The exhibition Ons Land (Our Country) is about the Dutch colonial history in the East and how it still affects us today. In Museum Sophiahof in The Hague eyewitnesses of that history and their descendants tell their story. There are currently about two million people in the Netherlands with special ties to the former Dutch East Indies. They or their ancestors came to the Netherlands after the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia. It was the largest migratory wave ever.
By Margaret Leidelmeijer // Photo: Sarah Dona
From 1945 to 1969, over 300.000 people departed for the Netherlands. Depending on their personal circumstances, the crossing was an evacuation, repatriation, forced departure, migration, or flight. The years of colonialism, Japanese occupation, and decolonization have often left deep scars. People have lived in a permanent state of insecurity. Many have lost loved ones, even during the crossing, and are often still incomplete as a family or household. During their journey, memories of what was once their country, surface. While body and soul are transported by ship or plane, head and heart sometimes remain there.
The migratory flow took place in various phases. Each wave brought a different group to the Netherlands; within each group, each had their own story. This explains why there are so many different versions of the Indo-Dutch story. An overview in time.
The first wave
The exodus of Dutch war evacuees, the sick, and furlough workers (1945-1949)
During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), caucasian Dutchmen and Indo-Europeans are interned in Japanese camps. In Australia, the Dutch East Indies government-in-exile makes plans for their post-war refuge in local hospitals, sanatoriums, and vacation resorts.
On August 15, 1945, Japan capitulates and on August 17 Soekarno and Hatta proclaim the Republik Indonesia. British-Indies troops arrive on Java in mid-September. They temporarily take over military power until the Dutch East Indies government returns. A power vacuum is created. The Republic and other groups, who favor independence, resist. The violence that ensues is directed against anyone connected to or loyal to the Dutch colonial regime. But there is also considerable violence among them. This period, which culminates in the fall of 1945, is referred to by the Dutch as the Bersiap period. The numbers vary, but recent research shows that there are 6000 Dutch casualties. 16.000 were later reported missing. These numbers of victims were multiplied on the Indonesian side.
Refuge for recovery in the region fails. Departure to the Netherlands is the only alternative. It takes until December 1945 before ships become available. Some remain in the Netherlands permanently, others return.
The second wave (1950-1952)
Exodus in response to the transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch East Indies to the United States of Indonesia.
After the transfer of sovereignty on December 27, 1949, the Dutch East Indies civil service was dismantled and the KNIL disbanded. The Dutch civil servants and military can only stay if they choose Indonesian citizenship.
The civil service middle management, consisting mainly of Indo-Europeans, can remain in office for up to two years to train Indonesian civil servants. This is followed by dismissal. The senior management leaves for the Netherlands.
The European personnel of the KNIL can choose to transfer to the Dutch Army or the APRIS, the army of the United States of Indonesia, or be temporarily employed by the Dutch Military Mission to train Indonesian soldiers. The majority choose the Dutch Ground Forces and depart. Other soldiers such as Moluccans, Javanese, and Menadonese may transfer to the APRIS or opt for demobilization to a location of their choice.
On April 25, 1950, the Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS) is proclaimed in Ambon. The Indonesian government forbids demobilization of Moluccan soldiers on Ambon, for most of them the preferred location. A stalemate ensued. As a solution, the Moluccan soldiers are temporarily sent to the Netherlands in 12 transports. This involved some 12.500 soldiers and their families. This temporary stay will eventually result in a permanent stay.
The third wave (1952-1957)
Not an Indonesian citizen: foreigner in Indonesia.
In the early 1950s, the social position of Dutch people in Indonesia deteriorates. They are required to have Indonesian citizenship in order to work for the Indonesian government. Dutch companies are not allowed to hire these Dutch citizens as employees. For the dismissed Indo-Dutch civil servants and other Dutch unemployed, there are limited job opportunities. Most of them end up on welfare. The Dutch language, as well as Dutch education, disappears, to be taught exclusively in (expensive) private schools. The ongoing New Guinea dispute and the upcoming independent parliamentary elections of 1955 feed the anti-Dutch sentiment.
The fourth wave (circa 1958)
The New Guinea dispute: Black Sinterklaas, the nationalization of corporations, and the Spijtoptanten ('The Regretful')
In 1956, Indonesia unilaterally cancels the Indonesian-Dutch Union, in part because the Netherlands refuses to alter the status of New Guinea. In the following year, 1957, tensions between the Netherlands and Indonesia regarding the New Guinea dispute reached a climax. In November 1957, Indonesia presents its final case on the New Guinea issue to the United Nations General Assembly. The Indonesian government announces drastic measures if the Assembly will not vote in favor of the transfer of New Guinea to Indonesia. The New Guinea issue is dismissed. On December 5, 1957 – Black Sinterklaas –, the consulates are closed and Dutch citizens are forced to leave the country. Dutch companies are occupied and nationalized.
The situation is also rapidly deteriorating for Dutch citizens who are naturalized Indonesian citizens. In the eyes of the Indonesian population, they remain Dutch. Many regret their choice and still try to obtain a visa to cross over to the Netherlands. Of the 8.000 applications, only 1.000 are granted in 1959. Several pressure groups are formed in the Netherlands to ease the admission process. The best known was the Nationale Actie Steun Spijtoptanten (National Campaign to Assist 'The Regretful' in Indonesia) (NASSI).
However, departure to the Netherlands is not a given. Many have never been to the Netherlands before. Until 1955, in addition to a Dutch passport, migrants have to bring sufficient capital or proof of furlough. Government advances for passage costs are provided only under very strict conditions. But the general deterioration of the social and political situation for (Indonesian) Dutchmen in Indonesia and the continuing pressure exerted by the High Commission on the Dutch government causes the Dutch government to adjust its policy. In 1955 the conditions for a government advance are eased. This allows more Indonesian Dutchmen to depart for the Netherlands.
The fifth wave (circa 1962)
Transfer of New Guinea to Indonesia
In 1960, Sukarno breaks off relations with the Netherlands and a war over New Guinea looms. As a result of this tension, the departure numbers of the Dutch East Indies population to the Netherlands increased again in the early 1960s. Among them were 'white' Dutchmen, Indo-Europeans, Peranakan Chinese, and Moluccans.
In 1961 elections of the New Guinea Council take place. The council is established to prepare for an independent state, with an administration that was initially under the Dutch government. In 1962, the Netherlands transfers the administration of New Guinea to the United Nations (UNTEA). The final ending of the Dutch East Indies.
In the prelude to this transition, there is also an exodus of Papuan politicians with their families. These politicians continue working for a free and independent Papua even after their arrival in the Netherlands and find considerable support among the population of West Papua. On May 1, 1963, the UNTEA in turn hands over the administration to the Republic of Indonesia. The New Guinea Council is terminated and the administration is taken over by Indonesia.
The sixth wave (1964-1968)
End of 'The Regretful' arrangement and General Suharto's seizure of power
'The Regretful' can apply for a visa to establish residence in the Netherlands until March 31, 1964. After being granted a visa it often takes a while before the opportunity arises to leave for the Netherlands. The exodus of this last group of so-called 'regret applicants' largely coincides with an exodus of Indonesians after General Suharto's rise to power. Within the latter group are an estimated few thousand Indonesian or Peranakan Chinese. Chinese who have lived in Indonesia for several generations. The exact number is unknown. Also in this period, several refugee Papuans arrived in the Netherlands.