During the 18th century, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (abbreviated as VOC) established itself as an economic and political power on the island of Java after the collapse of the Mataram Sultanate. This Dutch trading company had been a major force in Asian trade since the early 1600s, but in the 18th century began to develop an interest in intervening in indigenous politics on the island of Java to increase its power in the local economy.
However, corruption, poor management and intense competition from the British (East India Company) resulted in the collapse of the VOC towards the end of the 18th century. In 1796, the VOC finally went bankrupt and was later nationalized by the Dutch government. As a result, VOC property and assets in the archipelago fell to the Dutch crown in 1800. However, when France occupied the Netherlands between 1806 and 1815, these assets were transferred to British hands. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo it was decided that most of the archipelago would return to Dutch hands.
Architects of the Dutch Colonial Government in Indonesia
Two names stand out as the architects of the Dutch Colonial Government in Indonesia. First, Herman Willem Daendels, Governor General 1808-1811 when the Netherlands was controlled by France, and, second, British Lieutenant Stamford Raffles, Governor General 1811-1816 when Java was controlled by the British. Daendels reorganized the central and regional colonial governments by dividing the island of Java into districts (also known as residencies) headed by a European civil servant – called resident – who was directly subordinate to – and had to report to – the Governor-General in Batavia. These residents are responsible for a variety of matters in their residency, including legal matters and agricultural organization.
Raffles continued the reorganization of his predecessor (Daendels) by reforming the courts, police and administrative systems in Java. He introduced a land tax in Java which meant that Javanese farmers had to pay a tax, roughly two-fifths of their annual harvest, to the authorities. Raffles was also very interested in Javanese culture and language. In 1817 he published his book The History of Java, one of the first academic works on the island of Java. However, Raffles’ reorganization of administration also meant increased foreign intervention in Javanese society and economy, which was reflected in the increasing number of middle ranking European officials working in residencies on the island of Java. Between 1825 and 1890 this number increased from 73 to 190 European officials.
The Dutch colonial government system in Java was both direct and dualistic. Along with the Dutch hierarchy, there was an indigenous hierarchy that served as an intermediary between the Javanese peasants and the European civil service. The top of this indigenous hierarchical structure consisted of the Javanese aristocracy, previously the officials who managed the Mataram kingdom. However, because they were controlled by the colonialists, these priyayi were forced to carry out the will of the Dutch.
The increasing Dutch domination of the island of Java did not come without a fight. When the Dutch colonial government decided to build a road on land owned by Pangeran Diponegoro (who was appointed regent of Yogyakarta after the sudden death of his half brother), he revolted with the support of the majority of the population in Central Java and he turned it into a jihad war. This war lasted from 1825 to 1830 and resulted in the death of around 215,000 people, mostly Javanese. But after the Java War was over – and Prince Diponegoro was captured – the Dutch were much stronger on Java than before.
Forced Cultivation or Cultivation System in Java
Competition with British merchants, the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, and the Java War resulted in a heavy financial burden on the Dutch government. It was decided that Java should be a major source of income for the Dutch and therefore Governor General Van den Bosch encouraged the start of the Cultivation era (historians in Indonesia recorded this period as the Cultivation era but the Dutch colonial government called it Cultuurstelsel which means Cultivation System) in 1830 .
With this system, the Dutch had a monopoly on the trade in export commodities in Java. Moreover, it was the Dutch who decided the type (and quantity) of commodities that had to be produced by the Javanese farmers. In general, this meant that Javanese farmers had to hand over one-fifth of their crop to the Dutch. In exchange, the farmers received compensation in the form of money at a price determined by the Dutch regardless of commodity prices on the world market. Dutch and Javanese officials receive bonuses if their residency sends more crops than the previous time, thus encouraging top-down intervention and repression. Apart from forced cultivation and corpse labor, Raffles’ land tax also still applies! The Cultivation System resulted in financial success. Between 1832 and 1852, about 19 percent of total Dutch government revenue came from the Javanese colonies. Between 1860 and 1866, this figure grew to 33 percent.
