Translated from the Italian (Alessandro Pirovano)
In the beginning, it was the Indonesian archipelago, but in the era of the great transoceanic empires, its islands gradually became part of the then powerful and enterprising Dutch Empire and East India Company. The conquerors were mainly tempted by the spices that only grew in the Far East that had also seduced the European market.
In the southern Moluccas (the Maluku are a thousand islands scattered between the Sea of Banda and the Sea of Moluccas, on the edge of the Indonesian archipelago, with the capital Ambon) grew a particular spice: the nutmeg. A spice for cooking and perfuming, at that time it was also associated with special thaumaturgical powers: against fevers, stomachaches, and, above all, useful to keep away the plague.
There were many who wanted the benefits of the nutmeg. Above all, its trade. The Dutch were aware of it and were ready for anything, after having snatched the islands from Portuguese control in 1621. However, the consequences were borne by the indigenous population who had gone through battles or been enslaved. Within a few years, the islands were subjugated by the Dutch and the total population was reduced from 15,000 to just over 600. With the risk of under-the-counter trade removed, the monopoly on nutmeg was maintained by the Kingdom for another century, and Amsterdam’s control over the Indonesian archipelago extended until the mid-twentieth century.
Only the outbreak of WW2, in fact, seemed to offer the right opportunity for the Indonesians to question it: After the Japanese invaders (1943-1945) left, it was time to end even the score with the old rulers, the Dutch and their allies, the Molucchi.
A Christian majority, this population had long been close to the European rulers and saw a unitary Indonesian state with a predominantly Muslim population. Many negotiated with the Dutch, the price of their collaboration in the colonial army, the KNIL: the construction of an independent state in the southern Moluccas, the Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS). Holland, short of men, accepted and promised to support them in order to save the frail empire. In 1949, after four years of decolonization war marked by clashes, massacres, and very hard “colonial police” operations, a peace treaty was signed between Indonesia and Holland but said nothing about the Moluccan issue.
After hiring them in the wards of Captain Westerling, the Dutch government “washed its hands” of the Moluccans even if they loyal to the crown. After having watched the foundation of the Republic in April 1950 and its capitulation at the hands of Sukarno in August of the same year helplessly, the Dutch government provided a partial form of “compensation”: in 1951 it opened the doors of the Netherlands to more than 12,000 ex-combatants of the KNIL, who landed in Holland with their families.
But, the damage, that is, the abandonment of one’s land and the failure of the Republic to survive, was accompanied by the mockery: the Asian “ex-commilers” were in fact destined for the transit camps of Westerbork and Vught, temporary accommodation (which remained for almost twenty years) totally segregated from the rest of the country, where marginalization and precariousness of material conditions were the order of the day.
Political disappointment and frustration worsened when the “Moluccan question” disappeared from the spotlight of international diplomacy, that is, just after 1951, while a government in exile of the Republic of Southern Moluccas was elected in Holland: more a consolation for veterans than a political actor of importance.
The climate of dissatisfaction and social segregation on Dutch soil, then, had a decisive influence on the young people of the second generation: violence was thus cleared of customs as a means of bringing the “Moluccan question” back to the center of national debate. In this context, in fact, the terrorist actions that have gone down in history as “Molukse acties” were recorded.