Indonesia Regains Its Independence Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After centuries of European colonization, mostly by the Dutch, and after five years of war that saw the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II, Indonesians celebrated their newly acquired independence from the Netherlands.

Summary of Event

When Western influence in the Indonesian archipelago began in the sixteenth century, Islam Islam had already been firmly established except in some of the outlying islands of the Moluccas (Spice Islands), where Christian missionaries made headway. In 1581, the Dutch seized Portuguese colonies and began to expand influence. After Napoleon gained control of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1795, England took over the colony in Indonesia. In 1814, however, the British agreed to give Indonesia back to the Dutch as part of a peace treaty signed after Napoleon’s defeat. The local population was not happy to see the return of the Dutch, who proceeded to put down several insurrections for the rest of the century, often using Moluccan troops. Postcolonialism;Indonesia Nationalism;Indonesia Constitutions;Indonesia Anticolonial movements;Indonesia [kw]Indonesia Regains Its Independence (Aug. 17, 1950) [kw]Independence, Indonesia Regains Its (Aug. 17, 1950) Postcolonialism;Indonesia Nationalism;Indonesia Constitutions;Indonesia Anticolonial movements;Indonesia [g]Southeast Asia;Aug. 17, 1950: Indonesia Regains Its Independence[03250] [g]Indonesia;Aug. 17, 1950: Indonesia Regains Its Independence[03250] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Aug. 17, 1950: Indonesia Regains Its Independence[03250] [c]Government and politics;Aug. 17, 1950: Indonesia Regains Its Independence[03250] [c]Independence movements;Aug. 17, 1950: Indonesia Regains Its Independence[03250] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 17, 1950: Indonesia Regains Its Independence[03250] Sukarno Hatta, Mohammad Mook, Hubertus van Musso Malaka, Tan Kartosuwirjo, Sekarmadji Maridjan Westerling, Raymond Hamid II Alqadrie, Syarif

During the early twentieth century, three revolutionary forces emerged. The Communist Party Communist Party, Indonesian of Indonesia appealed to poorer Javanese, providing an apt Marxist description of their exploitation. The Communists attempted a coup in 1926-1927 but were forced underground after defeat. A second force, Islam, insisted that capitalism and colonialism were evil. A third anticolonial movement was mobilized by Sukarno, a charismatic engineering student whose political appeal was based on a mixture of Islam, nationalism, and socialism.

In 1942, during World War II, Japanese troops seized the archipelago. The British and their allies then assisted underground paramilitary groups, some of whom were Communist Party members, to oppose the Japanese. Sukarno, eager to end Dutch rule, collaborated with the Japanese, which promised independence to Indonesia in 1944.

In 1945, accordingly, Indonesian leaders drew up a constitution, proclaimed an independent republic of Indonesia on August 17, and named Sukarno as president and Mohammad Hatta as vice president. The map of Indonesia accepted by the constitution’s framers included British North Borneo and Portuguese Timor as well as the entire Netherlands East Indies, including West New Guinea (Irian Jaya).

In 1945, with the Japanese in retreat, British military forces sought to detain Japanese soldiers and to liberate Allied prisoners of war, and they gave de facto recognition to the republic. Some Japanese commanders turned over their arms to the army of the new republic. When World War II ended, the Dutch dispatched Netherlands East Indies lieutenant governor Hubertus van Mook and an army that soon swelled from 20,000 to 150,000 to retake possession of the archipelago. Van Mook began negotiations with the republic, and in 1946 proposed a commonwealth arrangement: a Netherlands-Indonesian union under the Dutch crown. In 1947, the republic agreed in principle to the Dutch proposal, but delayed implementation. Impatient, the Dutch attacked the republic’s army to enforce the agreement. The United Nations United Nations;peace negotiations Security Council then formed a commission in 1947 and secured a cease-fire between the Dutch and the republic in 1948.

In East Java, the Communist Party of Indonesia, led by Musso, and Trotskyist forces led by Tan Malaka mobilized the masses to establish a people’s republic. By early 1949, the republic had suppressed the Communist revolt and both its leaders had been executed. Meanwhile, an Islamic mystic named Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo proclaimed in 1948 an Indonesian Islamic state in West Java as a Muslim theocracy and formally severed ties with the Indonesian republic in 1949.

