Show of ‘Dutch courage’ . . .
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands visited Indonesia last week to deliver a full-throated apology for atrocities committed by his government from 1945-49, when it tried to re-impose colonial control after Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War. In 2013, the Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia issued a more general apology and offered compensation to some of the families of the thousands who were executed by colonial authorities. This more recent apology sharpens the contrast – not only with other former Western colonial powers who have not stepped forward with apologies for historical crimes, but also with Asian governments who have yet to show contrition for their acts of colonial violence.
A disappointing record . . .
Sensitivities over a lack of accountability for colonial crimes are not new to Asia, with the deep grievances felt by Japan’s former colonies the clearest case in point. But England, France, Portugal, Spain, and the United States – all former colonizers in Asia – have shown little inclination to own up to their past actions. Recent initiatives by Algeria, India, and Mexico to prompt some expression of remorse and responsibility from their former colonizers – France, England, and Spain, respectively – have had little impact. Even where some within the governments of these former colonizers see the need to issue an apology, they seem unwilling to open the Pandora’s Box that would see them potentially paying large reparations or suffering political backlash from nationalists back home.
Spotlight on regional responsibility . . .
As writer, journalist, and private diplomat Michael Vatikiotis notes, the Dutch apology raises questions about Indonesia’s own role in past colonial atrocities. That includes alleged war crimes committed by the Indonesian military in suppressing pro-independence activity in East Timor, which was part of Indonesia until 2002, and similar treatment of people in the province of Papua, where independence-minded sentiment has been brewing.
- Al Jazeera: India marks colonial massacre centenary, Britain makes no apology
- Nikkei Asian Review: Dutch king’s visit to Indonesia shows why apologies matter
- Straits Times: Dutch apology for Indonesian colonial atrocities opens old wounds