Nov 22, 2017 Last Updated 3:54 AM, Nov 13, 2017

The green iguana

Review: Goodfellow has drawn on his deep knowledge of Indonesia to excavate from daily events the realities that lie behind them

Ron Witton

One's first visit to Indonesia is filled with incredible images and perceptive insights. On each subsequent visit these things become more familiar, and finally 'normal'. Rob Goodfellow transports us back to that first visit. Filled with 21 anecdotes (which he labels 'short stories'), Rob has drawn on his deep knowledge of Indonesia to excavate from daily events the realities that lie behind them.

He wrote this (bravely self-published) collection while living in Indonesia with his two children. This allows us also to see Indonesia through their eyes - he includes a letter from his son Simon to his grandparents ('The green iguana').

My favourites include his tales of dealing with the bureaucracy ('The police station'), and with one's daily experience of Indonesians who wish to practise their English on you ('Hello mister I lub you'). For anyone who has lived in or around Yogyakarta, his tale of superstition ('It's Jum'at Kliwon again') will reawaken memories. The cartoons by Weldon Neville are delightful. If you are looking for a gift for an 'old Indonesia hand', look no further!

Rob Goodfellow, The green iguana, Kang Djoko Books, 1999, 96pp, ISBN 0-646-37741-8, Rrp AU$19.95

Ron Witton (rwitton@uow.edu.au) first visited Indonesia in 1962. Contact Kang Djoko Books: 48 Matthew's St, Wollongong, Australia 2500, sujoko@ozemail.com.au.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Standard Tetum-English dictionary

Review: How standard?

Catharina van Klinken

Geoffrey Hull's dictionary of the East Timorese lingua franca Tetun (pronounced 'Tetun', but Hull follows the Portuguese spelling with final 'm') has a clear and simple layout, with most entries having a single part of speech and a short English meaning.

The word 'standard' in the title is unfortunate, since there is as yet no agreement on what constitutes standard Tetun. The compiler seems to acknowledge this himself when he includes words from rural dialects as well as from the urban and lingua franca variety called Tetun-Prasa, without always specifying which variety they are from. In a conscious attempt to enlarge and modernise the vocabulary, Hull has included many Portuguese words which are not, so far at least, actually used in Tetun. Unfortunately these additions are not marked as innovations. Meanwhile the compiler consciously rejects those words which have been borrowed from Indonesian over the last quarter century. He does make a concession to the fact that such borrowing is widespread by including an appendix of 'Indonesianisms in current colloquial use'.

This dictionary uses what Hull calls 'the standard orthography of Eastern Tetun'. This description, too, is misleading, as there are several spelling systems currently in use for Tetun in East Timor, and the one used in this book is Hull's own innovation. Hull spells Portuguese loans as if they were Tetun (eg Portuguese ciclone 'cyclone' is written siklone), making this system easier for non-Portuguese-speaking people to use.

The main unnecessary complication in Hull's spelling system is that he sometimes writes long vowels using a double vowel, and sometimes with a single vowel (with or without an acute accent). So if you can't find moos, try looking up mos and m?s as well. For Tetun-Prasa, ignore any glottal stops (marked by apostrophes) as they are only pronounced in some rural dialects.

In short, use this dictionary cautiously to give you an approximate idea of the meaning of a word, but do not use it to try to write in Tetun, as a lot of it won't be understood.

Geoffrey Hull, Standard Tetum-English dictionary, Sydney: Allen & Unwin in assoc with Univ of Western Sydney Macarthur, 1999, 340+xxvi pp, ISBN 1-86508-206-6, Rrp AU$24.95

Dr Catharina van Klinken (cvk@webfront.net.au) is the author of A grammar of the Fehan dialect of Tetun, an Austronesian language of West Timor, which is soon to appear with Pacific Linguistics (Australian National University).

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Millenium hopes

Australia ended the twentieth century by refusing to endorse even a mild change in its hundred-year old constitutional arrangements. Its two major parties are look-alikes who do not dare to step out in faith for fear of being branded ideological. It supported self-determination in East Timor leading to independence, but cannot sort out its own relation with the Queen.

