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Papuan self-determination - historical roots III

Arie Brand continues a review of West Papuan history. See Part I and Part II. Reports from the rallys yesterday are very welcome in comments.

'Strategic considerations'

I can be much shorter about some additional explanatory factors Dr Aditjondro came up with, namely the alleged Dutch desire to maintain a strategic interest in the Pacific bersaingan dengan bangsa-bangsa lain (in competition with other nations) and the wish to hold on to a rich tropical territory untuk penelitian ilmu pengetahuan (for scientific research).

It is not impossible that some deluded Dutch parliamentarian or other has talked about Dutch ‘strategic interests’ in the Pacific, ‘in competition with other nations’ but by and large this idea could hardly have played an important role in the transactions during the Round Table Conference. At that stage the Dutch hardly conceived of themselves as even a middle-sized power and with what other nations could they conceivably have been ‘in competition’ in the Pacific? It is true that Joseph Luns, who later became a main player in the conflict, had notions that had vaguely to do with this (he is on record as saying that 'it couldn't do any harm if the Netherlands kept a finger in the pie in the Pacific') but Luns only became a member of cabinet in 1952. Quite frankly, I believe that some traditional Indonesian misconceptions about Dutch motivation in this matter play a role here. The internationally respected Dutch-American political scientist, Arend Lijphart, pinpointed these misconceptions in a 1961 article entitled "The Indonesian image of West Irian":

West New Guinea is not only the ultimate territorial objective of the Indonesian Revolution; it also poses the danger of a possible reversal of the success hitherto achieved by the Revolution. The strategic significance of the island has been prominently used as an argument in the controversy. The Indonesian image of its strategic importance is intimately connected with the notion that the Dutch have Machiavellian designs for reconquering Indonesia with West Irian as the military jumping-off point... (Lijphart, A, 1961, "The Indonesian Image of West Irian" in Asian Survey, VolI no5, pp9 – 16).

I would imagine that this concern remained rather acute after Jakarta demolished in Eastern Indonesia the federal structure, agreed upon at the Round Table Conference, with violence, and a low level guerrilla war rumbled on until the capture and execution of the Ambonese 'rebel' Dr Soumokil. It could thus easily imagine that the Dutch were in cahoots with the 'rebels' there and might use its base in West Papua for military action.

Lijphart also commented on the Indonesian belief that the Dutch wanted to hold on to West Papua for economic reasons. He wrote:

The interdependence in Indonesian minds of the West Irian issue and Dutch economic domination is striking; since the Dutch are out for economic profits in Indonesia, this must be one of their major reasons for holding on to New Guinea. In spite of conclusive evidence to the contrary, The Indonesian Spectator asserted in 1957 that the Dutch regarded West Irian as “a land of unexploited plenty”.’ (ibid)

Finally, the point that another reason for holding on to the island was the opportunity it offered for scientific research, gives rather too much honour to the politicos of 1949 and after who played a role in this affair. If that had been their motivation they would have been better off remaining on good terms with the Indonesian government, because Indonesia as a whole offered far greater opportunities for the continuation of traditional lines of Dutch research than did West Papua.

I believe that the obvious deficiency in Dr Aditjondro's account is that he (and with him other Indonesian commentators) gives far too little weight to emotional factors and yet these played a big role in this matter - as they did on the Indonesian side. Some of the emotions concerned were mainly negative, particularly the aversion against some of the Indonesian politicians, especially Sukarno, and the desire to hold on to a bit of empire now the main chunk of it had disappeared. But others had a more positive cast. There was shame and rage about the fact that the Dutch could, in the newly created situation, not offer any substantial assistance to groups that were regarded as ‘loyal’ to the old regime, particularly the Ambonese and Menadonese, and that they could not honour the promises they had made since the 1946 Conference of Linggajati about self determination of these and other groups. ‘Protecting’ the rights of the Papuans offered some compensation for this impotence.

In view of the Indonesian inclination to see the Dutch pre-occupation with Papuan self determination as merely a cynical cloak for their selfish designs I can not stress too strongly that this is in my view a gross misconception.

