BANDUNG, Indonesia (AFP) — A controversial Nazi-themed cafe in Indonesia that closed shop last year after sparking international outrage reopened Saturday with its walls still bearing swastikas and a painting of Adolf Hitler.
The SoldatenKaffee (“The Soldiers’ Cafe”) was voluntarily shut down last July following death threats to the owner Henry Mulyana, who was accused of inciting racial hatred.
This time Mulyana has sought to escape criticism by broadening the theme of his cafe, adding images of other World War II figures like Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin alongside Nazi-related memorabilia that triggered global outrage.
Following its closure last year, Mulyana’s lawyer had told AFP that the cafe would be reopened after a revamp — without any swastikas.
But at the Saturday opening, three huge iron eagles bearing swastikas were exhibited, as were WWII propaganda posters bearing the Nazi symbol.
“From the beginning I have said that the SoldatenKaffee is not a Nazi cafe. This cafe’s theme is World War II,” Mulyana told reporters at the reopening in the western Java city of Bandung.
“All aspects of the SoldatenKaffee are legal. We have a lot of customers from Europe and they don’t have a problem with the World War II theme, because it is seen here from a historical perspective,” he said.
Dozens of mostly young Indonesians attended the opening dressed in military outfits, including one with a swastika armband, and some posed for photos as prisoners of war in a mock interrogation room.
“It’s no problem for me. It’s just a business, it’s not an issue of ideology,” 25-year-old Mega, who gave only her first name, told AFP.
“Some people who come here are intellectuals and many are observers who are keenly interested in World War II, and they’re collectors,” she said.
British, French, American, Japanese and Dutch military memorabilia were also on display at the reopened cafe.
Rizal Effendi, a 28-year-old first-time customer, also attended the opening, taking pictures in fascination of the memorabilia.
“The Nazis are from the past. And everyone already knows the history. In my opinion, it’s really cool hanging out here, and you can learn the history of World War II at the same time,” he said.
Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people identify as Muslim, making the country home to the world’s biggest Islamic population.
The Jewish population in Indonesia is tiny, but historians have blamed poor schooling in the country for the lack of awareness and sensitivity of the Holocaust.
The SoldatenKaffee was named after the popular hangout for soldiers in Germany and occupied Paris during World War II, and had operated in Bandung for three years until its Nazi-theme was highlighted in the English-language media.
The reports prompted fierce criticism from overseas, particularly from Jewish organisations, including the LA-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which expressed its “outrage and disgust” and called for the cafe’s closure.
That Mulyana is allowed to keep his cafe open sits in stark contrast to attitudes in Europe, where several countries have criminalized promoting Nazi ideology and Holocaust denial.