Proklamasi. Kami bangsa Indonesia dengan ini menjatakan kemerdekaan Indonesia…
We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia…
On 17 August 1945, In a brief ceremony on the streets of Jakarta, Sukarno made a short statement proclaiming to the world that colonial rule of the Dutch East Indies had ended. Two days earlier, Japan had surrendered after the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With Japan’s surrender, the Second World War in Asia was brought to an end.
A widespread independence movement had existed in the Dutch East Indies before World War II. Nationalist leaders like Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta and Sutan Sjahrir wanted their country to be free of the Netherlands, others simply wanted more autonomy. The Dutch administration, however, kept a tight hand on the reins.
And then came the Japanese invasion in 1942. On 27 February the allied forces were defeated in the Java Sea Battle and their surrender followed on 8 March. The allied troops became prisoners of war, most Dutch citizens were interned in civilian camps, and many men were taken into forced labour. The Japanese dismantled the administration system of the Dutch East Indies and in reality this signalled the end of the existence of the Dutch East Indies.
After 1945, the Netherlands tried to restore its colonial administration through negotiations and with force, in two police actions. However, on 27 December 1949, under a great deal of international pressure, it accepted Indonesian independence. Dutch New Guinea was only relinquished in 1962, and finally, after a transition period under UN supervision and a plebiscite held among the Papuans, the territory was ceded to Indonesia. This meant that from 1969, the national borders of modern-day Indonesia were the same as those of the former Dutch East Indies.
Fighting was heavy during the struggle for independence. By the 1960s, a total of over 300,000 Dutch people, Indo-Europeans, Papuans and Indonesians had left the country. Most of these travelled to the Netherlands. They included 12,500 Moluccan soldiers of the former Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) and their families. In 1951, they arrived in the Netherlands where their military service was terminated.
This decolonisation is not yet a thing of the past. In 2005, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs participated in the celebrations surrounding the sixtieth anniversary of Indonesian independence. In this way, the Netherlands recognised that Indonesia had gained independence not in 1949, but on 17 August 1945. Minister Bot expressed regret that the Netherlands at that time “had stood on the wrong side of history, as it were” and had caused a great deal of suffering in so doing. This was an important, sometimes confrontational speech for everyone involved – in Indonesia and the Netherlands alike.