After the Indonesian independence, the country’s first major problem concerned the Moluccans living in the southern archipelago, who had been collaborating with the colonial regime for almost three hundred years”, Peter Bootsma, political scientist and author of De Molukse Acties and municipal councilor in Leiden for the D66, tells +31mag.nl. “With the unification of Indonesia, many of those who enlisted in the Dutch colonial army, the KNIL, did not want a unitary state and in 1950 proclaimed the Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS), immediately opposed by Sukarno.”
But who had the diplomatic power to negotiate with the newborn Indonesian state on the creation of the RMS? Nobody, not even the Europeans. So after the intervention of a Dutch court, which recognized the responsibility of the now-former motherland towards the Moluccans, the migration to the Netherlands began: “About fifteen ships that took a month to travel,” Bootsma continues, “but with the landings came the problems. For the Netherlands the migration was voluntary, while for the Moluccans it was the only possible solution, accepted as temporary and with the hope of return”.
That was not the case, of course. And 12,500 former KNIL fighters and their families were housed in temporary accommodation, such as the former Nazi camp in Westerbork: solutions prepared as the last resort because the government did not expect a favourable verdict from the court. “They were places separated from society, such as old camps and military bases, under the authority of the Commissariat Ambonezenzorg”, the expert points out. Basically, barracks, where sometimes there was no heating, with common kitchens, a church, and some shops…and where the Moluccans, until the ’70s, lived as stateless people: “Sometimes with their suitcases ready to go back, while in some of the camps there was almost military life with uniforms and gatherings in the morning”.
The Moluccan refugees lived segregated, often working under the table or in the fields, while the state provided them with only a roof and small subsidy. Over the course of twenty years, this condition had a strong influence on the second generation, who had grown up separating Dutch society from the myth of Moluccan nationalism.
From here the step towards radicalization was short. Between the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s, Holland was the theatre of the Molukse Acties, radical actions carried out by very young Moluccan terrorists in almost a decade. “They wanted the public opinion to be aware of their presence, but above all, they wanted the government to keep its promises on the RSM. First there was the siege of the Indonesian Embassy in Wassenaar, in 1970, then the attempt to kidnap Queen Juliana, foiled in the spring of 1975; finally, in early December of the same year, the kidnapping of a train with 50 hostages on board, near Wijster, together with the siege of the Indonesian Consulate in Amsterdam.
The government always used representatives of the Moluccan community (exiled President Johan Manusama and Reverend Metiarij) to mediate with the terrorists. Also, for this reason, the actions always ended with the arrest of those responsible and a limited number of victims. Two years later, however, the situation had changed little and the frustration of the “refugee children” led to two of the bloodiest episodes in the history of terrorism in the Netherlands.
On May 23, 1977, a second train with dozens of hostages on board was seized at De Punt, on the border between the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. At the same time, the primary school in Bovensmilde, with a hundred children inside, was taken hostage by a second group of Moluccans. “This time the government ran out of patience. After twenty days of negotiations the Dutch Marines took action. But in the Moluccan community there is still a strong idea that the soldiers, that day, used too much violence”, says the political scientist.
Yes, because the train stopped at De Punt was literally riddled with bullets and all the attackers were killed along with two of the hostages. A 2014 government report, however, would show that some of the terrorists, such as the 20-year-old Hansina Uktolseja, were hit on the ground and at close range and that the hostages fell under friendly fire from the special units.
“I interviewed some of the soldiers who took part in the operation. They argue that this is a rather naïve protest: when the government started, it became a matter of life and death. I also tracked down Rinus, a soldier who, because he took part in the mission in 1977, is still alive today and a cover, always looking over his shoulder”, concludes Bootsma.
After the attack on the train, even the Moluccans barricaded in the school succumbed: the deterrent had worked. And in fact, 1977 was a turning point: the public sphere noticed violently the forgotten refugees of the Moluccas, the government understood the need to “silence” the protests with a greater commitment to welfare. So the following year, with the taking of a government building in Assen, the parable of Moluccan terrorism ended.
The tragedy of these people, however, remains: a story of abandonment of which the Acties are a bloody chapter; the result of a reception system that resembled more to a regime of semi-apartheid. Today, the question of the Republik Maluku Selatan is still an open wound for many. Although the processes of integration and assimilation, from the 1980s onwards, have significantly changed the condition of the first refugees who arrived on Dutch soil.