The year 1971 has ended on a high note, largely due to Adam Malik’s successful presidency of the UN General Assembly. The Indonesian mission was flush with pride at having played a key role in his stellar performance in the General Assembly. After the initial excitement, I too had to settle down and attend to matters at hand. Soon our mission was busy once again setting our priorities at the United Nations.
In early 1972, I received a special cable from Foreign Minister Adam Malik informing me of some very good news. I had been appointed as Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Community to succeed Ambassador Chaidir Anwar Sani, who in turn had been appointed as Ambassador to the United Nations. A career diplomat’s highest hopes are to attain an ambassadorship, and I was of course delighted that I was given this important privilege to serve my country. Many of my colleagues also became ambassadors. To name but a few were Abdullah Kamil, Suyono Darusman, Hadi Thajeb, Munawir Sjadzali, Atmono Suryo, M. Choesin and Ferdy Salim.
I found out later that the post initially had been offered to the former Indonesia Chief of Police Hugeng, who was the armed forces candidate for the job. He refused the offer, however, and President Soeharto subsequently appointed me as Adam Malik’s choice for the post.
My appointment received the necessary agreements from the King of Belgium, the Duke of Luxembourg as well as the Head of the European Community. On January 8, 1972 I was sworn in by President Soeharto as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Indonesia to the Kingdom of Belgium, in a grand ceremony at the Istana which was witnessed by my wife Nini, my mother, my sister, my parent-in-law and close relatives. I was the only career diplomat among the eight ambassador sworn in on that day.
I arrived in Brussels along with Nini and four of our six children in early February 1972. At that time my two eldest sons, Barry and Ricky, were already studying in West Germany and Holland, respectively. Because of its central location in the heart of West Europe, Belgium was the ideal gathering place for our immediate family and for our extended family as well, for we had many relatives living in Holland.
On February 25, 1972 I presented my credentials to King Baudouin of Belgium in a stately palace ceremony filled with the trappings of European royalty. I presented my credentials to the Duke of Luxembourg and to the Head of the European Community at a latter date. After the official ceremony in Brussels, King Baudouin asked for a private discussion with me. The King was curious to know why I was also named Boudewijn like him. Without hesitation I replied in Dutch, for this was the language I was requested to use with the King, “Your Majesty, I was named Boudewijn (Baudouin in French) by my father because in his farsightedness he saw his son one day becoming Ambassador to Belgium”. Upon hearing my reply the King smiled and thus the ice was broken. I had a most enjoyable conversation with the King.
My duties as head of the Indonesian embassy in Brussels were twofold. First, to represent Indonesia’s interests in Belgium and Luxemburg. Second, to broaden Indonesia’s participation in the European community. It was a challenging but fulfilling task, and it gave me the opportunity to interact at all levels with leading European statesmen, Belgian royalty, and with the Indonesian community in Europe whose numbers in Belgium alone were quite large (mostly students).
On several occasion I has the honour of meeting KING Leopold, the father of King Baudouin who had abdicated the throne in favour of his son. King Leopold was a keen observer of Indonesia and was well-versed in our country’s history and culture, much to my embarrassment as it turns out. Once he asked me about the fate of some rare species of monkeys inhabiting a forest on a small island south of Nias, West Sumatra He was worried that the monkeys would face extinction due to the government plans to cut down trees to develop the area. I had to ensure him that the government would take due precaution before embarking on such a project not knowing that this was in fact true.
On another occasion he asked to see me as he was planning to visit Bengkulu where the famous Rafflesia flower blooms. Since his first stop would be the city of Padang he wanted to know how far the distance would be to Bengkulu. He had a map of Indonesia spread out before him an d measured the distance from Padang to Bengkulu which he estimated to be not more than 150 km. So one could travel the distance in three hours King Leopold ventured. I told him that in my opinion that it would take longer than that as the roads were not good. I even suggested that he should travel by ship instead. Then he asked me when would be a good time to catch the Rafflesia flower in full bloom, I answered sheepishly that I did not know and that I had to consult Jakarta first.
Because Belgium recognizes both French and Flemish as official languages, we faced little difficulties in getting about the country. Flemish is closely related to Dutch which Nini and I speak fluently. Nini is fluent in French dating back to her early days in New York where she took French lesson. In the Alliance Francaise although my own French was passable. At one time during my tenure in Brussels, the Foreign Minister of Belgium was replaced by a Flemish-speaking minister. Before him there had always been French speaking foreign Minister When it came time to make a courtesy call on the new minister, I found out that the Ambassadors who had called on him before me were embarrassed when he refused to speak to them in French. The issue of language is a very sensitive matter in Belgium. Thus when my turn came, I decided to speak in Dutch. He was highly pleased that he replied, in Flemish of course “You are a good friend of mine”
In the early 1970s, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN as it is known, started to emerge as a regional grouping of growing political and economic importance. At the time ASEAN comprised the five founding members of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. One promising area of cooperation with the European Community was within the framework of the ASEAN dialogue with its counterpart, the European Economic Commission (EEC). The EEC was the economic branch of the European Community.