Indonesia, by contrast, passed the millenium mark with much greater ambition and hope. Out of a huge field of pretty ideological parties, it successfully elected a new parliament by means of a system that had been cobbled together in just a year. That new parliament first agreed to abandon the blood-soaked colonial experiment of East Timor. It then elected a president and vice-president who enjoy genuine popularity in much of the country.

If we don't appreciate the extent to which hope has lifted as Indonesia moves into the twenty-first century we have missed something. But yes, it will take more than some new faces at the top to turn Indonesia around. Yes, the new cabinet is a compromise. And yes, there is now no clear-cut opposition.

We would like this edition of Inside Indonesia to capture at least a glimpse of those lifted hopes. God knows they, and we in Australia, are going to need it. The new government is weighed down by debt accumulated by a corrupt and super-wealthy elite in the Suharto years. Its seas and forests are being cleaned out in broad daylight by well-connected mafias. Meanwhile it faces demands from Aceh and West Papua that are every bit as insistent as those the East Timorese put up.

The arts make a strong appearance in this edition. Below the surface of political action there flow currents of consciousness, where Indonesians ask Who am I? What does my history mean to me? Why can't I understand the poor? We hope you enjoy these reflections. If you do, we might make space for more in the future.

East Timor is no longer an unwilling part of Indonesia. This edition tells the inside story of how its people seized the moment to free themselves. How will Inside Indonesia report on this new country? Someone needs to start Inside Timor Lorosae! We will certainly continue to highlight East Timor as a post-colonial issue for Indonesia - inspired by Yeni Rosa Damayanti's humanitarian example in this edition.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

The language of the gods

The author of a recent play reveals how the personal and the political intertwined as he wrote it.

Louis Nowra

Sometimes a play has a long genesis. My latest, The language of the gods, set in the Sulawesi of 1946, had one longer than most. In many respects its gestation can be traced back to my childhood in Melbourne. One of my first memories is of a terrifying wooden statue about half a metre high that rested on our mantelpiece. It was seated on a throne and had a wide mouth full of vicious shark-like teeth. It also had bat-like wings and large popping eyes. Later on I was to find out it was a Garuda. It was one of the few mementos my mother kept from her time in Java.

Hers is an unusual story for the times. During the second world war she married a Javanese man who had fled from the Japanese with the Dutch and was living in Queensland. After the war he took her back to Java. Her marriage was a brave, even stubborn thing to do because in those days very few white women married brown men. Later on she was to divorce and I became the product of her second marriage. When she became nostalgic she would talk about her first husband and her time in Java. We lived on a housing commission estate and I think we would have been the only family who ate Indonesian food, which she'd learnt to cook in Java.

But this was not the only Indonesian connection I had as a boy. My two aunties had also married Javanese men who, unfortunately for them, had chosen to fight for the Dutch during the war of independence (1945-49). Both men became exiles in Australia and were on a black list of those Indonesians not allowed to return home. What I vividly remember is how upset they were when, years later, they still weren't allowed to go home to visit their dying relatives. It seemed unfair to me, given I admired these men, but it also gave me a sense of the consequences of choosing the wrong side in a political struggle.

Although I had visited Indonesia briefly I didn't have a deep and personal interest in it. In 1986 I heard that there was to be an Indonesian translation of my play The precious woman, which is set in China during the 1920s warlord era. I was curious as to why such a play would have been chosen, and doubted that I would hear anything more. But a translation was made by actress and lecturer in English Tuti Indra Malaon, and I looked forward to going to Jakarta to see the production, to be directed by the veteran film-maker Teguh Karya. However, from then on I heard nothing. Then in the early 90s I was visited by an academic from the University of Indonesia, who told me the reason why the play didn't go on was that there had been 'problems'. What the problems were I didn't find out until The precious woman was published in a dual language text (English/ Indonesian) in 1997. In it, the editor Philip Kitley explained that when Teguh was about to direct the play the political climate had changed drastically. Cultural productions with any sort of Chinese associations were viewed with suspicion.