Despite the U.N.-brokered cease-fire, the Dutch arrested Hatta, Sukarno, and other republican leaders while seeking to crush the republic’s army and to set up fifteen federal states. The U.N. Security Council, after considering the Dutch action unacceptable, demanded the immediate reestablishment of the republic and full transfer of authority by July 1, 1950. Negotiations then proceeded in 1949 on the terms of independence. The Dutch invited delegates from the Republic of Indonesia, which was formally assigned to control only Java and Sumatra, as well as Syarif Hamid II Alqadrie, the sultan of Pontianak, who represented fifteen federal states created by the Dutch. The result was a federal arrangement, the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, though the Dutch retained control of West Irian Jaya. On December 27, the Dutch flag was lowered. One day later, Sukarno returned to Jakarta from exile to resume his position as president.

Although Dutch troops were supposed to leave the country under the terms of the agreement, in January, 1950, Dutch captain Raymond Westerling attempted an abortive coup in West Java on behalf of the sultan of Pontianak. In response, the Indonesian parliament dissolved the federal arrangement, and the fifteen states were pressured, in some cases militarily, to relinquish their separate status. In April, however, the Republic of South Molucca was proclaimed at Ambon, and troops were dispatched in July to put down the insurrection.

The Aceh Province in northern Sumatra was also unhappy with the new arrangement, but insurgents took up arms much later. Many West Javanese also remained loyal to Kartosuwirjo. The Communist Party of Indonesia proceeded to organize support as well. On August 17, a new constitution was adopted that formally ended the federal structure. Indonesia was finally independent.


Indonesia emerged as the most populous country in Southeast Asia as well as the state with the world’s largest Muslim population. With most of the population located on Java, where the capital Jakarta is located, the outer islands have often felt neglected, and the Republic has taken military measures to prevent breakaway movements.

After independence, the Indonesian authorities fired Dutch colonial administrators, who returned to the Netherlands with their families. Especially after the suppression of the Republic of South Molucca in November, 1950, pro-Dutch Indonesians migrated to the former mother country, where some established a government-in-exile: the Republic of South Molucca.

The sultan of Pontianak was arrested in 1950 but released in 1963. Kartosuwirjo and his followers fomented unrest in West Java until his capture and execution in 1962. Nevertheless, the idea of an Islamic state has persisted, political parties favoring the concept have run for office in recent years, and the terrorists have gained support for their promises to establish an Islamic state. In 1953, an uprising occurred in Aceh, but the movement died down when the province was given considerable autonomy.

The Communist Party of Indonesia was allowed to organize in newly independent Indonesia, and the movement gained strength, launching an abortive coup in 1965. After Sukarno was replaced by General Suharto Suharto in 1965, massacres of alleged Communist supporters occurred in 1965-1966, some of whom were in support of a breakaway movement in Western Kalimantan (Borneo), including Pontianak. The latter rebellion was suppressed in the late 1960’s but reemerged in the late 1990’s.

In 1962, the Indonesian military invaded the remaining Dutch colony of West New Guinea, provoking action on the part of the United Nations, which organized a plebiscite in 1969 that enabled Indonesia to legalize its annexation. In the 1990’s, however, an independence movement surfaced among the indigenous people. Postcolonialism;Indonesia Nationalism;Indonesia Constitutions;Indonesia Anticolonial movements;Indonesia

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bertrand, Jacques. Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Traces the resurgence of ethnic conflict in Indonesia in the twenty-first century to the circumstances of Indonesia’s struggle for independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friend, Theodore. Indonesian Destinies. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2003. A comprehensive analysis of political change from 1945 to 2002, based in part on interviews with generals, presidents, and ordinary people in Indonesia, though most coverage is about Java. Little discussion of the outer islands.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jong, L. De. The Collapse of a Colonial Society: The Dutch in Indonesia During the Second World War. Translated by Jennifer Kilian, Cornelia Kist, and John Rudge. Leiden, the Netherlands: KITLV Press, 2002. A partial translation of a monumental, twenty-seven-volume study of the Dutch experience in Japanese-occupied Indonesia during World War II. This work is the first thorough English-language study of its kind. De Jong also discusses the history of the Dutch colonization of the Indonesian archipelago through the 1940’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ricklefs, M. C. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200. 3d ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001. The standard history of the Indonesia archipelago. Chapters sixteen through twenty-one deal with the period from World War II to the Suharto era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, Alastair M. Indonesian Independence and the United Nations. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1960. The role of the United Nations in bringing about Indonesia’s independence.

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Categories: History