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Papuan self-determination - Historical roots IV

Part IV of Arie Brand's background history of West Papua / Irian Jaya, exclusive to Webdiary. See Part I, Part II and Part III.

by Arie Brand

The Linggajati Agreement

In the last months of 1946 the 'Commissie-Generaal', chaired by Van Mook, an Indonesian delegation of two, with Sutan Sjahrir (then Prime-Minister in the 'core' Republic) and an English observer came together in the village Linggajati near Cheribon (Tjirebon).

The Agreement reached there seemed to augur well for future Dutch-Indonesian relations. It was decided that the future United States of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands would form a Union with the Dutch sovereign as its nominal head. The principle of self-determination (though at that preliminary stage not specifically for Papua) was fully honoured, particularly in Article 3 which stated that if the population of a specific region would make it known 'in a democratic fashion' that it did not or not yet want to join the United States of Indonesia, a special relation to those states and the Kingdom of the Netherlands would be created for it.

This agreement created a 'storm of indignation' in Holland. Not specifically because of Papua - about which the great majority of Dutch people knew at that stage very little and cared less - but because the whole thing was seen as a sellout. The fact that Java and Sumatra, the most important islands, had been recognised, rather against the facts on the ground, as being under the de facto sovereignty of the infant Republic, did not go over well with a large part of the Dutch electorate.

It should be kept in mind here that some of the main leaders of the Indonesian Revolution, in the first place Sukarno, were under a cloud there. In Holland the trauma of the Second World War and the German occupation still had its after-effects. Sukarno, who had during the war years supported the Japanese, at any case in his speeches, 'with the rhetorical exaggeration characteristic for him' as Van Mook said, was seen there as an unreliable 'collaborator'. Many Dutch soldiers and the great majority of the European population in the Indies had during the war years had a hard time of it in Japanese camps. Also, the fact that Sukarno and Hatta had, in Saigon, a meeting with the Japanese commander in chief, Marshall Terauchi, a few weeks before the declaration of independence of the 17th August 1945, seemed suspicious. This could suggest that the creation of the 'Republic' was in fact a political manoeuvre, a last hurrah, of the Japanese. It is of course true that the 'Commission for the Preparation of the Independence of Indonesia' was formed under Japanese auspices.

In retrospect it seems rather silly, though, that Sukarno was called a 'collaborator'. A nationalist who had been imprisoned and exiled (within Indonesia) by the Dutch was not bound to loyalty to them, nor to the 'allied cause' for that matter. But that was not as things looked then to the majority of the Dutch.

There were of course other voices, especially on the left. So wrote Van Randwijk, who was editor in chief of the left wing weekly Vrij Nederland and who had the huge prestige of an erstwhile foreman in the Resistance:

In Batavia and Cheribon a few men were seated around a table. Three to four Dutchmen, an Englishman and two Indonesians. They found agreement and understood each other. Behind them two peoples observed them with rapt attention. There was less silence there than in the conference room. There was cheering but also shouting about 'treason'. Now they have arisen from that table and turned themselves to their people. Things are now up to you, they say. Not only to approve of this agreement but also to execute it... But other voices are heard in the Netherlands! Who plays a game for such high stakes as the opposition is doing in this country and is talking without reserve of 'treason, demolition and violation of one's oath', and calls the highest representative of the Republic (that we are on the verge of joining in a Union) - ie Sukarno AB - a criminal and a murderer, is beyond reconciliation and no discipline can be expected from him. (my translation, AB).

It is ironical though that the highest representative of the Republic the Dutch representatives were dealing with in Linggajati, Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir, had abused Sukarno in considerably harsher terms than that of 'collaborator' in the days before the proclamation of independence on 17th August 1945. He had called him a banci, a transvestite whore, for his weak attitude towards the Japanese. Sjahrir wanted no Japanese interference with that proclamation but he too could not prevent that the Japanese Admiral Maeda and his staff played a big role in the confusing events around it (Lambert Giebels, De Japanse handreiking - The helping hand of the Japanese - in Groene Amsterdammer, 16th August 1995). Sjahrir had always kept his distance from the Japanese though the Dutch had exiled him too before the war (in his case to Upper Digul in Papua).

Now this Agreement of Linggajati, reached with an Indonesian leader who had not been conciliatory with the Japanese but had shown himself to be so towards the Dutch, had to be discussed in a rather tense atmosphere in the Dutch parliament. Whatever people had said about a sellout, the Indonesians had at that stage agreed to two important things: the general principle of self-determination and a federal structure for Indonesia as a whole.

A few other things, beside the trauma left by the war, should be kept in mind to understand the tortuous politics on Indonesia of that time. The difference between the decolonisation of India and that of Indonesia has, as particularly Arend Lijphart has pointed out, a lot to do with the differences in the electoral system of respectively Britain and Holland. Holland's electoral system is based on proportional rather than district representation. No single party can ever gain a majority large enough to form a government. Thus the place has to be governed in ever changing coalitions, a fact that makes decision-making cumbersome. Moreover, some of the more important parties after the war, namely the Catholic People's Party (KVP) and the orthodox protestant Anti Revolutionary Party (ARP), had strong religious ties. They were very mindful of the interests of the Protestant and Catholic mission in Papua.

In these circumstances the Agreement of Linggajati had to be piloted through Dutch parliament.

To be continued.


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An act of free choice?

A report prepared for Down To Earth by M.Adriana Sri Adhiati and Armin Bobsien (ed.), July 2001:

Suharto's thirty- three year dictatorship stored up huge problems for Indonesia's future. They included the annexation and brutal occupation of West Papua, the invasion and reign of terror in East Timor, and long-term military repression in Aceh. The Suharto regime failed to create a pluralistic society to reflect the ethnic diversity of the archipelago. It’s corrupt and highly centralised economic system led to growing disparities in the distribution of land and wealth. In the power vacuum following the fall of Suharto in 1998, these problems resurfaced with vigorous intensity, leading to conflicts which – even when eventually resolved as in the case of East Timor – have created a climate of increasing uncertainty and political and regional instability in Indonesia. This instability has direct links with the transmigration programme and is also affecting its future direction.

Transmigration is not a new policy. Originally initiated under Dutch colonial rule during the early 20th century and taken over by the Indonesian Government after independence, transmigration had three main goals:

  • to move millions of Indonesians from the densely populated inner islands (Java, Bali, Madura) to the outer, less densely populated islands to achieve a more balanced demographic development;
  • to alleviate poverty by providing land and new opportunities to generate income for poor landless settlers;
  • to exploit more effectively the "potential" of the "outer islands".

Additional targets gained importance under General Suharto's "New Order" regime namely regional development, nation-building and national security. Under Suharto's rule transmigration increased dramatically and large numbers of people were resettled, mainly to Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Maluku and West Papua (Irian Jaya). Massive financial support from the World Bank, ADB and bilateral donors helped to boost the programme in the 1980s. The expansion of the programme alerted environmental and human rights critics both inside and outside Indonesia who revealed transmigration to be a development fraud and an environmental disaster.

To Australia’s shame we stood by and watched the Indonesian government take over West Papua and the world turn a blind eye to Indonesia’s disregard of human rights for the West Papuan people. When will we learn that you cannot enslave a population? The people of West Papua deserve a vote on their future they need a true and real “Act of free choice” A vote that is free from threat and violence.

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