INDONESIA CELEBRATES 77 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE: Where do we stand against our former colonizer?

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Indonesian Freedom Fighters carrying bamboo spears as weapons during the struggle of Indonesia’s independence. (Source: Arsip Nasional)

Jakarta, IO – On August 17, 2022, Indonesia celebrates its 77th anniversary of Independence. However, not many people realize that for 77 years a non-military war between Indonesia and its former colonizer the Netherlands has been going on. After 77 years, the Dutch government still refuse to recognize the de jure independence of the Republic of Indonesia on August 17, 1945 rather than on December 27, 1949, when the former “transferred” the sovereignty from the government of the Nederlands Indië to the government of Republik Indonesia Serikat (United States of Indonesia). 

On August 16, 2005 in Jakarta, then Dutch Minister of Foreign Afairs Bernard Bot declared that, from then on, the Dutch government has accepted the proclamation of Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945, morally and politically, which means that it is merely a de facto recognition, not de jure, as he emphasized during a speech in The Hague, Netherlands, the day before,15th August 2005. 

Many colonies, after declaring their independence, had to fight against their former colonial masters who refused to recognize their independence, as in the case of the Netherlands itself against its former colonizer Spain. The Dutch launched a rebellion against Spain in 1568 and then established the Dutch Republic — officially the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands — in 1581. The war between the Dutch Republic and Spain ended with the Peace of Westphalia, the name of the two peace treaties signed in 1648. This means that the Dutch Republic was still at war for 80 years after its establishment. The war between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in this case a non-military war, has been going on since 1945, and has yet to end. 

Historical background 

The Dutch colonization of Southeast Asia began on May 30, 1619, when Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) succeeded in controlling the city of Jayakarta, which was later changed to Batavia (now Jakarta). After that the Dutch, one after another, defeated and controlled the kingdoms and sultanates in Southeast Asia, the realms which now constitute the Republic of Indonesia. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Dutch managed to control most of Southeast Asian archipelago and named the colony Nederlands Indië (the Dutch East Indies). 

Nederlands Indië ceased to exist on the global political map on March 9, 1942 (March 8, 1942, according to several sources), when the government of Nederlands Indië surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese army in the Asia Pacific War which began on December 7, 1941. 

The defeat against Japan not only marked the end of Dutch colonialism in Southeast Asia, but it was also very painful and humiliating because it shattered the aura of invincibility that the European nations had been building in their colonies for hundreds of years, i.e., the image that the white race was invincible. The Dutch, who a few weeks earlier led a luxurious life in their colonies amid the suffering of tens of millions of natives, had to live a miserable life in the Japanese internment camps. They were humiliated, abused, starved, even tortured and killed. Their suffering, which lasted for 3.5 years, only ended on August 15, 1945 when Japan surrendered unconditionally to the allied forces, effectively marking the end of the Asia-Pacific War. 

The Dutch, in Europe and those who fed to Australia when the Japanese invaded in 1942, were exuberant to hear the Emperor of Japan’s statement of unconditional surrender. They thought they could soon return to being the “masters” in the former colony, the Nederlands Indië. But their joy only lasted for two days.