Source: Blog van Anneke van de Casteele
‘We are Indische Nederlanders, not Indonesians!’
Last Tuesday night, February 28, 2017, Dutch D66 democrat party leader Alexander Pechtold was one of the guests on TV talkshow ‘Pauw and Jinek’. We saw him verbally wipe out a competitor in the upcoming Dutch elections, because of his contradictory statements, rightly so. However, we also heard him make a mistake, which he later described on Twitter as ‘careless’. He referred to the group of approximately 1.7 million Indische Nederlanders (Dutch Indos) living in the Netherlands today, as ‘Indonesians’. The Dutch Indo community was in an uproar. Also rightly so.
Did I cringe when I heard it? You know me, so yes. Was I surprised? Well, no. Pechtold is not the first and certainly not the only one who calls us ‘Indonesians’ (or worse: Dutch Indians).
Is it Dutch ignorance? Well, that could be very well possible. Were it not that even Dutch Indos often make the same mistake, especially the younger generation often describes itself as ‘Indonesian’ or even uses both terms, carelessly. This is where education comes in.
Is it just an innocent slip of the tongue? A slip of the tongue could be easily forgiven. However, ‘innocent’ it certainly is not. With the use of only one single word, the largest and oldest group ‘Dutch with a migration background’, as it is called nowadays, is put into a box where it does not belong. For many Dutch Indos this ‘slip of the tongue’ has grave connotations.
After almost 75 years of our presence in the Netherlands, The Hague still does not see us. It is the well known blind spot. They know full well that we are there, but they do not want to see it, for then they would obviously have to address the never fully realized restitution of justice for the Dutch Indo community. From us, they expect ‘silence’ and ‘assimilation’: the ancient misconception that The Hague should really have to get rid of after all this time.
Hey, what’s that? These Dutch Indos no longer remain silent. What the hell. They make themselves heard. “We are not Indonesians!” It was as if I heard my father speak out some 40 years ago, when an office worker of Civil Affairs, while renewing my Dad’s passport, stated that my Dad was born in Indonesia.
“I was born in the former Dutch East Indies, Madam, not in Indonesia.”
The blonde innocence itself behind the desk replied, “But that’s completely the same thing?” She was being a bit dumb, sorry Alex (Pechtold, not Willy).
What our democratic people’s representative does not realize – and anyone who makes the same mistake – is that that the one word ‘Indonesians’ is the whole reason that we Dutch Indos are here in this country and not in Indonesia.
I am not going to explain for the 1000th time what a ‘Indische Nederlander’ is. What I will do, is indicate why it is not an innocent slip of the tongue to refer to us as Indonesians, but an error, which holds a denial – and in public – of our existence, of our identity and our history, of our Dutch citizenship.
In a nutshell: to use the label ‘Indonesians’ is not only technically wrong, it is also laden. It rips open old wounds. Using this label ‘stands for’ the bersiap, the rapes and massacres, the revolution, the ‘sale guerre’ which the Netherlands led until 1949. It stands for the insults, threats, poverty, unemployment due to the Indonesian government nationalizing Dutch companies.
It stands for fleeing to the country of the nationality stated in everyone’s passport, it meant forever leaving your native land, home and hearth. It stands for anxiety and trauma. It stands for the scandalous reception in the Netherlands, boarding houses, skyrocketing debts and the never heard war trauma, starting all over again from scratch.
It stands for the never materialized restitution of justice, such as the never paid KNIL wages and salaries (the back pay issue). It stands for the suffering of our parents and grandparents. It stands for forced assimilation, racism and discrimination.
So, For many Indische Nederlanders so very much is concealed in the ‘careless’ choice of words of Dutch politician Mr. Pechtold.
But perhaps even more important in Pechtold’s decision to call us Indonesians is the absence of the ‘Indisch’ (Dutch Indo) story in Dutch education. When I say ‘Indisch’, I mean Indisch. Our story needs to be told by us, not through the rose colored glasses with the white lenses, worn by The Hague. We are perfectly capable to tell our own story and we have been doing so for years and years. If you would have been paying attention, you would have seen it, Mr. Pechtold.
If Dutch education had not made us invisible, the Dutch people would have known their own country’s history, including Dutch colonial history. Then the Dutch – including Mr Pechtold – would have known who we are, why we are here and that we are not Indonesians.
© Anneke van de Casteele
Please Note: Dutch citizens with roots in the former Dutch East Indies have a large variety of ethnicities, far more than only the Indo-Europeans or Indos. The words ‘Indische Nederlanders’ or ‘Dutch Indos’ popped up extensively in the discussion and I used these for simplification.