The political roots of Geert Wilders

What motivates Geert Wilders?

© Guus Dubbelman

It seems that Geert Wilders wants to reduce all political issues to that of defending boundaries. Displacedness forms the constantly returning theme of his argument, and not coincidently, it is also the underlying issue in his hidden family history.

And he has succeeded in this again: throughout Europe newspaper headlines in June (2009) announce the plans of Geert Wilders to permanently deport ‘millions, tens of millions’, of Europe’s Muslims if they are causing trouble. The PVV (Freedom Party) leader made this announcement in Denmark where, just as in the United States, he was received as an international defender of free speech. Abroad, Wilders doesn’t hold back when he starts on his central theme: the threatened Islamisation of the free West beginning with ‘Eurabia’. His alternative – deportation, incarceration and/or banishment of Muslims, is constantly received with standing ovations. In Denmark he also claimed that Western democracy was standing at the edge of a precipice because of ‘the massive migration and high birth rate of Muslims’. In Los Angeles he told his audience that Islam in Europe is currently calling for ‘our destruction’.

The question then arises: what motivates Wilders? What is the source of his maniacal obsession? Can one identify a context – ideological, historical – in which to place Wilders? Despite the many attempts to place this representative of the people in a political context, no satisfactory explanation has yet been forthcoming. In recent years Wilders has been described as a fascist, racist, populist, provincial, xenophobe, ‘die-hard liberal’, right wing extremist, right wing radical, and as an ‘islamracist’. He goes much further than Jean-Marie Le Pen (founder of the French right wing National Front party) and Filip Dewinter (leading member of the Vlaamse Belang, a right wing Belgium secessionist party), some political commentators have suggested. Meindert Fennema (University of Amsterdam) has claimed that Wilders’ proposals sometimes far exceed the boundaries of the rule of law, characterisations that Wilders shrugs off as ‘grumbles on the margins’ and merely attempts to demonise him. More recently, Wilders calls himself the ‘Dutch Freedom Fighter’; before that he liked to describe himself as ‘a heart and soul democrat’.

All that the public, the politicians and political commentators have to go on is his past as member of the VVD, his often emphasised origins in Limburg (the most southern county of the Netherlands), and his extreme, peroxided hair. As a politician he appears to have just fallen out of the sky: a self-formed firebomb from Venlo (a city in Limburg). For many Dutch people (especially those in the Randstad) Limburg is still regarded as some sort of isolated rural region, from which anything can be expected, a region with its own norms and values and an unusual culture. This prejudice represents an obstacle for a proper analysis of the Wilders phenomenon. Why bother looking any further when ‘Limburg’ explains it all? But is it perhaps because the VVD, the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) gave birth to the PVV that we need to ask more questions about the Wilders’ mission? In the meantime, Wilders’ hair as a political symptom is unjustly ignored.

In June (2009) in a short article that appeared in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, the genealogist, Roel de Neve, was quoted in reference to Wilders’ genetic ancestry which includes several Asian, and possibly Islamic, female forebears. The report suggested that Wilders therefore had an East Indies background but that fails to make the point clearly since reference to an ‘Indisch (mixed-blood, differing from white colonial) background’ implies mixed ancestry. Wilders is an Indo. He stems from a mixed-blood, colonial family from the Netherlands Indies. The Volkskrant made fun of this in a satirical piece which imagined Wilders as having once been a wild youth, addicted to the Blue Diamonds (an Indos rock band) hit song, ‘Ramona’, who went crazy when, after playing it 16 times in a row, the jukebox was turned off.

Since then, other than this ‘Indies’ inspired fantasy story, little more has been reported in the media about the origins of this politician. Which is a shame, because even more interesting than his precise genealogical background is the hidden cultural background history this brings with it, because it is this that can be found expressed in his political genealogy. Is it possible that postcolonial history and family history have made Wilders what he represents and advocates today? Is Wilders part of the as yet unexplored aspect of our Dutch colonial legacy?

