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The killing of Dutch and Eurasians in Indonesia's national revolution (1945–49): a ‘brief genocide’ reconsidered

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In the histories of decolonizations after World War II, the targeting of European and, particularly, mixed-blood populations by indigenous peoples has been neglected or avoided altogether. A case in point is Indonesia's struggle for independence from Dutch rule (1945–49). In a rare treatment of this topic, Robert Cribb recently described the killings of Dutch and Eurasians in the last months of 1945 as constituting a genocide, albeit a ‘brief’ one, the first time that term had been used with reference to what Dutch sources spoke of as the bersiaptijd (loosely, a time of danger) and Indonesian sources rarely mentioned at all. Cribb's approach generalized broadly about the killings. It concentrated instead on offering a general explanation, which he found not in colonial policy or Indonesian nationalism but, on the whole, in a ‘constructed’ racial tension and an explosive, bottom-up mobism. Detailed information from East Java's experience, however, suggests rather different and far more complex causes, among them various effects of both Dutch and Japanese colonial rule, and racial tensions inherent in Indonesian nationalism. The East Javanese case highlights the extended and often extreme nature of the violence against Dutch and Eurasians, and emphasizes that it must also be seen in the complicating context of violence against Chinese and other Indonesians (not covered here in extenso). A reconsideration of Cribb's treatment suggests that use of the term ‘genocide’ for the killing of Dutch and Eurasians in revolutionary Indonesia may not be thought warranted from a ‘scientific’ or legal perspective, and that efforts to encompass this sort of decolonization violence with terms such as ‘subaltern genocide’ are still fraught with difficulties. Still, ‘genocide’ used in a generic, common-sense fashion draws attention to a hidden episode of horrific violence, and further study may be of use to scholars of decolonization and genocide in general, as well as Indonesia specialists and Indonesians themselves.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2012

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