Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future

In indonesian history on January 31, 2008 at 5:22 am

by: Benedict Anderson

In my experience, nationalism is frequently misunderstood. For that reason, I will begin my remarks by discussing briefly two common kinds of misunderstanding, using Indonesia as an example of a phenomenon almost universal in this century which is now crawling to its end.* The first is that nationalism is something very old and is inherited from, of course, ‘absolutely splendid ancestors’. Thus it is something that arises ‘naturally’ in the blood and flesh of each of us. In fact, nationalism is something rather new, and today is little more than two centuries old. The first Declaration of Independence, proclaimed in Philadelphia in 1776, said not a word about ‘ancestors’, indeed made no mention of Americans. Sukarno’s and Hatta’s Declaration of Independence on 17 August 1945, was essentially similar. By contrast, the mania for seeking ‘absolutely splendid ancestors’ typically gives rise to nonsense, and often very dangerous nonsense.

A nice local example is Prince Diponegoro (c. 1787-1855), who, in the 1950s, was anointed as number one National Hero, as if the Prince had led a movement for Indonesia’s national independence from the clutches of Dutch colonialism. But, if one looks at what the Prince himself said in his memoirs, his actual words about his political goal were that he intended to ‘subjugate’-yes, ‘subjugate’-Java. The concept ‘Indonesia’ was wholly foreign to him-as was the idea of ‘freedom’. Indeed, we all know that this strange Greco-Roman neologism is very new: it started to become well-known only about eighty years ago. The very first organization to use the word in its name was the Communist Party of Indonesia- in 1920 (when my mother was already a girl of fifteen).

The second misunderstanding is that ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are, if not exactly identical, at least like a happy husband and wife in their relationship. But the historical reality is often just the opposite. Perhaps 85 percent of nationalist movements started life as anti-state movements aimed against either colonial or absolutist dynastic states. Nation and state ‘got married’ very late on, and the marriage was far from always happy. The general rule is that the state-or what, in my circle of friends, we often call the Ogre-is much older than the nation.

From Batavia to Indonesia

Indonesia, once again, affords a fine example. The genealogy of the state in Indonesia goes back to early seventeenth-century Batavia. Its continuity is quite apparent, even though the stretch of its territory increased vastly over time. The present stretch of Indonesia is-with the exception of East Timor-exactly that of the Netherlands East Indies when it completed its final conquests of Aceh, Southern Bali and Irian at the beginning of this century. Furthermore, we should always bear in mind that, in its last days, during the 1930s, 90 percent-I repeat, 90 per cent-of its officials were ‘natives.’ There were, of course, some changes-extrusions and additions-during the Revolution, but, for the greater part, the personnel of the young republican state was continuous with that of the colonial state. The first post-1950 parliament was also full of former collaborators with colonialism, and the new republican army also included plenty of soldiers and officers who had fought against the Republic during the Revolution.1

As far as the national territory is concerned, there is an irony that General Sayidiman was among the first to point out. Because the Suharto régime made the 1945 Constitution into something sacred-though, in fact, it was drawn up in great haste in August 1945 in a confused emergency situation-its detailed specification of the new nation’s borders could not be changed (for fear this would undermine its sacral character). This meant that the annexation of East Timor, which lies outside those specified borders, was, from the start, absolutely unconstitutional. Luckily for him, Sayidiman was a general, so not in much danger for saying such a thing.

In a word: what I have just said is meant merely as a kind of warning. Beware of people who make an a sacred idol of the State, and beware of those who talk a lot about ‘our splendid ancestors’. Your pocket is about to be picked.

What, then, really is nationalism? If one studies its brief global history, one can say that it is not something inherited from the ancient past, but is rather a ‘common project’ for the present and the future. And this project demands self-sacrifice, not the sacrificing of others. This is why it never occurred to the founders of the independence movement that they had the right to kill other Indonesians; rather they felt obliged to have the courage to be jailed, to be beaten up, and to be exiled for the sake of the future happiness and freedom of their fellows.

