Tue, 09 Nov 1999

Time to face up to changing times

By J. Soedjati Djiwandono

Calls for separatism from the Republic are now no longer limited to Aceh and Irian Jaya. Political analyst J. Soedjati Djiwandono shares his reflection on the once taboo subject.

JAKARTA (JP): When Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed our independence by saying "on behalf of the Indonesian nation", nobody protested. The majority of Indonesians accepted and supported it.

Yet it turned out later that some were opposed to Indonesian independence. They fought along with the Dutch against Indonesians. Many others wanted independence from the Dutch on their own terms, not under the Republic of Indonesia proclaimed by Sukarno and Hatta.

Thus leaders of a number of regions bowed to the Dutch urging to establish their own independent states in the form of the State of Pasundan, the Republic of East Indonesia, the Republic of North Sumatra, etc., which, together with Sukarno's republic, 15 in all, later formed the United Republic of Indonesia at the end of 1949.

Some states had to be persuaded personally by Hatta, then prime minister of the united republic, to join the new unitary Republic of Indonesia in 1950. But even then, Soumokil, a former minister, declared the Republic of South Maluku.

However, Indonesian leaders of the new unitary republic of Indonesia seem to have taken national unity for granted. Once united, forever united. Sukarno's personal charisma and his outstanding skill to deliver off-the-cuff fiery speeches full of rhetoric and slogans about being a great nation endowed with natural wealth and diverse cultures, seemed to work well to maintain unity, even at moments when the country was at the brink of disunity.

Then in the second half of the 1950s, some leaders began to question Sukarno's leadership, and set up their own Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI). This time, the PRRI did not really mean to be separate from the unitary Republic of Indonesia. Contrary to the belief of some to this day, it was not separatism. They wanted to replace the central government in Jakarta, which they accused ostensibly of being too strongly influenced by communists.

Times have changed. The world has changed. And people have changed. They have learned. The present generation of Indonesians are not as submissive as their older generation. They are more aware of their rights. They are more open, critical and independent. They have their own demands. They have new values. The older generation of Indonesians may find it difficult to come to grips with this reality. The generation gap is mostly the fault of the older generation.

The new generation of Indonesians does not readily accept the values and mores of the older generation. They do not simply take them for granted. They question these values.

One of these values that they now question is the merits of national unity, which were taken for granted for so long by their elders. What have they gained and benefited from the unity of this huge but so diverse nation, in cultural and moral terms, because, among other things, of ethnic and religious differences?

National unity, like national independence, is just a means, after all, toward higher goals in human life: general well-being, equality, justice, individual freedom and fulfillment. To maintain national unity by the imposition of uniformity, by slogans and rhetoric, let alone by force or threat of force, is counterproductive. The recent remark of the new commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI) that we must be able to convince the Acehnese that to live within the national unity of the unitary state of Indonesia is "beautiful," sorely missed the point.

The strongest factor that will ensure national unity is justice. Thus beyond the demand for independence on the part of people of certain provinces is the demand for justice. Indeed, broad regional autonomy will be a way of fulfilling their demands. But if they feel they have been cheated by promises of justice for over half a century, how can we expect them to believe any more promises, especially now that the issue does not seem to be given top priority with a sense of urgency?

This is not a recipe for rebellion or treason. One may cite the case of an American experience. Former president Lincoln waged a civil war for five years for the integrity of the American federation. But it was not a war purely in the interest of national unity. It was in the interest of humanity and justice: the liberation of slaves.

Have we not learned from Eastern Europe after the end of the cold war? Again, this is not a counsel for separatism. Most of us have not been citizens of this unitary republic by choice. We were born here. I am not saying I am ungrateful. But proud? That is a nagging question to me now.

Reaping the benefit of a new era of greater openness, we may ask ourselves: Would we prefer to have a single nation-state out of this huge but almost unmanageable archipelago, the largest in the world, with the fourth largest population, but marked by abject poverty among the majority of people, by continued injustice, continuous tension and conflicts because of seemingly irreconcilable differences in ethnic, religious and cultural terms? Or at the risk of being dubbed "blasphemous", to split peacefully into two, three, four or even five smaller nation- states with a greater chance and hope for peace, greater prosperity, equality and justice for all?

I remember a slogan during our struggle for independence: "We love peace, but we love freedom more" (in fact, more accurately, "independence"). I would say it in reverse now, for peace presupposes freedom.

Indeed, I love my country, however defined. But I am more committed to humanity, equality and justice for all.