He himself tends to obfuscate when talking about his Indisch background. In his biography, Veel gekker kan het niet worden, (It can’t get much sillier than this) (2008) by Arthur Blok and Jonathan van Melle, when asked about his background, Wilders provided this rather incoherent story:

‘My mother’s father was a major in the Royal Dutch Indies Army (KNIL) and he was sent out to the Indies. My mother is the child of Dutch parents but she does have some sisters, one of whom is married to an Indisch (Eurasian) man. As far as I know and can remember, I have two nephews and an uncle from Indonesia. My mother lived in the Netherlands Indies for three months and after that went to France, when her father, my grandfather, had to return. All his daughters and the family of their married partners also came back, so, yes, there are some evident Indisch influences in my family. We sometimes went to visit my mother’s oldest sister who had lived for a long time in the Netherlands Indies on weekends where we would fry krupuk.“

Recent investigations in the National Archive have revealed that this fragment consists of half -truths, figments of the imagination and loose interpretations, about which more later. Why does Wilders disguise and hide his Indisch background?

In Wilders political career, it is not accidental that questions about territoriality and its possible demographical consequences – such as immigration – play a central role. It forms, as it were, his political vehicle. During the nineties, after his marriage to a Hungarian diplomat, he was pre-occupied with the reactions to the loss of Hungarian territory as a result of World War One. He was also intensely interested in the internal politics of Israel, the country, for which as he has said himself, he has a deep love. That love he developed early: after his final HAV0 exams Wilders spent two years in Israel as a member of a kibbutz close to the border of the contested Jordan valley. Wilders’ geopolitical obsessions expressed themselves clearly in his separation from the VVD, caused by the party’s positive attitude to the entry of Turkey to the EU. Wilders considered this unacceptable because a ‘Muslim country’, Turkey, would be irreconcilable with European culture. Moreover, he predicted: ‘later they will all come this way’.

Since then, Wilders seems to want to reduce all issues to a question of border protection, demographic numbers and migration in general. Displacedness has become the constantly recurring, underlying motive of his argument and, not coincidently, also of his hidden family history. Almost all Indies family histories reflect the calamities of the twentieth century: expulsion, persecution, violence and forced separation constitute much of the experience of Indisch parents, grandparents and great grandparents. The Second World War, a war in which, according to historian Mark Mazower, ‘people were moved to consolidate political boundaries’, formed the pivotal moment in this experience. In the Netherlands Indies, for instance, the objectives of Japan’s Greater Asia policy resulted in a policy for the complete expulsion of white Europeans from public space through incarceration in internment camps while many Indos, with Dutch nationality, were not incarcerated. The racialist occupation policies of the Japanese considerably sharpened the pre-existing identity question faced by Indos as the ambiguous ‘in between class’.

For those more conversant with the Indisch community, it is well known that it is precisely on the question of boundaries that Wilders receives much support from older Indisch Dutch. This more or less secret support comes from the side of both the totok (white) but especially from the Indo communities. For them, Wilder is a true blue ‘branie’ (a hero): a ‘lefgoser’ (someone who dares), an ‘ontregelaar’ (disrupter), a rebel. Opposition to and anxiety about Muslim immigration and the phenomenon of multiculturalism became a marked characteristic of the political activities of Indisch Dutch since the seventies.

In 1980 such sentiments took on concrete form with the establishment of the Centrumpartij, (Centre Party) by the Indo, Henry Brookman, who at the time held a position at the VU (Free University of Amsterdam). The Centrumpartij criticised the minorities policy and presented itself as a nationalist, anti-immigration party. Members of the NCP, the Nationale Centrum Partij, which formed the origins of the Centrumpartij, had attacked Moroccans who had gathered in a church and were on a hunger strike to protest against the threat of expulsion. During this period Indisch Dutch felt that they too were being targeted as a cultural minority, whereas Dutch citizenship, the mother tongue and culture, loyalty to the House of Orange, were precisely those things that had always been celebrated by Indos. The idea of being categorised together with Turkish and Moroccan Muslims, brothers of the Indonesians who, after the bloody headhunting of the bersiap period of 1945- 1946, had driven them out of their motherland, was indigestible for many Indos, as can be gauged if one reads the back numbers of the Indisch community journal, Moesson.

