World Cup 2010: Indonesia roots for former foe

JAKARTA — When Spain and the Netherlands face off Sunday millions of Indonesians will be watching. They’ll fill back alleyways to cluster around televisions flickering with static, as they have for every game during this year’s World Cup. And in what may seem an ironic twist, many will be cheering for their country’s former colonial occupier – the Netherlands.

Despite not having a team in soccer’s biggest championship, Indonesians have World Cup fever. And since broadcast rights were granted to free-to-air television channels, anyone with a T.V. and antenna can watch it. Where Indonesians' allegiances fall is particularly interesting, because one might think they would side against the country with which they fought a war of independence.

But historical relations don’t matter to Noyo, a motorcycle taxi driver who shrugs his shoulders when asked why he would support the country that once ruled over his own.

“Who cares,” he said. “It’s football.”

He says he is rooting for the Netherlands because they’re faster and all of the men working around him agree. Riyan pulls a wad of crumpled bills from his pocket to show how serious they are about the match up.

“We’ve all put in our bets – Rp500,000 each,” he said. And $55 is no small bones, considering the most they make a day is about $10.

Across the street from Noyo’s taxi stand a man who cuts keys for a living said he thinks the Netherlands has the better goalie. In fact, many people said they are supporting the Netherlands based on the team’s technique.

But not Ariefin Makaminan. “With Holland it’s more emotional,” said the program manager at the Indonesian-Netherlands Association. He was born and educated in the Netherlands and said nearly 350 years of Dutch presence in Indonesia has created a real sense of shared heritage.

“Indonesians have forgotten the negative side of [colonization],” said Ariefin, explaining that the Dutch have invested heavily in development projects and provided grants and other financial backing to the country. A few of the Dutch players also have Indonesian blood, he said.

Captain Giovanni Christian van Bronckhorst’s mother comes from the Maluku Island chain in Eastern Indonesia and Indonesians speculate that Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel have some roots here also. But it’s not just bloodlines and battles that connect the Netherlands to Indonesia.

“There is a lot of influence here from Holland — in the food and the language,” said Esty Pandean, an employee at a communications firm in central Jakarta. She was one of five female employees eager to discuss the game on Friday. “Go Orange,” her colleague shouted from her cubicle to show her support for the Netherlands.

Generation X Indonesians have grown up surrounded by Dutch influences — most of them positive. Some have studied or lived in the Netherlands and some have Dutch relatives. Others say the mere fact that people in the Netherlands have some knowledge and understanding of Indonesia has been enough to keep relations warm and fuzzy.

But not all Indonesians are supporting the team in orange. Monik Soraya wants Spain to win, and she thinks their chances are good.

“They’ve always struggled in the beginning but pulled it together in the end.” she said, referring to their performance in past European cups.

Ginan Koesmayadi, the captain of a football team set to represent Indonesia in the Homeless World Cup in September, said he is backing Spain because they make short passes and play with a positive attitude.

The split between Spain and the Netherlands seems about even — perhaps because Indonesians have been forced to pick between two teams that were unlikely contenders for the final going in. Noyo and his gambling buddies were all initially rooting for Brazil.

However fair weather their alliances, Indonesians are clear about their feelings for the Netherlands. Dutch colonization is “so yesterday,” said film producer Mira Lesmana. “Our government continues to colonize us now, and still we love this country.”