Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Papuan self-determination - historical roots VII

By arie brand
Created 13/04/2006 - 09:54

Contents so far:

Part I Economically "worthless"? [0]
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland' [0]
Part III Strategic Considerations [0]
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement [0]
Part V The Round Table Conference [0]
Part VI 1950 -The first year test [0]

by Arie Brand

Dutch-Indonesian relations - From bad to worse

In Holland the New Guinea affair was in 1952 delegated to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luns, a man characterised by the Dutch left wing publicist Salomon (Sal) Tas as ‘thoroughly imbued by a jaunty Dutch chauvinism of centuries past‘ (Tas S 1974, Indonesia - the underdeveloped freedom, Indianapolis/New York, p220). The same author characterised Luns’s main opponent in this matter, President Sukarno, as a 'political pyromaniac’.

Are these characterisations fair? I am afraid they are. Tas was of course as a socialist not a political friend of the conservative catholic Luns with whom he only shared his violent anti-communism. Neither can he have been very fond of Sukarno who had thrown the Indonesian negotiator at Linggajati, then Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir, a personal friend of Tas (Sjahrir shared house with him in Holland and married Tas's ex) in jail without trial. Yet, taking these biases into account, one must still allow that Luns was too ready to cling to the flag and that Sukarno was, eh, fond of causing political conflagrations.

Ironically when Luns was accused of having personalised the issue and having sacrificed Dutch-Indonesian relations on the altar of Papua he fell back on the 'political pyromaniac' defence. He wrote:

I am … convinced that if Sukarno hadn't been there New Guinea wouldn't have been the bone of contention it actually became. It was a personal hobby of Sukarno. I am also convinced that if New Guinea had been ceded to Indonesia, Sukarno would have found some other pretext to have a conflict with the Netherlands, because Sukarno was after conflict. He found that necessary for the wholesale sovereignty of Indonesia and to demarcate it from the former colonial power (quoted in Gase, op cit, chapter 2 p5 - my translation AB.)

But was it Sukarno who maintained the conflict or the conflict that maintained Sukarno? Some observers, varying from the one-time American Ambassador to Indonesia, Howard Palfrey Jones, to ex-Dutch Prime Minister and High Commissioner in Indonesia, Louis Beel, have maintained the latter. The Papua issue, they say, was giving Sukarno his oxygen, kept him in the saddle and gave him wellnigh dictatorial powers. However this may be, conflict there was.

The various post 1950 Dutch-Indonesian conferences on the issue all stumbled on the Indonesian contention that Papua was already part of Indonesia because the 1945 proclamation of independence and the transfer of sovereignty at the Round Table Conference had included it. Various Indonesian attempts to get the General Assembly of the United Nations to discuss the issue all came to nothing. A Dutch offer to take the matter to the International Court of Justice was rejected by the Republic with the argument that it wasn't a legal but a political issue.

Relations between the Netherlands and Indonesia approached a nadir when between 1954 and 1956 the Jungschlager and Schmidt show trials were held in Jakarta. Two Dutch ex-military men were accused there of subversive activities against the Republic. These trials, now widely regarded as having been based on forged and sometimes ludicrous 'evidence', evoked a lot of emotion on both sides. Dramatic developments during the trials increased the tension. The Dutch defence lawyer had to flee the country mid-trial because the Indonesians threatened him with prosecution as well. When his wife, Mieke Bouman, who had been trained in classics but not in law took over the defence, Dutch newspapers followed her courageous performance day by day. When ultimately the prosecutor asked for the death penalty for Jungschlager this caused a lot of commotion, also internationally. This was deepened when Mieke Bouman had to be saved by a Dutch newspaperman from an Indonesian crowd around the court that seemed to be in a lynching mood. The court never decided on the matter because the victim suddenly died, allegedly of a brain haemorrhage. There was no autopsy. In the Netherlands flags went half-mast at the report of his death. The Dutch documentary television program 'Andere Tijden' (Other Times) recently referred to the belated acknowledgment of an Indonesian journalist named Anwar, who was editor in chief of an Indonesian newspaper at the time of the trials, that President Sukarno had ordered these trials to stir up the population against the Dutch. The Dutch had, of course, suspected this all along. It is unknown whether Sukarno managed to stir up many Indonesians outside Jakarta but he certainly stirred up the Dutch. Though the damage the Papua-issue was doing to Dutch-Indonesian relations was quite clear very few people demanded that the Government would negotiate with the 'unspeakable' Sukarno.

After further futile talks in Geneva the Indonesian government announced in February 1956 that it would unilaterally dissolve the Netherlands-Indonesian Union and that it would no longer adhere to the financial arrangements made at the Round Table Conference. In the following year all Dutch enterprises in Indonesia were nationalised and Dutch citizens still living in the country were required to leave. Though many Indo-Europeans had accepted Indonesian citizenship they now wanted their Dutch nationality back. Several hundred thousand of them fled to Holland.

How were things regarding this issue in Australia meanwhile? The Labor government, that had sympathised with Indonesia's struggle for independence, was defeated by the coalition in the elections of December 1949 and the Menzies government ‘had since then waged an exceedingly active diplomatic campaign in favour of the status quo in the territory’.(Feith H 1962, The decline of constitutional democracy in Indonesia, Cornell U.P.p.157).

Australian diplomatic efforts were inadvertently supported by Sukarno’s ‘principal lieutenant on Irian affairs’, Muhammad Yamin, who had been writing essays on the old Javanese empire of Majapahit that, according to him, not only included the whole of the former Netherlands East Indies but also Malaya, British Borneo and Portuguese Timor. According to Feith he also favored the inclusion of Australian New Guinea into Indonesian territory. That it was exactly he who became the spokesman of an Indonesian parliamentary mission, that had to expound Indonesia’s case on West Irian abroad, could not have helped the Indonesian case very much (Feith 1962, pp.159-160). In short, agreement was further away than ever.

To be continued

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