Just as my uncles' lives were changed by politics, so a play of mine had been stopped by politics. It reinforced my previous view of Indonesia as a place where politics were personal and dangerous. But then a curious thing happened. I was invited by a Japanese film company to write a screenplay based on a novel they had bought. The book was a woeful mixture of bad plot and New Age gibberish set in Bali. Having been to Bali and read a little I realised this supposedly factual book was fiction. I asked the film company if I could research the topic in Sulawesi. The whim was based on my childhood fascination with the shape of the island. My mother's talk about Java always sent me to an atlas, but I thought the shape of Java was boring compared to Sulawesi, which seemed like an octopus caught in an electric blender. Going to Sulawesi proved to be one of the most important times of my writing life.

Sulawesi

I travelled to Sulawesi knowing little about it and found in the Tana Toraja region a world so far removed from the Balinese or Javanese cultures that I was shocked. I forgot to research the screenplay I was working on and instead travelled widely, profoundly moved by the simplicity of the dancing (compared to the baroque Balinese), the funeral ceremonies and the music. Then one day I discovered a reference to the Bissu, the transvestite priests, a tradition that goes back some four to five hundred years. A town was mentioned where there might still be some Bissu. I hurried down south to Segeri with my translator, who tried to talk me out of it. 'These men,' he said, 'are not normal.'

We found a Bissu who was a curious mixture of camp and dignity, of the temporal and of the priest. He showed me photographs of himself and then took me across the road to a wooden house where he used to hold many ceremonies. In the back room was a wooden chair, a throne, which held offerings. He spoke of how he talked to the gods and how he could walk through fire and cut himself without bleeding. He was one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met. I was deeply moved, because he represented a tradition that was dying out. Once there were many Bissu, now hardly any, once the wooden house throbbed with many dancers, now few young boys wanted to learn, once the Bissu's magic was feared, now only the old thought these men had powers. Back in Australia I read as much as possible about the Bissu.

Then I came across the infamous soldier Captain Westerling, who created bloody havoc in the Celebes (as the Dutch called Sulawesi) during their 'Police Action'of 1946-47 directed at Indonesians wanting independence. I read his memoirs and thought he was a cross between a psycho and Errol Flynn. I read as much as possible about the Dutch in the Celebes. And then I came upon the Dutch novelist Louis Couperus and his extraordinary novel The hidden force. Somehow all these things coalesced in my mind and from it came the idea for my play The language of the gods.

The play is set in 1946, when Braak, the Dutch administrator, having returned to the Celebes from exile in Australia, with his new Australian wife Alice, finds a country on the verge of upheaval. He adores the traditional Indonesia as represented by Dely, the Bissu, but realises that even though he loves the Indies, like the rest of the Dutch, he will be cast out, and because of Captain Westerling's rampage the locals are beginning to hate him. He can't control Westerling, or his own private life, and the very person whom he respects, Dely, will be the one to destroy him.

I suppose you could say that the play is in keeping with the idea I have had ever since I was young that in Indonesia politics is personal. Even though he would have liked to have separated the two, Braak in the end realises too late that he can't. This probably makes the play sound too much of an ideas-driven work, but really it is a character-driven story and certainly not moralistic about who was right and who was wrong in those fraught times.

The opening night in the Playbox Theatre on 8 September was a strange one. The chaotic situation in East Timor was on everyone's mind, so there seemed to be a desire that the play have parallels to it. But it was written without any such parallels in mind. Yet history is a curious thing. It repeats itself, Hegel said as farce but he was wrong. Sometimes when history repeats itself there is an overwhelming sense of deja vu, which does not make one laugh at all but makes one cringe at how little we learn from past mistakes.

Louis Nowra (lnowra@aol.com.au) is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter. Scripts of 'The language of the gods' and 'The precious woman' are available from Currency Press (email currency@magna.com.au, web www.currency.com.au).

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Mao's ghost in Golkar

1960s Artists struggled to create solidarity with the oppressed. One of their slogans survived in Golkar, but not their spirit.

