12 Jan Blog: ‘A warm welcome’. The first Indonesian state visit to the Netherlands
By Tom van den Berge
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is expected to pay a state visit to the Netherlands this year. Visits by Indonesian presidents to the Netherlands have been accompanied by controversy and debate.
When in 2000 President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) paid a working visit to the Netherlands, he was welcomed at Schiphol Airport by demonstrating South Moluccans. They urged Gus Dur to put an end to Christian-Muslim violence in the Moluccas. Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) had planned a state visit to the Netherlands in 2010, he cancelled this at the last minute. The reason was that on the eve of SBY’s visit the South Moluccan government-in-exile had applied to a court in The Hague for the president’s arrest on charges of human rights abuses. Last year President Jokowi paid a working visit to the Netherlands. This induced activists to demonstrate for the right of self-determination for South Moluccans and to protest against human rights abuses in West Papua.
The most controversial visit however, was the first Indonesian state visit to the Netherlands, in 1970, by President Suharto who was held responsible for the murder of hundreds and thousands of his fellow-countrymen only a few years earlier.
On 22 July 1970 the radio news broadcast announced that Queen Juliana had invited President Suharto to make a state visit to the Netherlands in September that year. The announcement immediately caused vigorous protests from various groups in Dutch society. These included representatives of the Republic of South Maluku and the Committee Suharto Undesirable.
In August 1970 leftist scholars and writers set up the Committee Soeharto Ongewenst (Suharto Undesirable). It protested vigorously against the president’s visit. Suharto had built his New Order regime ‘on the corpses of hundreds and thousands of Indonesians’. The committee organised a demonstration in Amsterdam that was attended by some 4,000 people. The slogans on the banners they carried with them read ‘Suharto 250.000 murders’ and ‘No support for the military regime’. Along the way they yelled ‘Suharto undesirable’ and ‘Suharto murderer’.
The president-in-exile of the Republic of South Maluku, ir. Manusama, stated that the South Moluccans were not against Suharto’s visit. They demanded a meeting between the two presidents. If Suharto refused talks to Manusama they would prepare a ‘warm welcome’ for the Indonesian president. President Manusama kept silent upon what that was supposed to mean, but he assured people that kidnapping Suharto was out of the question.
No kidnapping then… but on 31 August more than thirty armed South Moluccan youngsters occupied the Indonesian ambassador’s residence. They killed one police officer and took fifteen hostages. The youngsters demanded that President Suharto should start talks with their President Manusama. After twelve hours however, the occupation was lifted thanks to the intervention of a South Moluccan clergyman.
Accepting the Queen’s invitation
The hostage-taking incident being resolved, President Suharto’s security advisers still recommended him not to leave for the Netherlands. Suharto, who had already twice postponed his visit, gave them to understand that he could now safely accept the Queen’s invitation. Moreover, a survey of Dutch opinions about the president’s visit to the Netherlands showed that only nine percent of the interviewees had voted against it.
So, on 3 September, Suharto, accompanied by eight Dutch Lockheed Starfighters, landed in his red presidential aircraft at a military air base near The Hague.
A warm welcome?
Almost half a century has passed since an Indonesian president paid a state visit to the Netherlands. Although Suharto’s dictatorship came to an end in 1998, under Jokowi’s democracy the mass killings of 1965-1966 and Moluccan and Papuan self-determination are anathema.
The coming visit might be expected to be less controversial, yet some of the same undercurrents and discussions about Indonesian history, and the Netherlands’ role in it, remain.
One may wonder what kind of ‘warm welcome’ President Joko Widodo can expect in the Netherlands this year.
Foto: Leeuwarder Courant, 2 September 1970.
(Tom van den Berge is a researcher at KITLV working on a biography of I.S. Kijne, 1899-1970, a Dutch missionary in New Guinea. He also works on the ‘Dutch Military Operations in Indonesia, 1945-1950’ project.)