Open Letter to director of the Dutch Oorlogsgravenstichting (OGS) in Indonesia, Robbert van de Rijdt
Sender: Ady Setyawan, Chairman and founder of RoodeBrug Soerabaia foundation
On Sunday, October 8 2017, we, Indonesian youth from Roode brug community in Surabaya, initiated a commemoration for those who died during the Bersiap-period. We put flowers on the graves of victims of the Bersiap, a violent period that started around October 1945. Not only young people attended the commemoration but also a 90-years old veteran showed up. On social media our initiative received many positive responses and numerous likes and love, coming from both Dutch and Indonesians.
You, Robbert van de Rijdt, wrote this in a public Facebook post (translated from Dutch): “Beautiful… this is exactly how I see it; mutual respect; commemorating and moving forward. Too often there are people who don’t, only searching for black pages! They can learn a lot from these people. … In The Netherlands there are a couple of negative and arrogant journalists who consider it necessary to continue measuring the past with norms and values we have today. They try to permanently spray poison between peoples who have experienced a lot together and who just want to move forward peacefully together! They will not succeed thanks to, among other things, these kind of nice meetings.”
Then one of my friends, Dutch researcher and journalist Marjolein van Pagee replied recalling you once send her an email with contents contradicting with the mutual respect you were talking about. In her comment Marjolein paraphrased some of the points that you allegedly wrote. She explained you sent her an email last April responding to her opinion article in Dutch newspaper Trouw. In that piece Marjolein criticized the way the Dutch national 4 May commemoration depicted the colonial war, not mentioning Indonesian victims.
Hereby a translation of what Marjolein wrote on Facebook: “You called this nonsense, because you did not want to commemorate ‘inlanders.’ You also laughed about the story of the Madurese people who were shot after they attacked Dutch Marines in Pamekasan 1947. In your eyes it was exactly the same as a legal situation of a policeman in Europe who defends himself after being attacked. Therefore it was understandable that the Marines opened fire at the Madurese fighters. You also wrote that you are extremely proud of Dutch colonial history and what the Dutch have achieved in all those centuries. You complained about Indonesia of today because it is a mess, cities are dirty and people are poor because of corruption. You seem to believe that Indonesians also want to go back to the Dutch ‘tempo-doeloe-time’, Indonesians are thankful to the Dutch for the roads, the infrastructure etc. You also talked about the deep hatred you feel against Muslims, as you fear Indonesia is slowly becoming an Islamic state.”
Interestingly, in the discussion that followed, you did not deny that you wrote these words. You said these are just your personal opinions. To be honest I don’t have a problem with people having different opinions, as long as there is respect. Therefore I am eager to know whether you, as a Dutch director living in Indonesia, really think that way. On Facebook I asked you about it, but you responded: “If you wanna know opinion of Robbert van de Rijdt, come to my office or wait until I visit Surabaya!”
After more people joined the discussion on Boy Marlisa’s Facebook the tone became angry. It is sad the discussions ended up in pro and contra division when taking into account that our commemoration specifically aimed for better understanding between Indonesia and the Netherlands.
From the fierce argument on Facebook I figured out we did not yet reach the state of mutual understanding. Some people defended you; others criticized the fact that Marjolein paraphrased from a private e-mail, which according to them was more inappropriate than your opinion. You stated the content of that email was just your personal view, which differed from your public opinion as Director of OGS.
(Note: the discussion on Boy Marlisa’s account has been deleted though I still keep the screenshots.)
Dear Mr. Robbert van de Rijdt, in case it is true that these are your personal opinions, I do have some serious questions for you.
– When this is your worldview and the way you look at colonial history and Indonesia, how can you talk about “mutual respect”? From the impression I got, I have no idea what respecting others means to you.
– Did you ever wonder why the Madurese in 1947 attacked the well-equipped Dutch Marines while the Madurese only had traditional weapons such as bamboo spears and knives? You should know that those people were prepared to sacrifice their lives for Indonesia’s independence and because these ‘inlanders’ refused to bow under Dutch colonial rule. Many similar attacks and fights took place throughout Indonesia. Independence is a right for every nations. How can I not be shocked when I hear that you laugh about them?
– Are you really proud about the colonial system and what your ancestors ‘achieved’ for my country?
