The Dutch Royal Institute for Linguistics and Anthropology (KITLV) in Leiden has proposed a new inquiry into what actually happened in the conflict between the Netherlands and the Republic in the years 1945-1949. But it will differ from earlier inquiries, that focused on Dutch excesses, in that this time around there will also be attention for the actions of the TNI and the para military groups.
The Director of the KITLV, a man with the remarkable family name Van Oostindie (“Of the East Indies”), explained this interest by saying that one couldn’t really explain the behaviour of one side without looking at what was happening on the other side of the field. His Institute, which has been a repository for information on the Indies for more than 150 years, proposes this research to be done by a team of six scholars over a period of three years. It is looking for a government grant of 2 million Euros to finance this.
The prominent Indonesian historian, Professor Bambang Purwanto of Gadjah Mada University has welcomed this initiative. In an interview published in the Dutch quality paper “Volkskrant” last week he said inter alia:
There are a lot of things we don?t know of each other. All this information now has to be joined together. I think that there are matters that Indonesians can remember and that are totally unknown to the Dutch and vice versa. Beside the official historiography we also need personal experiences and histories to know what really happened… One couldn’t polish away anything that has happened. But we have to share our information to get a clearer view of our own history… It is meaningless to speak in absolute terms of good guys and bad guys. One can be both, even at the same moment. It all depends on from whose perspective one looks at the situation. But we have to try to be realistic. It was our fate to be a colony of the Netherlands. I don’t defend colonialism with this, I don’t say either that there were good or only bad aspects of colonialism. What I do say is this: part of Indonesian history is Dutch, part of Dutch history is Indonesian… When the Dutch left and sovereignty had been transferred we judged everything to do with colonialism to be bad. But we are now living in the 21st Century. We have taken distance, we are thinking much more realistically and objectively about what has happened. Not objectively, that doesn’t exist because you always reason from your own point of view. But honestly. Otherwise you can’t be a good historian. You must not use history to hate or accuse each other.
It so happens that Purwanto’s team is working on a new comprehensive history of Indonesia as well and from that point of view too he welcomes cooperation. As far as immediate post war history is concerned this work is overdue. The last comprehensive Indonesian language history of Indonesia is, to the best of my knowledge, the six volumes of Sejarah Nasional Indonesia edited by the late Professor Sartono Kartodirdjo et al (Jakarta 1974). I don’t know whether it is still in print. I was lucky enough to obtain a copy not long after it was published.
In this work the four years of military conflict are dealt with very summarily in Volume VI, in all of forty pages.
I do hope that Purwanto and his team can cooperate fruitfully with the KITLV team if this ever comes off the ground (the money still has to be obtained and that in a time that governmental budgets are getting increasingly tight). However, I was a bit puzzled by Van Oostindie’s stated claim for the KITLV research to produce an account “that is acceptable to both sides”. A historian should be after the truth – acceptability looks more like a political aim.
I have mentioned Professor Purwanto earlier in my posts when I referred to a complaint he made at an international conference on the theme “Identity and Chaos in Indonesia: 1945-1946″, organized by the Dutch Institute for War Documentation in 2003. I translated from the conference proceedings: “He talked about the resistance he gets in his own country at the slightest attempt to deal somewhat objectively with the history of the Revolution. He had already been reproached for not being a real Indonesian”.
Has that situation changed?