Tue, 19 Aug 2003

Scholar says RI suffers from nationalism crisis

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Almost 60 years after it declared independence in 1945, Indonesia still suffers from a nationalism crisis, which could lead to disintegration, a prominent scholar says.

Azyumardi Azra, the rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, said over the weekend that Indonesia had to embark on a campaign of multicultural education in order to cure the nationalism crisis and prevent the country from breaking up.

Speaking at a seminar entitled Ethnic Chinese and the Politics of Multiculturalism here on Saturday, Azyumardi said the crisis had long plagued the country and became serious during the leadership of former president Soeharto, although it was quelled.

During his 32-year reign, Soeharto adopted monoculturalism at the national level by putting Javanese culture above all others, and thus creating animosity among the thousands of other ethnic groups in the archipelago, Azyumardi said.

Ethnic acrimony came to a head in the form of many violent clashes between Javanese and non-Javanese after Soeharto's iron- fisted regime collapsed -- and with it the oppressive control of society -- in May 1998.

"The end of the New Order era provided an opportunity for a counter-reaction," Azyumardi wrote in his paper presented during the seminar, which was organized by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education and Information (LP3ES) on Saturday.

Azyumardi, however, was not present at the seminar, which was held in conjunction with the nation's 58th independence anniversary on Sunday.

According to Azyumardi, the counter-reaction manifested itself in demands by many ethnic groups/regions to separate from Indonesia after they felt that they had been treated as second- class citizens for more than 30 years.

He said Soeharto imposed his brand of the much-hated monoculturalism on regions and through his centralization policy, wherein natural resource revenues were essentially stolen by Java, while the local people in those regions became desperately poor.

Provincialism and discrimination against other ethnic groups in the recruitment of regional government posts has become a common practice since the reform movement started in 1998, a phenomenon that could lead to the disintegration of the nation, said Azyumardi.

He also stated that separatism was a fact that Indonesia would have to deal with in order to prevent a total break up.

In addition to possible solutions such as granting greater autonomy, Azyumardi proposed in his paper that Indonesia should introduce and promote multicultural education, so that people would accept differences and respect each other.

According to Azyumardi, the concept of multiculturalism could foster cooperation among people and encourage them to negotiate any differences so that there would no longer be conflicts among them.

Azyumardi said such a campaign should be started now with the younger generation via formal and non-formal education nationwide, so that it could create a sense of belonging, for the younger generations, to Indonesia as a nation and state.