Thursday, December 22, 2011
Dutch expat's shame over late apologies for Rawagede massacre. Wiedergutmachung für die Witwen in Rawagede
Published on : 13 December 2011 - 4:47pm | By claire wilson (Photo: RNW/ Michel Maas)
The footage of Dutch ‘Wiedergutmachung’ in Rawagede has rubbed some Dutch expats the wrong way. Claire Wilson in Malaysia feels deeply embarrassed by the late apologies and the meagre 20,000 euros’ worth of compensation for the six remaining next of kin; received from the hands of a flower petal strewing Dutch ambassador.
Seeing a photograph of a relative of one of the victims of the Rawagede massacre was an exercise in humility for me. On 9 December 1947, Dutch troops entered the Indonesian village of Rawagede and killed 431 men and boys. Humility, because the next of kin (the last survivor died six months ago) showed the Dutch government what inner refinement means without uttering a single word. What it does not mean is making a ‘noble’ 20,000-euro gesture to assuage your conscience.
The Dutch government is always eager to point its finger at other countries and show them the errors of their ways. On 9 December 2011, that same government showed it did not understand how corny the one-man show put up by Ambassador Tjeerd de Zwaan really was, clumsily strewing flower petals on the victims’ rudimentary graves.
Was there really absolutely nobody in the Dutch government or among the embassy staff who asked whether the next of kin - in addition to the 20,000 euros - might like a headstone on the graves of their loved ones? What the Netherlands did in 1947 was horrific. And what the Dutch government failed to do 64 years later was unforgiveable and a cause for acute embarrassment among Dutch people abroad who are able to distinguish right from wrong.
Wanti Sariman, one of the six surviving next of kin, was 26 and pregnant with her second child when her husband Tarman was shot dead by Dutch soldiers in Rawagade. She, and the other next of kin, have shown the Dutch government in the years following the massacre what inner refinement means, something that neither the 1947 government nor any of the succeeding Dutch governments possessed.
Some among you may blame me for being bitter, for seeing problems where there are none. But I know all too well, from my own experience, what war does to a person, what it smells like, feels like and what it looks like. As a child, I saw with my own eyes what some people can do to – innocent – others.
Maybe the Dutch government thought it was doing the right thing when it made Tjeerd de Zwaan walk through gravel, strewing flower petals on the victims’ graves from a reed basket. Fact is that thanks to the television footage the whole world now knows there is blood on that pointing finger, and has been for decades.
No Dutch government has ever made even the slightest attempt to prosecute the soldiers who carried out the massacre. In spite of a UN report which characterised the attack on Rawagede as ‘intentional and merciless’. The report was published back in 1948.
Only in 1968 did the Netherlands admit that violent excesses had occurred in Indonesia, which it then sought to belittle by arguing they were actually ‘police actions’ provoked by guerillas. In practice, these actions meant to arrest, line up and execute unarmed men and boys; put the dogs on those who manage to escape into the plantation and shoot them to let them bleed to death in the muddy swamp water.
To us, elderly Dutch citizens living abroad, it came as a shock to hear and read about this massacre, to see the photographs. Many of us lived through World War II, and later watched the ships return from the Dutch East Indies packed with Dutch soldiers and their Indonesian girlfriends and wives. Dutch history has many black pages. The courageous women from Rawagede on Friday simply said: 'We close this chapter'.
We should be grateful to God that these next of kin were still alive to get that closure.
Dutch expat Claire Wilson
Claire (70) and her Australian husband live on top of a mountain in the federal state of Penang in Malaysia. They travel a lot, and Claire loves to write, paint and fuss over her orchids, which she grows on her balcony which offers a view of the Malacca Straits. Claire characterises herself as a ‘late bloomer’.
Dutch 'police actions'
The Dutch East Indies were occupied by Japan in March 1942. After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, nationalist leader Sukarno proclaimed Indonesian independence from the Netherlands. In 1947 and 1948-1949 Dutch forces carried out two seperate operations against nationalist forces in an attempt to restore Dutch rule over its former colony. The Dutch authorities call the military operations the 'police actions'. Eventually - as a result of huge pressure from the United States – the Netherlands was forced to recognise Indonesian independence in December 1949. About 150,000 Indonesians and 6,000 Dutch were killed in the fighting.