Modern Indonesia has witnessed many periods of extreme violence. One of the most violent and chaotic times in Indonesian history fell in the year immediately following the demise of the Japanese empire in the Pacific. The power vacuum following the Japanese capitulation on 15 August 1945 gave a free reign to disintegrating forces in Indonesian society.
Focusing on this one long year between mid-1945 to mid-1946, the conference aims to chart the nature of and motives for violence and the range of options of individuals and groups at the local level. The research and the workshop will in particular be concerned with the different perspectives and experiences of various peoples and groups involved, with an emphasis on the three nationalities most profoundly involved: Indonesians, Japanese and Dutch. The aim of the conference is to create a clearer view of the complexities of this period, when the post-war world was taking shape and the individual Indonesians, Japanese and Dutch were forced to adapt to the swiftly changing circumstances and rethink their expectations and world views. By so doing, the interpretation of the early revolution will be stripped of its national content that has given this episode a deterministic and highly schematized character.
The short period of the early Indonesian revolution was extraordinary in the sense that several events coincided. The end of wars and the change of regimes are always tense moments in a country’s history, but the atmosphere of confusion and anomy was heightened by the sudden disintegration of authority. The Japanese were unable and reluctant to maintain order, Allied troops had a limited power base, and Dutch forces were slow in coming. In this power vacuum Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the independent Republic of Indonesia on 17 August 1945, but Republican authority was inadequate and often contested.
The early revolution stands out as an exceptional and complex episode of violence, but has generally been analysed as a political process. The sudden and fierce outbursts of violence after mid-August 1945 in many regions and cities in Indonesia have commonly been interpreted in terms of national politics: Indonesian nationalists fighting for their independence against the colonial powers, and the Japanese, British and (increasingly) Dutch forces trying to maintain or restore colonial order. But there was more than the option between return to the colonial power or fighting for the Indonesian Republic. Apart from the political struggle led by pemuda nationalists, the early revolution witnessed a sudden outbreak of social, ethnic and ideological strife. Together with a booming criminality, a tendency inherent to revolutions, this was the recipe for the total chaos in which people of all nationalities and ethnicities found themselves. Order collapsed. An atmosphere of fear and uncertainty prevailed.
Three main themes will be at the heart of the conference: violence, loyalties and personal experiences. By concentrating on the interface of the three themes, we aim at recovering some sense of the uncertainties of this most chaotic and decisive year in Indonesia’s history.
Violence as catalyst of choices
The early revolution triggered off a large array of violence. The nationalist struggle mixed with banditry, revenge and retaliation, social revolution, and ethnic violence. Ethnic tensions were rife, but are a grossly neglected theme in the stories of the early revolution. Chinese and Dutch were targeted by revolutionaries, robbers and other people acting on impulse. Chinese stores were plundered and Europeans, in particular the Indo-Dutch community, were intimidated, molested and murdered. Indonesian nationalist military put a part of the European community in Republican camps. Though recent research shows this was done for their protection, many Europeans considered themselves prisoners and hostages. But Europeans and Chinese were not the only targets of violence: other ethnic communities, loyalist groups, representatives of the old order, and adherents of other persuasions have frequently fallen victim to acts of fierce violence too.
Loyalty and option
The early revolution was a period of great uncertainty and fear, but also of anticipation and expectation. The people who became willingly or unwillingly involved in the events of the early revolution were forced to make choices. Resorting to violence entails making choices, for instance that of taking up arms and choosing a target. On the receiving end, the threat or experience of violence forces people to seek protection or take sides, or at least it stimulates identification. Also material circumstances could play a role in making choices. The individual and communal loyalties were directed by the nature of the events, the social make-up of a locality, and could be expressed in ethnic, class, political or ideological terms. This act of choice or state of indecisiveness will be explicitly addressed by the conference. The issues of option and loyalty also extend to the communities of Japanese and (Indo-)Dutch in Indonesia. Taken by surprise by the events, they too had to assess their own position in the political struggle. An estimated number of 2000 Japanese for example chose to fight on the side of the Indonesians instead of following Allied and indirect imperial orders.
Personal choices and strategies
The social complexities of the early revolution can best be analysed by focusing on individual experiences. Personal documents and interviews are of great value for assessing the reactions, coping mechanisms and relevant option range of the people involved.
General directions/line of approach
Researchers are invited to present papers on one or more of the themes mentioned above, dealing with issues of identity, option and violence. They should preferably deal with events at the local level, or use personal documents or interviews as the main source. The conference aims to represent different regions in Indonesia. We prefer contributions based on original research. The organizers will decide whether to accept incoming proposals for the conference according to the above-mentioned directions. The language of the conference is English.
The aim is to publish the proceedings in English with an international publishing house.
The conference is part of the research programme Lasting Attachments. Personal orientations and national perspectives on colonialism and conflict in Indonesia, 1930s - 1950s, carried out by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation.
1 January 2003: Title and abstract (max. 500 words)
1 February 2003: Confirmation on acceptance of the paper
15 May 2003: Submission of paper (max. 15-20 pages A4 paper)
25, 26, 27 June 2003: conference
1 August 2003: Submission article for publication
Please send your proposals of a maximum of 500 words to the address below before 1 January, 2003. You will receive notification of acceptance in early February. Due to a restricted budget, travel and accommodation costs can only partly be reimbursed.
Netherlands Institute for War Documentation
1016 CJ Amsterdam
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