A COURAGEOUS GESTURE
February 17, 2022, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands has apologized to Indonesia for what the Netherlands has done during the period of 1945-1949. A deep excuse, he said. This is the third time that the representatives of the Netherlands apologize to Indonesia. In 2005, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the first, and in 2020 the King of the Netherlands was the second. The third apology followed the launching of the results of the multiyear research on Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia 1945-1950.
The launching began early in the morning through a live stream in two languages (Dutch and English). There are many results of this research in publications and audio-visual documentation. This factsheet shows a comprehensive but compact overview.
What do the Indonesians think about the research? If the Director-General of Culture, Hilmar Farid, as a representative of the Indonesian Government might be considered to represent Indonesia, it is worth reading some excerpts from his epilogue titled Dealing with the Legacies of a Violent Past.
I share his views on this point:
"This means that we cannot view the period 1945-1949 in isolation from the preceding colonial period. The social history of mass violence existed long before the ‘outbursts of extreme violence' during the revolution. In other words, it is imperative that we emphasize that the extreme violence did not start in August 1945. In various parts of this book, the researchers show that violence was inherent to the colonial system. Both physical and symbolic violence were among the methods used by the colonial ruler to gain and maintain power. The colonial wars throughout the nineteenth century in all parts of the archipelago, the penal sanctions on the plantations on Sumatra, and various forms of violence and other cases of unlawful action created a social landscape that became fertile ground for outbreaks of extreme violence in subsequent periods."
Nevertheless, I have appreciated the efforts of the Netherlands to contemplate the past and to take the consequence by apologizing to Indonesia. In my eyes, it has been a courageous gesture. The Netherlands is a relatively small country, with a big heart to admit its mistakes.
The research, together with countless other kinds of contemplation efforts by various individuals and institutions (exhibitions in various museums, publications, audio-visual documentaries, etcetera) is a sign of collective willingness to learn and to move on. And that should be appreciated.