The small, friendly country famous for its tulips, windmills, cheese, and weed. A rich cultural heritage (Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer), a climate of tolerance and innovation, and liberal beliefs. I am proud of the way it takes care of its seniors and of the vulnerable groups in society such as the disabled, the homeless, and the jobless. I am less enthusiastic when it comes to the way it has been treating its Dutch-Indonesian citizens.
My parents came from Indonesia, which implies that they experienced the invasion and the occupation of their country, the Dutch East Indies, then colony of the Netherlands, by the Japanese. Many of the Dutch-Indonesian people, who were all Dutch citizens, served in the Army and Navy. Most of them were taken prisoner and spent years in internment camps. Thousands of them did not survive and those who did, had to face more hardships.
After the capitulation of Japan on August 15, 1945, Indonesia did not want to be under foreign rule any longer. A violent struggle for freedom ensued. In this gruesome period, called the Bersiap, again thousands of Dutch(-Indonesian) men, women, and children lost their lives. In 1947, the Netherlands sent troops to Indonesia in order to reestablish their rule, that is, to preserve their profitable colony. Finally, in 1949, under great international pressure, the Netherlands had to recognize the independence of Indonesia.
What did this mean for the Dutch-Indonesian people? Being Dutch citizens, but living in a country that was no longer Dutch, they only had a few options. The majority chose to depart for the unknown. Roughly between 1950 and 1960, some 300,000 Dutch-Indonesian people embarked on a long journey that would take them to their new home, the Netherlands. Here, they had to start all over again. Of course they met with prejudice, silly regulations, and blatant racism. They had to accept (and pay for) inadequate housing, take jobs that did not reflect their qualifications, and undergo constant social scrutiny.
Much later, in 2000, in an attempt to counterbalance the chilly welcome, the Dutch government made a financial reparation, Het Gebaar, the Gesture. The name itself is poorly chosen; it suggests magnanimity on part of the giver, while it was no more than a band-aid. It did not heal the raw wound underneath.
Recently, the pain and frustration have become unbearable. Since 2013, de Indische Kwestie, the Dutch-Indonesian Issue, has been on the political agenda of The Hague. The much anticipated public hearing in de Tweede Kamer, the House of Representatives, scheduled on July 1, 2015, was adjourned one day before the assembly, a few days before the summer recess. Once again, the aging Dutch-Indonesian beneficiaries are supposed to wait just a little longer.
De Indische Kwestie, the issue that stirs up a lot of emotions in the Dutch-Indonesian community, has two components: Back Pay and Compensation for material war damages.
In a nutshell:
Unlike their Dutch counterparts, interned or held hostage by Nazi Germany, Dutch-Indonesian government officials and military personnel were not paid for the 41 months under Japanese occupation. An exception was made for Navy personnel; the then Minister of the Navy felt morally obliged to pay his men. Their salaries were retroactively paid in full. All others who proudly served their country, fought for the Queen, and remained loyal to the Dutch flag under the most trying circumstances never received a dime.
Compensation for material war damages:
The Dutch government paid 5.9 billion guilders (precursor to the euro) to Dutch individuals who suffered damages during the occupation of Holland by Nazi Germany. Dutch-Indonesian citizens were strictly excluded from this settlement. The Allies in the war against Japan, like the United States, Great Britain, and France did take financial responsibility for their fellow citizens in Asia. The Netherlands has never acknowledged any financial or legal liability; from the beginning, unhindered by a sense of duty or codes of honor, it has pointed at Indonesia to deal with this matter.
Seventy years have passed since the end of World War II. My father, who served in the Army, passed away a long time ago, all my uncles, who served in the Army and Navy, passed away too. For them it is too late. But others are still alive, still hoping and waiting for recognition, for formal apologies, for justice. Will Holland step up to the plate and finally do what is the right thing to do or will colonial history repeat itself?