Of Youth and Wagers

Nationalism arises when, in a certain physical territory, the inhabitants begin to feel that that they share a common destiny, a common future. Or, as I once wrote, they feel bound by a deep horizontal comradeship. Typically, it arises quickly and suddenly in one generation, a clear sign of its novelty. One can see how much nationalism is tied to visions and hopes for the future if one looks at the names of the early organizations that joined the independence movement at the beginning of our century: Jong Java (Young Java), Indonesia Muda (Young Indonesia), Jong Islamietenbond (League of Young Muslims), Jong Minahasa (Young Minahasa) and so on. There were no organizations that called themselves Old Java, Eternal Bali, and so on. Their orientation was to the future and their social basis was youth. (Even today the peculiar political power of students lies in their social position as symbols of the nation’s future.) Beyond that, the youngsters of those days signalled their regional origins not in the name of separatist local nationalisms, but in their committing of these regional origins to a colony-wide joint and common project of liberation. They paid no mind to the fact that Acehnese kings had once ‘colonized’ the coastal regions of Minangkabau, that Buginese kings had enslaved Torajanese hill-people, that Javanese aristocrats had tried to subjugate the Sunda highlands, or that Balinese overlords had successfully conquered the island of the Sasak.

If we could go back to 1945-49 and talk with the fighters for independence of that period, you can be sure that they would find it impossible to believe that, fifty years later, the function of the Republic’s armed forces would no longer be defending the country against external enemies, but rather oppressing their own people, in this way actually picking up the traditions of the colonial military. But this is what has actually happened all too often. Perhaps the old- timers were unaware of the possible consequences of the marriage of nation with state.

If nationalism is a common project for the present and the future, its fulfilment is never finally complete. It must be struggled for in every generation. In the eyes of its parents, and the state, a baby born in Madura, say, may already be ‘an Indonesian’, but the baby herself does not yet think this way. The process whereby she will become for herself an Indonesian, with an Indonesian spirit, an Indonesian commitment, and an Indonesian culture, is a long one, with no guarantee of success. In this way, we can also see that the ‘continuity’ of a nation is fundamentally an open question, and also a kind of wager.

The wager is that the idea ‘the future of Indonesia’ will be sufficiently rooted in the spirit of the country’s legal citizens that, when necessary, each new candidate-member of the nation will be ready to set aside personal ambitions and loyalties for that grand idea. This wager is winnable in the long run only if the Indonesian nation, like other nations, is large-hearted and broadminded enough to accept the real variety and complexity of the national society-which in Indonesia’s case numbers two hundred million people. The modern world has shown us sufficient examples of nations that have broken up because too many of its citizens have had shrivelled hearts and dwarfish minds-to say nothing of excessive lust for domination over their fellows.

Common Inheritance or Common Project

When I was a little boy, my mother bought me second-hand a children’s History of English Literature. I remember vividly that the first chapter of this book was devoted to the story of Cuchulain and The Brown Cow as recorded in the twelfth century in Old Irish-that is, before the English language existed. Why this oddity? Because the edition my mother bought was dated about 1900, when Ireland was still colonized by the English, who tried very hard to ‘integrate’ the local people, rather like the way the Suharto régime tried to ‘integrate’ the East Timorese. Years later, I found a new edition of this book, published about 1930, and I was amused to see that Chapter One had disappeared, because, in the meantime, the Republic of Ireland (of which I am a citizen) had achieved its freedom-a mere twenty-two years before Indonesia. From this little story one can see how easy it actually is to create and to eliminate ‘splendid ancestors’ according to political circumstances. The truth is that today not a single English person misses the Brown Cow. On the other hand, most Irish people speak English rather than Irish, so that many can only read the story of the Brown Cow in English translation. And relations between free Ireland and England today are far better than they were one hundred and fifty years ago, when tens of thousands of Irish peasants were forced by colonial famine to flee to America. There is a lesson here for Indonesia in its relations with East Timor.

I mention this little episode simply because I see too many Indonesians still inclined to think of Indonesia as an ‘inheritance’, not as a challenge nor as a common project. Where one has inheritances, one has inheritors, and, too often, bitter quarrels among them as to who has ‘rights’ to the inheritance. Sometimes to the point of great violence. People who think that the ‘abstract’ Indonesia is an ‘inheritance’ to be preserved at all costs may end up doing terrible damage to the living citizens of that abstract geographical space.

Let us take two very concrete examples now much in the news: Aceh and Irian.2 During the whole history of the independence movement from the late colonial period, no Acehnese I know of ever had aspirations for an ‘Independent Aceh’. During the Revolution, Aceh was the only province where the Dutch did not dare come back. But, far from taking the chance to declare an Independent Aceh, the Acehnese made, on a fully voluntary basis-I want to emphasize voluntary-huge contributions to the revolutionary cause in terms both of manpower and economic-financial resources. They did so because, in those days, Jogjakarta3 had neither the means nor any intention of acting like Diponegoro, that is of ‘subjugating’ Aceh.

