” who live in the West but pretend to not know what happened to Aboriginal Australians, what happened to Third World immigrants in the Netherlands but talkatively about the plight of minorities!


Ariel Heryanto’s writing can be read at