Unresolved colonial past clouds Dutch royal visit
The Jakarta Post, March 5 2020, By: Apriza Pinandita and Yuliasri Perdani
Dutch King Willem-Alexander is due to arrive in Indonesia for a state visit next week, the first time since his inauguration in 2013.Officials have promised an itinerary with a heavy emphasis on economic issues, but unresolved demands from those affected by past war crimes still loom large over the monarch’s visit. King Willem-Alexander is expected to arrive in Jakarta on March 9 accompanied by Queen Maxima, four Dutch cabinet ministers and a business delegation of about 130 people, the Foreign Ministry has announced. On March 10, the Dutch delegation will commence a three-day visit with stops in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan and Lake Toba in North Sumatra.
Hans de Boer, the president of Dutch business and employers’ organization VNO-NCW, will lead the economic trade mission in Indonesia, which boasts representatives of 135 major and medium-sized companies from the Netherlands, ranging from defense and shipbuilding giant Damen to Verstegen, a spices and sauces company. “There is already a very good relationship […] But if we want to step it up and to develop projects which would also be, let say, examples to the rest of Southeast Asia then we need a further commitment,” de Boer told reporters in the Hague during a media program last month. The economic trade mission events will take place in Jakarta and Surabaya, East Java.
According to Statistics Indonesia, Indonesian trade with the Netherlands is currently in decline. In 2019, Indonesia recorded a US$2.3 billion trade surplus with the Netherlands. The volume of two-way trade between the two countries was $4 billion last year, a decrease of 21 percent from 2018.
During a meeting with several Indonesian journalists at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, King Willem-Alexander underlined the importance of the Indonesia visit, noting the long history and current cooperation of the two country.
According to the Dutch Royal House website, the King and Queen will pay a visit to the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery on March 10 to honor the war dead, especially those who fell during the Indonesian War of Independence, the Dutch term for the Indonesian struggle that occurred between 1945 and 1949. Indonesia declared independence on Aug. 17, 1945, but the Dutch only recognized its sovereignty on Dec. 27, 1949.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will then host the Dutch royals at Bogor Palace in West Java, followed by a meeting of the delegations, a joint press statement and an official banquet.
The Royal couple will then head back to Jakarta to lay a wreath at Menteng Pulo Cemetary (Ereveld), the final resting place of nearly 4,300 Dutch soldiers who died during World War II and the war of independence.
The King is scheduled to meet Sultan Hamengkubuwono X during his visit to Yogyakarta. He said that the Yogyakarta Sultanate played in an important role in the history and the modern 21st century of Indonesia. As such, the meeting would place a strong focus on the past and the future of the Dutch-Indonesian relationship.
The King will then head to Palangkaraya for activities related to sustainable development and environmental cooperation. The stop at Lake Toba will be geared towards tourism cooperation, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Jakarta said the state visit would go ahead despite the recent announcement of positive COVID-19 cases in the country, and that it would only potentially affect activities that involve crowds.
The king’s visit, which is not part of any bigger tour of the region, is not without critics.
In an op-ed published by The Jakarta Post on Monday, Dutch historian Marjolein van Pagee said, “As a Dutch historian, I am very much against the upcoming state visit of our King Willem-Alexander to Indonesia.”
“The Dutch royal family earned millions, if not billions, from oppressing Indonesians for centuries without ever taking responsibility,” she said.
Pagee mentioned the reluctance of the Netherlands to respect the 1945 Constitution, as “her government still legally clings to 1949 as the year that Indonesia became independent”.
The grievances extend well beyond the realm of initiated historians. South Sulawesi-based NGO Lidik Pro, which represents the families of the victims of the Westerling massacre, plans to hold a protest at the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta this Friday alongside relatives of war victims from South Sulawesi, Rawagede in West Java, Riau, Sumatra and other areas.
Last month, the NGO facilitated a visit by a bereaved next of kin of one victim to the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta, to pass along a letter to the king demanding that his family be compensated.
The Westerling tragedy was a series of mass killings in South Sulawesi between December 1946 and February 1947 during military operations by Dutch troops under East Indies Army officer Raymond Pierre Paul Westerling. The massacre came to symbolize other tragedies of a similar magnitude in this period.
No reigning monarch has ever offered an apology for the violence that occurred. During the last state visit by a Dutch monarch in 1995, Queen Beatrix was prevented by then-prime minister Wim Kok from offering an apology, saying the Netherlands was not ready.