It is true that, under Daud Beureueh,4 some Acehnese rebelled against Jakarta in the early 1950s, because they were upset by certain policies pursued by the centre; but the rebellion was intended to get these policies changed, not to separate Aceh from Indonesia. In the 1970s, Aceh was peaceful and prosperous under a civilian governor, and no one would have then believed that, at the end of the next decade, the province would be a horror-filled Military Operations Zone. In those days, Hasan di Tiro5 was taken seriously by no one, given his long absence from the country and his past CIA connections. That ‘Independent Aceh’ or ‘Free Aceh’ began to become suddenly popular in the late 1980s was because more and more Acehnese were losing any hope and confidence that they had a share in a common Indonesian project. The astounding greed of the rulers in Jakarta, and of their provincial minions and errand-boys, as well as the replacement of local- son civilian rule by the military, originating very often from Java, increasingly seemed to say to the Acehnese: ‘We don’t need you; what we need are your natural resources. How wonderful it would be if Aceh were emptied of the Acehnese.’ Here was the origin of the atrocities which the newspapers have recently laid bare.

The Roots of Separatism

Irian’s story is in many ways comparable. The OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka – Organization for a Free Papua) arose not before the Orde Baru (New Order)-which I will from now on call the Orde Kropos (Dry-Rot Order)-came into being, but afterward. And its language remains the Indonesian language. But the menaces and manipulations orchestrated by Ali Murtopo6 and his accomplices to give the appearance that all Irianese were obedient servants of the Dry-Rot Order quickly showed the local people that, in the eyes of the centre, Irian was what mattered, not the people who lived there. In all their real diversity, they were lumped together as a primitive population named after the province. Once again, Jakarta was understood to be saying: ‘What a pity there are Irianese in Irian’. The people of Irian were never seriously invited into the common project, so it is only natural that they quickly began to feel that were being colonized. (In passing, I note that there still seem to be Indonesians who think that colonialism can only be practised by Westerners over non-Westerners. This is a dangerous and historically ignorant illusion.)

Out of this Dry-Rot Order colonial attitude came characteristic horrors. The Legal Aid Institute branch on the spot recorded, for example, under the savage rule of General Abinowo, a case where a village suspected of harbouring OPM guerrillas had half its inhabitants burned alive in their homes by the military, while the other half were forced by that same military to eat the roasted flesh of their families and neighbours. Planned horrors of this kind were inconceivable during the Revolution, and even in the era of the PRRI and DI.7 They clearly show that, for sections of the armed forces under the Dry-Rot Order, the Irianese were simply not fellow-Indonesians, but simply ‘possessions’ of the Ogre.

One concludes, then, that the Independent Aceh and OPM movements came into being as a reaction to the mentality, policies and practices of the Dry-Rot Order, with the basic attitude: ‘Too bad there are any Acehnese in Aceh and Irianese in Irian’, and a view of these remote peoples, not as Indonesians, but as ‘objects’, ‘possessions’, ‘servants’, and ‘obstacles’ for the Ogre. The situation is today very serious and can only be remedied by a radical change in the mindset of the political leaders in Jakarta. It is essential that Aceh and Irian be accorded genuine and full autonomy so that they, once again, can feel that they are masters in their own house. This will require regular and free local elections, and provincial and district officials locally chosen-not by the Minister of the Interior. It will require local assemblies from which ‘military fractions’, unelected and composed of people mainly from Western Indonesia, are excluded. I have no doubt that, if these changes occur quickly and genuinely, separatist movements will lose their steam.

I also have no doubt that there will be difficulties, local quarrels, corruption, and even violence, in part the residues of thirty-three years of brutal and corrupt Dry-Rot Order rule. But they should be temporary, and, in any case, they will pale to insignificance by comparison with the exploitation and the atrocities of the Dry-Rot era. In this manner, the Acehnese and Irianese will once again be invited seriously back into the common project and the deep horizontal comradeship from which they should never have been excluded.

