The Indonesian archipelago, long under Dutch
control, whether through the Dutch East India Company or directly as a colony, found itself
“liberated” by the Japanese in March of 1942. By wars end, three and a half years
later, Indonesia felt itself ready to be an independent state. The Dutch, supported by
their western allies had other ideas, namely that they wanted to resume their colonial
control of Indonesia. The political landscape of the island chain was ripe for alliances,
counter alliances, revolution and insurgency. I’m your host David and today we will be
discussing the situation in Indonesia and the rise of Sukarno. This is…The Cold War.
The Japanese occupation of Indonesia was marked by several features, consistent with Japanese
policy in other territories taken during the Second World War such as Burma or the Philippeans,
They actively promoted the idea that they were there as liberators from colonial rule.
They also actively recruited Indonesians to serve in the army. Somewhat differently however,
they did not grant formal independence to Indonesia, nor were they invited to join the
Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo in 1943. Instead, the prominant independence leaders,
Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta were invited to informal meetings held after the close of
the conference. As the Japanese military situation continued
to sour and become more desperate through 1944, efforts were made by Tokyo to maintain
good relations with Indonesia in order to keep its support in both men and materiel.
To this end, independence was promised. Of course, it is vitally important to note here
that the Japanese occupation was still a brutal and oppressive regime and there are estimates
made that up to four million Indonesians died during the occupation from both oppression
and famine. OK, so we should talk a bit about exactly
who Sukarno was. At the time of the Japanese occupation, he was already a veteran politician,
the leader of the Indonesian National Party, and a firm believer in the independence of
Indonesia from the Dutch. He was willing to work with the Japanese in order to promote
Indonesian nationalism and independence. Sukarno’s leadership in the Indonesian independence
movement was also joined prominantly by Muhammad Hatta and Achmad Soebardjo, both veterans
in the struggle against the Dutch. Sukarno is also credited as the founder of the principles
of Pancasila, the official philosophy on which the Indonesia state would be founded. The
five tenets of Pancasila were belief in God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy,
and social justice. He saw these as being necessary in order to govern the geographically
vast and ethnically diverse chain of islands. There was a generational divide among those
seeking independence; Sukarno and Hatta represented the older elite, who favoured a more gradual
transition to a free state. The younger generation, however, advocated for immediate independence.
One of these younger groups even went so far as to kidnap Sukarno and Hatta and forced
them to declare the independence of Indonesia. On August 16, 1945 Hatta and Soebardjo, in
conjunction with the senior Japanese leadership in Indonesia agreed on the draft of that declaration.
The next day, August 17, Sukarno and Hatta declared the Independence of Indonesia.
So that’s it, right? A newly independent country moves ahead on its own in perfect
harmony and nothing more ever happens? Nah, we’re just getting started!
So, August 17, 1945. Indonesia is now independent. Well, it has declared its own independence
anyway. To the Allies, Indonesia was still Dutch. Two days previously, the Japanese had
surrendered to the Allies. In Indonesian territory however, there was a lack of Allied troops
and as a result, Japanese troops would remain in order to maintain order until the Allies
could arrive. A Constitution was approved, proclaiming the
principles of Pancasila and enshrining the separation of the branches of government and
a Presidential political system, that still reflected some features of a parliamentary
system. There was originally a proposal that all Muslims in the new country would be required
to adhere to Sharia law but this was removed for fear of the sectarian divisions it could
create. In fact, the Constitution proclaimed tolerance of religious minorities! However,
this only served to create conflict with the Islamists in the country. But more on that
later. Sukarno became the first President of Indonesia, with Hatta as his Vice-President,
all approved by the PKKI, the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence, the
body tasked with coordinating the transfer of power from the Japanese to an independent
Indonesia. Less than two weeks later, on August 29, Sukarno
dissolved the PKKI, and established the KNIP, the Central Indonesian National Committee.
KNIP was the new legislature, made up at first of 135 members and represented the vast geography
and social make up of Indonesia. It included women, youth, various religions, and importantly,
members from outside of Java. The KNIP allowed for the legal creation of political parties,
and vitally, was responsible to Parliament instead of to the President. By November,
Sukarno had agreed to all of this and Sutan Syahrir, a veteren nationalist organizer,
became the first Prime Minister. OK, so quick recap. Indonesia which had been
a Dutch colony before the Japaense arrived in 1942 had taken steps to become an independent
nation after the surrender of the Japanese to the Allies in August 1945. However, the
Western nations, including the Dutch and the British, didn’t recognize that independence,
despite the formation of an Indonesian government. To compound things, some Indonesians remained
loyal to the colonial ideas, some had worked with the Japanese, and then there was a divide
in the independence movement between the younger and older generation as to how quickly the
pace of independence should move. Some of you out there already know where this is heading.
