1966: Christiaan Soumokil, South Moluccan President

7 comments April 12th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1966, an Indonesian firing squad on the island of Obira (or Obi) shot Chris Soumokil (the link is to his Dutch wikipedia page) for having styled himself the president of the Republic of the South Moluccas.

Soumokil’s fate underscores the many contradictory eddies of nationalism in the post-colonial age, and especially in that “imagined community” par excellence, the scattered archipelago of Indonesia.

Here is the background in outline, from a 2005 anti-terrorism text whose interest in the topic will soon become apparent:

The disintegration of the Dutch East Indies and the rapid dissolution of the federative state was anxiously watched in the Moluccas. … [Moluccans] were a privileged group and had favourable career opportunities … [they] were deeply concerned when Sukarno first proclaimed independence in 1945; indeed, many seemingly chose the side of the Dutch government and hoped for a return to colonial times, because they feared that a Java-dominated Indonesian state would significantly worsen their position. …

When Sukarno, in the spring of 1950, dissolved the state of East Indonesia, of which the Moluccas were a province, a group of Moluccans immediately responded by proclaiming and independent Republic of the South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan) on 24 April. This, of course, was unacceptable for Sukarno. In November 1950, the Indonesian army occupied the island of Ambon, the cultural and political centre of the Moluccas. The RMS government and its sympathizers fled to the island of Ceram, where it started a guerrilla war against the Indonesian government. In the early 1960s it became clear that this struggle was utterly hopeless. In 1962, The Netherlands transferred New Guinea to the Republic of Indonesia, thereby depriving the RMS guerrillas of the safe haven where it [sic] had prepared its actions and found refuge.

Soumokil was captured in December 1962 and imprisoned; he was executed* just a month after the Indonesian government was seized by Suharto, on a programme of putting disorder to the sword.

Although politically moribund, the South Moluccan struggle to which Soumokil is a martyr is far from forgotten. And this is where the story of nationalism takes an unexpected turn.

Moluccan refugees in the Netherlands — a “temporarily” displaced population that became permanent, comprised largely out of ferociously anti-Indonesian former soldiers** among whom the RMS government-in-exile still maintains itself today — carried the memory of this struggle forward, far more so than it persisted in the Moluccas themselves.

For this Moluccan diaspora, already subject to all the strains of migration, the affair was a betrayal by their host country, which had failed to repay their ancestors’ loyalty to Holland during the colonial period by backing their people’s aspirations for independence — and had done this even while placing another colony, Suriname, on precisely the sort of stewardship-to-independence track the RMS had in mind for itself.

Soumokil’s execution (and his widow’s subsequent release to the Netherlands) helped (the link is Dutch) radicalize the next generation of Dutch Moluccans to the extent of carrying out some spectacular terrorist actions.

Though there haven’t been any bombs lately, there remains to this day enough currency in this cause to recommend it in the identity formation of the YouTube generation.

* An account of Soumokil’s last hours given by Soumokil’s widow posted here gives the particulars thus:

On April 11, 1966, Mrs. Soumokil and her son Tommie were given permission to pay a last visit to Mr. Dr. Soumokil from 08.00 AM to 11.30 AM to say good-bye to each other.

On April 12, 1966, at 01.00 AM Mr. Dr. Soumokil had been taken by the Indonesian Military from the condemned cell and transferred by motorboat to the island Obi in the archipelago Pulau Seribu … On April 12, 1966, one minute before 07.00am, Mr. Dr. Soumokil gave his last breath. He had been shot by the Indonesian firing-squad.

** Also generally Christian, vis-a-vis the predominantly Muslim Indonesia.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Indonesia,Martyrs,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Separatists,Shot,Treason

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