Saturday, August 18, 2012

67 Years of Indonesian Independence - Friday 17th August 2012

"Long live the Republic of Indonesia"
The Proclamation of Independence (Proklamasi), signed by Sukarno and Hatta, was made on August 17th 1945, just two days after the Japanese surrendered to Allied Forces. It instigated the long struggle for freedom against the Dutch who tried to regain control of their Colony through military force. 

The proclamation of Independence (Proklamasi) appears on the 100,000 Rupiah banknote
Despite the fact that it was to be another 4 years before the last official handover of territory by the Dutch and their recognition of Indonesian Independence, this date in 1945 (rather than 1949) is now accepted as the official Independence date by both sides and in Indonesia it is celebrated with great enthusiasm.  Not least in Bandung, which not only saw some of the most intense fighting of the whole of Java during that time, but also whose citizens would have rather seen their own beloved city burn than lose it once again.  On 24th March 1946, whilst retreating to the hills, fires blazed behind them in what would come to be known as “Bandung Lautan Api” or “Bandung Sea of Fire”.  As they looked down and reflected on their own act, they vowed to return.   With that, it was clear that more than 300 years of Dutch presence had already started to come to an end.



When I told my Mum that Independence Day was coming up, she said “Yes, Independence was in 1949…..” (it seems the message hadn’t reached everyone!)   “…..That’s when we travelled back to Batavia from Australia to join our parents for the journey back to Holland.”
The girls, 6 months after leaving Batavia (Jakarta) for NZ as evacuees in 1946, had moved to Australia where they had been taken in by the family of a school friend whilst their parents remained in Indonesia.  The below newspaper clipping shows Hennie and Lottie (two blonde girls towards the left) on the boat taking them from Oranje evacuee camp in NZ to Brisbane, Australia:

I headed out in search of events and insights.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would it be a solemn affair to commemorate the approx 150,000 Indonesians who died during the two “Police Actions” (as the Dutch termed the two Millitary campaigns in 1947 and 1948)?  Or would it be a celebration of National Identity and triumph over the “Colonial oppressors”? 
A couple of days ago, Mum emailed me the following letter, sent to my Opa (Grandfather) in 1950 and signed by the Commander in Chief of the Dutch Army in Indonesia. 
“The Royal Dutch Indonesian Army declares that J C P Van Bael, most recently Artillery Major of the KNIL, served with courage and leadership during the World War from 1940-1945 and fought to restore peace and order in Indonesia after the Japanese surrender.  As a token of gratitude for this, he is granted the right to wear the insignia badge above”.  
I wondered how an Indonesian veteran of the post-war revolution would feel if he were to read this.  Of course there are always two sides to every war, to every story and on each side individuals are caught up in the history, conditions and responsibilities of their time.  Nevertheless, a strange sense of guilt was my companion all morning – me who is a little bit Dutch but not a lot.  In my life, at any point in time, I have always conveniently chosen the nationality that best fits the situation (during the London riots of 2011 I was firmly Dutch to anyone who asked) and so I was tempted to present myself as 100% British as I made my way to the military parade outside Gedung Sate (the Sate Building, so named for the resemblance of its uppermost section to the famous Indonesian snack of meat-on-a-stick):

Ahmad Heryawan, Governer of West Java Province was in attendance, pictured here with some veterans at Gasibu Square (the field in front of Gedung Sate) - photo of the salute by Laurence Green

Once the formalities were over, I noticed that there was a complete lack of security surrounding the VIPs and 5 or so lonely veterans, distinguishable from far off by their yellow caps and hesitant stance.  I rushed over to the red carpet area under the huge red and white awning, without a clue as to what I was going to do or say.  I just knew that I had to shake the hands of these men, to somehow convey to them through my limited Bahasa the respect and love that my family holds for this country. 
“We are Generation 45….  Freedom Fighters!”  SOEKENDAR beams in fluent English, rigorously shaking my hand.  On his badge, next to his name, a number almost certainly indicating the regiment that he had belonged to:  NPV 21 067 954.  I quickly calculated that in 1945 my Grandfather would have been 45 years old and if he were alive today, he’d be 112.  That would place these gentlemen in the middle of a bitter war at the tender age of around 16.   

When I told them my family history, Soekendar started to say a few words in Dutch.  I told him that I couldn’t speak well but that if I made a short video, they could say a few words to my Mother.   This is apparently what was said:
Soekendar:        “ So…..  yaaa…..  How are you?”  (Using formal language)
                        “ We are here to celebrate….”   
He turns to the other two gentlemen as if to ask for help with the next word.  It’s not possible to make out what they are saying at this point but it is clear that they are light-heartedly laughing at each other about their long forgotten Dutch
                         “We are here with your granddaughter”   he continues
I correct him:      “No, daughter… daughter” (Tochter, pronounced Tockter)
Other veteran:     “Oh, you are a Doctor?”
Chicken talking to a duck again!

Discussing the day’s events later at a bbq with friends on the side of Dago hill overlooking Bandung city, my friend told me that her grandfather too fought in the revolution for independence here in Bandung.  “Lele!  It really funny yaaa!  My grandfather and your grandfather they fighting each other, and now we are sitting here and we are laughing together!”
Wikipedia states “In 1949, the Dutch–Indonesian agreement on transfer of power stipulated neither country would call the other on its wartime offences”.  
It seems that they have kept their word, I thought, as fireworks blazed in the sky over their beloved Bandung.

Happy Independence Day!

1 comment:

  1. Correction: daughter = dochter (not tochter!)
    I have added a translate button to the blog, to help myself if not for anyone else!!