The early part of the independence struggle is known as the Bersiap, which translates
as “Get Ready”. It was a period marked by persistent violence as the youth of Indonesia
set about attacking both the old feudal lords who had helped rule under the Dutch, but also
those who had collaborated with the Japanese. The loyalty to the new Republic of most in
Java was fairly easy to command, due to their proximity to the government in Jakarta, but
the farther away from Java one went, the more likely it was to find Raja’s, the ruling
elite, who had enriched themselves at the expense of the local population , who now
saw an opportunity for revenge. Pemuda, which means ‘youth’ in Indonesian,
was the blanket term for these youth-dominated organizations pursuing armed actions to increase
their power and influence. As early as September 1945, Pemuda had taken control of infrastructure
targets such as railway stations, and even had their own radio transmitters and newspapers
to carry out independent propaganda campaigns. Pemuda operated vast militias all across the
country and importantly some of their violence was targeted towards Dutch-internees, Eurasians,
Chinese and Ambonese. Leftist groups also became prominent, with
the Marxist Tan Malaka being among the strongest. Malaka considered the older generation of
Nationalists, like Sukarno, to not be resolute enough in pursuing true Independence and set
about uniting the various leftist groups into one single overarching coalition. The Front,
made up of approximately 140 different groups, called for both independence and the nationalization
of all foreign owned land and industry. To help push his message, Malaka organized large
demonstrations. At one point, he had as many at two hundred thousand demonstrators gathered,
and it was only the overwhelming popularity of Sukarno and Hatta that were able to pacify
this crowd before the Japanese troops, still nominally in charge of security, could violently
suppress the crowd. Now, although the Dutch were supposed to be
the colonial masters of Indonesia, the Netherlands had been critically weakened by the Second
World War and were not able to put together a sufficient force to resume control of the
islands. Instead, it was agreed that the British Empire would supply troops on their behalf,
until the Dutch were able to resume control. These British troops began arriving in late
September of 1945 but, as you can imagine, were not made to feel very welcome by the
republican Indonesians! It became clear to Sukarno and his government
that an army would need to be formed as quickly as possible. However, as the Japanese had
disarmed all the preexisting Indonesain forces before their surrender to the Allies, any
military force put together would have to be an amalgam of various independent units
that had formed around charismatic leaders as opposed to a centrally organized and controlled
command structure. SO of course, this hastily assembled Indonesian
army took on the British troops that had come to occupy their newly independent nation.
The largest battle in the conflict took place quite early, in October of 1945, over the
city of Surabaya, at the eastern end of the island of Java. The British moved into the
region, looking to expel the Indonesian army. The battle for control of the city lasted
more than three weeks, but ultimately the better armed and better disciplined British
troops succeeded in taking Surabaya. But, in a case of losing the battle but winning
the war, the Battle of Surabaya proved to be a major rallying point for the Republicans,
greatly magnifying local support for the independence of Indonesia. This rallying cry of popular
support also helped convince the British that should remain neutral during their time in
the country, and even led them to withdraw support for a return of Dutch colonialism.
However, the Dutch did return. It took until November of 1946 for up to fifty thousand
Dutch troops to arrive and relieve the British but they did arrive. Their occupation of places
like Jakarta, Sulawesi and other regions was met with hostility and violence.
With the violence escalating, and international pressure mounting against both sides to do
something about it, the Indonesian Republicans and Dutch representatives met and came to
an agreement. What became known as the Linggadjati Agreement stipulated that the Dutch recognized
the Republic of Indonesia would have defacto control over Java, Sumatra and Madura. In
exchange, Sukarno and his government agreed that the Republic of Indonesia would be one
of three members states in a United States of Indonesia, which would itself be under
Dutch sovereignty. Confused? I know I was when I first saw this agreement…
Anyway, the Agreement went on to clarify that any region unwilling to enter the United States
could do so, but it had to be done via the public will. It was at best a compromise,
and like many compromises, it left the radicals on both sides quite unhappy. This unhappiness
manifested itself when the Dutch Parliament, while ratifying the agreement, gave their
own “elucidation”. They decided that not all of the former Dutch East Indies territory
would be part of the United States of Indonesia, and West Papua would be retained as a colony,
mostly so the religious lobby in the Netherlands could continue their missionary work there.
That “Eulicidation” was less about clarity and more about trying to retain power and
influence. Sukarno and Hatta for their part had to once
again rely on their own personal influence to get the agreement ratified back home. They
went so far as threatening to resign if the KNIP didn’t ratify the Agreement. Only that
way, oh! And expanding the membership of the KNIP to 514 seats to achieve a majority, were
the two statesmen able to get the agreement passed. The appointment of friendly Republics
was necessary to offset the opposition coalitions that had formed, the Left Wing and the Republican
Fortress. When the agreement was officially signed in
Jakarta on March 25, 1947 it was met with celebrations across Indonesia. But, as you
can see from the time stamp on this video, the struggle was still far from over.