Julie Shackford-Bradley

Turba' is an acronym for 'turun ke bawah', meaning 'descend from above'. It has a complex historical lineage from the 1950s and 1960s to the present. In New Order parlance it has cropped up to refer to visits by state officials out beyond the limits of the metropolis. Thus we read that World Bank President James Wolfensohn, during a recent visit to Indonesia, 'turba' to the slums (kampung) to witness the effects of the economic crisis. National Development Planning Board bureau chief Triono Soendoro also 'turba' to a central Javanese village to gather research on infant malnutrition. In a different context, former vice-president Try Sutrisno, as chairman of the Association of Armed Forces Retirees, 'turba' to the regions beyond Java to create interest in his political party the PKP, a spin-off of Golkar.

The contemporary usage of the word amounts to a misappropriation of a concept and practice developed by leftist thinkers in the 1950s. The word turba gained its initial currency when it was used to refer to the movement of urban artists and activists to rural areas as part of a programme sponsored by the Communist Party PKI and the People's Cultural Association, Lekra. Through interviews conducted with Lekra organisers, and from readings on the topic, it has become clear to me that the term evokes a variety of interpretations of the Maoist concept of xia fang, to go out into the countryside. Mao himself outlined the concept in the following way in 1953:

'China's revolutionary writers and artists, writers and artists of promise, must go among the masses... go into the heat of the struggle, ... in order to observe, experience, study and analyse all the different kinds of people, all the classes, all the masses, all the vivid patterns of life and struggle, all the raw materials of literature and art.'

As writer and Lekra member Hersri Setiawan describes it, part of the purpose of turba in Indonesia was to introduce urbanised leftists to the physical deprivations and psychological hardships of village life, in the hope that they would be transformed in a deeply personal way. This element of personal transformation was, however, subsumed in a larger, politically-oriented structure in which turba participants were sent out to specific areas to conduct research and create revolutionary art forms. The intention, in essence, was to set up a two-way flow of information between village and city.

Participants would practise the 'three togethernesses' (tiga kesamaan): eating, living, and working together with village farmers. They would honour the four 'don'ts', which included prohibitions against lecturing to farmers or taking notes in their presence, along with the four 'musts': humility, learning the language and cultural practices of the area, and contributing to the farmers' households.

Lekra members I interviewed in Amsterdam in 1998 emphasised that a great deal of research was gathered about Javanese villages through the turba programme. This information became the basis for Communist Party chairman Aidit's discussions of the '7 Demons' village farmers faced, which in turn sparked programmes in land reform, among others.

Lekra artists and dramatists practised turba as a way to study the village-based arts, including the ketoprak, wayang, and ludruk, to determine how these forms could be utilised to disseminate information and radical ideologies. Lekra member Kuslan Budiman recalls discussions of the politicisation of the shadow puppet theatre (wayang). It was determined, for example, that it would be more appropriate to have clowns talking about politics than to merge the identities of the mythical hero Arjuna with the revolutionary president Sukarno.

New art forms

For some turba artists, however, the goal was to go beyond the politicisation of the wayang. These artists wanted to create new art forms by blending elements from the local genres of drama, dance, and music with Marxist ideology. Tragically, the results of this kind of artistic experimentation exist only in the memories of the participants still living. When they are re-collected, these memories reveal an underlying ambivalence.

Hersri suggests that, according to prevailing opinion at least, the art produced in the turba programme was a 'failure'. It did not bring about the desired effect of conscientising the masses and spurring them on toward revolution. One problem was that turba dramatists and choreographers who wanted to incorporate local forms found themselves trapped within a 'feudal' sign-system when they evoked rhythms and dance movements that audiences associated with pleasure and entertainment, rather than those that would spur defiance or revolutionary fervour.

Recalling Lekra dramatist Suyud's sung poem Blanja wurung ('No more shopping'), Hersri describes a piece that might, in other contexts, be categorised as experimental performance art. Against the soothing gamelan background, a voice chants: 'Ngono ya ngono, mbok ya 'ja ngono!' ('it's like that, ya, like that, but don't let it be like that').

As an alternative, choreographers dismantled existing structures to create new forms, as in the case of Tari ronda malam ('Dance of the night watchman'). Here only the gamelan's kendong drum accompanies the dance, a representation of the rhythms and movements of the villagers' labour.

