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Westerling’s coup and Bernhard, the Viceroy who never

was
Aboeprijadi Santoso, Contributor, Amsterdam | Sun, 03/14/2010 10:36 AM | In the mid-1950s, then dutch prince
Bernhard von Lippe-Biesterfeld — the husband of then Queen Juliana — was in hot water.
A trusted circle around PM Willem Drees suspected the prince of having been deeply involved in an arms
smuggle and of being complicit in a murky plan — cooked up by the Dutch paramilitary member Captain
Raymond Westerling — to topple Sukarno, the president of the newly independent Indonesia.

The suspicion, if found to be justified, could have had international repercussions that could have endangered the
very survival of the Dutch Royal House of Orange. Archives on this case have recently been declassified and
controversy ensues. What was the prince really up to?

Until the 1950s, children in the Netherlands still idolized Captain Westerling, who was deemed a patriotic leader
of the elite troop. School children adored him and wished him well every morning in mass prayers. Such was the
sentiment reflecting the emotional bond and political interest Dutch society had with the colony. It was obvious it
would be hard for them to imagine that the Netherlands had lost its prized possession in the Far East.

Westerling, for one, was well aware of the Zeitgeist. Few, however, realized that Prince Bernhard maintained a
good relationship with Westerling, the infamous soldier with a war crime record of standrechtelijke excuties
(extra-legal killings) of several hundreds villagers in South Sulawesi in 1946.

Now, thanks to a recent book by historian Harry Veenendaal and journalist Jort Kelder, ZKH, Hoog Spel aan het
hof van Zijne Koninkelijke Hoogheid (‘ZKH’, High-level game at the palace of His Royal Highness), we know that
the two — Bernhard and Westerling — and a number of Dutch dignitaries were intricately involved in a web of
intrigue, personal relations and obscure political and business connections.

The book ZKH (the Dutch acronym for “His Royal Highness”) is a result of archival research. Based on
information from the Dutch Marines and various foreign intelligence reports, and in particular the diaries of the
Queen’s secretary, Gerrie van Maasdijk, the authors basically argue that Bernhard effectively used his royal
status and his good friend and advisor Prof. Jan Willem Duyff (an anti-Nazi hero and a physiologist of the
University of Leiden) to manage his political, diplomatic and business interests.

Duyff, “an ambitious man whose aim was to keep the Indies within the kingdom”, had since the mid-1940s kept
intensive contacts with the Dutch commander in Jakarta, Gen. Simon Spoor, and through him was connected to
“the Rambo of kampung”, Westerling; to Sirdar Iqbal Ali Shah (codenamed “Ali Baba”), a Pakistani diplomat-cum-
arms dealer who claimed to have contacts with the Daroel Islam; and to Max Alkadrie aka Sultan Hamid II of
Pontianak, an Indonesian who was put forward to replace Sukarno.

The plan was to assault the Indonesian leaders at a Cabinet meeting in Bandung on Jan. 24, 1950, arrest
Sukarno and PM Moh. Hatta, and “immediately execute them”. Duyff, with a letter signed by Bernhard (dated
May 13, 1948), was sent to meet then US president Dwight Eisenhower to ask Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whose
warships were located near Surabaya, to help restore order in case a civil war broke out if the coup failed.
Eisenhower never replied.

In the event, however, Westerling’s military action on Jan. 23, 1950, was so clumsy (and bloody) that it was not
even worth naming a coup d’état.

But a coup plan, with a Dutch prince being complicit, against a friendly head of state of a republic that the Dutch
had only a month earlier recognized at the Round Table Conference (Dec. 27, 1949), would have been a big
scandal. Bernhard, if accused of high treason, could have endangered the monarchy. A royal apocalypse thus
loomed.
Incidentally, van Maasdijk, the palace secretary and former journalist with close connections to the PM office,
smelled the case and warned Drees. The Dutch administration, who was politically responsible for the House of
Orange, was alarmed. Drees, in a panic, immediately intervened in July 1950, urged the prince to restrain,
ordered an investigation, took damage limitation steps and quickly covered up the case.

