Mon, 14 Aug 2000

'Last paradise' reflects on its development path

By I Wayan Juniartha.

DENPASAR, Bali (JP) Several noted figures have urged the people and government of Bali to take the province's 42nd anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on and contemplate the path of development that the "last paradise" has taken.

"Are we really going in the right direction, and at a correct speed," prominent social activist Prof. Dr. LK Suryani asked rhetorically.

She lamented that the uncontrolled development process had destroyed most of Bali's limited ecological resources.

Consequently, the harmonious and balanced relationship between man and nature was also being distracted. For the island and people that for centuries put nature -- be it in the form of water, forest, mountain, land, lake or river -- in a respected place, the present condition is disturbingly ironic, she commented.

"We have built hundreds of hotels with thousands of rooms and by doing that we have transformed our beloved Bali into one infertile and barren island," she said, adding that every year at least 1,000 hectares of rice fields were transformed into housing complexes and industrial or tourism facilities.

To avoid total ecological destruction, Suryani asked the government to stop the development of hotels, resorts or any other large-scale tourism facilities. The government should also immediately make a clear, ecologically aware and well-balanced blueprint for Bali's development, she said.

"The blueprint would dictate which areas in Bali will be a center for tourism, housing or business, and which areas will be left untouched. This blueprint must be backed up with strong and unbiased law enforcement," she said.

Unfortunately, strong law enforcement is a rare trait in Bali's administration. A well-known cartoonist, Jango Paramartha, noted that most zoning violations either went unpunished or just unnoticed. A similar thing has also taken place in a different field.

"Big capitalists are storming our villages. Modern minimarkets and stores are opening in villages, putting our own entrepreneurs out of business. That must be a violation of some regulations, isn't it? Yet the government just sits there and does nothing," he said.

Another of Bali's major problems, Suryani said, was the seemingly unending flow of unskilled Javanese and Lombok workers and laborers into Bali. In some cases, it has caused racial tension between the Balinese and non-Balinese.

"It is grossly unfair that the government has persuaded jobless Balinese to migrate to Kalimantan or Sulawesi, while jobless non-Balinese keep entering Bali freely," she said.

Suryani, who is also well-known as a respected Balinese-style meditation guru with thousands of disciples abroad, also regretted the fact that more and more Balinese were succumbing to the materialistic trappings of modern civilization. Drugs, alcohol and prostitution have become a common phenomenon among the Balinese youth. Money and material gain have become the new mantra for some of Balinese's middle class.

"Even in temples many people compete in spending as much money as possible to hold the most extravagant ceremony, instead of concentrating on the purity of their own heart," she said.

Suryani openly expressed her longing for the "old" Bali, an island of peace and serenity.

A prominent scholar, Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem, shared a similar yearning. Yet he underlined that it did not mean that he wanted Bali to be thrown back to the 1930s.

"I don't want to hold Bali back. Yet every development and every modernization must take the Tri Hita Karana principles into account," he said, referring to the age-old wisdom of a harmonious relationship between man and God, fellow men and nature.

A cultural concept and insight, which were supposed to be the basic foundation of Bali's development, are somehow gradually vanishing from policymakers' awareness, Bandem said.

Suryani, Jango, and Bandem did not pretend to be able to present all the facts and problems, or have a solution to them. But they believe the problems are real and need immediate action.

"This is the responsibility we, as Balinese, must proudly take," Bandem said.

There is no better day than an anniversary to make amends with our past mistakes, and to start going in a new direction.