Rijksmuseum scraps racist term "Bersiap" in new exhibition
The curators that curated the exhibition "Revolusi, Indonesia independent" for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are not using the word Bersiap. They consider this common term to describe the violent period in Indonesia during the revolution (1945-1950) as racist, said guest curator and chief editor of Historia.ID Bonnie Triyana in an opinion piece in NRC.
Bersiap (stand ready) was used as a battle cry by young Indonesian freedom fighters after the Japanese occupation of the then Dutch East Indies. They attacked people released from the Japanese camps. "The Dutch who lived through this era speak of the 'Bersiap period.' A time when Indonesians were possessed and attacked white-skinned civilians, Indo-Europeans, Ambonese, native Chinese, or anyone else they considered the colonial collaborators," said Triyana.
He believes that this gives the term "a strongly racist connotation." "More so because the concept of 'Bersiap' always portrays primitive, uncivilized Indonesians as perpetrators of the violence, which is not entirely free from racial hatred. The root of the problem lies in the injustice that colonialism created and which formed a structure of a racism-based hierarchical society enveloping the exploitation of the colony."
The exhibition does not focus on guilt and shame but is about the people involved in a major conflict, said Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits.
The Federation of Dutch Indies (FIN) is already in a state about the avoidance of the term. "This makes me physically ill," said chairman Hans Moll, who said he will file a complaint against this "insane and shocking form of Bersiap denial." "During this extremely violent period, thousands of (Indonesian) Dutch people were brutally tortured, raped, and murdered by Indonesians because of their Dutch or European ethnicity," Moll said.
The Rijksmuseum said that this is a very complex history, in which good and bad appear in all kinds of nuances. One area is devoted to "mutual" violence, and for example, attention is paid to an Indo-European family who faced violence from the independence fighters.
The stories of several eyewitnesses are highlighted, such as that of a young Dutch soldier who wrote to his parents that the reality in the archipelago did not match the information he received from the Netherlands and that of a Dutch woman who sided with the revolutionaries and because very influential. There are also unique objects and a lot of art in the exhibition, including work by a boy who was 11 at the time and drew and painted what he saw, a specially made installation, and seven paintings that the presidential palace in Jakarta lent abroad for the first time.
Reporting by ANP