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Papuan self-determination - historical roots I

By arie brand
Created 30/03/2006 - 13:57

Arie Brand was born in Holland and was in West Papua when the country was turned over to the Indonesians in 1962. I hope that this is the first of many articles about that part of the World.

Both West Papua and Papua New Guinea are, with different political circumstances, in the beginnings of what I believe will become a rapid and devastating resource push. They are massively rich in minerals and timber, at a time when the World is very hungry for the same. My own sources tell me that both Chinese and Western interests are increasingly mobilising capital to extract this wealth, and that cultural and environmental sensitivity are not priorities. The region is also the World's richest region in language groups - arguably in culture - and possibly hundreds of these are going to be threatened, if they're not already. It is my opinion that here, on Australia's very doorstep, we are witnessing a tragic confluence of the past century's major corporate misdirections, a last fatal hurrah perhaps. Will the world's corporate forces be any different this time? Will the world's consumers give a toss? My hope is that Webdiary, collectively, at least does the job of telling it straight, without fear or favour. Between us, let's get to the truth of the matter and, if we can, act on it as informed, ethical creatures.

Thankyou Arie for this beginning. Hamish Alcorn.


by Arie Brand

Dr George Aditjondro's critical introduction to P Schoorl (ed), Belanda di Irian Jaya : amtenar di masa penuh gejolak (Holland in Irian Jaya - Civil servant in troubled times, 1945-1962 - the Indonesian translation of an original Dutch work to which I contributed a chapter) provides me here with a convenient point of departure.

Aditjondro argues that the Dutch motivation for hanging on to the territory and excluding it from the transfer of sovereignty in 1949 had to do with Holland's economic and strategic interests, plus the desire to create a homeland for Dutch Eurasians. He sees Dutch insistence on Papuan self-determination as no more than a last minute ploy designed to keep Indonesia out of the region.

I will argue that these notions are almost entirely wrong and that, contrary to what Aditjondro seems to believe, emotional factors have played a far greater role than economic and 'strategic' calculations in the Dutch decision to exclude Papua from the transfer of sovereignty.

I will, finally, contend that the idea of self-determination played from the start of negotiations about independence an important role in Dutch ideas about the future of an independent Indonesia. The Dutch envisaged a federal structure for Indonesia and believed that the various territories should have the right to join or not join this federal structure (external self-determination) or to join it as a separate state rather than as part of the 'core'state in Java and Sumatra (internal self-determination). However, the population of Papua was deemed unable as yet to exercise this right. So, ironically, when the federal structure was speedily demolished by Jakarta within about half a year after it had consented to it, this territory was the only one to retain a concrete right to self-determination albeit a postponed right.

Economically "worthless"

I will first discuss here whether Holland was swayed by economic considerations in its decision to exclude Papua from the transfer of sovereignty.

It is well known that presently the region with its rich mineral resources is one of the most important income spinners for the Indonesian government (and the Indonesian army). That was entirely different in Dutch times. The scanty knowledge about mineral resources then encouraged virtually no one to invest in a region the future of which was so uncertain.

There was some exploitation of oil but that was entirely insignificant. In its top year (1954) the exploration company concerned, the Nederlands Nieuw Guinea Petroleum Maatschappij produced 500,000 tons (Van ‘t Veer (1960), Nieuw Guinea tegen wil en dank, Querido, Amsterdam - New Guinea, whether we want it or not). At first sight this seems very impressive but by world standards it was really a pitiful amount. If we convert those 500,000 by the factor 7 to 3,500,000 barrels we can have a look at international comparisons. Australia, which is not exactly known as an oil rich country, produces, according to figures given in the US Geological Survey and Oil and Gas Journal, something like 190 million barrels a year, or, in other words, about sixty times as much (this figure dates from a few years back). And for an even more amazing figure: Holland has hardly any oil at all yet, in that same top year, it produced twice as much oil as the NNGPM did in West Papua (Van ‘t Veer, 1960: p35). And yet, even this minimal production went in the ensuing years down to about half that amount and in 1960 the company handed its concessions back – only in the “Bird’s Head’ could production be continued for a few more years until that field too was exhausted. All in all the whole enterprise was a failure. According to Van ‘t Veer the company invested since 1935 400 million guilders and gained in total, until 1960, 120 million (1960: p.36). It is true that there were some powerful companies behind this enterprise (Shell and Standard Oil) but these wouldn't have worried much about an entirely negligible part of their activities.

Seeing the lack of any large scale gainful economic activity in the area then it is no wonder that its most effective Dutch governor, Dr Jan van Baal (later professor of anthropology at the University of Utrecht), conceived of the economic future of the territory mainly in terms of small scale indigenous agriculture.

Dutch entrepreneurs - The Bilderberg group

Dutch industrial groups were hardly more sanguine.

One of the most important Anglo-Dutch enterprises in Holland was and is Unilever. The man who was the Dutch President-Director of this firm in the fifties, Mr P Rijkens, lobbied furiously for handing over West Papua to Indonesia, for the obvious reason that business possibilities in Indonesia seemed then infinitely larger than those in West Papua. Rijkens was very well connected. He was an important figure in the Bilderberg Group, a well-known group of leading figures in the international financial and political world, that had originally been brought together by the Dutch Prince-Consort, the late Prince Bernhard and met on an annual basis (and is, it seems, still doing so). Apparently this group as a whole was interested in the speedy transfer of the region to Indonesia. Prince Bernhard, transgressing his constitutional position in the process, worked for it behind the screens. He fully shared the views of Rijkens and Konijnenburg (president-director of KLM) in this matter.

The position of the Bilderberg group was so clear on this point that it was joined for a while by an outsider with a similar interest, the Dutch maverick-journalist Willem Oltmans, who prided himself on being a personal friend of the fanatical activist for an Indonesian Papua, President Sukarno (he published a book with the title My friend Sukarno in which the man is apparently depicted as a latter day saint). Oltmans claims (he can be checked out on the internet) that he left this group when he found out that a Dutch CIA-agent was a member of it.

The historian Arjen Taselaar, in his study of the activities of the Dutch economic colonial lobby, sees in the very fact that it didn’t get its way as far as the transfer of West Papua was concerned, clear evidence for the decline of its political clout. He wrote:

In the Netherlands in the same period the relation between the Association of Entrepreneurs (Ondernemersraad) and the Government worsened because of the New Guinea policy. New Guinea was still economically as worthless as it was before the Second World War but the stubbornness with which the Netherlands held on to the island now threatened the interests of Dutch entrepreneurs in Indonesia... The Dutch government knew of course that the entrepreneurs didn’t agree with its New Guinea policy but it took that for granted. The group Rijkens (named after the President-Director of Unilever, P Rijkens), of which Van Oldenborgh and some other members of the executive of the Association of Entrepreneurs were members, was equally not able to make the Minister of Foreign Affairs, JMAH Luns, and some other members of the cabinet change their minds (Taselaar (1998), De Nederlandse koloniale lobby - Ondernemers en de Indische Politiek, Leiden - The Dutch colonial lobby - Entrepreneurs and policy on the Indies; the translation of the quote is mine, AB).


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