The Dutch quickly became unhappy with the Republicans, especially around their attempts
to establish their own separate foreign relations with other countries. A series of demands
were issued by the Dutch, including the halting of establishment of relations with foreign
powers, a reiteration of Dutch sovereignty, the allowance of a joint police force into
Indonesian territory and the lifting of a food blockade into Dutch-controlled areas.
The Indonesian rejection of these demands prompted the Dutch to respond with military
force. Operation Product was designed to secure more
territory from the Indonesians and thereby regain access to sugar, oil, and rubber supplies
to make sure the Dutch could properly finance the one hundred thousand Dutch troops that
had been deployed to Indonesia. The operation quickly led to the occupation of large areas
of both Java and Sumatra. The Republican response was, i’m sure you’ve
already guessed, guerilla warfare. The Dutch response to THAT was a blockade and even air
strikes. The ensuing violence was such that, by August 1, 1947 an Australian call for a
ceasefire was passed in the United Nations Security COuncil. Several weeks later, a US
proposal was also passed allowing for UN assistance in brokering a ceasefire, creating the Committee
of Good Offices, made up of a representative from the Netherlands, one from Indonesia and
one from a mutually selected country, in this case, the United States.
Negotiations dragged on for months, with lines of control and who could or would be able
to join a Republic of Indonesia being the main sticking points. The eventual Renville
Agreement was signed on January 17, 1948 using the Van Mook line as the de-facto border.
The Renville Agreement allowed for a further negotiated settlement to be worked on without
ongoing fighting. OK! So a ceasefire is in place, which means
the violence is over, right? Nope. It’s just that the violence was now less directed
at the Dutch, and now more focused internally, between various Indonesian political groups
as they fought for control of the Republic of Indonesia. One of the most significant
of these groups was the Democratic People’s Front, the FDR. This was a coalition of several
leftist groups including the Communist Party of Indonesia and the Socialist Party. They
did not want any negotiation with the Dutch and even called for the nationalization of
all Dutch assets in Indonesia. It was strongly supported in the labour movements as you would
expect, but also in the armed forces. This of course came to a head when Vice-President
Hatta decided to launch his rationalization reforms, which included reducing the size
of the armed forces to approximately 57,000 men. Hatta wanted these men to return to the
workforce to help boost production and the economic strength of the nation. I’m sure
it was just a coincidence that this would have also weakened the power of the FDR while
also making the army less of a threat in Indonesian politics. The reforms had only limited success
as many of the disbanded troops either expressed their loyalty to the FDR or just joined them
outright! Ongoing strikes through 1947 and 1948 increased, demanding agrarian reforms
and better living and working conditions for all workers.
So a clearly tense situation exists between the Republicans and the leftists. So what
happens next? Well, the government in Jakarta rejects a consular agreement with the Soviet
Union and starts to tie itself into the American orbit. At the same time, a propaganda tour
through the nascent country by an old communist leader, Musso, gave courage and support to
the FDR. The result, of course, was an outbreak of fighting between government forces and
pro-FDR forces. The government response was to trigger a purge in the army of any leftists
remaining. The FDR led by Musso, withdrew into East Java,
centered on the town of Madiun, and according to Sukarno, declared a Soviet state there.
Musso responded with a declaration of war, despite opposition to this move within his
own ranks. Jakarta responded with military action and by the end of October of 1948,
the leadership of the FDR had been killed, along with up to twenty four thousand people.
OK, so clearly from this, we can see that Sukarno and Hatta have no love for Communism.
The UNited States clearly recognized this, and appreciated this! Thus, when the Dutch
relaunched offensive operations against the Indonesians, the United States stepped in
to help. Help the Indonesians that is. The Dutch Operation Crow resulted in the capture
and control of much of Java and SUmatra and included the Indonesian government leadership!
The United States, seeing an ally potentially vanish, threatened the Dutch with a cessation
of financial aid; remember the Marshall Plan? This US intervention led to the Dutch withdrawing
their claims to Indonesia and full sovereignty was granted to Indonesia by December of 1949.
A new, fully independent state that was firmly pro-American was established; a vital gain
for the United States as the Cold War deepened. However, the struggle for Indonesian independence
had cost over one hundred thousand lives and had created deep divisions in the new country.
These divisions would quickly assert themselves and decades of further struggle and fighting
were yet to come, all of which we will discuss in upcoming episodes!
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