For a Federal Indonesia

We should also be realistic and recognize that genuine autonomy, not the ‘fake autonomy’ that is represented today by the status of Special Region, will mean the federalization of Indonesia. This is completely normal. Almost all the large countries in the world have federal institutions of various kinds: Canada, Brazil, the United States, India, Nigeria, Germany, Russia, and so on. China is the obvious exception, and I doubt if many Indonesians feel the system of China is one they wish to take as a model. I am sure there will be people in Jakarta who will shout, knee-jerk fashion, that a federal Indonesia was/is a Dutch colonial project-despite the fact that the Dutch have had no significant role in Indonesia for close to half a century. Others will say federalism is a foreign-inspired scheme to dismember the unitary republic. Who are the foreigners who would have any interest in this dismemberment in the present post-cold- war world? I can think of none. Quite the opposite. The disaster of Yugoslavia has made all the important states eager to help prevent anything like that tragedy happening elsewhere. Still others, stuck with the Dry-Rot mentality, will complain that federalism is contradictory to the 1945 Constitution. But constitutions are man- made, not god-made, and, to survive in changing circumstances, they need constantly to be adapted. If the American Founding Fathers could be resurrected today, they would be astonished at how much the document they put together two centuries ago has been altered in text and spirit. The 1945 Constitution is completely out of date. Indeed, was already out of date in 1950, and would never have been restored in 1959 but for an opportunist alliance between a power-hungry military and an increasingly authoritarian President Sukarno. This constitution needs, if not scrapping, at least a radical overhaul.

Facing Up to the Past

If the ‘common project’ is to be revived and made a strong living reality, it is also essential that an end be brought to the pervasive practices of sadistic brutality. If one reads the memoirs of activists who ran afoul of the colonial régime, one rarely finds mention of beatings and tortures, let alone electrodes being attached of genitals, and the like. But, over the past thirty years, these have become ‘normal’ activities of police and military men at the lowest levels. These days, it is ‘normal’ to beat up someone arrested even before he or she is interrogated; so, too, is the ‘execution’ of prisoners, on the pretext they are ‘attempting to escape’.

Some of these things happened in the 1950s and 1960s, but they were not ‘routine’. That they have become routine means that those who are supposed to uphold the authority of the law in fact violate this law every day with complete impunity. This situation not only corrupts the morals of the law-enforcers, but tends to corrupt their victims too. There are plenty of prisoners who, seeing their captors as extortionists, sadists, and even executioners, tend to follow their example. Here is one major source of the rapid rise, in the last fifteen years, of a widening group of brutalized preman, who often function as the ‘left hand’ of the Ogre. We are all aware of how far the process of ‘premanization’ or ‘gangsterization’ of Indonesian politics has gone. Political parties have their preman, as do businesses and government agencies. And the press has played its own part, by more or less glorifying notorious preman such as Yorries Raweyai, Sumargono, Anton Medan, Yapto, Hercules, and various others.

But the process of brutalization actually started long before the 1980s. During the nationalist movement, there were frequent, even violent, quarrels between various groups within it. But I do not believe that it ever occurred to any of them that their antagonists deserved to be tortured or executed. Antagonists were antagonists, not ‘animals’. There was still an element of gentlemanliness in their conflicts. After that, there was a slow deterioration. Serious atrocities were committed by both sides in the Madiun Affair of 1948,8 in a situation of national emergency and huge social and economic tensions. People had started to see their political enemies, not as fellow-Indonesians, but as pawns of foreigners-NICA,9 CIA, NKVD, and so forth. But, two years after Madiun, the defeated party, the Communists, were back as normal members of parliament, that is, as fellow-Indonesians once again.

The big change came in 1965-66. And so long as ’65-66′ is not faced up to, openly and honestly, by living Indonesians, the processes of dry-rot and brutalization will continue. Here, I do not intend to go into ’65-66′ in any detail. I wish only to underline two vital points.

(i) On 4 October 1965, Suharto and his group received a detailed autopsy carried out by military and civilian forensic experts on the bodies of the generals killed on 1 October. The report made it quite clear that the generals had been shot to death, and their corpses further damaged by being dumped down a deep well at Lubang Buaya. But, on
6 October, the mass media, wholly controlled by Suharto forces, launched a campaign to the effect that the generals had had their eyes gouged out and their genitals severed by sadistic Gerwani women.10
This lying campaign was carried out in cold blood by people who knew exactly what they were doing. If one wishes to read an extraordinary fictional portrait of these icy sadists, one can do no better than read Putu Wijaya’s extraordinary novel Nyali. The propaganda campaign did more than anything to create the atmosphere of hysteria across Indonesia which made it possible, in the following months, for more than half a million members of the common project to be murdered in the most horrible ways, completely outside the law, and with not a single murderer ever being brought before a court of law. One could put it bluntly this way: that the original foundation of the so-called New Order was a mountain of skeletons.

