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Symposium ‘Conflict and conscience: the Indonesian decolonization and the uncomfortable past of the Netherlands’ (also in Dutch)

10/12/2014 @ 14:00 - 18:00

(Nederlandse versie …>>) On 19 June 2012, an op-ed article was published in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, in which KITLV, NIMH and NIOD advocated for a thorough investigation of Dutch military operations in Indonesia, 1945-1950. A request for additional funding was rejected by the Rutte-II government in August 2012. The three research institutes consequently had to halt the collaborative research project. KITLV decided to continue, on a modest scale, from its own resources.

Frequently the decolonization war in Indonesia surfaces in media coverage, often causing emotional debates. There is a clear social and political demand for a thoroughly researched account of the Dutch military operations. Not only would this sharpen our view of our own history, but it also impacts on Dutch legitimacy in the international political arena, where Dutch governments expressly voice their concerns in debates about human rights and humanitarian conflict management.

On 10 December 2014, KITLV organizes an afternoon with lectures and a debate, where we share the developments from our research, and where we discuss the use and need for further historical research. Lectures will be given by Christian Gerlach (University of Bern), Remco Raben (Utrecht University), Abdul Wahid (Gadjah Mada University Yogyakarta) and Gert Oostindie (director KITLV). Participating in the debate, moderated by Marjan Schwegman (director NIOD), will be: Nicolaos van Dam (former ambassador to Indonesia), Cees Fasseur (prof. em. Leiden University), Piet Kamphuis (director NIMH), Wim Manuhutu (former director Moluccan Museum) and Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (Member of Parliament for D66).

The first half of the afternoon is in English. The introduction by Gert Oostindie and the subsequent debate are in Dutch. During the symposium in the National Ethnological Museum, a photo exhibition will open by photographer Suzanne Liem with photos of ‘the Widows of Rawagede’. Click here for more information on the exhibition ‘the Widows of Rawagede’ …>>

Available places are limited, your registration by e-mail to [email protected] is required.

More information on the project ‘Dutch Military Operations in Indonesia, 1945-1950’ …>>

Part I: The Netherlands and Indonesia in comparative perspective
Time: 14:00-16:00
Language: English

13:30–14:00    Registration

14:00–14:10    Welcome and introduction

14:10–15:00    Christian Gerlach: ‘Famine and insurgency around 1945: the cases of Indonesia, Indochina and Greece’

In his lecture, Christian Gerlach puts the war of independence in Indonesia 1945-49 in a broader perspective. He examines connections between rapid social mobility in the context of famines, political discontent and insurgency. Such developments occurred in several countries at the end of World War II. While processes within Indonesian, Vietnamese and Greek societies are in the center of the analysis, some attention will also be given to comparing the violent responses to these uprisings by colonial or occupation forces.

15:00–15:20    Remco Raben: ‘Descent into violence: the one or the many? Connecting Indonesian and Dutch murderousness in Indonesia’s revolution’

15:20–15:40    Abdul Wahid: ‘Coming to terms with a “violent and emotional past”: Indonesian perspectives on the decolonization war and its long-term legacies’

15:40–16:00    Discussion, followed by coffee break

Part II: Discussion ‘From heated debates to cold feet?’
Time: 16:15–17:30
Language: Dutch

Why has it taken so long before the war of decolonization in Indonesia could actually be called a war? And why is it that for decades, Dutch politics has found it difficult to speak about this subject? The answers seems obvious: heated emotions among military circles and veterans, a certain sense of shame among politicians, and more recently the political priority to preserve favorable relations with Indonesia. But isn’t the Dutch hesitancy in confronting its past not meanwhile merely a case of cold feet?

These questions will be discussed by:
Nicolaos van Dam, former ambassador to Indonesia and an expert on Middle Eastern politics and culture
Cees Fasseur, professor emeritus of Leiden University, and as an employee of the Ministry of Justice co-responsible for drafting the Excessennota (1969)
Piet Kamphuis, director Netherlands Institute for Military History
Wim Manuhutu, owner MANU2U and former director of the Moluccan Historical Museum (Utrecht)
Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, Member of Parliament for D66, spokesman on foreign affairs

The debate will be moderated by Marjan Schwegman (director NIOD) and introduced by Gert Oostindie (directeur KITLV).

Afterwards you are warmly invited to join us for drinks at the restaurant of the National Ethnological Museum.


Christian Gerlach is professor of modern history at the University of Bern (Switzerland). He has written extensively on genocide and the Holocaust. In his most recent book, Extremely violent societies: mass violence in the twentieth-century world (2010), he approaches violence from a comparative perspective. He demonstrates that the causes of extreme violence are rarely singular, but rather always complex and multiple. He shows that many different social groups each in their way contribute to a society entering a violent state.

Remco Raben is associate professor of non-Western history at Utrecht University. His publications cover the entire period of Dutch colonialism and its legacy. He is currently working on a book dealing with the ‘long decolonization’ (1920-1960) of Indonesia.

Abdul Wahid is university lecturer at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He was awarded his PhD for a dissertation on the reform of the colonial taxation system in Indonesia. He is currently conducting research into Indonesia’s ways of dealing with its violent past, both during the ‘Indonesian revolution’ and afterwards.

Gert Oostindie is director of KITLV and professor of history at Leiden University. He has published extensively on comparative Caribbean studies and on Dutch colonial history, decolonization, and post-colonial migration. At KITLV, among other duties, he supervises the research project ‘Dutch military operations in Indonesia, 1945-1950’.



14:00 - 18:00




Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde
Steenstraat 1
Leiden, Netherlands
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