“Our true nationality is mankind.”
– H.G. Wells
Some folk will say that my title today, August 17th, is contentious. This is what I said last year: It was not until December 27, 1949 that Indonesia truly became independent thanks to international diplomatic efforts and the mediation of the United Nations. That is the date that United Nations formally acknowledge as the date of Indonesia’s independence.
From August 17th 1945 until then, there was a war in which both sides committed war crimes. In particular, there are the overlooked killings by the pemuda (youth groups) and criminal gangs in the Bersiap era from August 1945 to December 1946, and the Dutch in Sulawesi. The British army too were not entirely blameless. According to a Reuters report in the Straits Times on 13th December 1945, British-Indian troops were responsible for a coldly premeditated reprisal for the killing of the 22 occupants of a crashed Dakota airplane in Bekasi. A thousand timber houses were set on fire, causing thousands of dispossessed occupants to flee.
There are a number of books and academic papers in English and Dutch about that crucial period in Indonesian history, yet it is inadequately covered in school curricula. All of the veterans of Bersiap have been thought since of as national heroes, and some undoubtedly were, all in the cause of framing a ‘national identity’,
S. Sudjojono: Kawan-Kawan Revolusi (Comrades of the Revolution), 1947
On display at the National Gallery, Jakarta
In a chapter entitled These Indonesians of his memoir Recruit To Revolution, an account of his role as the British intermediary for Sukarno in the lead up to the Round Table Conference in 1949, John Coast wrote this: There can be no doubt at all that all colonizers treat their subjects consistently as inferiors, but the root of the trouble possibly is that those colonized do actually feel themselves to be inferior because they have been unable to stop themselves from being subdued.
Subjugation has been the lot of Indonesians since day one: early kingdoms, the spice traders, the Dutch, the Japanese, Sukarno’s Pancasila, Suharto’s Pancasila Demokrasi, and now Jokowi’s Nawacita (Character Development). For the past five hundred years, colonisers have wanted to exploit the ‘natural resources’ to be found throughout most of the archipelago. The current regime, as with Suharto’s, is in thrall to business interests which, as ever, have little regard for minorities.
In fact, it could be argued that the establishment encourages “disturbances to public order” because they serve as a safety valve and a distraction from the malfeasance on high. Witness the ethnic violence as seen most recently in north Sumatra, and the focus on faux morality issues, such as the rights of LGBT people, the righteous anger over an image on a snack pack (which, incidentally, was not on sale to the general public!), and the ‘war on drugs‘.
A-listers, i.e. those who are already successful, are offered government facilities, and artists, sportsmen and women, and creative entrepreneurs who become selebritis are praised for bringing honour to the country. Others who struggle and succeed on their own terms, relying on themselves and their friends, receive little to no ‘official’ recognition.
Which of the two groups brings greater honour to the country?
Character building in a spirit of national pride will only come about through the willingness to explore one’s own capabilities and creativity, with a disciplined respect for the efforts of others regardless of colour, class or creed. The spirit of Gotong Royong, our capacity for empathy and our urge to understand, appreciate and to help others, is key.
Here is an example.
Amadinda Percussion Group, Triginta Percussion, Péter Szalai and László Tömösközi (2008)
That music is the closing track in my latest compilation which can be downloaded from here.