Initially, the Cultivation System was not dominated by the Dutch government alone. Javanese power holders, private Europeans as well as Chinese businessmen played a role. However, after 1850 – when the Cultivation System was reorganized – the Dutch colonial government became a major player. However, this reorganization also opened the door for European private parties to begin to dominate Java. A privatization process occurred because the colonial government gradually transferred the production of export commodities to European private entrepreneurs.
Dutch Indies Liberal Age
More and more voices were heard in the Netherlands rejecting the Cultivation system and pushing for a more liberal approach for foreign companies. This rejection of the Cultivation System occurred for humanitarian and economic reasons. In 1870 the liberal group in the Netherlands won power in the Dutch parliament and successfully eliminated some of the characteristics of the Cultivation system, such as the percentage of planting and the obligation to use land and labor for export crops.
This group of liberals paved the way for the start of a new period in Indonesian history known as the Liberal Age (circa 1870-1900). This period was marked by the profound influence of private capitalism on colonial policy in the Dutch East Indies. The colonial government at that time played more or less a supervisory role in the relationship between European businessmen and the Javanese rural community. However, while liberals say that the benefits of economic growth will also flow to local communities, the situation of Javanese peasants who suffered from hunger, lack of food, and disease was no better in the Liberal Age than during the Cultivation System.
The 19th century is also known as the century of expansion because the Dutch made substantial geographical expansion in the archipelago. Driven by the mentalism of new imperialism, European countries competed to find colonies outside the European continent for economic motives and status. One of the important motives for the Netherlands to expand its territory in the archipelago – apart from financial gain – was to prevent other European countries from taking parts of this territory. The most famous battle (and the longest battle between the Dutch and the indigenous peoples) during the period of Dutch expansion this century was the Aceh War which began in 1873 and lasted until 1913, resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. However, the Dutch never held full control over Aceh. After all, political integration between Java and other islands in the archipelago as a colonial political unit had been achieved (largely) in the early 20th century.
Ethical Policy and Indonesian Nationalism
When the borders of the Dutch East Indies began to resemble those of Indonesia today, the Queen of the Netherlands Wilhelmina made an announcement in her annual speech in 1901 that a new policy, Ethical Policy, would be implemented in the Dutch East Indies. This Ethical Policy (which is an acknowledgment that the Netherlands has a debt of gratitude to the indigenous people of the Archipelago) aims to improve the standard of living of the indigenous people. The way to achieve this goal is through direct state intervention in (economic) life, promoted under the slogan ‘irrigation, education and emigration’. However, this new approach does not prove significant success in terms of improving the standard of living of indigenous people.
However, Ethical Policy has a very important side effect. This component of education in politics contributed significantly to the rise of Indonesian nationalism by providing intellectual tools for the elites of Indonesian society to organize and express their objections to the colonial government. This Ethical Policy provides an opportunity through the educational system, for a small part of the Indonesian elite, to understand Western political ideas about independence and democracy. Thus, for the first time indigenous people began to develop a national awareness as ‘Indonesians’.
In 1908, students in Batavia founded the Budi Utomo association, the first indigenous political group. This event is considered as the birth of Indonesian nationalism. This started a political tradition of cooperation between Indonesia’s young elite and Dutch government officials who were expected to help the West Indies region achieve limited independence.
The next chapter in the process of reviving Indonesian nationalism was the establishment of the first mass-based political party, Sarekat Islam, in 1911. Initially, this organization was established to support indigenous entrepreneurs against Chinese businessmen who dominated the local economy but Sarekat Islam later developed its focus and developed its foundation. popular politics with subversive tendencies.
Other important movements that led to the opening of indigenous political thought were the Muhammadiyah, the Islamic socio-religious reformist movement founded in 1912 and the Indies Social Democratic Association, a communist movement founded in 1914 that propagated the ideas of Marxism in the Dutch East Indies. Internal divisions in this movement led to the establishment of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1920.
Initially, the Dutch colonial government allowed the establishment of local political movements but when Indonesian ideology was radicalized in the 1920s (as seen in the communist rebellions in West Java and West Sumatra in 1926 and 1927) the Dutch colonial government changed its policy. A relatively tolerant regime was replaced by a repressive regime that suppressed all actions allegedly subversive. This repressive regime actually exacerbated the situation by radicalizing the entire Indonesian nationalist movement. Some of these nationalists founded the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI) in 1927 as a reaction to the repressive regime. The goal is to achieve complete independence for Indonesia.
