This page contains additional information about the research programme and answers a number of frequently asked questions. The following list will be continually updated during the research. If you have any other questions, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Background and content of the research
a. How has this research come about?
As a result of recurring media reports about war crimes by Dutch military personnel, the lawsuits brought by the Foundation Committee of Dutch Debts of Honour (Stichting Comité Nederlandse Ereschulden, KUKB) on behalf of surviving relatives of victims against the State of the Netherlands and the subsequent apologies made by the Dutch government to the Javanese village of Rawagede, KITLV, NIMH and NIOD called in 2012 for broad research into actions by Dutch military personnel in Indonesia and the aftermath of this (opinion piece in de Volkskrant newspaper dated 19 June of that year). This call was taken up by the media and was for the most part positively received. It also led to questions in Parliament. In its response, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's first government stated that it did not see any necessity for a government directive, but that it also had no objections of principle to the research.
In August 2012, KITLV, NIMH and NIOD submitted a research proposal and a request for co-financing to the government. During the budget debate by his department on 19 December 2012, Minister for Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans announced on behalf of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's second government that the request for additional financial resources would not be honoured. The minister stated that this was because further consultation had made it clear to him that Indonesia would not support this research, which meant that the desired international embedding would be absent. The three institutions then decided to stop the preparations for a joint research project into Dutch military violence in Indonesia between 1945 and 1950 but, where possible, to keep the subject on their own research agenda.
Gert Oostindie (KITLV) published the book Soldaat in Indonesië [Soldier in Indonesia] (2015) based on research drawn from personal texts of Indië-veterans. Numerous publications by investigative journalists came out at the same time. The thesis De brandende kampongs van Generaal Spoor [The Burning Kampongs of General Spoor] (2016) by the Dutch-Swiss historian Rémy Limpach (NIMH) attracted even more attention. After extensive investigation of source material, Limpach concluded that the use of extreme violence by Dutch military personnel against Indonesians was widespread, formed a structural part of the military operations by Dutch armed forces and, furthermore, was frequently covered up by military and civilian authorities.
With reference to Limpach's conclusions and following questions addressed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte to Indonesian president Widodo – who stated that he had no objection to such research – the government decided at the end of 2016 to finance extensive and independent research into the decolonization war fought in Indonesia. The government asked KITLV, NIMH and NIOD to come up with a research proposal; the proposal submitted by the three institutes was subsequently honoured.
b. What is the aim of this research and for whom is it intended?
In general terms, it is important for each country to reflect on its past: what events preceded our present, what has shaped us into what we are? In recent decades, this has been discussed with increasing frequency in a broad social context, which has also focused more and more attention on colonial history – partly through migrants from the former colonies and their descendants – as a significant part of national history. Reflection on the decolonization war in Indonesia is part of this trend. Therefore, broad research into this not only serves a scientific goal, but also a social one.
The intention is to write a historiography that does justice to various perspectives and presents the period from 1945 to 1950 within its colonial context. The research has no involvement in (ongoing) lawsuits and claims for compensation. However, it will obviously explicitly raise questions of responsibility and blame – from the level of political decision-making to the level of individual acts of war.
In addition to the scientific community, the outcomes of the research are primarily intended for Dutch society. This applies in particular to groups that feel closely tied to this history – such as people of Dutch East Indian or Moluccan descent, veterans and their children and grandchildren – but also to everyone who questions the colonial past of the Netherlands. Some of the publications in this project will be in Indonesian or English and may therefore play a role in Indonesian reflections on this past; however, that is not an objective of the project.
c. Isn’t this research much too late?
Yes, this large-scale research is late. Reflecting on the colonial past and, in particular, the decolonization war in Indonesia now has a much higher priority than before, both socially and scientifically. How and why this priority has shifted, is an important question posed by the Societal aftermath project.
Obviously, it would have been better if the research had started earlier, preferably when far more witnesses were still alive. Within the research programme, the Witnesses & Contemporaries sub-project focuses specifically on collecting the experiences of people who were involved who are still alive in the Netherlands, Indonesia and, potentially, other countries. Oral or written testimonies that have already been recorded, such as the collections of the Oral History Project on Indonesia (Stichting Mondelinge Geschiedenis Indonesië, SMGI), the Interview Collection of Dutch Veterans (Interview Project Nederlandse Veteranen, IPNV) and the National Archives of Indonesia (Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, ANRI) are being surveyed and incorporated into the research.
d. Have there not been enough investigations and publications already?
