Tue, 23 May 2000

Activist predicts violence to prevail

More than 70 suspected petty thieves have been beaten to death, or set on fire, in Greater Jakarta's streets alone in the recent months. Advisory board member of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, Munir, makes a grim prediction: violence is here to stay.

Question: Beating criminal suspects to death or setting them alight rather than sending them to the police has continued in the past few months. What do you think about this?

Answer: People have no trust in the country's legal system and see that dealing with legal institutions and the police is too difficult, so they prefer to take a pragmatic approach by taking the law into their own hands.

Furthermore, those on the lower rungs of society whose social identity has been disposed of by a development program that placed too much stress on the economy, feel a rediscovery of their identity when they join hands in beating up criminals.

What about conflicts among community members in Maluku, Jakarta and other parts of the country?

Such horizontal conflicts have emerged due to heightened economic competition as well as in politics or in the administration, among social groupings with different religious, ethnical and cultural backgrounds.

As a government weakens, such conflicts naturally erupt due to the absence of social leadership, which has been systematically eliminated by the New Order (1966-1998) government.

And what about the violence committed recently by rioters following police raids on pirated video compact disc (VCD) vendors in downtown Glodok, Jakarta?

After being raided by the police, the VCD vendors, who were facing economic hardship, found a common symbol because they shared something in common: their economic resources had been threatened by the state. And because they knew that reporting their case to the House of Representatives (DPR) would not produce results instantly, they took the pragmatic way: rioting.

Do you see any links between such rioting and political developments?

Social conflicts in Maluku might have relations with political developments. But if we try to relate riotings and various conflicts in Jakarta and Cirebon in West Java, we may fail to understand the social anatomy of the conflict areas.

Why can't the government overcome these social problems?

First, because the government still cannot rely on its institutions to overcome social problems without using violence. The recent rioting in Glodok, for example, would not have happened if the police (who confiscated pirated VCDs from vendors) had understood the social conditions of the vendors, who could become aggressive if their income sources were affected.

Secondly, even though the intensity of social conflicts can be reduced, they cannot be solved within a short period of time. In Maluku, for instance, social rehabilitation will take about five to 10 years because communication systems among its societies with different religious and ethnical backgrounds are so poor.

Solving conflicts among urban social groups, like those in Jakarta, will take even longer because it will need fairness in welfare distribution and an end to legal discrimination.

The government, therefore, must be able to ensure all citizens that it will be fair in solving social problems.

Do you see that the government has taken any legal measures against those involved in social violence?

This is not so clear. But I think not all the cases related to the social violence can be legally processed.

Brawls among residents in Manggarai and Matraman in Jakarta, for example, are pathologically criminal and those involved in such conflicts must be legally processed.

But the authorities have failed to take legal sanctions against them (which would otherwise provide) social education in the implementation of legal systems.

However, legal processing of those involved in economic- related violence, like the recent Glodok rioting, might worsen the situation because the rioters have become the structural victims of the past economic development. If the government wants to eradicate piracy, it must first take measures against the producers and investors, not the small vendors.

Do you see authorities as being involved in such conflicts?

Almost all the social conflicts cannot be separated from the conduct of the authorities. At least, their unprofessionalism has worsened the conflicts.

What can be done to stop the violence?

Everyone should avoid criminal acts, while the government, particularly its police force, must improve professionalism in law enforcement by improving the understanding of its officials and other personnel in social, economic and anthropological problems.

How much has the government done in this regard?

Its efforts are still very limited. The government is still too busy with political affairs and the political elite's attention on to how to reduce social tension is very low. Furthermore, politicians' interpretation of violence through their political views contributes to our failure in solving the problems.

If that is the case, do you think that violence will decrease?

I don't think violence will decline in the country. Violent actions will become a routine feature among people in the coming years. (Rikza Abdullah)