15 Jul 2011

The beginnings of Indonesian nationalism

The beginnings of Indonesian nationalism

At the same time a nationalist movement was beginning to stir. Resistance to Dutch occupation had, of course, always existed, flaring up frequently in peasant risings and occasionally in national wars (such as that on Java from 1825 to 1830). Islam was a convenient symbol for resistance and nationalism: its spread through the archipelago had been accelerated by the arrival of the Spaniards and the Portuguese in the 16th century (as a kind of extension of the Mediterranean conflict and partly, too, as a proto-nationalist gesture).Appropriately, devoutly Muslim Atjeh (now Aceh), a principality in northern Sumatra, held up against Dutch repression well into the 20th century, the resistance overlapping in time with the formation of Sarekat Islam.
The latter was a nationalist movement that had begun as an organization of Muslim traders, but had quickly, after 1912, extended its appeal. It became a genuinely mass movement, with millions of followers.
During World War I, the apprehensive Dutch permitted the formation of a people's assembly (Volksraad) as a safety valve, but they kept it firmly in their control and on a strict leash. More significantly, left-wing ideas began to enjoy currency in nationalist circles, and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was founded in 1920 (thus predating even the Chinese Communist Party). In 1926 and 1927 the PKI attempted revolution, but the fragmented risings were soon crushed. The Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI), led by Achmed Sukarno, was founded in 1927, but was brutally suppressed by the Dutch and its leaders exiled.

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