Such was the risk. Why then did the prince go ahead and do what he allegedly did?

Veenendaal appears to have a convincing case on the smuggling of weapons from London or Paris via Pakistan
to Yogyakarta, which involved the prince and his associates. On the coup attempt, however, there was as yet no
smoking gun. Nothing explicitly pinpointed Bernhard’s hand behind the coup — except, perhaps, his introductory
letter for Duyff to Eisenhower. The police investigation report, apparently protecting the prince, did not spell out
those who initiated the coup.

But Veenendaal insists “Duyff never acted alone. He needed the full support of the prince”. If so, Westerling’s
coup was essentially Bernhard’s adventure.

Clearly, Bernhard had political and financial motives. The illegal arms trade must have delivered a lot of money.
(Years later he was found to have received a huge amount of bribes in the so-called Lockheed affair).
Interestingly, while denying the allegations, Bernhard indicated that he wished to become a Viceroy
(Onderkoning), ruling over the Dutch-Indies on behalf of his wife, the Queen, just as his friend, Lord Mountbatten,
representing Queen Elizabeth, was for British-India.

Seen from an Indonesian context, however, it seems strange that the conspirators should have attempted a coup
against Sukarno and Hatta when the Dutch diplomatic position after two military actions was very weak. Even
more so since they on relied on the Kartosuwirjo-led Daroel Islam, a small part of Indonesia’s freedom fighters,
who only started to rebel in 1948 (not “1945” as the authors put it) when they opposed the Renville Agreement.
Why the conspirators were that naïve — this seems to have escaped the authors’ attention.

The Bernhard-cum-Duyff-Westerling adventure thus shows how little the Dutch establishment comprehended the
nature of Indonesia’s independence revolution.

Writing from a Dutch perspective, Veenendaal and Kelder actually wrote the book to oppose Cees Fasseur, who
rejected the allegations against Bernhard. Fasseur, personally close to Bernhard and the Royal family, is the sole
historian who has been granted the privilege to see the palace’s private archives. However, in a newspaper, he
refused to reply in greater detail. Another historian, Gerard Aalders, has pointed out that Fasseur has been “too
arrogant” by “rendering van Maasdijk’s testimonies as ridiculous and completely ignoring foreign intelligence
reports on the matter of arm smuggling”.

Given Dutch popular sentiment at the time, no doubt Bernhard was a hero. But to many historians now, he was a
crook. In any case, a prince who unconstitutionally played a political game, unlawfully exported weapons for
personal gain, and dreamt to become a Viceroy just when the colonial era was coming to an end, he must be
both out of place and out of context: a bad anachronism.

Return to the rabbit hole


Sara Veal, Contributor, Jakarta | Sun, 03/14/2010 10:36 AM | Life
A|A|A|
Alice in Wonderland
(Walt Disney Pictures, 109 minutes)
Directed by Tim Burton
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd
Written by Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (book)
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter
Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry

Adapting books for the screen is tricky, even with big bucks and star power there is no guarantee of getting it
right.

Time and time again, audiences excited to see their favourite story brought to life have left the cinema
disappointed, cursing the director for failing to match what their minds had conjured up.

Once upon a time, I would have said, without hesitation, that the combination of Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll’s
Alice in Wonderland was a match made in adaptation heaven.

In Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, The Corpse
Bride and Big Fish, Burton spun magical, edgy worlds where you were never quite sure what would happen next,
ideal for the irreverent Victorian fantasy. But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left a nasty taste in my mouth,
which overpowered my appetite for Roald Dahl and the delicious Johnny Depp.

So, I reserved my expectations. And Burton proved me wrong yet again – his latest attempt to adapt a children’s
classic is a triumph, remaining true to the spirit of the source material while offering something new.

We first encounter an Alice much like the one in the books, at seven, complete with blue pinafore dress and
buckets of curiosity – and suffering a constant dream about a strange land of wonder.