In the late fifties, Moesson was called Onze Brug (Our Bridge). It was a bulletin devoted to the development of a new Indo tribal land in New Guinea. During the pre-war depression the idea had emerged of turning, what at that time was the undeveloped region of New Guinea, into a new homeland for Indos. During the sovereignty handover to Indonesia in 1949 this initiative was lost sight of because the Republic had demanded every last inch of the former colony. Nevertheless it continued to have symbolic significance, especially for the Indisch Dutch. In 1951 there was a government crisis when the VVD party leader, Oud, opted for maintaining New Guinea for the Netherlands against the view of VVD minister Stikker. The successful VVD election campaign in 1948 had been entirely fought on the subject of colonial policy: the election posters featured the face of the first Indonesian president Soekarno with the text: ‘Have you also had enough of this?’

For many years thereafter factions within the VVD with an interest in keeping New Guinea out of Indonesia continued to actively attempt to influence policy positions. The New Guinea question was also one of the key issues pushed by the Jong Conservatief Verbond (Young Conservative Association), a new party led by the Indisch Dutchman, Feuilleteau de Bruyn, who also promoted reduction in government expenditure, reduction in the role of political parties and the suppression of socialism. The later handover of New Guinea in 1962 led to the predictable displeasure amongst many Indisch Dutch because: ‘it was Soekarno who had won once again’.

It is notable how often Indisch Dutch have participated in the formation of political parties based on conservative-nationalist (neo)colonial principles, compared to their involvement in progressive parties. The focus of this involvement typically lay in the protection and surveillance of boundaries and on the inclusion or exclusion of population groups. In the thirties, in the Netherlands Indies, many Indos joined the NSB (National Socialist Movement) (forming 70% of its membership). This was because of the ultranationalist Dutch character of the party but also because of the great fear of the growing Indonesian nationalism.

In the colony, the NSB had a different character and a different place in society than in the Netherlands. The party offered Indos the possibility to present themselves to each other and society at large as wanting to be ‘more Dutch than the Dutch’ and that they completely identified with Dutch cultural heritage and that they venerated the royal House of Orange. It should not be forgotten that, at the time, the colonial elite was almost exclusively white. Because the NSB favoured an authoritarian rule, together with the maintenance of the colony forever by the Netherlands, many Dutch people in the Indies saw the party as the means to stand up to the threat posed by the revolutionary, Islamic natives. During his successful visit to the Netherlands Indies in 1935, Anton Mussert (founder and leader of the Dutch NSB and later Nazi collaborator) was officially received twice by the governor general, De Jonge.

Even before the NSB had begun recruiting members, the first meeting of the Nederlandsch-Indisch Fascisten Organisatie (Netherlands-Indies Fascist Organisation) had held its first meeting in Batavia (nowadays Jakarta) chaired by retired Indo KNIL major Rhemrev. He also emphasised the importance of reducing the native influence on the government and the restoration of a leading role for Dutch people in the colony, but he had garnered less support.

If in the immediate aftermath of the war discussion continued to turn on the question of maintaining the unity of the empire (holding on to Netherlands Indies, and later New Guinea), after the assimilation of Indisch Dutch into the Netherlands many conservative politicians and activists with Indisch Dutch backgrounds focused on themes of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration. For instance, one of the first well known politicians who expressed himself against migration policy and the ideal of a multicultural society was prominent VVD member, Frits Bolkestein, who had an Indisch mother. He came to prominence because in his day he was the only EU commissioner who argued strenuously against the admission of Turkey to EU membership. As well, according to the KRO television program, Reporter, in his capacity as state secretary for Overseas Trade he torpedoed trade relations with Indonesia, something for which he had already been criticised when he was still working for Shell. Wilders made his entry into parliament in 1998 with the support of Bolkestein, after having been his speech writer for years as a party worker.

The rise of the Indies NSB in the thirties was caused not only by Netherlands Indisch patriotism and the fear of Indonesian nationalism. The economic crisis had had a serious impact in the Netherlands Indies and it was also for this reason that there was growing support for authoritarian and decisive government. Business closures had led rapidly to growing unemployment amongst all population groups. Salaries of government employees were regularly reduced, which severely affected Indos many of whom were employed by government. From about 1900, it was this group especially that had come to increasingly fear an Indonesian revolution. Because of their mixed parentage there was uncertainty as to whether there would still be a place for them in the land of their birth following a change in national government. Europe was an abstract concept for them: somewhere where higher officials would go to ‘on furlough’.

