Mon, 13 Jun 1994

Freedom is never absolute, says Wardiman

By Riyadi

SEMARANG (JP): Freedom is never absolute and this goes for academic freedom too, according to Minister of Education and Culture Wardiman Djojonegoro.

"Academic freedom is strictly for the intelligentsia, that is, those who have a higher intellectual standard than that of ordinary laymen. This means that they can be locked in a heated debate without losing control of their emotions," Wardiman told The Jakarta Post recently.

The police and government have been criticized for banning a number of vocal scholars and human rights campaigners from addressing seminars at university campuses in recent months.

The government's policy of banning political discussion on campuses has also been questioned now that the country is moving towards greater political openness.

Wardiman stressed that the government is totally committed to promoting academic freedom because science and knowledge can be advanced through extensive and unimpeded dialog and discussion.

However, he said that this is only true if the participants are members of the academic community. He said he had no qualms against such organized discourses on campuses.

He pointed out that if outsiders were allowed to participate, then the organizers would have to abide by the normal regulations in arranging such meetings, including applying for police permits. The minister said that the matter would then be in the hands of police, who have to take various security aspects into consideration.

Over the past year, victims of police's ban have included human rights campaigner Adnan Buyung Nasution and poets Emha Ainun Nadjib and W.S. Rendra.

In a major breakthrough however, Diponegoro University Rector Muladi early this month gave the green light for Emha to address a seminar at the campus of the state university in Semarang, Central Java. Up to that point, Emha had been practically blacklisted from making public appearances in the province.

Wardiman, however, also had to defend his policy of academic freedom from critics within the establishment.


The minister cited as an example that there had been pressures put upon him to take a punitive action against George Junus Aditjondro, a staff lecturer at the Satyawacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java. This pressure came after George wrote a series of papers on East Timor which many government officials found controversial.

Wardiman said many saw the approval for George to write up the papers as setting a bad precedent that would ultimately endanger the nation. However, he resisted the criticisms.

"I couldn't stop him because his work was academically credible."

George's papers eventually found their way into the Australian press which published some of his assertions, including a suggestion that the number of casualties in the Dili riot in November 1991 was far higher than the official figure.

Wardiman, while expressing displeasure against some vocal scholars like George, pointed out that they constitute only a few of some 55,000 university lecturers in the country.

"To be vocal is not a guarantee of being correct," he said.

He also echoed the government's aversion to scholars who often attack their own country when they travel overseas. "I don't think it's right for someone to go abroad and then make remarks which offend our sense of nationalism."

The minister also sought to dispel the common misunderstanding of students about campus autonomy. He said that many had erroneously taken this to mean that they could do whatever they liked within the confines of the campus.

University administrators often are attacked by their own students for not respecting campus autonomy, which often requires summoning the military to quell student demonstrations. The administrators defend their actions, saying that they were preserving order on campus.

Wardiman said that he is open to any invitation for a dialog with students anywhere, as proven by his recent visits to Bandung and Yogyakarta.

This policy echoes the point that he keeps hammering into university administrators whenever he meets them: "Let's not forget that they are cadres who will become the country's next leaders."