Twelve years on, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is still curious, which puts her at odds with her peers and the starched
white environment full of rules she is forced to inhabit.

Alice’s mother and sister hope she will marry a chinless aristocrat whose family now owns her recently deceased
father’s company. Before she has to make a decision, she falls down a rabbit hole into Underland, a place she
remembers from her dreams.

Or does she? As Alice surrenders to the oddly familiar world she finds, dream or not, she is expected to attempt
a heroic feat, the success of which will decide the Underlanders’ fate.

Burton has fashioned a plot out of the book’s series of mad, vaguely connected events, one that well sustains
audience interest in the 108-minute running time, without losing the essential whimsy. Absurdity is ever-present,
provoking helpless giggles, and blended with plenty of heart that will ensure you care about what happens.

The plot-driven narrative suits Alice’s journey from uncertain girl to empowered heroine, transformations the
Australian Wasikowska deftly manages, whether physical or mental. Her Alice is strong without being spunky –
she is realistic despite her surreal surroundings.

There’s an unsettling hint of romance between Alice and Depp’s Mad Hatter, but overall the two have winning
camaraderie, and you understand their support for one another without need for exposition.

Depp, forever a Burton muse, disappears into the makeup-heavy role, projecting pathos as the post-traumatic-
stress-disorder-suffering Hatter. His English accent has come on in leaps and bounds since Sleepy Hollow,
however his Scottish one needs more work – the instances in which the Hatter lapses into an angry Braveheart
are only the false notes in an otherwise faultless performance.

Wasikowska and Depp take care not to overshadow the galaxy of supporting stars, most of whom are digitally
manipulated or animated, mixing seamlessly with each other and the fantastical environment.

Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s wife) as the toddler-like and decapitation-demanding Red Queen, is both villain
and comic relief – and somehow sympathetic. The White Queen, the Red Queen’s rival and sister, allows the oft-
sweetly neurotic Anne Hathaway to try something new – she is ethereal and a touch psychotic, like most of the
Underlanders.

Crispin Glover’s Knave of Hearts is enjoyably deplorable, while the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the
Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) are languidly voiced. The White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) is suitably antsy and the
March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) is completely bonkers.

The often hangdog Timothy Spall works well as the voice of Bayard, a kindly canine who has to balance helping
the Underlanders’ cause and looking out for his family. Little Britain’s Matt Lucas is especially entertaining as
bantering twins Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee – or “fat boys” as the Red Queen amusingly refers to them.

Underland is gorgeously rendered, a shadowy rainbow place that sharply contrasts with the prim and proper
Victorian world above. Within Underland are rich environs that reflect characters, such as the Red Queen’s
psychedelic palace, the Hatter’s decrepit Tea Party and the White Queen’s austere castle, adding to the texture
and expansiveness of the imaginary world.

The 3D is not integral, but there were moments when I tried to dodge “flying” objects. The CGI is a tad video-
gamey at times, especially at the Red Queen’s palace, where Carter’s digitally oversized head bobs along
unconvincingly against a painfully color-schemed backdrop. At other times, it’s eerily tangible, as when Alice
steps on corpse faces in the moat surrounding the same palace.

More consistently impressive than the CGI is the makeup and costuming, particularly with Alice’s outfits as she
shrinks and expands, and enters new places, nonchalantly donning couture outfits that fashionistas would give
their eyeteeth for, and add to her development and the wonder of Underland.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is that it achieves closure – a rarity in this sequel-driven age. Burton may
take two hours to tell Alice’s story, but he wraps it up, and treats the audience to many ingredients while he’s at it
– a coming of age, an epic battle, hilarity, thrills and enough visual eye-candy to land you in a sugar coma. It
satisfies while leaving you wanting more.

Future novel-to-film adaptors would do well to take a page out of Burton’s book – he’s created something existing
fans will likely love, balancing admirably between faithfulness and originality.

Verdict: Maintains the magic of the book while offering surprises, adding up to a weird and wonderful
ride you’ll want to return to.