Another important event for Indonesian nationalism was the Youth Pledge in 1928. At a congress attended by these youth organizations, three ideals were proclaimed, claiming to have one homeland, one nation and one language. The main objective of this congress is to promote unity among Indonesian youth. During this congress the song which later became the national anthem (Indonesia Raya) was played and the national flag of the independence era (red and white) was hoisted for the first time. The Dutch colonial government acted by taking suppressive actions. Young nationalist leaders, such as Sukarno (who would later become Indonesia’s first president) and Mohammad Hatta (Indonesia’s first vice president) were arrested and exiled.
Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies
The Dutch colonialists were strong enough to prevent Indonesian nationalism by arresting its leaders and suppressing nationalist organizations. However, the colonialists could not erase the nationalistic sentiments that had been ingrained in the hearts of the Indonesian people. The Indonesians, on the other hand, were not strong enough to fight against the colonialist leadership and thus needed outside help to destroy the colonial system.
In March 1942, the Japanese army, fueled by the desire for oil, provided this assistance by occupying the Dutch East Indies. Although initially welcomed as liberators by the indigenous Indonesians, they soon experienced misery under Japanese occupation: a shortage of food, clothing and medicine and forced labor under torturous conditions. The lack of food was mainly the result of an inept administration, and this turned Java into an island full of hunger. Indonesians working as forced laborers (called romusha) were placed to work on labor-intensive construction projects in Java.
When the Japanese took over the Dutch East Indies, Dutch officials were placed in prison camps and replaced by Indonesians to carry out governmental duties. The Japanese army educated, trained and armed many Indonesian youth and provided a political voice to nationalist leaders. This enabled nationalist leaders to prepare for the future of an independent Indonesian nation. In the final months before the Japanese surrender, which effectively ended World War II, the Japanese gave their full support to the Indonesian nationalist movement. The destruction of the political, economic and social power of the Dutch colonial government gave birth to a new era. On August 17, 1945, Soekarno and Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence, eight days after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and two days after Japan lost its war.
Differences in Perceptions of the Indonesian Colonial Period
In fact, there are three ‘histories’, or to be more precise: three versions of the Indonesian colonial period, namely:
1) Indonesian version (colonial history from Indonesian point of view)
2) Dutch version (colonial history from a Dutch perspective
3) Academic version (colonial history from the point of view of historians)
However, it must be stressed right away that within the three versions of each there are many variations as well. After all, we can see the three versions in outline.
What distinguishes the Indonesian version and the Dutch version from the academic version is clear: the Indonesian version and the Dutch version are colored by their respective political sentiments and / or interests, while the academic version aims to provide an objective and accurate version (not based on sentiment but based on evidence and sources) . You may now be wondering which version you read above? Well, the overview of the Indonesian colonial period presented above is a synopsis of the academic version. However, it is no less interesting to provide a little information about the history of Indonesian colonization from an Indonesian versus a Dutch perspective. By these versions we mean the general consensus and general view accepted by the nation (including the common people but also government officials, and those who write history books for the younger generation, etc.) in these two countries.
Of course, the Indonesian version and the Dutch version have a lot in common. However, due to the involvement of the two parties in this colonial history, there are some differences in terms of political sentiment and interests in each country.
Perceptions of Indonesia
For example, when talking to an Indonesian about the colonial period (regardless of the educational level of the person) he will say that Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch for three and a half centuries. Is this true? Actually not very precise. The problem is, this statement implies that Indonesia was a united country in the late 1500s or early 1600s. However, in reality, the land that we now know as Indonesia was controlled by many kingdoms that did not have a feeling of brotherhood with one another, moreover they did not have nationalist sentiments, or any other sense of unity. In fact, the war between these kingdoms continued before (almost) all of them were conquered by the Dutch. As illustrated above, a sense of brotherhood and nationalism among the Indonesian nations only emerged in the early 20th century.
