Tue, 16 Aug 1994

Looking in the mirror

Tomorrow is Indonesia's Independence Day. The time has come again for us to reflect and ponder on our journey as a nation. It is like standing in front of a mirror, looking back into our past, and asking ourselves: Are we on the right track and coming closer to our independence ideals, or have we strayed from our path and headed in an unwanted direction?

Any keen observer here would notice that this time, unlike in the past years, there is something distinct in the air -- a different mood perhaps, which can easily be detected from the contents of our media.

The first and most obvious difference is the changing mood from cheerfulness to gloom. Only last year, a feeling of euphoric excitement was perceptible among a large segment of our society, and was reflected in the media which was enjoying a greater degree of openness -- allowed by the government to an extend that many believed it could lead us in no other direction but towards a speedier democratization process.

But now, following the closure of the magazines Tempo, Detik and Editor in June, many people believe they may have to review their opinion. For one thing, questions have been raised regarding the government's sincerity in promoting real political openness. Some see the closure as a setback, others have gone so far as to call the action a "political killing" which has revealed the true nature of the government's democratization policy.

Some observers believe there are other signs to support the view that, indeed, the policy of openness was an experiment, to be withdrawn whenever some serious "threat" should come into view. In the election of the governor of Central Kalimantan, for instance, many felt that the government tended to ignore the local people's feelings. In the case of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), there also are indications that the government is going back to the old pattern by trying to harass and undermine Megawati's leadership.

Yet, one has to admit that the greater part of society seemed to be unconcerned with such a "setback". Even many intellectuals have remained silent on the closure of the three magazines. Could it be that for the majority of the people basic daily problems such as the drought, price increases or higher education costs are more of a concern than things like freedom of expression or freedom of assembly?

Whatever the case, one cannot claim the people's "ignorance" toward problems such as democratization as proof that the majority of the people are not ready for greater democracy. Development is not a matter of social and economic uplifting only, but, as President Soeharto himself has repeatedly said, it is also a matter of respecting the basic rights of the people, including freedom of expression and the right of assembly, which are clearly guaranteed by the Constitution.

Democratization aside, there are also questions regarding the economic path which we as a nation are taking. There is no denying that the economic achievements which have been scored in the past quarter century or so have been quite impressive. Nevertheless, neither can it be denied that at present concern is growing within our society over the widening gap between rich and poor in this country. Prof. Soemitro's words of caution last week surely reflect this concern, which is shared by many people.

Then, too, although the government has successfully reduced the number of poor Indonesians through its poverty alleviation program the fact remains that there is a growing "anti- conglomerate" feeling among our people. Other examples could be mentioned. The gist of the matter, though, is that it seems that the time has come for us to forthrightly review what we have done so far and what we have achieved. On the other hand we should also have the courage to correct our course wherever necessary, if we have strayed from the right direction.

Tomorrow, our nation will be just one year short of half-a- century old. In that time span there have been many achievements that we can be rightly proud of. It may be ironic that it is precisely because of those accomplishments that we have now come to a stage in our history where a review of the institutions that have helped us attain those achievements may be necessary.

Tomorrow, millions of young Indonesians, born and raised in relative prosperity and imbued with fresh ideals and aspirations, will be joining their elders in celebrating our Independence Day. Flaws notwithstanding, we are optimistic that a better future lies ahead for our nation, so long as we are willing to work for it. Let us hope that we have learned enough from the past to respect the values of national cohesion and stability, which have been the keys towards our present progress.

We pray that this nation will in the coming years be spared the stormy upheavals of the past so that it can cope with the tasks that lie ahead in peace and stability. At the same time, however, let us keep in mind President Soeharto's words that it is a dynamic kind of stability that we seek. For in the end, nothing is permanent but change itself and thus, whether we like it or not, we must learn to cope with change in order to preserve our very national well-being. May God bless this nation as it enters this vital moment of its history.