The fear and uncertainty were fed by the fact that Indonesians were taking over more and more of their jobs at the bottom end of the job market which had once been intended for Indos. This was the result of better education and also because Indonesians were paid less than Europeans for the same work. It was against this background of looming marginalisation that ‘New Guinea homeland’ plans were inaugurated, and for which propaganda material had been produced by the NENASU, the Netherlands National Socialist Publishing Company. The colonial government was economising heavily at this time, which further reduced the employment opportunities for everyone. In 1932 large demonstrations took place in Batavia, during which banners proclaimed: ‘The government is making government employees rebellious!’ That it was risky for Europeans in those days to go to Europe on furlough was experienced by Geert Wilders’ grandfather, Johan Ording.

In the National Archive, amongst the yellowing files of the Commission for Indies Affairs which was directly responsible to the minister of colonies, there is a hefty file totally dedicated to Ording. The file was closed in 1935 and probably only opened this (2009) summer for the first time since then.

Ording, born in Utrecht, was adjunct inspector for the financial overview of the regencies and municipal councils of East Java. He undertook the first half of his furlough in the autumn of 1933 in Nice. After that he spent time in the isolated village of Grubbenvorst near Venlo, together with his wife Johanna, a member of an old Indisch family, and their seven young children. Ording had located to the isolated Grubbenvorst temporally for economic reasons. While he was in Nice he had been declared bankrupt (again). In Grubbenvorst in the autumn of 1934, he unexpectedly received a telegram with the news that he had been dismissed from government service on grounds of unsuitability. He received advice to apply for a pension as soon as possible. The payment of a pension, however, was continually delayed, resulting in him experiencing significant financial problems. Once more he was declared bankrupt. Even worse was the fact that Ording and his family, as it would appear later, were not granted free return passage to the Indies because he was born in the Netherlands. His wife and children, however, were all born in Java.

For the now pregnant Johanna, coming from a well-known large Indisch-Jewish family by the name of Meijer, and accustomed to an army of servants at her beck and call, the initial period in the Netherlands must have been terrible. The care of her children (the eldest was 13) would have been her sole responsibility, a new experience in unfamiliar surroundings. Most likely she would also have been hardly able to understand the local dialect. For the first few months the stranded family received a small allowance from the Indies government. Two months after giving birth in 1935 this suddenly ceased without warning. Ording and his family were reduced to begging and were also threatened with eviction. He wrote to the National Crisis Commission for financial assistance.

Despite a number of requests, Ording was still not told why, after seventeen years, he had been declared unsuitable for government service. It is true that as a private person he had regularly experienced financial difficulties and bankruptcies (which he explained were due to the ‘temporary lack of accountability’ on the part of his wife). Also, just before his departure, he had temporarily been employed in another position. Soon after he had left the indies it became clear that Ording had once again built up significant debts on the way to boarding the ship in Sukabumi (probably where the ancestral home of Johanna Wilders mother was located and where the seventh child was born). In Sukabumi a judicial investigation was underway to investigate accusations of fraud and swindling against the couple. What was later determined was that Ording had disadvantaged several creditors, not only in the Netherlands Indies but also during his furlough in Nice. His official duties however, had always been more than adequate and, according to official reports, ‘his capacities were not unsatisfactory’.

Ording, therefore, remained unclear why he was not given a pension and why the temporary assistance had been stopped: he received no further information, neither from the Netherlands Indies, nor from The Hague. In desperation, in April 1935 he wrote an emotional appeal to the Minister of Colonies, Colijn, in which he asked the minister ‘to rescue my family from complete destruction’. ‘At the moment the province (East Java) has left me and my family, which consists apart from my wife and I of eight quite young children, at the mercy of public charity. At the moment, Your Excellency, my family is starving.’

