Sun, 20 Feb 2000

Confucians told to do more social work

SURABAYA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid has called on Chinese-Indonesians and Confucians to play an active role in social welfare through various programs.

Speaking at a celebration for the Lunar New Year at the Hyatt Regency Surabaya on Saturday, the President said that with their (financial) superiority, Confucians and Chinese-Indonesians could pay more attention to people's welfare.

At least 1,200 followers of Confucianism attended the ceremony. The President also attended a similar event in Jakarta on Thursday.

He said that Indonesia still faced abundant social problems, which deserved attention from all layers of society. He cited the lack of education and infant mortality rates as examples of lingering social problems.

"All the social problems need our care."

Abdurrahman's entourage included his wife Mrs. Shinta Nuriana Wahid, their daughter Yeni and Minister of Home Affairs Surjadi Soedirdja, who is also coordinating minister for political affairs and security.

East Java Governor Imam Utomo, Mayor Sunarto and other provincial dignitaries were also at hand.

Minister Surjadi received Rp 1 billion from the East Java Confucian community. The money is to be used for those suffering from a series of clashes in Maluku and other areas.

The President also stressed that differences among Indonesians must not be exaggerated. Indonesians had their our own way of thinking and way of life, "But that does not mean we must fight with each other."

"Differences must enrich our attempts to make life in the nation better. There must be difference among the people, and the difference can be a blessing," he said. "The more we differ the clearer our unity will be."

He said he had long been acquainted with the chairman of the Indonesian Confucian community in East Java, Bingki Irawan. "There has been differences, but we are one. I have never considered Bingki anything but Indonesian."

Confucians in Indonesia, especially in East Java, had high respect for others, he said, citing how the Chinese had adapted their food to suit Indonesian tastes. He said he particularly enjoyed a Chinese dish called lontong cap gomeh, which is very popular among East Javanese. "As a member of a kyai family I enjoy the dish. This is a simple statement but has deep meaning."


Abdurrahman, reputed for his sense of humor, spiced his speech with jokes and local legends. In one joke in which Confucius had abundant followers in the world, President Abdurrahman said that Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon in his Apollo 11, was surprised upon seeing two men already on the moon. "The first was a Confucian and the second was an Indonesian," he said. "When asked how they arrived on the moon, the Confucian said his friends had lifted him up shoulder-to-shoulder, while the Indonesian said the pile of papers he collected from various seminars enabled him to reach the moon."

The audience burst into laughter.

President Abdurrahman has given new confidence to Confucians in Indonesia after taking over from the New Order regime, which curbed all their activities for decades.

The New Order government officially acknowledged only five religions, and excluded Confucianism.

Last Thursday in Jakarta the President said the government had been wrong to acknowledge only a handful of religions. It was not the government's concern to judge if a teaching was a religion or not, he said.

"There is a question of whether Confucianism is a religion or the philosophy of life. For me a religion is a religion when its followers are sure of its truth. Even without the government's acknowledgement the religion still exist," the President said.

As he did when attending the celebration in Jakarta, the President seemed to enjoy the Chinese art performances in Surabaya.

Clad in a brown batik shirt, the President left the hotel at about 2 p.m. for Dr. Soetomo General Hospital to see his close friend KH. Imron Hamzah, who has been in hospital for two months due to heart failure. The visit was not officially scheduled. (nur/sur)