Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Assimilation slow for Chinese-Indonesians

JAKARTA (JP): The assimilation of Indonesians of Chinese descent remains inert because there remains a lack of historical, social, economic and cultural understanding of the nation's history.

"For example, many Chinese-Indonesians and non-Chinese do not know that their ancestors fought hand-in-hand against the Dutch colonialists," said sociologist Mely G. Tan, who helped organize a three-day seminar on the issue.

"Do Chinese-Indonesians feel at home here? Have they become Indonesians? This is the question that we still have to ask ourselves," she said.

Mely was speaking at a media conference on Thursday at the close of the three-day seminar, titled Chinese-Indonesians: People and Their Culture.

The seminar featured such prominent speakers as Daniel S. Lev of the University of Washington, Claudine Salmon of the French- based National Center for Scientific Research, Leonard Blusse of Leiden University, Dede Oetomo of Airlangga University in Surabaya, Gondomono of the University of Indonesia and researcher Daniel Dhakidae.

Mely also pointed to the fact that Indonesians of Chinese descent were often targeted during riots.

"Almost all the shops targeted in riots belong to Chinese- Indonesians. Why? Because they are visible and they sell staple foods. Chinese-Indonesians have always been silent about this," she said.

One immediate concrete step that should be taken to redress this situation is to end the official discrimination of things associated with the Chinese culture.

During the New Order era, Chinese characters were banned and other Chinese cultural traits were restricted.

The phobia against all things Chinese was partly the result of the failed 1965 Communist coup, which the government alleged was in part encouraged by China, she said.

However, many of these restrictions have been slowly relaxed under the leadership of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

"We call for all discriminative regulations against all ethnic groups or races, including those against Indonesians of Chinese descent, to be revoked. Everyone is equal before the law, as stated in the 1945 Constitution.

"A better understanding between all people is needed. We are Indonesians. Our authenticity lies in our nationhood, which is being Indonesian. Only after that can we speak about our diversity," Mely said. (edt)