No, many questions have still not been answered or not conclusively and, in social terms, this is still a hot topic. The different parts of the research will raise new research questions, confront old assumptions with new findings and focus – more than was previously the case – on a range of sources and perspectives. This will build up a more thorough and diverse image of this period. The results of this research may help reduce the frequency with which unfounded opinions are put forward in debates.
Recent research – such as that carried out by Rémy Limpach – demonstrates that Dutch military personnel (including members of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger, KNIL)) used extreme violence on a wide scale during the decolonization war. At the same time, there are still many unanswered questions about the nature, scope and causes of this violence. It is also possible that new cases will be uncovered. In addition, it is important that the operation of the military courts, the intelligence services and also the Bersiap period are investigated systematically because this has never been done before. We expect to gain fresh insights by using international sources and testimonies, and by working together with Indonesian researchers, too. Including on the question of why so much time has passed without an investigation into the explosions of violence.
e. Could, and should, the three institutes not have carried out this research themselves before now?
Yes, in hindsight, it is clear that KITLV, NIMH and NIOD themselves could and should have carried out research into this period at an earlier stage and on a wider scale. But that is not to say that they did not carry out any research. A number of influential studies on decolonization and war, which now serve as a basis for further research, were published by researchers from the three institutes. Moreover, the institutes have established and produced important source collections in recent decades – including collections of interviews – which are of vital importance for the research. Obviously, the institutes also had to carry out other research, which was governed by different priorities. This shows that their research agenda was and will continue to be determined in part by society. The government financing that has now been obtained means that, for the first time, there is space for a thorough investigation of the decolonization war jointly and in collaboration with Indonesian historians.
a. He who pays the piper calls the tune: is the government attaching conditions to the payment?
No, this is independent research; although it is being financed by the government, they have no control over it. Nor is it a government assignment. With reference to Limpach's conclusions, the government decided on 2 December 2016 to finance extensive and independent research into the decolonization war in Indonesia. KITLV, NIMH and NIOD formulated a research proposal in response to this, which had already been outlined in 2012. This proposal was discussed with the government and ultimately honoured.
The subsidy decision states explicitly that the three institutes will carry out the research independently, with no involvement whatsoever from the sponsor. In this research programme as well, they will comply with the requirements of independent scientific practice. The KITLV and NIOD are institutes that are part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, KNAW). The NIMH is part of the Ministry of Defence, but is an independent institute that carries out historical research and publishes its findings in accordance with the applicable scientific standards. This independence means that NIMH's publications are not covered by ministerial responsibility. Of course, the management of the research programme shall be financially accountable, as is customary for all subsidised projects. An independent international Scientific Advisory Board has been convened, which will assess the scientific quality of the research proposals and the results during the programme.
b. What is the relationship between the research and the legal proceedings against the Dutch state?
The only relationship is that the legal action taken by Indonesian widows against the Dutch state, combined with recurrent reports in the media, were what led to the three institutes calling for a wide-ranging study in 2012. The KITLV-NIMH-NIOD study is separate to the historical verification study relating to the claims made by affected Indonesian individuals and surviving relatives against the Dutch state. The NIMH is carrying out this historical verification study at the request of the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs due to the expertise the institute has in terms of the decolonization war and related source materials. For this study, which is being carried out independently and in line with scientific standards and guidelines, as much information as possible is being gathered about the specific events described in the claims. For this, sources at Dutch archival institutions and institutes that administer collections are being consulted, along with literature. The NIMH will be placing its findings within the historical context. It will refrain from taking any legal position. The NIMH’S research results will be taken into consideration by the court as it hears and gives its opinion on the claims. The assertion that claims will not be heard while the KITLV-NIMH-NIOD study is being carried out is incorrect.
3. Structure and method of the research
a. How is the distribution of the sub-projects between the institutes determined?
The responsibility for the research programme as a whole is undivided between the three institutes. For reasons of content, sub-projects are formulated, which are distributed based on the expertise of the three individual institutes. Specialities of the KITLV include Indonesia and post-colonial topics, so it has taken leadership of the Bersiap, Regional studies and Societal aftermath projects. The NIMH has expertise in military history. Therefore, it is handling the Asymmetric warfare sub-project. As it has extensive experience with witness projects and research into politico-administrative issues, the Witnesses & Contemporaries and Politico-administrative context projects have been assigned to the NIOD.
b. What is the status of the project proposals that are on the website?
The project proposals will be revised and refined on an ongoing basis during the research. All scientific research involves continuous reflection on the research questions, which are adjusted as new information is discovered or as a result of discussions about the research. In addition, the cooperation with the Indonesian researchers, the Scientific Advisory Board and the Dutch Social Resonance Group, as well as workshops, debates and seminars, provide new input that is incorporated into the research.
c. Why is separate attention being paid to the Bersiap period?