On the advice of governor-general De Jong, Colijn decided to support the cancellation of Ording’s pension. According to De Jong, Ording had been guilty of ‘such serious misbehaviour’ that he had forfeited his pension. The East Java provincial government had reported that ‘it had been impossible to put the work he had done there in order’, that ‘in both a financial and moral sense he could not be trusted’ and ‘like his spouse was accustomed to live far beyond his means’. Apparently, that Ording had been given no opportunity to defend himself against these overseas accusations, had had no influence on the decision.

In order to secure this judicial decision, Colijn used a nasty trick: since it could not be said that Ording was unsuitable for any position in the Netherlands Indies, he also did not come in consideration for the so-called ’nonvaleurs’ (‘no hopers’) pension. Moreover, Colijn reasoned, since this last form of pension had been abolished a month after Ording had been dismissed, it needn’t be applied to him. By this kind of questionable means, under what was referred to as an ‘adjustment policy’, the government economised on pension costs during the crisis years, unavoidably evoking, as a result, significant opposition.

Nevertheless, Ording succeeded in making a new career for himself, this time in the military prison system. With the rank of major, he became director of Fort Honswijk, the infamous prison for World War Two collaborators, from where later hundreds of (Dutch) NSB and SS members were deported to New Guinea. Ording was also director at the Scheveningen and later Leeuwarden prisons. Despite his ultimate rehabilitation it is likely that the painful experience of his furlough left its traces in his family. In 1961, two years before his grandson Geert was born there, Ording and his wife settled in Venlo again. According to Wilders, his grandparents lived ‘half a kilometre away’ from him and he visited them often. Ording died in 1976, and six years later – Geert was then 18 – Johanna died.

Both Wilders’ mother as well as his grandmother, were thus settled in the Netherlands when the Netherlands Indies fell and in December 1949 when the – imposed - sovereignty transfer was signed. The old wound of the Second World War had to be healed and the postcolonial rearrangements of groups and boundaries were beginning to take place; a process which, apart from bringing some justice also inspired resentment. The latter sentiment expressed itself, amongst other ways, in the Hague-Indies lobby and in the political and official careers of ‘Indische jongens’ (‘Indisch lads’) from the early fifties on.

Although the Dutch government didn’t make things easy for Indisch Dutch to come to the Netherlands, because they were considered too ‘orientally oriented’, most did succeed. They would come to experience, however, that they were welcome neither in the Netherlands nor in Indonesia. One in five emigrated on to the US, Canada or Australia. Those who did remain in Indonesia, were from 1957 till the peak of the New Guinea crisis, sent out of the country by Soekarno.

Wilders’ declarations and propositions appear to fit extraordinarily well into the conservative and colonial discourses that other politicians of Netherlands Indies origin had pursued a half century ago. Foremost are the sentiments of patriotism, of strengthening and maintaining Dutch influence, values and culture and a holy belief in the nation state, as the panacea (as New Guinea was meant to be). Also for Wilders, the refrain of ‘back to earlier times’ is central and that sometimes leads to surprising claims. So for instance, last year (2008), he seriously urged the ‘reintegration’ of Flanders into the Netherlands, so that the mythical Greater Netherlands could be established (which by the way had been a well known objective of the NSB). At the time Wilders wrote in the NRC Handelsblad: ‘It is time to show leadership to right the historical mistakes. The moment is now.’ In the same context, he recently (2009) asked in parliament whether minister Verhagen was prepared to ‘hasten the inevitable break up of Belgium’. At the same time he announced that ‘our sovereignty as a nation is being frittered away.’

Wilders also urged the relocation of the Dutch embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ‘as a reward for Israel ‘, strenuously opposed a treaty between EU and Syria, and demanded the recall of the ambassador to Saudi Arabia because ‘they interfered with our freedom of expression’ (this following the visit of minister of Foreign Affairs Bot to Ryiad in relation to the anger generated by a cartoon). He described the trip of the parliamentary delegation to Saudi Arabia in 2008 ‘as a politically correct junket to a backward and barbarian, Islamfascist land’. He regularly asked questions about ‘Indonesian actions’ against Papuans in New Guinea.