This idea seems to me to be rooted in the traditional Indonesian Java-centric misconception about Dutch concern with federalism in the last days of the Netherlands Indies. This was mainly interpreted as a device for the Dutch to keep a finger in the pie after independence. It was probably that too but not only that. The federalist idea was also rooted in the traditional Dutch idea of Indonesia as a congerie of ethnic and cultural groups that found some unity in the colonial administrative apparatus (only some unity because the administration in Java and that in the so-called ‘Outer Regions’ were organised on different principles). I am aware that there is in Indonesia a tendency to refer to the formula divide et impera to indicate the motive behind this mode of thought. I am familiar with this argument but I have always had some trouble with it. It seems to me that in order to set out to divide something it has to be a unity in the first place. One could hardly blame the Dutch for not being able to conceive of Indonesia as a unity before Indonesians themselves started to think along these lines. As said, the only unity the Dutch could see was that of the colonial state they had created – and, especially now, it seems to become increasingly clear that that was not an unrealistic mode of thought, which does of course not take away the fact that it suited their purpose of staying on top as well. A 'civil service state', as colonial Indonesia was, can hardly be organised otherwise than along hierarchical and centralistic lines. A 'democratic' (as Indonesia then intended to be) independent state is a different project altogether. One didn’t have to be Dutch to believe that a federal state would be the most appropriate one in Indonesia's circumstances. So wrote Brian Crozier:

It is arguable that most of the Indonesian Republic’s troubles go back to a single act of misguided nationalistic defiance. If ever geography ought to have dictated a country’s constitution, that country is Indonesia... how else but under a federal system could such a country be governed? The Dutch grasped this essential fact - and perhaps too well – and at the time of transfer to the sovereignty of the Republic, in December 1949, the federal Indonesian state consisted of sixteen partner-states and autonomous territories. A smaller number would have sufficed, for administrative efficiency, but the principle was sound. To the Indonesian nationalists, however, the federal structure of the State they had taken over was merely an instrument of Dutch imperialism, a perfect example of the old imperial principle of ‘divide and rule’ (quoted in Friedericy, HJ, 1961, De bevolking van Nederlands Indie en het Nederlands gezag in het decennium voor de Japanse invasie - The population of the Netherlands Indies and Dutch authority in the decade before the Japanese invasion - in Baudet, H and Brugmans, LJ, op cit).

The federalist idea also came naturally to the Dutch because their own state had had from the beginning a more or less federalist organisation through the so-called ‘Unie van Utrecht’ (the late Professor Logemann, who taught law both in pre-war Indonesia and in post-war Holland, once discussed the question how a ‘councils republic’ like pre-nineteenth century Holland could have spawned a more or less centralist colonial administration; he thought that the organisation of the navy had as a model originally much to do with this). Dutch political history of the nineteenth century revolves partly around the attempt to regain this ‘federalist’ set up after the centralising policies of King William I. If a ‘federalism’ of sorts seemed a natural set up for such a tiny country as the Netherlands, this should hold a fortiori for an independent vast archipelago state as Indonesia.

To be continued


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Anatomy of post colonialism?

I suppose it's possible to draw a tentative conclusion that Arie Brand is presenting WD readers with an anatomy or case history micro of a macro problem that has bedevilled vast areas of the world: the phenomena of post colonialism.

As I understand the presented symptoms relating to lack of preparedness for independence conform to the set in place elswhere in former Western colonies throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, post WW2. After conquest, conquering powers had dismantled previous political and administrative systems with ones amenable to the colonising nation's needs. The participation of most locals in the new system was limited to the bit parts offered by coolie or coerced plantation labour, or as canon fodder for Western military.

Naturally, local culture providing a rallying point for the colonised had been an early target for the given colonising power, leaving an alien western culture and its techniques as all that remained. The resulting subaltern class hardly represented a conception of "culturedness" against the ideological example of the new Sahibs, Bwanas or Meinheers.

As much as possible given the need for lower level clerical workers, education remained almost solely the preserve of Europeans as the locals were left dependent on the coloniser for administration, law, technology, the miracles of European health, economic planning and defence/subjugation. Old systems and how to run them were forgotten.