The Bersiap was a short but intense period of violence at the start of the war of independence, so it is an integral part of the research programme. Research into this period was therefore already part of the proposal in 2012. The Bersiap is even more important in the Dutch context, in view of the high demand for clarity about this period in the Dutch East Indian community. Furthermore, the Bersiap is a complex period that is still the subject of many ambiguities and myths. The research will place this period in the wider context of the power vacuum and the violence carried out in the first phase of the Indonesian revolution and in the context of political developments which had already taken place before the Japanese occupation in colonial society.
d. How will the researchers keep in contact with relevant groups in society?
A Dutch Social Resonance Group has been established, representing seven Dutch umbrella organizations that are focused on remembrance and memorialization, and/or on the Dutch East Indian and the veteran community. Regular consultations are held with this resonance group about the structure and implementation of the research, the public activities to be organised, and the responses from society. In consultation with Indonesian partners, we are currently examining how thoughts can also be exchanged in Indonesia (and/or with Indonesian groups in the Netherlands) about the research programme.
e. Will the results of the research be shared in the interim?
The programme regularly organises public seminars and debates, some of which are in cooperation with other organizations. In addition, scientific conferences will be held during the research, both in the Netherlands and in Indonesia. For instance, an international conference will be organised in 2019 at the NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences), where comparisons will be drawn between different decolonization wars.
f. What will the final research report look like?
Most of the nine sub-sections of the research will result in one or more publications in September, 2021 (see the work programme). The Dutch researchers will frequently publish articles and books in both Dutch and English. The Indonesian research group will issue its own publications and will work with Dutch colleagues to contribute to collections of articles.
A synthesis of the research programme will also be published. Rather than being a definitive historiography of the period being studied, this synthesis is a summary study based on the most important findings and results of the sub-sections of the research. The synthesis will endeavour to answer the most important questions about decolonization policy, violence and war, with a focus on (the clarification of) Dutch military action. Ample attention will be paid to the historical, political and international context, and the aftermath of the war. All researchers involved – including the Indonesian ones – and the members of the Scientific Advisory Board will have input into, and will discuss, the contents of the synthesis, which will therefore be the product of a collective scientific process. The synthesis will be written by KITLV director Gert Oostindie and published in Dutch, Indonesian and English.
4. The cooperation with Indonesia
a. What form does the cooperation with Indonesia take?
This involves a scientific cooperation between historians in the Netherlands and Indonesia. The department of History at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta plays a central role here. UGM has formed an Indonesian research group, comprising scientists from various Indonesian universities and from various regions. This research group will cooperate with the Dutch research group for the Bersiap and Regional studies sub-projects. The Indonesian researchers will develop their own research agenda as part of this. They will publish independently and will also contribute to collections of articles, along with their Dutch colleagues. The researchers from the other seven sub-projects will also cooperate with Indonesian colleagues on an individual basis.
b. Where can more information be found about the Indonesian researchers and their research plan?
The research project in Indonesia is carried out by 15 Indonesian historians under the auspices of Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta. For further information please contact UGM.
c. How do the Indonesian and Dutch research agendas relate to each other?
As stated, this research programme is primarily Dutch research with an emphasis on Dutch actions in a broad context. The Bersiap and Regional studies sub-projects, which are cooperations between Dutch and Indonesian researchers, are expected to produce a fruitful exchange of sources, ideas and perspectives. The Indonesian research group is drawing up its own research agenda and is responsible for carrying it out. All aspects of the research process will involve intensive cooperation between scientists in both countries.
d. What is the added value of the cooperation?
The added value of the cooperation is that sources and perspectives can be compared and a dialogue initiated between Indonesian and Dutch historians about the period from 1945 to 1950. A joint approach and intensive mutual consultation are valuable tools in developing greater mutual understanding. This is essential for a balanced analysis of the complex decolonization period. Exchanging and comparing sources (such as archives, publications and testimonies) is expected to produce new empirical material. But this approach will also make the underlying dynamic visible: how parties learned from each other (or not), how perspectives on events differed at the time and how this was subsequently translated into divergent historiographic traditions and strongly divergent processes of canonization that are still ongoing today.
5. How will you handle critical discussions and comments in the media and on social media?
Criticism can highlight omissions and pitfalls, so it is always welcome. This will keep the programme and the researchers on their toes, so the researchers will be happy to keep in contact with critics. In addition, the research programme will keep in touch with society through the Dutch Social Resonance Group, and the Witnesses & Contemporaries project will play an important role in drawing attention to questions and any dissatisfaction among the target groups that feel involved in the subject.