(ii) The consequences are felt to this very day. Leaving the planners of the atrocities aside-in other words, Suharto and his circle-one can ask the following: has Abdulrahman Wahid,11 famous for his speeches 12 in support of human rights and religious tolerance, ever asked forgiveness for his NU for the tens of thousands of people murdered by Ansor in 1965-66? I believe the answer is no. Has Megawati,12 who regards herself as a victim of Suharto, ever asked forgiveness for her PNI-PDI for the tens of thousands-including left-wing members of the PNI itself-murdered by PNI youth gangs, especially in Bali? Again, I think the answer is no. Have well-known Catholics of the New Order such as Benny Murdani, Frans Seda, Liem Bian-kie and Harry Tjan Silalahi13 ever asked forgiveness for the complicity of young Catholics in the slaughter. Again, no. The Protestants? The former PSI?14 The intellectuals? The academics? Almost not a word. I remember only my much-missed young colleague Soe Hok-gie having the courage, already in 1967, to speak out on the issue. From this angle, we can see that virtually the entire ‘opposition’ today is not, fundamentally, a real opposition to the Dry-Rot Order, and that the Indonesia they wish to rebuild will, consequently, still have a mountain of skeletons buried in its cellars. All continue to evade facing the facts of their own political pasts, asking forgiveness, committing themselves never to permit anything like 1965-66 to happen again, and welcoming back into the common project the miserable relics and descendants of the victims of that period. And, in school, children continue to be fobbed off with vague historical talk about a ‘national trauma’ or ‘national tragedy’-full stop!

The Banalization of Brutality

The horror of 1965-66, when millions of Indonesians were regarded by other Indonesians as animals or devils, who therefore could and should be treated with the worst sadism and outside all legality, has had many fateful consequences down to our own time. A culture has developed in the military according to which, in ‘security’ matters, every element of human decency can be set aside, with complete impunity-provided ‘the boss’ gives them the orders. The political consequences first became clearly evident in the process of the ‘annexation’ of East Timor after 1975. It is well-known now that, between 1977 and 1980, about one third of the entire population of the former Portuguese colony died unnaturally-killed by gunfire, 13 burned by napalm, starved to death in ‘resettlement camps’, or the victims of contagious diseases which spread rapidly under inhuman occupation conditions. Torture became standard operating proce- dure, to say nothing of rapes and executions. If we applied the above percentage to the Javanese, it would mean the unnatural deaths of at least twenty-five million people in three years. Terrifying? Absolutely! A vast crime? Can anyone doubt it?

Why did it happen? No one should be deceived by the rhetoric of ‘welcoming our comrades into the embrace of Ibu Pertiwi’ (the Motherland) or of the East Timorese gladly and willingly joining the common project. The operations in East Timor, for the most part concealed from the Indonesian nation, were a ‘subjugating’ project of the Ogre, in direct lineal descent from van Heutsz, Diponegoro and his far more brutal predecessor Sultan Agung.15 How often one heard high officials complaining about the ‘ingratitude’ of the East Timorese for all the good things Jakarta had brought them. I am sure none of these officials were aware that they were simply echoing their ‘splendid Dutch colonial ancestors’, who were accustomed to grumbling at the ‘ingratitude’ of the (Indonesian) natives for all the benefits that colonial rust en orde as well as opbouw (pembangunan!!)16 had brought them. (To feel the force of this, one should imagine how strange it would be if a high official complained publicly at how ungrateful the Javanese or Sundanese have been for the benefits the Dry-Rot Order brought them.) In East Timor, too, one gets the overwhelming impression of Ogre thinking: ‘Too bad there are East Timorese in East Timor’.

