Fri, 12 Aug 1994

In search of a more humane political culture

By Mochtar Buchori

JAKARTA (JP): A high-ranking military officer, Gen. (ret.) Edi Sudradjat, made an upbeat remark recently.

"The government apparatus, including ABRI, must be proactive if it does not want to be caught off guard by progress and changes," Edi, who is the minister of defense and security, said.

The occasion was the opening of the annual Armed Forces' (ABRI) leadership meeting, held on July 18, 1994.

He also said on that occasion that officers and civilian leaders must guide the entire nation into adopting an anticipatory and proactive attitude in this era of massive global changes, especially in facing criticism related to human rights and democracy.

If we fail to develop this particular attitude, and remain defensive in facing criticism about these two major issues, "then the attacks against us are bound to be more aggressive and more gripping".

I find it very refreshing to hear this kind of statement at this particular moment when the nation seems to be anxious and nervous about the future of our democracy. Especially encouraging in this regard is the fact that this statement was made by a general, a military leader.

One is justified to believe, I think, on the basis of this fact, that democracy has become sufficiently rooted in our society, and that it has a real future in this country. One can rightly argue that in a country where even the military leadership is concerned about democracy, there is really no reason for anyone to fear that democracy is on the verge of being compromised.

Yet, somehow, this logically neat reasoning cannot appease my worries about the future of democracy in this country. Personally I am still haunted by the idea that in one way or another democracy might still become dwarfed or twisted in the future.

It is indeed quite heartening that the military leadership gives such solid support to democracy. But, in my view, this fact alone does not necessarily mean that the forces within our society, which have been antagonistic to democracy, have been obliterated.

I have been unable to shake off this fear, because in my perception we are still either reluctant or unable to repress the tendency to use violence in settling disputes among ourselves. By violence I mean not only physical violence, but psychological force as well.

According to Alain Joxe, political coercion is one example of psychological violence. The use of violent language is also an indication of a non-democratic attitude. And as long as we still resort to the use of violence in efforts to solve social problems, democracy remains in a precarious condition.

According to Prof. Bruce Russett of Yale University, one of the main characteristics of a democratic culture is the absence of violence in domestic politics. One manifestation of this principle in non-industrialized societies has been that groups, which are organized democratically, fight significantly less than do groups under more authoritarian rule.

Based on the generalizations cited above, I think that we will only be able to feel assured about the future of democracy in our country once we are able to cleanse our political environment from any violent tradition and inclinations.

To paraphrase Alain Joxe, it is only after we have become able to replace the traditional maxim of "si vis pacem para bellum" (those who desire peace must prepare themselves for war) with a newer one, will we be able to guarantee the continued existence of untwisted democracy.

In practice, this means that we have to change the nature of our political power to safeguard democracy. We must set aside the premise of "violence in the last resort" and embrace another premise which originates in the idea of "knowledge in the last resort as the source of political power".

Can this really be done? Optimists say that since violence is explicable, it is avoidable. If this idea is true and can be implemented, then it must be possible to generate a new, more humane kind of political culture.

The writer is rector of Muhammadiyah University, Jakarta.