– Who do you think benefited the most from all these factories, plantations, industry, roads, and trains?
– Do you really think this was mainly to bring prosperity to my ancestors who were called ‘inlanders’ at that time?
– Do you seriously believe that most Indonesians want to go back to your romanticised Tempo-Doeloe version of history?
– Do you really think that we miss the time in which our people were forced to plant coffee, tea and all basic needs to enrich the Netherlands?
– Do you really believe that we want to go back to a situation in which most of our people didn’t even have the opportunity to go to school? Back to the time in which Dutch soldiers beheaded our freedom fighters, showing their heads on a spike on a crowded market at Enrekang?
Dear Sir, it seems to me your view on colonial history is exceptionally flawed and extremely one-sided. I get the impression you have no idea how much we Indonesians lost in the centuries between the Banda massacre and the military aggression that your history books euphemistically describe as ‘politionele acties.’
You despise Muslim believers?
Keep in mind that most of my friends and I are Muslims. We were kneeling and praying, putting flowers on all those graves of which you are the Director. We did that to honour Dutch people we never met, who are not our friends nor family. We did what we did because we feel mutual respect and understanding between our two nations is important to move on to the future. We paid respect to graves that you are taking care of. That is why I am shocked to hear about your personal point of view expressed in your emails to Marjolein. Therefore I ask for clarification and a public reaction from you, director of the OGS.
You explained that your positive view of colonialism is just a personal opinion, and that you won’t express it publicly as director. But is your personal opinion totally separated from your work as director? Which face will you bring when we meet in person? I believe that morality is having a sense about what is right or wrong, I also tend to believe that this is universal, so I hope you understand what I mean.
In the forum discussion some people started attacking Marjolein for revealing your actual opinion. But in case you wrote this to her, the question is whether she is the one to blame. Imagine I tell you (in a private conversation) that the Dutch and Indo who were killed during Bersiap make me laugh and that I don’t think they deserve to be remembered. Yet meanwhile in public I’m talking about mutual respect and putting flowers at Kembang Kuning. Would you remain silent? And whom do you think Dutch society will be mad at: You for reporting my hypocrisy or me for saying such a thing?
Everyone makes mistakes
Dear Mr. Robbert van de Rijdt everyone makes mistakes and everyone can admit they were mistakes and learn from them. Your knowledge about what happened during colonial times seems to be incredibly one-sided and I think this is a problem when being a Dutch representative working and living in Indonesia.
Colonial reality and mind-set as main trigger for violence
From what I read and hear I got the impression that you are not the only Dutch person who thinks this way. I got the same feeling when reading about the new Dutch research about our war of Independence (1945-1949). It seems they are going to pay a lot of attention to the violence on both sides, including the political context, technical details, other decolonization wars etc. but leaving out the main issue here: the colonial reality and mind-set as main trigger for the violent escalation. My point is that when the Netherlands really wants to build bridges with Indonesia, gaining mutual respect and understanding, there are some obstacles to be eliminated and overcome. We seem not to have reached this point at all and therefore we do need to have a serious discussion first.
For further clarification I’m asking you:
- Can you confirm what you wrote those emails and are you willing to publicly apologize and take back what you said?
- Can you specify your moral views in relation to the colonial past? Can you explain in terms of right or wrong how we should remember this particular history?
- Can you explain how you see mutual respect and understanding? You already saw how we kneeled for the graves of victims caused by Indonesian side. Do you think mutual understanding is one way, only applauding when the other side is kneeling down for your victims?
- Are you ready to do the same? Can we visit each other’s graves together, kneel, and put flowers shoulder to shoulder? This will be a new page in history in positive way.
We don’t need more political correct hypocrisy.
Again, it is very important that you show your real face instead of your office face. Mutual respect and understanding will not be reached when my ancestors remain ‘inlanders’ to you. In my opinion the keyword is sincerity to make this work. Honest interest in the experience of the other is the first step. If we manage to do that, we will open a new page of history. Only then we can move on to the future.
I promise, when you are open to work together on those 4 points, I will go to Roermond and put flowers for the more than 5000 young men who lost their lives in the name of greediness, colonialism and imperialism. You have my word!
Surabaya, 16 October 2017