From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, East Timor was a region closed not only to foreigners, but even to most Indonesians-who had to have a special pass to go there. Thus it became a region where ‘anything went’. Kopassus17 became the pioneer and exemplar for every kind of atrocity. Rapes, tortures and executions were ‘normal’. And ‘Ninjas’ started there too-hooded gangsters working as the left hand of the Ogre. Over time, the ‘occupation culture’ leaked out into the rest of Indonesia. We saw it in the mass murders engineered by Suharto, Murdani, and Kopassus in the petrus campaign of 1983.18 From there, it moved to Aceh, Lampung, Irian and elsewhere. Once-peaceful regions became ‘troubled’, not by their own will, but because they were ‘troubled’ by the agents of the Ogre. Think of it this way: if we simply try to estimate the total number of people who died violently or unnaturally in the course of the Dry-Rot Order era-and leave aside the maimed, the psychologically broken, the orphaned, and so on, we might make a list as follows: 1965-66, at least 500,000; East Timor, 200,000; Petrus 7,000; Aceh, perhaps 3,000; Irian, perhaps 7,000. Close to three quarters of a million people, putative members of the common project every one. If you think about this, you will better understand why I can only shake my head in disbelief at the way that the ‘opposition’ demands that Suharto and his family be called to account for stealing so much money-perhaps they think of it as ‘our’ money?-and largely turn a blind eye to crimes a thousand times worse: systematic, planned murder on a scale never before seen in the history of the archipelago.

Indonesian Human Rights

And, now, a further ironical twist. President Habibie has been reviled and abused as Suharto’s protégé, and pawn. But, aside from freeing the press, and releasing most political prisoners, he has had the real courage to decide to put an end to the ‘subjugating’ project of his former master in East Timor. Meanwhile, with the very honourable exception of Amien Rais,19 other ‘opposition’ leaders have sufficient- ly shown that, mentally, they still live in the moral darkness of the Dry-Rot era. The most shameful thing is that the daughter of Sukarno-who was deposed, humiliated, and effectively imprisoned for life by Suharto, and who, nota bene, never claimed that East Timor was part of Indonesia-has publicly defended Suharto’s ‘subjugation’ project. It is a great pity. One feels, reading her words, that it is no Megawati speaking, merely a Miniwati. Under the long hanging tendrils of the banyan tree only dwarfish, mouldy plants can grow.20

What is to be done? We see today that there are a great many organizations and institutions, some local, some foreign, some combined, which work effectively for ‘human rights’ in Indonesia.

This is as it should be. What we do not see is anything comparable working for the rights, not of human beings as such, but of Indonesian human beings. What I mean is the right of those people, all of them, fated to be born on Indonesian soil in the time of the Republic, to participate voluntarily, enthusiastically, equally, and without fear in the common project of Indonesian nationalism. Put conversely, their right not to be treated as animals, devils, serfs, or the property of other Indonesians. These ‘Indonesian human rights’ can only be struggled for and realized by Indonesians themselves.

Unless this struggle is carried on sincerely and on a very wide scale, the future of the project is dark. If one starts with, ‘Too bad there are Acehnese in Aceh’, it is easy enough to move on to, ‘Too bad there are Catholics in Flores’, ‘Too bad there are Chinese in Semarang’, ‘Too bad there are Dayaks in Kalimantan’. Logically, this should lead to:
‘Too bad there are Javanese in Java’. Outside the logic, only the impossible: ‘Too bad there are Jakarta people in Jakarta’. Because it is in Jakarta itself, in its ruling class and its complicit middle class that this ‘Too bad . . .’ mentality is so deeply entrenched.

In the press and on the internet we read a good deal about reformasi (reform) and, once in a while, even ‘revolution’. Fine, as long as these words are meant seriously and disinterestedly. But, in addition, I believe in (and hope for) a real revival of the common project which was initiated almost a hundred years ago. A great project of this kind tends to produce great men and women. Dr. Soetomo, Natsir, Tan Malaka, Sjahrir, Yap Thiam Hing, Kartini, Haji Misbach, Sukarno, Sjauw Giok Tjan, Chairil Anwar, Suwarsih Djojopoespito, Sudirman, Roem, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Hatta, Mas Marco, Hasjim Ansjari, Sudisman, Armijn Pane, Haji Dahlan,21 and so many others came out of that era. How sad it is to compare those times with the present. Over the past dozen years, I have been accustomed to asking Indonesian youngsters who visit Cornell, or come to study there, this simple question: who in Indonesia today do you admire and look up to? The common response is, first, bewilderment at the question, then, a long scratching of the head, and, finally, a hesitant . . . Iwan Fals.22 Is this not rather terrifying? I do not mean that everyone can or should become a great man or woman. But I think that every man and woman can decide not to be a dwarf.

Long Live Shame!

