Tue, 16 Aug 1994

... if lessons learned: Observers

By Ati Nurbaiti

JAKARTA (JP): In exchange for considerable stability, other legacies have been viewed as threats to unity; mistakes rather than lessons - parliamentary democracy, for instance, is shunned for its too "liberal" nature. Cabinet after cabinet were overhauled, with no chance for any of them to implement programs soundly.

"People forget that the actors were so young then," said historian Taufik Abdullah of the first form of government after independence.

Abdul Haris Nasution, the first army chief of staff, was 28; Sjahrir, the first prime minister was 36; and the first president, Sukarno, was 44.

Undoubtedly no one had experience either, having been colonized for 350 years.

Mochtar Pabottingi, a political scientist, says that "any political design was bound to fail" in those tender years, given the "immature psychological and economic situation."

Of the number of attempts to defy the central government, observers agree there were very few aspirations of breaking away from the initially envisioned "Indonesia." What seemed like ethnic based sentiments were more of unequal "Java-outer Java relations."

Pabottingi stresses that almost all forms of dissent, then and now, "do not aim to negate unity." As in the case of the 1950s "half hearted" PRRI rebellion based in West Sumatra, military members and local leaders charged the government in Java with lack of attention to their area, and were not unanimous in aspiring for a whole new country.

Historian Ong Hok Ham notes that efforts for federalism, which emerged in the late 1940s, mainly failed because of the inability to control corruption of power by appointed authorities.

Given more educated people in the future, he views federalism as one option to solve the unsettled problem of decentralization, mainly autonomy of the provinces in managing their own financial resources.

"But I'm not saying that federalism would be more efficient, nor that it would solve ethnic tensions," he stressed.

This idea is reminiscent of Mohammad Hatta's, the first vice president, who wrote in the 1950s that "a federal system might be suitable for such a far-flung archipelago and might be expected to strengthen the feeling of unity."

But he had also explained the antipathy due to efforts of the Dutch to regain control over Indonesia after independence through federalism.

With the fear of repeating mistakes, is it possible that there even exists ideas like considering federalism?

Amid his clutter of books in his Javanese courtyard-style home, Ong retorts, "How do we know?", referring to the "closed politics" still felt by many here. But he also notes low political awareness - in other words, who cares?

Ong stresses further that the present government has prevented potentially open ethnic conflicts such as among the Islam and Hindu members of the Sasak ethnicity in East Indonesia.

Besides, says political scientist Burhan Magenda, "People are unwilling to talk about ethnical and religious differences," as the government has ruled such issues as highly sensitive.

Therefore publicly available insights of strifes are valuable, such as offered by John R.G. Djopari, in his book titled Pemberontakan Organiasi Papua Merdeka (Rebellion of the Free Papua Organization).

The Irianese, he writes, "...wish to participate in developing their areas ...as decision makers, not only as spectators and operators (of these decisions); as they know their societies better, and the diverse obstacles in accepting changes."

But in general, says Ong, "Indonesia is still a haven for those who would otherwise live in rigid, traditional societies."

Kindergarten teachers displaying a picture of churches, mosques, and the Hindu and Buddha temples, are active educators of religious tolerance, lacking in "rigid societies."

Given the above legacies, it seems safe to believe that most Indonesians would mostly not contest unity, with a number of "ifs" - like continued guarantee of social mobility; more equal access to power; less regional disparity and the settling of the decentralization question.

Ong says job distribution, particularly in the government sector in the provinces, must maintain a balance of meritocracy and ethnic diversity, as jobs in the private sector are still quite limited.

Unemployment of higher education graduates is undoubtedly a potential source of more discontent, besides corruption.

"I am optimistic," says Pabottingi, "as long as the widening social and economic gap can be overcome, and as long as we have equal supervision (through the House of Representatives) to correct those in power."

If not, an Indonesia in smithereens is not impossible.

Ong also reminds the absence of adequate infrastructure among even neighboring provinces, making simple communication difficult, more so a "national culture."

Surastri Karma Trimurti, who was part of the last phase of the independence struggle, says, "The proclamation was just a golden bridge; it takes a long time for everyone to live together in peace."

Indonesians, she adds with her spiritual wisdom, have always worked towards unity. "The cosmos is one...only inside, it has many branches..for the development of its elements."

Her eyes then brighten as she muses, "I still think Indonesians have more good in them than bad, don't you?"