Seventy Years On: Myths and Realities
    Category: Column By : Taufik Darusman Read : 1130 Date : Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 22:11:07

    As the nation celebrates 70 years of independence, many may have forgotten how a string of islands at the southeast tip of Asia transformed into what today is Indonesia. In his book “Petite Histoire Indonesia Vol. II,” published in 2009, the late senior journalist Rosihan Anwar noted it was British ethnologist J.R. Logan who, in 1850, called this archipelago “Indonesos” by combining “India” and “nesos” (Greek for islands).“It is our fate that the name stuck with us. That’s how our history began,” wrote Rosihan.

    Almost eight decades later, in October 1928, students and youth organizations gathered in Batavia (now Jakarta) and declared Indonesia as a Nation, People and Language (Sumpah Pemuda or Youth Pledge). For the record, Logan’s colleagues, the German scholar Adolf Bastian and his French counterpart E.T. Hamy, had earlier popularized the term Indonesia in their scientific works. The name would later be adopted by nationalists seeking independence from Dutch rule.

    The precursor to the Kingdom of Netherlands’ rule of Indonesia was modern day’s equivalent to big business: a conglomerate (comprising several trading firms) cum private security force called the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). In a fierce rivalry with the Portuguese and the British for the spice monopoly, the Dutch monarchy, in 1602, gave the VOC the mandate to conduct trade and wage war in commercially strategic areas.

    In 1796, the Dutch government took over the VOC, which looked north and east to finish off what the trading company started. A series of bloody wars took place in the major islands, lasting almost a century before the Dutch claimed control of what they called the Dutch Indies—and even then Bali and East Nusa Tenggara resisted colonization. Aceh, in fact, only succumbed to the Dutch in 1912 after a heroic 40-year resistance war.

    Perhaps it helped that the Dutch went so far. When Indonesians insisted on sovereignty, they demanded all the Dutch-occupied territories. When nothing happened they then proclaimed independence on August 17, 1945—the rest is history.

    Generations of Indonesians have been taught that the Dutch ruled Indonesia for over three centuries. But in 1996, Prof. Taufik Abdullah praised Prof. Mr. G.J. Resink for his research work. Concluded the Dutch scholar: “It is a myth to say we ruled Indonesia for 350 years.”  In any case, what is now Indonesia did not even exist when the first Dutchman, sea merchant Cornelis de Houtman, set foot, in 1596, in Banten to initiate trade with the locals.

    The Indonesian youth had initiated the birth of the nation, and so shall they determine its future. The World Bank figures show that 50% of Indonesia’s population of 250 million are under 30, a huge market for consumer goods and property companies. But as economists note, demographic assets can also be liabilities unless coupled with growth and prosperity.

    Moreover, these youth will make a difference only if they are better educated, more productive, and more dedicated than their parents. In sum, given Indonesia’s enormous potential, our so-called baby boomers have not exactly risen to the occasion presented by the nation’s Founding Fathers—70 years on there may be much for Indonesians to be proud of but even more for reflection.