Relatives of men executed by Dutch troops in the Indonesian village of Rawagede fought for six decades to get compensation that was supposed to heal wounds. Now that they have the money, it has ripped the village apart once again.
Only a few of the residents — most of them widows in their 80s and 90s — brought the case to court.
However, with hundreds killed, many more suffered. Claiming part of the US$270,000 was rightfully theirs, old friends and neighbors cajoled, bullied and intimidated the plaintiffs and their families until local officials jumped in, forcing them to part with half their cash.
“It’s not fair,” said Muskar Warjo, who lost his father and grandfather in the massacre that wiped out nearly the entire male population of Rawagede. “Our lawyers said the money belonged to us, that we could use it as we saw fit.”
Soldiers clinging to their retreating colonial empire arrived just before dawn on Dec. 9, 1947 in search of a well-known resistance leader and — after getting no help — led as many as 430 boys and young men to a rice field where one by one they were shot.
In September a Dutch court ordered its government to apologize for the killings and to give each of the 10 plaintiffs US$27,000. Three died during the course of the trial and the money went to their -families instead.
Muskar, representing his mother after her death in 2009, said almost immediately after the verdict was handed down, mobs surrounded his home, the faces of people he’d known all his life, twisted with hatred and anger.
“There were hundreds of them, screaming, threatening to burn down my house if I didn’t give them some of my money,” the 75-year-old said, his eyes brimming with tears. “In the end, I didn’t have any choice.”
The court ruling has paved the way for similar allegations of war crimes during the Netherlands’ centuries-long rule in Indonesia — and raised the possibility of further compensation.
Muskar escaped the mob outside his house on Dec. 27 and — after a community decision to divvy up the cash — was escorted by local authorities to a neighboring village for his own safety until tensions eased.
In the end, his mother’s dream to replace their rickety, wooden shack with a new brick house remains just that, he said: a dream.
Additional compensation in the works would benefit the community as a whole: the Dutch government promised three years ago to provide US$1.2 million in “development aid” to build a school, hospital and market in Rawagede.
However, that money remains stuck in The Hague because of a disagreement between two Indonesian foundations — both of which claim to represent -the -villagers’ interests.
Kadun bin Siot was among those who protested the court award.
“What about me?” he said, his lips quivering as he struggled to contain his emotion. “Why don’t I deserve to be compensated. I suffered as much as they did.”
He was 12, peering through the slats of a wooden barn as soldiers flushed his father out of his hiding place in a trash heap, stabbing it with bayonets until he emerged, blood pouring from his face.
“They dragged him away,” the 76-year-old farmer said. “I never saw him again. I’m very angry at the Dutch. First the killings and now this. The way they are handing out money. It’s just created jealously, anger.”
It was after hearing many such complaints that the village chief Mamat decided to call a meeting. He invited plaintiffs and their families — as well as police and other top local officials — to reach an agreement. The widows and their families should share.