Sat, 16 Dec 2000

Regional autonomy could endanger national unity

JAKARTA (JP): The incoming implementation of regional autonomy is prone to neo-tribalism and ethnic nationalism, which may bring nation building in Indonesia back to square one, a noted sociologist warned on Friday.

"There is a strong tendency that ethnic boundaries encourage people to form a province, as evident in the cases of Banten and Gorontalo," Imam B. Prasodjo of the University of Indonesia told The Jakarta Post.

Such a gesture indicates that the spirit of autonomy in a region can work against the aim of building civic nationalism, he said.

"In several cases, migrants in certain areas have been forced to leave their homes by locals or fall victims to sectarian violence," Imam said.

Imam expressed concern that if people are not aware of this, conflict between groups in the country will be incited by ethnic and other sectarian sentiments.

Over the past five years Indonesia has seen sectarian conflicts in West Kalimantan, Maluku and Southeast Sulawesi, which left thousands dead.

Experts define ethnic nationalism as shared emotions and sense of belonging based on common culture, language, religion, historical experience and/or the myth of shared kinship. A community applies these criteria to differ its members from others.

Civic nationalism, as emerged in Britain, the United States and France, is based on loyalty to a set of political ideas and institutions which are perceived as just and effective.

"Indonesia is muddling through this process. We are supposed to be heading for civic nationalism, but what has actually happened is the reverse," Imam said.

The local spirit in each region and province develops based on ascribed status more than achieved status.

"People will be judged by their primordial background instead of their achievement. This is an example of a primitive spirit and must be avoided," he asserted.

The process of nationhood in Indonesia is not yet over and the country is fertile ground for ethnic nationalism to grow, he said.

"With rampant conflicts from grass roots to upper levels of society and with ill-prepared regional autonomy, this could be the beginning of the end. Now it is up to us to decide and to save this country together," he said.

The new spirit of ethnic nationalism will endanger the existence of the Indonesian nation, he said.

"You just name it. We have seen student brawls, communal violence, political and economic conflicts and bickering among the elite. So a better direction of regional autonomy is needed," he said. (edt)