Koenders: we should reflect on our history with Indonesia

On Thursday foreign minister Bert Koenders was at the Erasmus Huis in Jakarta, where he addressed a large audience of young people.  ‘The future is central to our relationship with Indonesia,’ said the minister. ‘But we must have the courage to confront the past if we want to move forward.’

Mr Koenders acknowledged that this is not always easy. ‘After the birth of the Republik Indonesia, we experienced a painful separation, a process marked by terrible violence. These are dark pages of our history.’

In his speech the minister referred to the regret the Dutch government expressed in 2005 for the violence that occurred after independence was declared. Mr Koenders expressed his own regret for the painful and violent way in which Indonesia and the Netherlands’ paths separated at that time.

He called for the past to be examined with an open mind and without special pleading. ‘This is a history that we should have the courage to examine and discuss, lest we forget,’ he said. ‘And that means being prepared to search our consciences and acknowledge that mistakes were made and terrible things happened. We must have the courage to be honest about the darker sides of history.’

Mr Koenders believes that the Netherlands and Indonesia share strong ties, despite the events of the past. ‘Our shared history offers a sound basis for building a shared future,’ said the minister to the many students, young politicians and entrepreneurs gathered at the Erasmus Huis.

‘The future belongs to the young, and that’s especially true in Indonesia, where around 40% of the population is under 24.’ Both our countries must focus on forging an even closer partnership.’ In the years ahead, the Netherlands and Indonesia will primarily focus on working closely on trade, culture and education.

Earlier in the day Mr Koenders met with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. During their meeting they discussed human rights, an important topic in the Netherlands’ dialogue with Indonesia. ‘We’re seeing lots of progress, but there are still a number of concerns,’ said Mr Koenders. The topics he raised included the protection of LGBT rights and religious minorities, and the situation in Papua.

‘It’s important to focus on preventing violence and promoting understanding for Papuan culture,’ noted the minister. This is why the Netherlands is supporting programmes in Papua and the Moluccas aimed at improving relations between the local population and the police.

Mr Koenders also emphasised the Netherlands’ opposition to the death penalty. ‘We have a fundamental difference of opinion. So it’s important we keep discussing the issue,’ he remarked.

Ministry responsible