On Thursday January 5, Amsterdam’s Court of Appeal published a decision in the legal procedure of the K.U.K.B. foundation against Rijksmuseum. The foundation’s complaint has been rejected.
The verdict shows that the court completely ignores the substantive arguments of K.U.K.B. against the use of the term ‘bersiap’. The judges state that they follow the reasoning of the Rijksmuseum and how they interpreted the term, but they do not explain why. The verdict lacks a proper motivation on why the judges chose to ignore the arguments that K.U.K.B. put forward during the hearing of October 13, 2022. According to the court, the concept of bersiap does not contain negative conclusions about Indonesians as a group based on their race. Both the Dutch Public Prosecutor (OM) and the Court of Amsterdam claim that the term bersiap is only used “to indicate a certain period in history.”
However, the position of the K.U.K.B. foundation is that the bersiap – in the meaning of an isolated event in time, a period of unilateral violence against the colonizers – does not exist, and that the whole concept is a Dutch fabrication and an expression of racism against Indonesians. Because the court’s decision lacks motivation, the foundation does not feel that their complaint has been taken seriously, chairperson Jeffry Pondaag: “The court of appeal is echoing the Public Prosecutor. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from these white native judges who absorbed colonial ideas from a very young age.”
One year ago, in January 2022, the K.U.K.B. foundation reported the Rijksmuseum to the police, including the director and curator, for using the term bersiap in the exhibition Revolusi. The latter exhibition, which lasted from February until June 2022, focused on the Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949). The Dutch Public Prosecutor rejected the case, after which K.U.K.B. filed a complaint through a special legal procedure. During the hearing in October, Pondaag was assisted by Dida Pattipilohy and historian Marjolein van Pagee, who defended the case in court. (See attached their pleas.)
Prior to the exhibition, curator Harm Stevens as well as director Dibbits, were informed about the problems with the Dutch interpretation of the bersiap. In June 2021, the foundation joined a meeting at the Rijksmuseum, during which the plans for the exhibition Revolusi were discussed in detail.
Besides that, in January 2022, just before the openings event of the exhibition, the Indonesian guest curator Bonnie Triyana also wrote an opinion piece for Dutch daily NRC, in which he explained why the bersiap is racist. His piece caused quite a stir, after which director Dibbits publicly distanced himself from it, maintaining that the bersiap is not racist.
Pondaag: “The bersiap, in the way the Dutch use the term, is a misuse of the Indonesian language. For us it is an ordinary word like any other. It is significant that the Belandas [Dutch] stayed for 350 years in Indonesia but cannot speak the Indonesian language. By misusing the term bersiap, they are appropriating an Indonesian word and changing its original meaning to put us Indonesians in a bad light.” Pondaag emphasizes that the foundation is not advocating for the removal of the word as such, as it is a neutral word in Indonesian, but he particularly opposes the meaning that the Dutch gave to it, which is racist.
At the hearing, the Dutch Public Prosecutor acknowledged that the topic of the bersiap could be emotional for Indonesians, but that according to the Dutch criminal code it is not a term that is offensive to all Indonesians based on race. The exact same argument was used by the court of appeal in their decision. Both the court and the Public Prosecutor opt to defend the Rijksmuseum and neither of them has responded to the extensive legal and historical arguments that K.U.K.B. and historian Van Pagee put forward. Pondaag: “The Dutch praise themselves for having a democratic constitutional state, but what I see is that white natives protect each other and ignore what Indonesians say.”
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