A revival of truly national life will require a total overhaul of the governmental system, especially in the direction of regional-not ethnic-autonomy. It will also require the growth of a healthy and gentlemanly political culture, and the elimination of political sadism and gangsterism. It will also need love, true love, for national institutions. Let me here offer only one example, which is close to my heart as a teacher. It is generally recognized that the quality of Indonesia’s universities has been in a long decline, at least since the ridiculous Daud Yusuf’s Campus Normalization policy of the late 1970s.We know the litany: professors too busy with moneyed make- work, governmental projects, consultancies, and real-estate speculation to teach their students seriously; students who have made a culture out of cheating; wretched libraries; corrupt and authoritarian university bureaucracies-and so on. One reason for this decline, which is rarely mentioned, is the anti-national attitude of the ruling class, and also of a substantial part of the dependent middle class, who send their children to expensive international schools in Indonesia, or to still more expensive colleges and universities overseas. This trend means that, in the eyes of these people, Indonesia’s own universities are really for ‘second-class’ citizens, who do not have the right bank accounts or connections. As such, who cares if they go to pot? I sometimes dream of being in a position to ban all study abroad, except at the MA or PhD level, for Indonesians for a recuperation period of ten years. If the ruling classes had to send their children to Indonesian universities, perhaps their condition would start to improve. But, of course, this is an idle dream.

In a book I recently published, half-jokingly I put forward the slogan ‘Long Live Shame!’. Why so? Because I think that no one can be a true nationalist who is incapable of feeling ‘ashamed’ if her state or government commits crimes, including those against her fellow citizens. Although she has done nothing individually that is bad, as a member of the common project, she will feel morally implicated in everything done in that project’s name. During the Vietnam War, a good part of the popular opposition came from just this good sense of shame among the American citizenry that ‘their government’ was responsible for the violent deaths of three million people in Indochina, including uncounted numbers of women and children. They felt ashamed that ‘their’ presidents Johnson and Nixon told endless lies to the world and to their fellow-Americans. They felt ashamed that ‘their’ country’s history was being stained by cruelties, lies, and betrayals. So they went to work in protest, not merely as advocates of universal human rights, but as Americans who loved the common American project. This kind of political shame is very good and always needed.

If this sense of shame can develop healthily in Indonesia, Indonesians will have the courage to face the horrors of the Dry-Rot era, not as ‘someone else’s’ doing, but as a common burden. It will mean the ending of the mentality encouraged officially for so long: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak of No Evil.

* This text was delivered as a public lecture in Jakarta, 4 March 1999, shortly after I was permitted to enter Indonesia for the first time in 26 years.

1 Both General Nasution, creator of the post-revolutionary military, and General Suharto started their adult careers in the KNIL, the prewar colonial military, the great enemy of the nationalist movement. Suharto then went on to join the PETA auxiliary army created by the Japanese Occupation authorities in 1943.

2 The famously Muslim province of Aceh, situated at the north-western tip of Sumatra, marks Indonesia’s westernmost extremity. Irian, the western half of New Guinea, marks its easternmost frontier.

3 When the returning Dutch colonial regime seized control of Batavia/Jakarta in January 1946, the revolutionary capital was moved to the old royal city of Jogjakarta in Central Java.

4 Daud Beureueh, a famous modernist ulama of the 1930s, was military governor of Aceh during the Revolution, and the key figure in the local popular movement for Indonesia’s independence.

5 Titular founder of the Independent Aceh movement, he had the advantage of lineal descent from one of the main heroes of the long, bitter 1783-1908 struggle against the advancing Dutch imperial military.

6 General Ali Murtopo was the legendarily machiavellian head of Suharto’s political intelligence apparatus in the early days of the New Order. It was this apparatus that in 1963 ‘fixed’ the so-called Act of Free Choice in Irian to produce virtually unanimous support for union with Indonesia. During the final negotiations for the transfer of sovereignty in late 1949, the Dutch had refused to turn over Irian to the new state of independent Indonesia. By 1962, Indonesian military, and American diplomatic, pressure forced The Hague to put the region under temporary UN administration pending an expression of local opinion on its final status.

7 The PRRI (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republic Indonesia – Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic) was a rebel government formed early in 1958 with heavy CIA backing. It drew its strength from parts of Sumatra and Sulawesi, aimed at toppling and replacing the government in Jakarta, and was defeated by 1960. The DI (Darul Islam) was an armed extremist Islamic movement that originated in Central and West Java in 1949, and later spread to parts of Sumatra and Sulawesi. It was not finally crushed until 1964.

