Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema has pulled out of the line-up to speak at a ceremony to mark the end of World War II in Southeast Asia, and the occupation of Dutch-ruled Indonesia, because the choice of one of the other speakers is “inappropriate”.
The organising foundation Indisch Platform 2.0 has invited the daughter of Raymond Westerling to speak at the ceremony. He was a Dutch army officer who led revenge attacks on the local population during the Indonesian struggle for independence from the Netherlands which lasted from 1945 to 1949.
Halsema said in a statement that the programme for the event included speakers who call for “recognition and rehabilitation” for Westerling, who instigated several mass executions. “This is a very inappropriate and painful choice on a day in which we remember all victims, not just those on the Dutch side,” she said.
Halsema has now told the organisers she will not speak or lay a wreath at the ceremony on the Dam in central Amsterdam. Instead, she will attend an alternative event, commemorating decolonialisation, near the Olympic stadium the next day.
Although there is discussion about how much Westerling was obeying orders from higher up, he always defended his actions and denied that he had committed war crimes. He died in 1987 and in 2013, the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia officially apologised for the revenge killings in Sulawesi.
The Indisch Platform 2.0 supports the interests of Dutch nationals who were caught up in the independence war and campaigns for financial and other support for them.
Chairwoman Peggy Stein said in a statement that the August 15 ceremony is to remember all victims “including soldiers who have come to be viewed as wicked because of changing views on the decolonisation war”.
Attitudes to the Dutch role in Indonesia after World War II have been shifting in recent years. In 2022, prime minister Mark Rutte offered ‘deep apologies’ for the ‘systematic and widespread extreme violence’ used by Dutch armed forces in their attempts to put down the Indonesian struggle for independence.
The apology is considered to be the first recognition by the Dutch state of its full responsibility for war crimes between 1945 and 1949, and followed the publication of the initial findings of a four-year research project. The €6.4 million study found that extreme violence was used by the Dutch on a larger scale than admitted at the time.
The largely government-funded project, commissioned in 2017 after a series of court cases over mass killings, torture and gang rape by Dutch troops, was the first to challenge the official narrative from 1969 that “the armed forces as a whole had behaved correctly in Indonesia”.
President Sukarno declared independence from the Netherlands on August 17, 1945 but it has never been officially recognised by the Dutch. The Netherlands still uses December 27 1949, which is when the transfer of sovereignty took place and the Netherlands gave up its claim to Indonesia.
The main event marking the end of World War II in Indonesia takes place in The Hague.
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