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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Dutch Moluccans appeal for solidarity
By Olenka Frenkiel
In the Royal Dutch town of Appeldoren, Yakoba Wattimena addresses the wealthy burgers of the Netherlands. She has them spellbound. Dressed in the traditional robes of what used to be known as the Spice Islands, she appeals to them to do their duty and help save her people, the Moluccans.
The Dutch businessmen listen and are moved.
It is fifty years ago this month that the first shiploads of Moluccans landed in the Netherlands. There were 12,500 of them, mostly soldiers with their families who had fought for the Dutch and against the new independent Indonesia. The Dutch told them they were in Holland for a short while and would soon go home.
But that was a dream. Most of the Moluccans were Christians, part of the Dutch-speaking colonial elite. They'd fought on the losing side. Their islands had been absorbed into a greater, predominantly Muslim Indonesia and the world they had known was disappearing forever. But for fifty years they continued to dream of an independent Moluccas.
I'm invited to the family home of Bert Tahitu. He was born in the Netherlands in a former Nazi concentration camp called Vught, which the Dutch Government adapted after World War II to accommodate the Moluccan families who found themselves stranded so far from home.
These were soldiers, whose fathers were soldiers. Military life was all they knew and come what may, they would not give up. It didn't matter that the Dutch Government had sacked them all, demanded their military uniforms be returned and forbidden them to work.
Then there were the ghosts.
Bert translates for me with mischievous laughing eyes. He was the first Moluccan to obtain a doctorate in linguistics in the Netherlands, and he's now employed by the Dutch Ministry of Education to help repair the damage of those early years and develop some understanding between the Dutch and the Moluccans living in Holland.
Today his mother lives in Mordrecht, not far from Gouda, famous for its cheese. Her house is one of hundreds on an entirely Moluccan housing estate, impeccably kept and inhabited by the third and fourth generations. They all knew about the ghosts.
"When we arrived", she tells me, "we didn't know what Vught was. Or where they had put us. One day at dusk I looked outside and saw a strange woman I had never seen hanging out her washing. We all saw her but did not know who she was. When we asked the Dutch authorities they told us 'the people who lived here before were Jews. After they stayed here they were sent away and killed. These are their ghosts.' That was when we learnt about the war and what the Germans had done."
Although they never meant to stay in Holland, the Moluccans settled well. Many had large families who, like Bert went on to excel in the Dutch education system and integrate well into Dutch life.
It was not until the 1970s, at a time of student protests all over Europe and America, that the Moluccans hit the news for the first time. A group of militants hijacked a Dutch train and killed two passengers. In a second hijack the Dutch took no chances and killed seven Moluccan hijackers.
It's a period some Moluccans prefer to forget - but they have no doubt it put them and their cause on the map. The Dutch Government started to listen, to reflect on the injustices the Moluccans suffered. They were compensated for their abrupt dismissal from the army and efforts were made to recognise their cultural needs with improved housing, a museum and direct access to a Government Minister.
Thousands of civilians, both Muslim and Christian, have been killed in what has now become a brutal civil war with ethnic cleansing carried out by both sides.
It was when Leo Reovaru heard that his own family's village had been burnt and his relatives killed that he decided threatening violence was the only way. He says his aim is to force the world to notice the plight of his people and to force the Dutch Government to do its duty to its former colony and send troops to defend the Moluccans from attack.
This kind of talk has alarmed many in the Moluccan community. Most know little about Reovaru and want nothing to do with him. But the Government says it's trying to put the plight of the Moluccans on the international agenda.
Roger Van Boxtel is the Minister for the Interior with special responsibility for the Moluccans. "After the hijacking of the trains, we had this intense dialogue and then we made one thing clear. We do not subscribe to the idea of an independent Moluccas. At the same time, the Dutch government is trying to give aid in terms of financial help for food, for housing programs and for schooling programs."
Also in this edition of Crossing Continents: the conflicts over squatters' rights in Europe's most liberal city, Amsterdam, and some lessons for the UK on flood management from the world water leaders.
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