Opinion: A Dutch take on Gurkha citizenship

I was filled with pride about our party when I saw Nick Clegg speaking to those furious Gurkha veterans outside the Houses of Parliament, and when he brandished a Gurkha medal during Prime Minister’s Questions. Gordon Brown showed himself a glorified book-keeper in his response.

From his Dutch-Indian mother, Nick could have known that the Dutch have always been somewhat more pragmatic about our “native troops” from our Asian colonies, the Dutch East Indies.

Almost the first part of present-day Indonesia the Dutch occupied was the archipelago of the Moluccas. The Moluccans started cultivating spices for our East India Company (VOC). We noticed that they were fierce fighters; so when we made the Dutch East Indies a Crown Colony and integrated it in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1816-30), we very soon mobilised Mollucan men in our Royal East Indian Army KNIL.

They became the commando, elite bushfighting units of the KNIL; they helped us subjugate the Aceh people of North Sumatra (1872-1904). Some came to the Netherlands as servants or assistants to Dutch colonmial personel, and some served in our Navy and ended up here. They helped found the myriad of Indonesian restaurants that you see everywhere in the Netherlands!

The Mollucans didn’t like being governed in an independent Indonesia by the Javanese, so they resisted to the last their addition to the “Republik Indonesia” the nationalist Sukarno and his Javanese party had proclaimed in 1945.

When the Netherlands gave 95% of the Dutch East Indies to Sukarno’s “Republik”, the Moluccans tried to establish a separate Republic, but were overwhelmed.

The Dutch arranged that many Moluccan soldiers, NCOs and officers could emigrate to the Netherlands, and made Sukarno promise to treat the remainder fairly.

Because we didn’t have employment for them, the Dutch government demobilised the Moluccan soldiers when they arrived in the Netherlands; but we paid them their full pensions and housed them in communities and neighbourhoods in Dutch cities. Even when some of their children rebelled violently in the mid-‘70s (two train hijacks, two hostage situations at basis schools), we didn’t punish or expel their veteran fathers.

Their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters now are totally integrated in Dutch society; some even serve in the Dutch military. The Dutch navy still knows how to make a vast Javanese dinner; the Dutch Army still has Moluccan-Dutch soldiers serving in it at full pay. And both branches of our military are proud of that heritage!

I seem to remember that the French allowed their native Algerian troops, the Harkis, to emigrate to France and live there when De Gaulle handed Algeria over to the leftist nationalists of the FLN in 1962. The French did discriminate against their harki co-citizens in daily life; but they were full French citizens nonetheless.

And the last “French” survivor of the 1914-18 Great War, who died a week ago was in fact an Italian who had served in the Foreign Legion; so there too one sees foreign-born soldiers being given a fair deal and full citizenship, no questions asked, as a veteran.

Just as the British took over New Amsterdam with Muurstraat and made New York and Wall Street out of it, so they should follow the Dutch example here, and give the Gurkhas full and equal rights to British citizenship and/or residence.

* Bernard Aris (whose maternal grandmother was half Javanese) has been a researcher for the D66 Parliamentary Party in the Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament (the equivalent of the Commons) for the past 18 years.

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3 Comments

  • Martin Land 22nd Mar '08 - 3:45pm

    You logic is excellent. Just a small note though. The treatment of the Harki’s was really appalling. Citizenship, yes, but more or less imprisoned in camps for as long as 25 years; they remain not just subject to discrimination like all beurs, but equally subject to the hatred of their fellow French-Algerians from the patriot side. A real stain on France’s record.

  • EP Schäffer 19th Jul '20 - 7:35am

    All very well, but subsequent Dutch governments have broken just about every promise to the Moluccan soldiers, who were ordered to come to the Netherlands temporarily. Indeed many Molucczns have integrated succesfully into Dutch society. But it did take a number of violent actions to draw attention to the fact, that promises to Moluccans should not be taken lightly. Although the Dutch brutally murdered the desparate men and women, who resorted to violence, when they were tired of listening to the shameful lies of the Dutch.

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