8 From late 1945 to January 1948, the Republic’s cabinets had been dominated by socialists and communists, who thus had to bear the onus of increasingly unfavourable ‘agreements’ with the Dutch colonial regime. In that month, a new cabinet, led by Vice- President Hatta, which excluded the Left, came to power. Political tensions between conservatives and the Left then rapidly increased in a deepening cold-war atmosphere. In September 1948 this resulted in bloody armed conflicts that began in the town of Madiun, and the subsequent smashing of the Left.

9 When the Allied armed forces, under Louis Mountbatten, took over from the Japanese in September 1945, Holland, only recently liberated from Nazi rule, had no military forces available. Hence The Hague was represented for more than a year by a Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) under the British military protection.

10 Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia – Indonesian Women’s Movement) was a left-wing women’s organization that gradually became a part of the Communist Party’s infrastructure.

11 NU – Nahdlatul Ulama, an organization of traditionalist ulama dating back to the middle 1920s. Abdulrahman Wahid, its long-standing leader, is a grandson of its founder. Ansor is the NU’s much-feared youth arm, especially strong in rural East Java.

12 Megawati, a daughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, is currently head of the PDI-Perjuangan (Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle [version]). In the early 1970s, Suharto forced all existing non-Islamic parties to merge into an internally-divided, quickly corrupted Indonesian Democratic Party. Its major component was a PNI (Indonesian National Party)-bloodily shorn of its large left wing-which, in the 1950s, had been regarded as closest to the political vision of her father.

13 General Benny Murdani, long-time intelligence czar, and the man most responsible for the savagery of Indonesian rule in East Timor. Frans Seda, minister of plantations in the last Sukarno cabinet, was a key early financier of the Suharto regime. Liem Bian-kie and Harry Tjan Silalahi, two prominent Indonesian Chinese operatives in Ali Murtopo’s Special Operations intelligence network, played an inactive role in the anti-communist matanza of 1965-66.

14 PSI – Indonesian Socialist Party. A small party of Western-oriented intellectuals, which by the mid-1950s was socialist only in name. Influential in military and other circles, it was banned by Sukarno in the early 1960s.

15 General Joannes van Heutsz, one of the more successful Dutch commanders in the Aceh War, became Governor-General from 1904-1909, and oversaw the formation of the Netherlands Indies in its final territorial shape. Sultan Agung (r. 1613-1645) almost succeeded in putting the whole island of Java under his control, using the most ruthless methods. But he was ultimately defeated by the United East India Company.

16 The two endlessly repeated slogans of the late colonial regime were rust en orde (peace and order) and opbouw (development). Characteristically, the Suharto regime simply Indonesianized these slogans in the Orde Baru (New Order) and pembangunan (development).

17 Kopassus (Komando Pasukan Khusus – Special Forces Command), partly modelled on the Green Berets, were and are the Indonesian army’s elite paratroop units, also legendary for their cruelty.

18 In 1983, thousands of so-called ‘petty criminals’ were spectacularly assassinated (sometimes with torture) by Kopassus men in mufti. These death-squads, popularly known as petrus (penembak misterieus – mysterious gunmen), were eventually acknowledged proudly by Suharto as his handiwork. Their operational head was the Catholic Eurasian General Murdani.

19 Amien Rais, an academic with a doctoral degree in religious studies from the University of Chicago, made his name first as a modernist Muslim intellectual known for vitriolic speeches on Christians, Israel and Jews, as well as local Chinese. He became head of the large modernist Muslim organization Muhammadiyah. At the end of the Suharto period, however, he earned wide acclaim as the first prominent person to call for Suharto’s ouster, and bravely helped lead the student demonstrations of May 1998. Since then, he has formed an attractive non-confessional party, has invited in both Christians and Chinese, and has made the most serious proposals for fundamental political reform.

20 The Suharto regime’s state party Golkar, which ‘won’ every election while Suharto lasted, used the sacred banyan-tree as its logo, relying on its Javanese connotations of magical power as an abode of protective tutelary spirits. But as anti-regime activists always noted, the thick rain of tendrils hanging down makes it impossible for anything to blossom under them-nothing but (political) lichens, mosses, toadstools and so forth.

21 This list includes communists, socialists, Muslims, middle-class secular nationalists, Chinese, women, poets and novelists, human-rights lawyers, and social reformers.

22 Iwan Fals is the stage name of a folk-rock singer popular with teenagers and students. His themes have been as left-political as the dictatorship tolerated.


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