It’s gradually getting through. Today a Dutch on line news site reported unrest in Papua is growing. What’s going on in the tropical empire?
I’ve always kept my slightly worn old school atlas. It’s the at the time famous Bos “Atlas der gehele aarde” ( Atlas of all the world), 37th print, 1947, Groningen – Batavia.There are several maps, nrs 33 – 36, dedicated to the archipelago. Each island named by it’s colonial name: Borneo, Celebes, Nieuw Guinea. No surprise here.The war of independence was still fought.The Dutch government officially still referred to what it considered to be a colony as “Nederlands Indië’ ( Dutch Indies). But the Bos Atlas obviously had a slightly subversive trait; two years before transfer of sovereignty would take place the name of the country in our school atlas was Indonesia already.
Actually it’s remarkable we today can put an equation mark between Nederlands Indië ( the colony) and Indonesia (the thriving regional power): NI = RI. For what else but a hotchpotch of peoples and cultures the colony was. An administrative reality only. It was far from being a nation. It actually was a huge gamble when the revolutionaries opted for turning that hotchpotch integrally into one new independent nation practically over night. I guess primarily thanks to the political genius of Soekarno and his companions that merely administrative unity didn’t fall apart. It even became a unitary state with a supreme central government.
However major inherent tensions and contradictions were not solved and have not been solved since. Therefore from day one Indonesia coped with inherent flaws.
There is no denying. For instance Aceh, Papua and Bali have very different interests and cultures. Authoritarian rule kept them together. And concealed the problems.
But after ’98 RI is a young democracy. The tension and contradictions surfaced. The new policies of Reformasi brought decentralisation. And the government’s grip loosened. Power and money ( and one of the major political vices of New Order, corruption) have been transferred to the periphery and the many districts. Now centrifugal forces are affecting both “Sabang and Merauke”.
Elisabeth Pisani wrote about it in her reflections on this “culture corruption and corpses”. In a lengthy essay in Prospect she shows what is happening on the outer islands. I’m convinced it’s time for the politicians in Jakarta to wake up. The article tells that Indonesia is thriving not because of but in spite of government. The rise of bupatis creates ample room for machinations at district’s level. They even sometimes manage to tap the revenues of the country’s treasures. It’s boom is jeopardized by corruption and lack of identity. The structure and form of the state needs urgent maintenance.
I would recommend ministers, parliamentarians and civil servants ( and everybody else who is interested in Indonesia’s welfare) to spend one quarter of an hour or perhaps half an hour to read “A make-belief nation”.