The Jakarta Post
Welkom to Indonesia Your Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Wij houd van uw en Nederland. Indonesians are very happy about the royal family’s visit to our beloved country.
At the invitation of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the king and queen will visit Jakarta, Yogyakarta, North Sumatra and Kalimantan, from March 10 to 13.
I could not stop laughing for a while when two friends said a Dutch diplomat felt irritated that The Jakarta Post published an article on March 3 by historian Marjolein van Pagee. She was very unhappy with the royal family’s visit. “As a Dutch historian, I am very much against the upcoming state visit of our King Willem-Alexander. The Dutch royal family earned millions, if not billions, from oppressing Indonesia for centuries without ever taking responsibility,” she wrote.
I chuckled because the Dutch government used to be generous with NGOs and activists critical of the Indonesian government.
The diplomat had hoped that the Post would also publish other views of the Dutch imperialism. But how does one write a balanced view of colonial power? Should we express our deep gratitude to a nation that occupied ours for 350 years?
Before talking further about my particular request, let me recall previous visits by the Dutch royal family to Indonesia. The king’s grandmother, Queen Juliana, and grandfather, Prince Bernhard, surprisingly received a warm welcome from a huge crowd when visiting Indonesia in 1971.
The queen probably thought she would face protests, because of the history of Dutch colonialism in the archipelago. She even avoided official talks with then-president Soeharto, to brush aside the impression that she recognized Indonesian Independence Day.
When Indonesia celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence on Aug. 17, 1995, the king’s mother, Queen Beatrix, intentionally came to Jakarta four days after the event, on Aug. 21. The Dutch could not accept Aug. 17, 1945, as the independence day of their former colony, and insisted that Indonesia became a free nation only on Dec. 27, 1949.
In her speech, Queen Beatrix reportedly said: “Several days ago [...] Indonesia commemorated the independence proclamation announced 50 years ago on Aug. 17, 1945 [...] since then, Aug. 17 has become your national day.”
Were we angry at that time? Not at all. A senior Indonesian official simply said: “Why should we bring up past wounds?”
Many Indonesians would agree with the official. We are a forgiving nation, not because we are a future-oriented nation but simply because we do not want to be imprisoned by the past for whatever reason.
Many Indonesians are fervent supporters of the Dutch soccer team in major tournaments like the World Cup and European Cup.
We are always jealous of former British colonies, such as Malaysia, Singapore or India. They speak English in their daily lives and in schools. And how about us? The Dutch language is only useful for students at law schools.
We also often wonder why in the Netherlands, people drive at the right side of the road,while in Indonesia at the left side.
Indonesians do not want to retaliate, but some of us have found opportunities to take revenge. A few years ago, a group of Indonesians, including me, visited the Netherlands. We emulated what many other Indonesians do when they arrive for the first time in that country.
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Upon arrival on Dutch soil, we sang the scouts’ song “If you’re happy and you know it.”
“If you’re happy and you know it,
then your face will surely show it.
If you’re happy and you know it,
Stomp your feet [stomp stomp].”
We also asked the Dutch bellhops to take our luggage from the car and drop it in front of us in the hotel lobby. We paid them a big tip, and cheerfully crowed in our language, “Now we have Dutch servants.” The poor hotel employees were bemused, but looked happy.
I myself have a personal attachment to the Dutch. My father was a great fan of Cornelis de Houtman, who according to history was the first Dutch man to arrive in Indonesia, at the port of Banten on June 27, 1596. That is probably the reason my father named me Kornelius, the Indonesian version of Cornelis. In my childhood my friends and teachers used to call me Cornelis de Houtman and I was proud of it.
Now, allow me to request a very simple but very meaningful gesture from King Willem-Alexander. His visit is important for the Dutch for their own self-healing process. According to the king’s official website, he and the queen will start their state visit in Jakarta by laying a wreath at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery to honor the war dead, “especially those who fell during the Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949)”.
All nations all over the world have recognized that Indonesia became a fully independent nation on Aug. 17, 1945. The Dutch will become a laughing stock if they stubbornly insist that their former colony freed itself from colonization on Dec. 27, 1949.
This year we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of our independence. No one will understand if, during his visit here, the king is too afraid to acknowledge this truth.
So, for your own good, Your Majesty, please acknowledge to the Indonesian people that Indonesia’s Independence Day is Aug. 17, 1945.
If you remain reluctant, I can only say, “Ik begrijp niet wat jullie zegt!”(I don’t understanding what you are saying).