One of the issues with the existing historiography of the decolonisation and the Indonesian Revolution is the lack of a connection between the research traditions in both fields in general and more specifically the lack of dialogue between Indonesian and Dutch historians. The project ‘Regional Studies’ attempts to make this connection. By doing so in close cooperation, Indonesian and Dutch researchers will shed new light on the decolonization period through archives, publications and witness accounts from Indonesia and the Netherlands (and elsewhere when needed). The research and comparison of the above-mentioned corpus of sources will, we expect, not only render new empirical materials; it will also put into relief which dynamics connected various regions in Indonesia, how various parties and organisations learnt from each other (or did not), how contemporary witnesses held varied perspectives on what they experienced and, finally, how afterwards these were translated into various historiographical traditions and processes of canonisation that reverberate even today.
The leading question that animates this project revolves around the relationship between (in)stability of local authority and forms and extent of (practices of) violence during the period 1945-1950. The point of departure is that authority was fluid periodically and locally throughout the archipelago. The Republic of Indonesia held sway over large parts of Indonesia; areas that the Dutch, predominantly through two (euphemistically-called) ‘Police Actions’, encroached upon constantly. The result was that despite a growing nominal presence of Dutch power, limited military and administrative reach allowed ‘shadow administrations’, operated by the Republic and/or anti-colonial organisations that did or did not work together. Military and civilian administration was therefore often heavily challenged and fragile, but in different ways spatially and temporally. The question, then, is how this impacted the nature and level of violence on both sides of the divide and how the constant challenge to governance influenced the policy-making of all parties involved. Did those claiming authority on a regional level forcefully try to reign in practices of mass violence; did they accept it as inevitable or did power brokers promote violence as an effective strategy? Were local authorities—Indonesian, Dutch, others—even able to make such deliberations?
The regional study project has as its main question: What was, during the entire 1945-1950 period, the connection, on the one hand, between (in)stability and power of local authorities and, on the other, the forms and intensity of violence in specific localities of Indonesia? Naturally, from this main question, various sub-questions flow which will become apparent during the course of the project. A crucial factor in developing such additional questions is how far and through what means local authority was established and/or challenged. First of all, the research shall need to determine the extent to which either Dutch or Indonesian authorities could effectively entrench themselves and under what circumstances they attempted to do so. Concomitantly, question surrounding the possible interconnectedness of violent practices and the expansion of governance will come to the fore. Finally, the project will grapple with the question of whether mass violence against both armed opponents and civilians should be attributed to deliberate strategies for territorial control. In determining and finally selecting the regions to be studied, the project will try and cover as many variables—linked to the questions above—as possible.
This project is carried out by: Roel Frakking, Martijn Eickhoff, Hans Meijer, Ireen Hoogenboom, Anne-Lot Hoek and Anne van der Veer