But enough subalterns, out of necessity for the needs of the colonisers were educated and after the WW2 defeats of colonisers, these tried to fill the vaccuum left by the absent colonisers, who perversely still tried to regain control in many colonies after WW2. But the lack of skilled and experienced professional people after independence, as Westerners withdrew, seems usually to have left new nations unable to accomplish what has been needed for their people.

Nothing remarkable in what I say.

The places are unstable. But they are not unstable due to any essential inferiority in the people. Rather they represent the damage done by colonialism that creates instability through lack of trained people and lack of self-confidence. The problems have been exacerbated by neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, as greedy bigger powers and trans national corporations have egregiously interfered, including violently, in pursuit of their own narrow objectives. The Congo, Middle-East, Vietnam and algeria and so forth come to mind.

So the sort of overcompensation and even bombast that emanates from places like Sudan, Iran or Indonesia becomes comprehensible. The leaders are slowly learning the art of government under difficult conditions and appear clumsy. They are thin-skinned in their sensitivity to accusations of brutality, incompetence and venality. But then so are our leaders too, sometimes. And I also remember cringing in embarrassment at the patronising series of public lectures Howard gave Megawati over so-called terrorism before Bali, four or five years ago!

I believe our government was correct in intervening over East Timor, due to "system failure" creating the likelihood of a humanitarian bloodbath and also right also to grant the West New Guinean refugees asylum. But had a more relevant system of federation been instituted and given adequate time to consolidate itself beforehand (by a less ignorant and neglectful West?), as suggested by Arie Brand, the ethnic, cultural and religious divisions and resulting bloodshed and loss of productivity would not have been aggravated to the detriment of all of the archipelago since the departure of the Dutch. But this too follows the usual trend in places like Africa also.

As concerning the developing world, the laziness and insensitivity of developed countries over generations represents shameful evidence as to our boastful claims of "civilisation" as well as an ongoing abandonment of historical, moral and humanitarian responsibilities.

indonesian administrative elite

"As I understand the presented symptoms relating to lack of preparedness for independence conform to the set in place elswhere in former Western colonies throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, post WW2. After conquest, conquering powers had dismantled previous political and administrative systems with ones amenable to the colonising nation's needs"

Paul, I will limit myself here to a single remark. In Java, the heartland of Indonesia, the Dutch did not destroy the indigenous administrative elite but used it to their advantage. They put their own administrative apparatus beside and above it. However this Indonesian aristocracy lost its power in the Indonesian nationalist revolution in which a group of educated, in many cases (Sukarno, Hatta, Sjahrir for starters) academically trained 'homines novi' pushed aside the 'compromised' old one.

As particularly the American Indonesianist Herbert Feith has pointed out, in this respect the development in Indonesia was different from that in Malaysia where the old elite remained largely in place.

Indonesian federalism and death squads

After the colonial war fought between the Dutch and the Indonesian nationalists, the UN brokered a peace under which an independent country called The United States of Indonesia was set up with a federal constitution, much power vested in the provincial  governments, and a relatively weak central government. As Brian Crozier noted in the apposite quotation cited by Arie Brand, "If ever geography ought to have dictated a country’s constitution, that country is Indonesia... how else but under a federal system could such a country be governed?"

Retaining control of the army under the federal constitution, Sukarno lost no time in dumping federalism in favour of The Republic of Indonesia, with all the power that mattered centred on his government in Jakarta. The rest is history.

What we now have is an empire masquerading as a nation, with the (largely self-funded) armed forces hovering in the background as an alternative state, and ever ready to take power again in their own right. The natural modus operandi of the military in the more rebellious outposts of this sprawling Javanese Empire is one of rule by terror, with the odd massacre wherever deemed necessary, and in the case of West Papua, military personnel operating on the side as death squads. (See article in The Age this morning.)

This policy wiped out about 200 000 East Timorese, but in the long run did the Empire no good at all. West Papua promises to be another running sore, which can only be healed through a genuine act of self-determination on the part of indigenous West Papuans. Thanks to the level of PR management skill the Indonesian military has shown to date, there can only be one outcome of that when it finally happens.

An excellent and timely series of articles.

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