Mohammad Hatta, Muslim and western intellectual

Dutch letters by Mohammad Hatta 1936-1940

Muslim and western intellectual
Mohammed Hatta"I do not admire the practices of Western democracies, but I do hope that the spirit of democracy will win in the end." Mohammad Hatta, leader of the Indonesian nationalists and first vice president of the independent republic of Indonesia, stated this in a letter commenting the outbreak of the Second World War (September 1939). Mohammad Hatta (1902-1980) was both a devout Muslim and a modern western-educated politician and economist. He moved in traditionalist and modernist Islamic circles and took part in Dutch politics and culture. During a lengthy period of detainment in the thirties he wrote various theoretical essays on politics and economy, and at the same time he taught the children of his fellow inmates about Dutch children's literature. At the same time he studied Marx' Das Kapital and read The New Statesman and Nation.
According to his political friend and roommate Sutan Shahrir, Hatta's Dutch identity had much deeper roots than Hatta himself would admit. 'In spite of his critical remarks about Dutch colonial politics, Hatta nourished Dutch feelings. In his judgement of the Dutch colonial administration, Hatta was much like a Dutchman of leftist principles who criticized his own government.'
The letters which Hatta wrote to his old political friend Johannes Post corroborate this view. Their content and style of writing reveal how essentially Dutch Hatta was: his hypercorrect, tactful formulations are typical of the Indonesian student in the Dutch educational system who has learned to accommodate and do his best, for the sake of decency.

Mohammad Hatta 1902-1980
Mohammed Hatta was born in Bukitinggi, West Sumatra. He grew up in a traditionalist Muslim family. Both his grandfather and his father were conservative ulama (scholars of Islam). At secondary school Hatta came under the influence of modernist Muslim teachers who spread social and economic change in Indonesia. In his youth, he became a member of the nationalist Young Sumatrans Union. Hatta studied economy in Rotterdam from 1923 to 1932, and he became president of the Perhimpunan Indonesia (PI), the society of Indonesian students in the Netherlands. A true democrat in heart and soul, he emerged as a fighter for independence.
Farewell party SukimanBecause of an article about Dutch colonial administration in the journal of the PI, Indonesia Merdeka, Hatta was arrested in 1927. He was accused of high treason, but acquitted by a Dutch court of law. He was supported by the Dutch poet and socialist Henriette Roland Holst and remained her friend for the rest of his life. When his study at Rotterdam Academy was finished, Hatta returned to Indonesia. Full of anger about the repressive methods of the colonial government, Hatta became a leader of the so-called non-cooperative nationalists. They did not preach revolution but advocated alterations within the existing order. In 1934 he was arrested and banished to Upper-Digul (New-Guinea) and later to Bandaneira (the Moluccas).
Hatta was accused of high treason twice: in 1927 in Holland and in 1934 in the Dutch Indies. His comment was: 'the first time a Dutch court of law acquitted me, the second time world history did so.' Indeed, in 1942 Hatta was liberated by the Japanese military government in Indonesia. Hatta became an adviser to the Japanese military government and, like many Indonesian nationalists, cooperated in a quiet way with the Japanese occupational power. Together with Sukarno, Hatta became a prominent Indonesian nationalist leader. Pushed by Indonesian youth, they proclaimed Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945. Hatta became vice president of the new Republic. During the negotiations about the transfer of sovereignty, Mohammad Hatta headed the delegation of the Indonesian Republic. He was vice president from 1946 to 1956, and prime minister from 1948 to 1950. Hatta died in Jakarta in 1980.

Letters from captivity
Brief van HattaThe correspondence between Hatta and Johannes Post started soon after Hatta was transferred from imprisonment in Upper-Digul (New-Guinea) to the Banda islands (the Moluccas). In 1934 captivity began in Tanah Merah, a village in West New Guinea where Hatta was had been placed under permanent guard in a small dwelling. In Upper-Digul everybody suffered from malaria. Protest eventually led to the transfer of Hatta and his companion Sutan Shahrir to Banda Neira. They received a monthly allowance of 75 Dutch guilders, which enabled them to rent a house. Here, Hatta gave private lessons to the children of his fellows. Hatta assisted establishment of an agrarian cooperative. He tried to gather as many books as possible during captivity: 'My philosophy of life is this: struggle while one is free; if people have clipped one's wings, then devote oneself to the pursuit of knowledge.'
To enhance his knowledge, Hatta frequently appealed to his old Dutch friends Henriette Roland Holst [papers] and Johannes Post. Henriette Roland Holst, the Dutch poet and socialist, had sided with the Indian and Indonesian nationalists during the twenties and supported them in word and deed, and so did their mutual friend Johannes Post. Johannes Eduard Post (1880-1945) was an idealistic businessman in Amsterdam who granted loans and assistance to strikers and conscientious objectors. He was active in the anti-colonial movement, and this is where he befriended Hatta and other Indonesian students in Holland.
The letters from Hatta are included in the papers of Johannes Post at the IISH, the letters from Post to Hatta could not be retrieved.

Literatuur: H. Bergema (red), Pioniers van het nieuwe Azië (Franeker 1959) 331-467
N. Markus, 'Mensen ontmoeten elkaar. Het weerzien van Henriette Roland Holst en Mohammad Hatta' in: Vertrouwd en Vreemd... (Hilversum 2000) 217-229
Mavis Rose, Indonesia Free, a political biography of Mohammad Hatta (Ithaca 1987)
I.F.M. Salim, Vijftien jaar Boven-Digoel. Concentratiekamp in Nieuw-Guinea... (Amsterdam 1973)

Text Emile Schwidder, Margreet Schrevel