The Message of Linggajati
29 January 2007

For a long time Indonesia and its former colonizer, the Netherlands, marked the independence of Indonesia on two different dates. The relationship between the two countries remained cool for many years. For the Dutch it was the date of the official handing over of sovereignty on 27 December 1949. The Dutch minister for Foreign Affairs, Ben Bot, made a step towards mending this breach in Jakarta at the 60th anniversary of the Indonesian declaration of independence. On behalf of his country he recognized 17 August 1945 as the foundation date of the Republic of Indonesia, their declaration of independence, and expressed his regrets for the ‘unnecessary painful and violent separation of our two countries’.

On a recent visit to Indonesia my husband and I were again confronted with the fact that our two countries have a common history of over 350 years. One cannot escape the memory of the Dutch presence in the buildings, railways, language, infrastructure etc. The memory of the violent independence movement is visible everywhere too. In virtually every town there is a monument recalling the struggle and honouring the Indonesian heroes. I am glad that our minister expressed the regrets of our country and said that the violence that occurred between 1945 and 1949 had been unnecessary. Things could have been different if the draft agreement of Linggajati of November 1946 had been accepted and implemented by the Dutch government.

In Linggajati, West-Java, at the slopes of the Tjeremai volcano, half an hour from the big harbour city of Cirebon, a series of meetings took place in November 1946 between official Dutch and Indonesian delegations about the future status of Indonesia. The fact that the Dutch conferred with the Indonesians meant in fact that they accepted them as equal partners. This was also visible in the actual draft agreement, in which the Netherlands Indies would become The Federal Republic of the United States of Indonesia in a union with the Netherlands and with the Dutch queen as the head of state. Unfortunately when the Dutch delegation came home they did not find enough backing in Parliament for this agreement. The Dutch delayed and the Indonesians became impatient, and what is called in our history books a ‘police action’ started. The Indonesians call it military aggression. The result was four years of bloodshed and many lost lives.

The Linggajati agreement is better known by Indonesians than by us Dutch. They learn about it in their history lessons; we don’t. The house in which the meetings took place is now a museum. We heard about it thanks to a Dutch friend of ours, Joty ter Kulve-van Os, who has a special relationship to the house. Her father, Koos van Os, built it for his family in 1930, and Joty grew up there as a child. Her brother, Willem, discovered that their home had been made into a museum, he and Joty decided to support it. In the Netherlands they initiated a ‘Friends of Linggajati’ association, with the aim of supporting the museum. They also want to encourage the many Dutch who visit Indonesia to make the detour to visit Linggajati – as we did.

The museum’s aim is to keep alive the spirit in which the talks took place: a spirit of respect and openness. People with very different perspectives – some of the Indonesian delegates had been imprisoned by the Dutch – talked and listened until they found an agreement. The fact that it was not implemented does not make it less worthwhile. Learning more about this can help Dutch people to see the Indonesian perspective. Sadly, we in The Netherlands know too little about this past of ours.

Now the Dutch government also supports the museum. This was apparent on 11 November 2006 when the 60th anniversary of the agreement of Linggajati was commemorated in the presence of the Indonesian minister of foreign affairs Hasan Wirajuda, the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia, Nicolaas van Dam, the Bupati (mayor) of Kuningan, to which Linggajati belongs, and 600 other guests. The big garden of the museum was venue to the event. Special guests from the Netherlands were Willem van Os, his sister, Joty ter Kulve-van Os, and her son, Peter ter Kulve. Wirajuda announced the cultural agreement he was about to make with his Dutch counterpart Ben Bot.

Joty says: ‘For at least a million Dutch, Indonesia is not like other countries. It is the country where their forbearers have worked and are buried.’ I myself am in that category. It is the country where my grandparents lived and worked and where my mother spent her youth.
There are many things in the colonial past we can and should be ashamed of. Apart from the violence, there was the injustice and unequal treatment of the Indonesians. But things are never black or white. Many, many Dutch, like Joty’s parents and my grandparents, gave their best to the country where they worked, designed, built, planted. As the Indonesian minister of foreign affairs said at the 60th commemoration of Linggajati, we have a common heritage of 350 years, and we need to look after it. To be able to do that together we need to know and learn from the past and appreciate the viewpoint of the other. A good way to do that is to visit the museum of Linggajati.

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