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By Theodore Friend

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Ronald Palmer, on Indonesian Politics and the Military, 1997-1999, in From Repression to Reform?:
"While Indonesia is nominally a democracy — indeed the third largest democracy in the world — it is still in the grip of forces of repression that will make the process of further far-ranging change very difficult."

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Warburg 2000 Conference
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IN THIS DEPRIVED SITUATION, Gus Dur faces severe divisions and distractions of at least three kinds: separatisms, ethno-religious tensions, and distorted institutions.

    1. Separatisms

Separatisms based on religion or culture, and perceived exploitation or cruelty, were latent even before the explosion in East Timor. A careful analysis of regional productivity has shown that Java, with 55 percent of the Indonesian population, makes a 45 percent contribution to Indonesia’s annual GDP. In other words, its “regional productivity” is negative by 10 percent. Other regions to various degrees feel that they are feeding Java, or enriching those who feed off of Java. This is particularly true of mining/oil/gas provinces. We have seen the traumatic hiving off of East Timor — a very poor province — for reasons of religion, culture and resistance to gross oppression. What follows now is what many in Indonesia’s armed forces feared: an imitation effect in richer provinces. The scorched earth retreat of early September ’99 by the Indonesian army and their Timorese militia was apparently intended to stun other separatisms into passivity. That is one of a long string of gross miscalculations by some Indonesian military. The effect in other regions is evident: “Why should we remain in a republic that’s going to kick us around? Let’s shove off.”

The most active of these intensified separatisms is in Aceh, the northwesternmost of all Indonesian provinces, spiritually closer to Mecca than Jakarta. The pathos in the situation is that the Arun natural gas fields are nearly played out as Gus Dur offers to give Aceh province 75 percent of the revenues from them. The historical separatism there is strong. Mollifying language by the president, fluid deadlines, restoration of status as a special region, and promise of an (ill-defined) referendum have bought some time but have not clearly leveraged over new loyalties. The harsh counterinsurgency campaign of the early 1990s cannot be repeated. And Gus Dur’s personal charisma, well received in much of Java, is not so in Aceh.

Irian Jaya, now renamed Papua in a spirit of acknowledging regional distinctness, is mineral rich, feels ethnoculturally discriminated against, and is probably the site of the second most significant separatism. It does, however, appear susceptible to division into three provinces; and new revenue sharing formulae might satisfy enough political and economic appetites to retain this huge area in the Republic.

If one takes all other sharp or soft separatisms into account — Riau, East Kalimantan, Southern Sulawesi, and Maluku — and adds them to Aceh and Papua as percents of Indonesia’s pre-crisis GNP, one gets 17.2 percent, or about one sixth of the national total.

ProvincePrincipal IndustryU.S. Corporate PresenceContribution to Indonesia’s GDP as Percent
E. Kalimantanoil and gasMobil, Unocal5.0
Riauoil and gasCaltex, Conoco4.7
S. Sulawesiagricultural
Irian Jaya (Papua)copper, gold,gasFreeport, Arco1.6
Malukutimber, agr.
Total Contribution   17.2
     Based on Far East Economic Review, 2 Dec. 99, p. 20
If all potential separations actually occurred, the present nation, to improvise on one Indonesian commentator’s remark, would become a Bangladesh (Java) encircled by a couple of Congos, some Arab sheikdoms, and a West Indian republic. But it won’t all happen. For most of the archipelago there is still more pride and synergy in being part of a great republic than concocting a small one.

    2. Ethno-religious tensions

These are numerous enough. They do not appear, however, to threaten the nation so much as to split and scar parts of the society. The number of church burnings in Indonesia in the 1990s, according to Agence France Presse, reached nearly 500. Many of these were Chinese Christian churches. That phase appeared worst in 1996-98. It appears to have subsided with the riots in Jakarta of May 13-15, 1998, in which Chinese shop-homes, electronics stores, banks, and malls were attacked (a) out of hatred of have-nots for haves; (b) the massive shoplifting opportunity; (c) possible instigation by military provocateurs. The ensuing flight of Chinese-lndonesian families and Chinese-Indonesian capital seriously weakened the nation’s capacity for recovery. Gus Dur is genuine in welcoming Chinese-lndonesians back. He was a resounding hit with them and with neighboring businessmen in an early visit to Singapore. But conditions do not yet suggest an elastic and confident return of capital.

Another sort of tension is religious without an ethnic element. That is the recent horrific communitarian warring in Ambon and other cities of Maluku, where the overall population divides 57 percent Muslim and 37 percent Protestant. Such close numbers are rare in Indonesia, which is overall 90 percent Muslim; and socioeconomic reversals of fortune there manifest themselves in religious tension. The scenes and stories are terrible. Broadcast on television, they lead to cries of Jihad, countered by feelings of crusade elsewhere. But most Indonesians, even if they don’t love their neighbor, like most Americans don’t want to kill their neighbor, either.

A third sort of tension is chiefly ethnocultural, aggravated by non-lslamic reaction to Muslim practices. It is best illustrated by the clashes between Dyaks of Kalimantan and Madurese transported there by government policy to relieve crowding and lack of opportunity on Madura. The animosities of unlike and mutually aggravating cultures have a history of some years now, and may recur in future years.

    3. Distorted institutions

Under this heading many phenomena could be listed: institutions of law perverted by the Suharto years; civil society stunted; free expression suffocated; and religion stifled by state ideology. But among institutions I have chiefly in mind the armed forces. Once they were triumphant as anti-colonial militias, united into a people’s liberation army; once successful as a disciplined national army putting down a lengthy Islamist revolt (1949-62). Having then “won the hearts and minds of the people,” the Indonesian army is now deeply compromised by two practices which most Indonesian citizens detest or fear. One is engagement in business for profit. The other is involvement in local violence for power. The first undoes the military; the second overdoes praetorianism. The first produces clumsy entrepreneurs and flabby soldiers. The second produces plotters instead of strategists, and killers instead of warriors. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The world is made of glass,” meaning that culpable passivity or criminality are in the end transparent.

Military paralysis while Jakarta was in riot, and military overzealousness in East Timor, are now globally documented phenomena. Neither of them is worthy of a professional army. Indonesia badly needs to carry out steps of reform as articulated by some of its leading generals. A sensible path is laid out in careful study by Indonesia’s leading institute of social sciences.

Instead of earnest self renewal, however, some of the army appear to be in an unproductive contest with the president for power and retention of prerogative. Gus Dur says 90 percent of the army is behind him. Dr. Alwi Shihab, his foreign minister, when he was in the USA, said 70 percent. I don’t dispute either figure, but use them both as a range. Seventy to ninety percent of an army is not enough for a president to rely on. He must have one hundred percent of an army with a clear and limited professional mission.




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