Keynote speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the Indonesian International Islamic University, 31 October 2023

Keynote speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the Indonesian International Islamic University, 31 October 2023.

The spoken word applies.

Good afternoon,

It's great to see all of you here today!

So many nationalities.

So many cultures.

So many perspectives.

In such an energetic environment!

But in a troubled world.

With conflicts and wars raging in different parts of the world.

In Ukraine, in Myanmar, in Sudan.

In Israel, after the horrendous terrorist attack by Hamas.

And in Gaza, where the situation for civilians is dramatic.

And with so many other problems around the world.

With 333 million children facing extreme poverty.

With 2023 being the warmest year on record globally.

I could go on with this list for the rest of this speech.

But it won’t bring us to solutions.

So instead, I want to put an open question to you.

Imagine if there were one single solution to all these problems, what would it be?

I know I’m asking the impossible…

And I certainly don’t have a ready answer myself.

But I’d like to share a line of thinking with you.

It was my childhood dream to serve in the army.

And so in my twenties, I studied at the Royal Military Academy.

At the academy, I learned a lesson that proved very meaningful.

A lesson that I believe is important to our future.

'One soldier is no soldier.'

In other words, you need each other to achieve a goal.

The same, of course, holds true for our world today.

Together, we stand stronger.

People need each other.

Countries need each other.

We need each other.

To bring us closer together, to face our shared challenges together, to progress together.

Perhaps a pessimist would say, look:

almost eight decades ago the UN was founded to prevent escalation, but conflicts and wars still exist to this day.

Multilateralism has run into rough weather, countries are divided, and polarisation is on the rise.

We’ll never be able to rise above our differences…

Of course, there is some truth in these observations.

But personally, I believe you can view this from a more positive perspective.
So let me ask you another, perhaps unexpected, question.

How often do you think there are misunderstandings in an ordinary conversation, like the ones you have with friends or family?

Dutch scientists have researched this, and found that every 90 seconds, there is a small misunderstanding in every-day small-talk.

Or put more simply: every 90 seconds, we don’t really understand each other.

People who speak the same language…

Who share the same culture…

Who probably know each other inside out...

And with this in mind, it’s extraordinary ─ and indeed quite an achievement ─ that countries have managed to seek each other out, bridge their differences, and work together, against the odds.  

In the UN, where the world comes together.

In strong regional organisations, such as ASEAN and the European Union.

In robust partnerships, such as the one between the Netherlands and Indonesia.

And as individuals.

From different cultures, and with different outlooks on the world.

And this leads to many great initiatives.

And successes.

For example in the field of climate change.  

Take the climate agreement that was concluded in Paris in December 2015.

That agreement may not be perfect, and its implementation may not be either, but it’s still the groundbreaking agreement in the field of climate.

After several failed attempts, a total of 195 countries managed to overcome their differences and sign the treaty.

While there may be 195 different perspectives, and numerous misinterpretations, all of us understand one point well:

we can only combat global warming by working together.

The Netherlands and Indonesia understand this too.  

Although our countries are far apart, we both understand very well the dangers of a rising sea level.

And we understand each other.

That’s why the Netherlands and Indonesia are working together for a sustainable future.

A future that also holds opportunities.

Because by working together on climate and the environment, we are also creating jobs and a healthy living environment.

Last month, we organised the Renewable Energy and Climate Summit here in Indonesia.

A unique concept bringing together many different groups that each contribute in their own way to the fight against climate change.

Groups that also understand each other.

And our countries are working together on numerous projects.

This includes a collaboration with the Indonesian International Islamic University.

Together with several organisations, we’re starting a project aimed at giving young religious leaders and communities the tools they need to foster sustainable environmental development in Indonesia.

And we want to encourage them to make Indonesia and the rest of our world greener.



When countries find a way to understand each other and work from there, they can be a very powerful force.

But when individuals come together and find a way to understand each other ─ despite different backgrounds, different perspectives and all the misunderstandings that can occur ─ they can be an even stronger force.

In the Netherlands last week – following the terrible events in the Middle East – a group of young Muslims and Jews, who were appalled by the ensuing polarisation in our country, decided to team up, in an effort to truly come together and listen to one another.

They started a social media initiative called #deeldeduif, which means ‘share the dove’.

As one post reads:

We, as young people, can have strong differences among us due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Listen to each other’s pain, keep the dialogue going, support each other, and connect.

Because what we are primarily searching for is hope and safety.

The initiative has received a lot of attention, and most people have responded very positively.

These young adults are the leaders of the future!

And I believe that the leaders of today should listen to this message.

While we may have our differences, we can’t afford to be consumed by them.

We cannot allow polarisation to paralyse us.

This is also what I stressed last week, when I was at the UN speaking with many counterparts about the disturbing developments in Israel and Gaza. 

So let me get back to that first question…

How do you solve the world’s problems?

195 individual countries can’t tackle global problems by themselves.

I’ve heard that the Indonesian language makes an interesting distinction that can guide us on the road I believe we should take.

It’s the difference between ‘kami’ and ‘kita’.

Or in English, between ‘we’ excluding the person you’re talking to, and ‘we’ specifically including that person too.

I think inclusive ‘kita’ is what we need here.

We all need to step up.

Of course, to solve global problems we must understand them.

But it’s equally important to seek out and understand each other.

By seeing what unites us, but also – and that’s the hard part – by appreciating our differences.

That’s why it’s incredibly valuable that you are here, from all parts of the world.

Not only to better understand the world… but also to understand each other’s perspectives too.

I’ll close now, so there’s time for some questions.

And I’d also love to hear some different views on the question I asked you.  

Traces of our connected history can be found here, at the Indonesian International Islamic University.

For example in the [Roemah Tjimanggies] building, next door.

It was once the house of a Dutch governor.

Over the centuries, the house had fallen into disrepair.

And when President Jokowi took the initiative to establish this beautiful university, he also decided that this house should be renovated, and given a new purpose.

This reflects something about our relationship.

We have a connected history, but through the windows of that old building, you can see the future unfolding before your eyes.

At this university, you’re not just learning about the events that shape our world today, but also preparing for a more tolerant and sustainable future.

Our shared future.

I’ve heard that the first cohort of master’s graduates ventured out into the world last summer, and you’ll be following them soon.

I wish you every success and I hope to meet you again some day, as the leaders of tomorrow.

Thank you.