Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Lingering problems: TNI, the state, the nation

Damien Kingsbury, Senior Lecturer, International Development, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia

Just before he died, in 1998 the architect of the military's middle way, Gen. Abdul Haris Nasution, said that he regretted the military's development of the dual defense and political function. He said that this was because the dual function had come to exceed his intentions for a civil role for the military, and because the military had become a law unto itself.

Gen. Nasution was not the only one to regret the military's political role. The outpouring of public frustration in the last couple of years of Soeharto's rule and just after indicated that there was deep and widespread discontent with the dual function.

The fall of Soeharto, and the partial winding back of the military's political function, was greeted by the vast majority of Indonesians with relief. This was the era of reform.

Just a few short years later, very few people still talk about the reform process as a contemporary event. Most now say the process has halted, and many even say that some of its gains are being wound back.

Most worrying in this changing political climate is the use of political correctness. The military formerly required public obedience to the ambiguous five principles (Pancasila) of the state. Now the military requires public obedience to the even more vague mantra of "nationalism", encapsulated within the term of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

This new political correctness has most clearly been seen in relation to the current military operation in Aceh. It has also seen the reintroduction of restrictions on what is arguably the greatest reform achievement, a free press, which is now being cajoled, threatened, and worse.

But this new NKRI mantra has two fundamental problems. The first problem is a basic confusion of ideas.

Nationalism implies a sense of belonging to a political group in which constituent members voluntarily identify with each other. That is, they identify in common as members of a broad form of united political expression.

The nation, therefore, refers to people, and its equivalent word in Indonesian is bangsa. Yet the term NKRI clearly refers to the state (negara), which in this case is defined as both unitary and republican. The state implies a spatial territory and the laws and institutions that govern it.

The commonly aspired to political model for formally modern states is as a nation-state. States that are based on national identity, such as most of those of Europe and North America, can claim to be nation-states. The advantage of the nation-state is its relative sense of voluntary cohesion and hence stability.

However, those states not formed around a pre-existing national identity have greater difficulty in staking a claim to being a nation-state, and consequent problems with stability. Some states can and do move towards constructing a national identity, and Indonesia has been an example of this process.

Its exercise in "nation creation" has been relatively successful, especially when considered against the odds of a culturally diverse basis across a non-contiguous territory and drawing upon the geographic rationale of the conquests of a colonial empire.

However, this created sense of "nation" does not exist amongst all in the state, and the imposition of national identity has only succeeded in so far as the state has had the will and the capacity to enforce it.

Such imposition of "nationalist" corporate statism has most commonly been identified with variations of fascism. Political analysts have long noted the philosophical origins of the Indonesian state, and in particular of the TNI, both of which were deeply influenced by European organicism and Japanese militarism, both of which were fascistic.

These malignant influences found their fullest expression under Soeharto. One very important consequence of this was that many people included in the still emerging state, and who might have been warming to the idea of nation, were alienated from it.

Instead of the corporate state welcoming and encouraging its citizens in all their diversity, it too often imposed harsh repression, lost their trust and goodwill, and ultimately drove them away from the idea of "nation".

The clearest examples of this now exist in Papua and in Aceh, although it was also explicit in East Timor, and finds varying degrees of expression in places like Maluku, Riau, West and Central Kalimantan, and parts of Sulawesi.

The answer to this "nation-failure" has been state violence, organized and perpetrated by the TNI, or its proxies. This then leads to the second problem with the NKRI mantra.

An earlier case of opposition to the organization of the state, the PRRI- Permesta Rebellion, was crushed by the TNI's military forerunner. It then used this military success as the rationalization for its political role, via Gen. Nasution's "middle way", which ultimately created the corporatist state under Soeharto. It was here that Gen. Nasution realized he had unleashed a self-perpetuating monster.

Instead of corporate statism, however, the state's response to grievances should have been to listen, to recognize their legitimacy and to help resolve them. This would have encouraged dissenters to feel they are part of a national family, rather than outcasts only fit for punishment.

After 1998, there was a brief shift away from the "punishment" model, recognizing that, in large part, legitimate grievances could only be answered by increasing local control over local affairs. "Local autonomy" was offered as a sort of "federalism lite".

Yet the recent rhetoric of "special" autonomy for the worst affected regions -- Aceh and Papua -- has never sounded sincere. Now, in both cases, "autonomy" rings truly hollow. If separatists in either place rejected this shallow and limited offer of autonomy, such rejection now looks to be fully justified. Papua is being dissected, and Aceh is being destroyed.

There has been no thought to further pursuing a political solution to these problems, even though such solutions remain potentially viable in both Aceh and Papua. That is, a solution remains viable if there is the political will, and the capacity to assert civilian authority over recidivist military reactionism.

The risk -- and the likelihood -- is, however, that the ascendant TNI will continue to define the response of the state to the question of the nation. In this respect, it will continue to assert the state by opposing the nation, and consequently alienating it, or parts of it.

The TNI is therefore now sowing the seeds of future dissent and conflict. As a bureaucratic institution, it is also conforming to the logic of self-perpetuation. And it is re- establishing the groundwork for again rationalizing a role for the military in civil political affairs.

Watching the performance of the TNI in Aceh, and Papua, and listening to its mantra of NKRI as the definition of nationalism, one is struck by a most valuable adage. And that is, those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. Gen. Nasution would be turning in his grave.

Dr Damien Kingsbury is head of Philosophical, Political and International Studies at Deakin University, Victoria, Australia, and is currently writing the third edition of his book, The Politics of Indonesia (Oxford).