Time for Dutch Courage in Indonesia

Paul Doolan looks at the continuing controversy over Dutch 'police operations' post-1945 in Indonesia.

Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutchman, Cornelis de Houtman, on the island of Enganno, off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. Now, over four centuries later and nearly fifty years after the ending of their rule in Indonesia, the Dutch are engaged in a soul-searching debate concerning their colonial past.

Between 1946 and 1949 two military campaigns, euphemistically called 'police actions', resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 Indonesians and, according to one Financial Times Service report, 6,000 Dutch soldiers. However, the colonial power found itself politically isolated as well as economically near bankruptcy, and independence was reluctantly conceded in December 1949; a fact that even today causes controversy.

Criticism of Dutch colonial policy dates back at least to the appearance of Edward Dakker, the Dutch master known as Multatuli's Max Havelaar . At the time of its publication, in 1860, this 'J'accuse' was considered a biting attack against the exploitation and abuse of the poor majority of Javanese by their European and local masters. Today, the novel is generally regarded as a classic work of nineteenth-century Dutch literature, its criticisms been neutralised and made safe due to the passing of time.

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