Indicative also was the position he took when the Westerling affair was being discussed. Under Captain Westerling’s command in 1946, thousands of innocent Indonesians died during a counter-terrorism campaign in South Sulawesi. In 1950 Westerling attempted a failed coup against Soekarno, during which again many more died. The government (Stikker was then VVD Minister for Foreign Affairs) decided in the same year not to persecute the man for his war crimes, a decision with which Wilders still agrees. In reference to Westerling’s actions, he declared sympathetically in 2003 ‘that one had to see this in the context of the times’.

Wilders opposition to immigration and the presence of Muslims (he employs in this context the terms ‘Muslim tsunami’ and ‘the Moroccan colonialists’), to Islam and multiculturalism in general, is and remains his central theme. He is now also taking this message abroad. More than anything, Wilders can be understood as a postcolonial revanchist, obsessed as he is with the winding back of post war geopolitical and demographic change and the ‘correction of historical mistakes’. Revenge and extreme patriotism in the form of the ‘maintenance of one’s own dominant culture’, the ‘rescue of specific European values’, and the ‘turning back of Islam’ form the neo-colonial drivers that he appears to have borrowed from the Indies NSB. But not only from the Indies NSB: also from groups within the colonial right wing of the VVD, the Jong Conservatief Verbond, (the Young Conservative Association) the Centrum Partij and the Vrije Indische Partij (Free Indies Party) also shared forms of reactionary conservative patriotism coupled with xenophobia. In Wilders manifesto, ‘Kies voor vrijheid (Choose for Freedom) the following alarming image is provided: ‘A Netherlands that maintains its own identity, and is proud of it, that refuses to allow itself to be taken over, or to adjust itself to completely different cultures, or which allows its identity to be watered down by entering into supranational institutions.’
That Wilders appears to be blatantly operating in a postcolonial political dimension without this being recognised says a lot for how the Netherlands saw and continues to see its colonial past. Keeping silent, denying, forgetting and looking the other way has for decades been the rule. As a result, almost no one can any longer imagine that the events of more than a half century ago could still have an impact on politics today. This, despite the fact that at the time more than half a million Dutch people were affected by the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands Indies, the colonial war and the subsequent relocation of people. It relates to experiences that many people were unable to come to terms during their life times, and nor could their children, an unknown number of whom are still under treatment because of inherited war related problems, the so-called second generation trauma. What the long term effects of the experience of the second rate citizenship of Indos - in the colony and later also in the Netherlands – have been, has not yet been investigated. But a glance at the internet shows that the problematic journey in search of an ‘own’ Indisch identity continues relentlessly, also within the new generation. Because of the silence around the final moments of the events of the war and what proceeded it long before, it continues to provide a potent source for a discutabele politics of displacedness.

It was no less than a brilliant inspiration for Wilders to blond his dark hair. That apparently is all one needs to do to rid oneself of one’s Indo-ness and to thereafter enter the world of politics as the ‘man from Venlo’. A Belgium or French politician with a similar neo-colonial agenda, by contrast, runs the risk of being quickly recognised as a (still not yet dangerous) postcolonial revanchist. The national and international affairs political agenda there is determined by a long-term perspective in which the old lobbies (Algeria, Congo, Rwanda) and new politicians are naturally put into contact with each other – both by politicians themselves and colonial historians. A recent example from Belgium, in the context of the ethnic slaughter in Rwanda in 1994, is the debate around the politics inspired by ‘genocide revisionism’. Such debates take place, more or less, in all the surrounding ex-imperial countries, but not here. By relegating the legacy of Indies politics to the historical dustbin, the Netherlands has become completely blind to the symbols and rhetoric that for a long time had defined its own imperialism. That is a sad conclusion.

The not very important but nevertheless ironic fact that Wilders is being accused of inciting race hatred, while the infamous race hate incitement articles in Indies criminal law were introduced specifically to be able to place Soekarno behind bars, has therefore remained unnoticed. That was also the case last year (2008) when Wilders was declared persona non grata after the production of the anti-islamist film Fitna in Indonesia. He may never enter the land of his mother’s birth again. That event was accompanied by the attack on the Netherlands consulate building in Medan, the burning of the Dutch flag and the demand by demonstrators that all Dutch people be deported. The temptation is great to see Wilders as the avenger of the exile of his grandparents, Johan and Johanna Ording. But perhaps Wilders is only a case of the extreme expression of a classic Indisch loss of identity. His extreme hairstyle in any case is a symptom of this.


