60th anniversary of the West Papua Flag

On 1 December 2021, a conference to highlight the 60th anniversary of the first raising of the Morning Star flag was held. Mr. Jeroen Zandberg gave the following speech:

2021 is a special year. Not only as a result of corona, which has disrupted social life in every possible way, but also because it is a year of remembrance and celebration. For example, on July 1, 1971, a group of Papuan leaders declared the independence of West Papua. This event of fifty years ago was celebrated and commemorated worldwide six months ago, including here in The Hague. The emphasis at these events was not just on the historical circumstances, but also on the possibilities for the future. The same, of course, applies to today’s event. The Morning Star flag was officially hoisted for the first time on December 1, 1961, exactly sixty years ago today.

I will try to briefly describe the history of the flag. In order to do this justice it is important to look back several centuries in order to get a good idea of ​​what the flag actually symbolizes.

For many millennia the Papuans have lived on the island that was first named New Guinea by the Spaniards in 1545 because they thought that the population showed many similarities with the population of Guinea in Africa. In the 17th century, Dutch traders from the VOC arrived on the island and from then on Dutch influence grew steadily. In 1828, the western part of the island officially became a colony of the Netherlands. The West Papua colony was administered separately from the Dutch East Indies by the Dutch. As is generally known, Indonesian leaders declared independence from the Netherlands in 1945 and Indonesia officially became an independent state after a war of independence in 1949. West Papua, however, remained a Dutch colony. In the following years, Indonesia tried to gain control over West Papua, while the Netherlands prepared the population for independence.

In 1961 events accelerated. In February 1961, elections were held for the New Guinea Council, which consisted of 28 Papuan representatives. This council set up a committee tasked with drafting a Manifesto that would form the basis for future West Papuan independence. The designs for the national anthem and flag were part of this Manifesto. The Manifesto was presented to the Dutch governor on October 30, 1961. This Manifesto states that from November 1, 1961 the Morning Star flag will be hoisted next to the Dutch flag. Furthermore, the national anthem and the name of West Papua were formalized. On December 1, 1961, the Morning Star flag was actually raised for the first time as a symbol of the West Papuan People. That is 60 years ago today.

However, life does not always go as planned and this did not liberate the Papuans from colonial rule. After all, Indonesia had been trying to take control of West Papua for more than a decade. The Indonesian government’s policies included international diplomatic lobbying and small-scale military attacks on West Papua. However, this entered a new phase on December 19, 1961 when Indonesian President Sukarno instituted the Tri Komando Rakyat (Trikura) with the aim of annexing West Papua, what Indonesia called West Irian, on January 1, 1963. This large-scale campaign to take and annex West Papua began in January 1962 with the first military attack, followed by many others in the months that followed. Indonesia was militarily supported by the Soviet Union.

This was during the height of the Cold War. The US tried to get Indonesia into its sphere of influence and to limit the influence of the Soviet Union. Under great pressure from the Americans, among others, an agreement was concluded on August 15, 1962. This New York Agreement placed authority over West Papua in the hands of an interim United Nations administration, the implementation of which, however, fell into the hands of Indonesia. On May 1, 1963, Indonesia annexed West Papua. However, as part of the New York Agreement, the people of West Papua should be given the opportunity to vote on independence in a referendum. This referendum was held in 1969 under the title ‘Act of free choice’, but it was far from free, because only a select group of Papuans appointed by the Indonesian government could decide. The outcome was therefore predictable and West Papua remained part of Indonesia. Many Papuans naturally did not agree with this outcome and a rebel faction declared the independence of West Papua on July 1, 1971. The struggle for recognition and self-determination continues to this day.

The foregoing gives a brief overview of the history that the flag symbolizes. The initial purpose of the flag’s design and presentation was to become the national symbol of an independent West Papua. Although West Papua has not become an independent state, the flag remains a symbol. It is a symbol of unyielding resistance that keeps a dream alive.

The annexation of West Papua by Indonesia and the suppression of the Papuans’ pursuit of freedom has led to large-scale human rights violations. An overview of this would require a long separate speech. Today, I want to focus on several positive aspects instead.

The Morning Star flag is the symbol of West Papua and the Papuans. Many warriors have raised the flag, while also carrying it in their hearts. Of course, we are not all politicians or rebels, but the flag is also a symbol for other fighters. I want to give some examples of that. An inspiring example of genuine, modern warriors are those who form a cultural song-and-dance troupe and travel across town and country to keep Papuan culture alive and show it off to others. The performances of the song-and-dance group of the West Papua Association, which have been performing since 1996, are a source of inspiration that keeps the culture of the Papuans alive.

Another example is the West Papua national football team. In 2017, the West Papua football association was established to represent West Papua at international football matches. This association is a member of CONIFA, which brings together national football associations of countries that are not affiliated with FIFA. Since June 2017, the West Papua national football team has played against many unrecognized countries such as Kurdistan, Tamil Eelam, Katanga and East Turkestan. The latest match, against Katanga, was in October of this year. At such international football matches, the flag is raised and the national anthem is sung by today’s rebels, giving new impetus to the dreams of the Papuan people.

I want to end by saying that the flag is a symbol of a country and a community, but when the Americans landed on the moon in 1969, they planted their flag, not to claim the moon, but to celebrate their success. After years of deploying countless people and vast resources, the impossible had been achieved; they had put a man on the moon. I see the flag as a symbol that we can and will achieve something great together as well. I am confident that with the Morning Star Flag in our hands and in our heart we will achieve many great things in politics, on the sports field and on the dance floor.

Thank you,

Jeroen Zandberg