After all, the entire territory that we now know as Indonesia was not conquered by the Dutch at the same time (and then in Dutch possession for 3.5 centuries). In contrast, Dutch political expansion in the archipelago was rather slow and gradual (it took several centuries) before its territory came under Dutch control (and in some parts of Dutch control it was very shallow, as in Aceh). In fact, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the Netherlands more or less owned the entire territory of the border we now know as Indonesia.
However, it must be admitted that some parts of the archipelago were indeed colonized by the Dutch for 3.5 centuries (for example Batavia / Jakarta and parts of Maluku). There are other parts that were controlled by the Dutch for about two centuries (for example most of the island of Java), but large parts of the archipelago were, gradually, only conquered during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in many areas there were never any indigenous people. see a dutch man.
If so, how come there is a view that (all) Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch for three and a half centuries? The answer is ‘politics’. What becomes clear from the above synopsis is that Indonesian nationalism was formed by the awareness of the various Indonesian youths and nationals (whatever their background, ethnicity, culture or religion) that they had one common enemy, namely the Dutch colonialists. Precisely because of this one strong enemy, this very diverse nation had united to become the Indonesian nation. It also explains why – after the enemy’s disappearance in 1949 – there was a period of prolonged chaos in Indonesian politics and society between 1949 and 1967.With the enemy gone, suddenly all the fundamental differences between the Indonesian people surfaced which led to the uprising. (PRRI in Sumatra and Semesta in Sulawesi), calls for separatism (Aceh and Maluku), and calls for establishing an Islamic state (Darul Islam). Only when a new authoritarian regime, namely Suharto’s New Order, took control, did the chaos disappear (and, just like during the Dutch colonial period, at the expense of human rights).
So in the interests of nationalism (to maintain the unity of Indonesia), the Indonesian government (right after independence) deliberately did not mention (for example in school books) that the regions and islands each did not have the same history in the context of colonialism.
The Dutch Perception
The Netherlands also has enough reasons to portray a colonial history that is different from reality. The problem is that the Netherlands over the last few decades has emphasized the importance of human rights (HAM). The problem is that this attitude is very incompatible with its colonial history which was full of human rights violations in the archipelago (as well as in Suriname). Therefore, the violence perpetrated in its colonial history was not mentioned in the school books read by Dutch students in high school. In contrast, the VOC period is described as the pinnacle of national pride because – despite being a very small country in Europe – the Netherlands became the richest country in the world in the 17th century (‘Dutch Golden Age’), not only in terms of trade and military but also in terms of arts and science. However, human rights violations are rarely highlighted.
An interesting example is when former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende became annoyed during a discussion with the Dutch Representative Council (Tweede Kamer) in 2006. Responding to the Dutch DPR’s pessimistic view of the future of the Dutch economy, Balkenende said “let’s be optimistic, let’s be positive thinking again. That VOC mentality! Views that go beyond borders! ” This is an example of selective memory that signifies a sense of pride dating back to the VOC period. However, after Balkenende said this, many Dutch politicians, the Dutch media, and the Dutch people criticized Balkenende’s statement.
It is also important to mention that more and more Dutch people are aware of its history of violence (including slavery). For example, statues in the Netherlands glorifying people from the VOC and colonial times – such as Jan Pieterszoon Coen and J.B. van Heutsz – has been banished or severely criticized by the local Dutch population.
Another interesting case is the apology made by the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaan in 2013. He apologized for “excesses committed by Dutch troops between 1945 and 1949”. This is rather extraordinary because this is the first time a Dutch official has apologized for the history of colonialism. However, never before did the Netherlands apologize for all the violent incidents that occurred before 1945! Even when the King and Queen of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander and Maxima, visited Indonesia in early 2020, Willem-Alexander stutteredly apologized for the Dutch violence that occurred in the 1945-1949 period (not the one before 1945).
Why did the Netherlands wait so long before apologizing for the 1945-1949 violence? It is assumed that Dutch officials do not wish to apologize for offending Dutch veterans (who risked their lives in Indonesia for their country) and relatives of Dutch soldiers who died in the ’45 -’49 period while fighting for their country. In fact, it is likely that the Dutch government is afraid of the financial consequences of admitting human rights violations through an apology (surviving victims, or their relatives, could sue).