Postscript:
Amongst the many reactions I received to my article on Wilders, two responses are of particular interest. One was from the American Indonesia historian, Professor Bill Frederick. He pointed out to me that there is a precedent for the political motivation of Indos wanting to blond their hair to disguise their Indo ancestry. In the course of his research on the history of East Java between 1945 and 1950, he had come across examples of Indos who had blonded their hair consorting with Indonesians during the violent bersiap period (1945 – 1946) in the Surabaya region. These blonded criminals, as associates of the pemuda, the young revolutionary Indonesian nationalists, were involved in robbing, kidnapping and murdering Indos and totoks as well as Chinese-Indisch people. According to Frederick, these Indos had joined the gang of the infamous and greatly feared political terrorist, Sabaruddin, alias the ‘Beul’, (the Executioner), who was responsible for hundreds of sadistic murders of Indos and totoks as well as of Indonesians and British military personnel in the area. Frederick assumes that the racism that these blonded Indos displayed, like their bleached hair, was supposed to protect them from the Indonesian violence perpetrated against Indos that had erupted during bersiap period. Without further detailed knowledge of the time and place it is impossible to fully understand this paradoxical survival strategy. Only the tragedy of it stands out clearly from this murky past.

The other interesting response concerned the history of Wilders’ grandfather, Johan Ording, which throws a different light on his history than that suggested by the official archive. This information came from a descendent of the man who, in 1933, revealed an important fraud and corruption case in East Java, the deputy chief of the departmental division of Financial Overview for the province of East Java, Mr J van Dijk. Newly arrived from the Netherlands in 1931 and appointed as adjunct inspector and right hand man of his boss, Ording, this strict Protestant came to suspect that Ording’s failure to go on furlough leave related to his fear that his fraudulent practices would be discovered.

Van Dijk had indicated his suspicions privately in letters to his family in Holland before officially breaking open an extensive fraud case that had lead the forced furlough of Ording, who the enquiry had revealed was involved in the corruption, and to the arrest of subordinates and. Probably higher up officials were also involved, which would explain why the case was hushed up and why Ording merely received a dishonourable discharge, and was later able to establish a new career in government service in the Netherlands. As a former official, he probably knew too much about his superiors to risk applying the full rigour of the law aginst him. Besides, Ording indirectly had the protection of Colijn who was minister of colonies till 1939. In 1933 the administrative division of Java into three provinces that Colijn had initiated, had only just been established so that it is likely to have still been open to corruption and fraud. As its author, it would not have been in Colijn’s interests for such problems to be revealed and indeed, it was only in 1939 that the fraud case came to the courts. In the meantime, van Dijk had also uncovered other cases of corruption, including in the taxation department. It is possible that the sudden departure of the governor of East Java, GH. de Man, who had only been in his position for two years, that was announced in March 1933, was also related to this case.


Lizzy van Leeuwen is anthropologist and scholar of public administration. She undertook lengthy research in Jakarta into the lifestyles of the Indonesian elite in the latter Soeharto years. That resulted in two books: Airconditioned lifestyles (1997) and Lost in the Mall (2005). In 2008 she published Ons Indisch Erfgoed: Zestig jaar srijd om cultuur en identiteit (Our Indisch heritage: Sixty year struggle about culture and identity) (Bert Bakker) in which she concluded that the weighty colonial legacy from the East Indies (discrimination, disadvantage, the cold reception in the Netherlands, and the ‘expected limitations of the restitution of post war injustices’ have been bought off by the Netherlands government. The sham debate about this was pursued in the cultural arena (concerned with things like pasar malams and rijsttafel) instead of the relevant social and political spheres. Van Leeuwen’s research was part of a KNAW- research project into Dutch postcolonial experience. Between 2006 and 2008, as social affairs reporter of the Pelita Stichting, she interviewed more than 100 Indies parents about their youth, war and immigration experiences. She is currently writing a biography of the Indo dancer Indra Kamadjojo (1906-1992).

Translation: Joost Coté