The EEC had at that time no Asian police. They preferred to deal with each country in Asian on a bilateral basis. ASEAN did not figure prominently on its agenda. It was in this context that the ASEAN ambassadors accredited to Belgium and/or EEC-namely
myself and my colleagues from Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand-decided to establish formal relations with the European Economic Commission. Over time we managed to develop good personal relations with the EC Commissioner for External Relations, Dahrendorf. After a number of meetings with Mr. Dahrendoft and with EC President Mansholt, we were able to convince the EEC to establish formal dialogues with ASEAN. As a result, the ASEAN-Brussels Committee (ABC) was initiated as ASEAN’s official channel in dialogues with the EEC. Gradually these dialogues culminated in formal agreements between ASEAN and the EEC covering a wide range of activities. The visit to Brussels of the then Indonesia Minister of Trade, Prof. Dr. Soemitro Djojohadikoesoemo, to hold talks with Commissioner Dahrendorf in July 1972 gave added weight to ASEAN-EEC relations.
It so happened that when President Soeharto paid a state visit to Belgium, he was invited to address the EEC as the spokesman for ASEAN. I was glad that I had played a part, albeit a small one, in the establishment of ASEAN-EEC cooperation.
PRESIDENT SOEHARTO’S STATE VISIT TO BELGIUM
One of the highlight’s of my posting in Brussels was the state visit of President and Madame Tien Soeharto to Belgium in November 1972. Being relatively new in the office, I had to work hard to prepare for the President’s Visit. I received much assistance from my counterparts in the Belgian Foreign Ministry and from officials of other relevant ministries, as well as from the Indonesian community, including the Indonesian students led by Syamsudin Mahmud who later became Governor of Aceh.
One major concern was the question of security the President and his entourage. We were all aware of the activities of a group of Ambonese dissidents based in the Netherlands who were seeking independence for their homeland, the Moluccas. The younger dissidents especially had become increasingly bold in their bid for an independent homeland. Two years earlier in 1970, they had mounted a daring raid on the Indonesian ambassador’s residence in the Hague in which Ambassador Taswin,s family was taken hostage and one Dutch policeman was killed. Ambassador Taswin himself barely managed to escape by scaling the neighbouring wall. With their propensity for violence in the back of my mind, I feared that they might try to create trouble during President Soeharto’s visit, as there was practically no border between Belgium and Netherlands.
I raised this matter with the Belgian police who were rather surprised at my concerns, but who nevertheless provided extra security for the visit. The result was that our embassy in Brussels was turned into a mini-fortress surrounded by tanks, because a gathering for Madam Soeharto and the Indonesia women, headed by Nini as the Ambassador’s wife, was to be held on the embassy grounds.
During the planning of the President’s visit, the Belgian protocol office had relayed a request by King Leopold for a meeting with President Soeharto. King Leopold, who had visited Indonesia several times, knew that President Soeharto had planned to visit Waterloo, the site of the battlefield where Napoleon’s army was defeated. Since King Leopold’s castle was located along the way to Waterloo, he had hoped that the President would be able to stop by for a short visit. However the Belgian protocol office could not make this request through official channels because King Leopold had no official function. Upon my personal request, President Soeharto agreed to meet King Leopold and his family for a brief 15-minute visit.
The presidential visit eventually passed without a hitch, much to my considerable relief. President Soeharto was well received by the people of Belgium and was warmly welcomed at the European Commission members as the spokesman for ASEAN. The enthusiastic welcome President Soeharto received at all his official function signalled Belgium’s and the EEC’s acknowledgment of and respect for his role as one of the important leaders in the developing world.
At the end of his state visit, President Soeharto invited King Baudouin of Belgium to visit Indonesia. The King was keen to see our country because he had heard so much about it from his father and mother who had visited Indonesia in the 1930s as Crown Prince Leopold and Crown Princess Astrid. A street in Bogor named Astrid Boulevard in honour of that earlier visit.
When I took leave from King Baudouin at the end of my term as Ambassador to Belgium, he requested me to convey his wish to President Soeharto to stay in Indonesia longer than the normal duration for a state visit. I conveyed his wish to the President. I was later told that the King’s visit to Indonesia lasted 13 days, instead of the normal three to four days of such a visit.
It was while I was in Brussels during my 15-month assignment that I was offered a most surprising appointment.