After previously going through a long and arduous journey, the Republic of Indonesia will have officially become an independent democratic country for 73 years within 3 days. The proclamation of August 17, 1945, marking Indonesia’s liberation from colonialism, was the decisive first step. Nevertheless, the culturally diverse country presently still has to defend itself from entities trying to break its unity.
The polemic of West Papuan separatist movement continuously calling for West Papua’s independence from Indonesia has reminded us of Soekarno’s speech on May 4, 1963 in Kota Baru, Jayapura, West Papua. At the time, Soekarno, one of the Founding Fathers of Indonesia, delivered a speech reaffirming West Papua’s identity as a part of Indonesia:
“… And, friends, what is it that is called Indonesia? What is called Indonesia is the entire archipelago from Sabang to Merauke. What is called Indonesia is what was formerly referred to as the Dutch East Indies. What is called Indonesia is what the
Dutch called Nederlands Indië, the entire archipelago from Sabang to Merauke which is composed of thousands of islands. That is what is called Indonesia.” – Soekarno.
Soekarno, through his speech, asserted that West Papua rightly belonged to Indonesia. It was not his first time conveying that Papua was indeed a part of Indonesia.
On May 19, 1962, Soekarno resolutely expressed his notion that Papua belonged to Indonesia.
“It is the will of the people that the government of the Republic of Indonesia will have been established in West Irian before the rooster crows on January 1, 1963.” – Soekarno.
At the commemoration of Indonesian Independence Day on August 17, 1961, Soekarno firmly said:
“We will not waste another word with the Dutch! West Irian must be immediately returned to the Republic’s territory. At this time, our policy towards the Netherlands is confrontational policies in all fields—politics, economics, and even military!” – Soekarno.
Influenced by separatist movements and other countries’ intervention, some people still wonder, “Is West Papua an integral part of Indonesia’s territory?”
The following are factual reasons why West Papua is, and will always be a part of Indonesia.
- Papua was under Majapahit Empire, that would later be Indonesia
Long before the colonial period, it was the era of kingdom. One of the largest kingdoms based in East Java was Majapahit that existed from 1293 to around 1500. In Cantos XIII and XIV of the book Nagarakertagama, several states in Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara islands, Maluku, Papua, and some parts of Philippines islands were said to be under Majapahit’s influence.
- Papua was one of the colonized territories in Southeast Asia, along with other provinces of Indonesia
European explorers discovered Papua along the Spice Route, and a Spanish trader claimed it for his king in 1545. The Spanish never returned, and the island became home to a British settlement in 1793, during a period when the European powers were vying for colonial territories in Southeast Asia. When the British were driven out by disease and the inhospitable landscape two years later, the Dutch quickly took their place. The Netherlands declared its sovereignty over the western half of New Guinea in 1828.
- West Papuans were tortured by colonizers similar to other regions in Indonesia
When the Netherlands surrendered its colonies to Japan in 1942, the Japanese were faced with voices of West Papuan dissent left over from Dutch rule, including the Koreri movement that had developed in Biak. The movement was based on a belief that a powerful spiritual figure would come and liberate the Papuans from oppression. In response to the Koreri movement and the small, armed resistance to Japanese domination, Japanese officials arrested, tortured, and killed suspected members of the movement and ordered entire villages to be relocated. West Papuan resistance and Japanese retaliation continued until the liberation of the region by American-led forces in August 1944. After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the Dutch administration gradually returned to West New Guinea.
- Indonesia chose to defend West Papua instead of abandoning it under the Dutch
Indonesian nationalists proclaimed independence on August 17, 1945, and included the territory of West Papua, which had been administered by the Dutch as an integral part of the colony of the Dutch East Indies. Indonesia believed that the essential factor uniting all the diverse groups within the former Dutch East Indies was that they had all equally suffered under Dutch colonialism. In addition, Indonesia nationalists had been imprisoned by the Dutch in West Papua during the struggle for independence, thus making West Papua a sacred site from a national perspective.
At the 1949 Hague Round Table Conference, which established the independent Indonesia, the Dutch refused to cede control of West New Guinea to the Indonesians, preferring to maintain it as the final foothold of Dutch imperialism in Southeast Asia. By the end of the 1950s, Soekarno escalated diplomatic and military pressure on the Dutch to cede control over Papua.
On August 15, 1962, Indonesia and the Netherlands signed New York Agreement facilitated by the United Nations. According to the agreement, Dutch handed over West Irian to the United Nations. As the result, United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) was formed.
The handover of West Irian from the Netherlands to UNTEA officially came into force on October 1, 1962. Afterwards, on December 31, 1962, the Dutch flag in West Irian was replaced by Indonesian flag and the UN (UNTEA) flag. According to the agreement, the Netherlands was to transfer its authority to an interim U.N. administration, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA), on October 1, and the U.N. administration would hand the territory over to Indonesia on or after May 1, 1963.
Since before its independence until 2018, Indonesia has continued to recognize West Papua and strive to build the nation from scratch. However, differences in ethnicity and group interests have been used to break the unity of the Republic of Indonesia and obstruct the tremendous effort of governing the 17,504 islands, 1,340 tribes, and 742 languages. It is quite unfortunate that many of those trying to tear the nation apart are the people who have been liberated from the colonialism themselves.
In light of the arriving commemoration of Indonesian independence, we address this message to all Indonesian people from Sabang to Merauke, including the Papuan people. Indonesia is the world’s only country of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” for its unity and uniqueness—hundreds of ethnic groups, religions, and languages spread over thousands of islands.
For the Indonesian people in Papua, keep fighting alongside Indonesia.
United Republic of Indonesia: Defend It With Our Lives.
Abdulsalam, Husein (2018). Resolusi Tahun Baru ala Sukarno: “Rebut Papua dari Belanda”. Retrieved from Tirto, https://tirto.id/resolusi-tahun-baru-ala-sukarno-rebut-papua-dari-belanda-cCys
(2018) Retrieved from New World Encylopedia: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Majapahit
Brundige at al., (2004). Retrieved from Law Yale Edu: https://law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/Intellectual_Life/West_Papua_final_report.pdf