But did the rural audience 'get it'? In Hersri's estimation, they did not. But, as fellow Lekra member Agam Wispi responds, this was not the only measure of success or failure for artists of the period. 'I did not write poetry for the farmers,' he says, but rather 'about the farmers,... studying their songs, and voices... in order to portray their strength and courage.'

The Lekra members with whom I spoke agree to disagree on whether the primary objectives of Lekra and of turba were artistic or political. Those who participated in the turba movement do agree, however, that their village experiences forced them to confront their class-based prejudices in a transformative way.

Personal recollections of turba experiences reveal the tensions that arose between the urbanised youths and rural folk. For those who went 'down' into the villages, according to Kuslan and fellow Lekra artist Mawie Ananta Yonie, class differences were only magnified when they were experienced on the physical level. Contrary to their own intentions, turba participants struggled not to make value judgments about village farmers when forced, for example, to defecate unsanitarily in the river, or when watching 'boys become men' in the ritualised prostitution called tayuban.

At the same time, the Javanese farmers could not help but treat the city boys as guests, offering them greater portions of the best food they had. This caused some turba participants to eat elsewhere, at local warungs for example.

Many also tired of the labour after a few days. 'Our bodies were not suited to that kind of work,' Kuslan recalls. 'Our muscles were not developed, our hands were not properly callused.' Moreover when only 'sleeping together' remained of the three togethernesses, anti-communist critics, as Hersri notes, jumped at the chance to exploit the sexual innuendo inherent in the phrase.

In the heat of the moment, turba participants were hesitant to confront such tensions, much less write about them. As these tensions surface in retrospect, however, they cannot be separated from the biases inherent in the term itself. The very concept of 'descent from above' is based on a spatial configuration of class that is uncompromisingly hierarchical.

'Descent' to the slums

In recent New Order usage, 'turba' retains that hierarchical quality, while ignoring the original philosophical intent. We can see from the examples above that the term is now used in such a way as to gloss over the ever-larger gaps between metropolis and village, between elite enclaves and kampungs, and between Java and the 'outer regions.' The term becomes a shorthand, when used in the context of 'descending' to the slums or to the regions beyond Java, for crossing a boundary that has been made to look so 'natural' as to need no explanation.

The contemporary usage reminds us that the means by which that boundary is traversed will determine how the boundary itself is conceived. Even if we now consider the three togethernesses, the four don'ts and musts as a throwback to rigid communist rhetoric, these mottoes forced the turba participants to acknowledge the class divide for what it was. When turba is practiced in an air-conditioned Mitsubishi, the wall between the classes is only strengthened, and that is precisely the point.

Misappropriation of the term reaches an ironic pinnacle in recent pro-Golkar political activities. Try Sutrisno, for example, uses the word turba in the context of 'socialising' (mensosialisasikan) the retired generals' new political party PKP. As with all misappropriations, there must be some convergence between the original and the copy that creates the basis for a relationship. Here, PKI is replaced by PKP, and land reform is replaced by the 'socialising' of development projects with military support.

Indonesian newspaper readers and Western observers have gotten used to this tactic of misappropriation through the decades of New Order rule. In the period of change now taking shape, such practices can now be openly challenged in the interests of uncovering lost histories.

Julie Shackford-Bradley (jsbrad@uclink4.berkeley.edu) is conducting doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Back to the future

Activists in South Sulawesi find democracy in old manuscripts

Elizabeth Morrell

Since the 1970s, the South Sulawesi city of Makassar has been known as Ujung Pandang. But in the last days of his presidency, Habibie gave it back its historically resonant name. The change followed popular demand. It indicates how important history is to people in South Sulawesi.

Forum Informatika Komunikasi (FIK) is a non-government organisation based in Makassar. For the past few years, FIK has used history and culture as a vehicle to educate the public about democracy, gender, human rights, and the environment.

They have sponsored community theatre based on a satirical form of people's theatre known as Kondobuleng. This was formerly often used during resistance against Dutch colonial authority. Petta Puang is a Makassar-based group that uses this popular political satire to question many contemporary social issues. The name Petta Puang refers to titles accorded to highest leaders.

FIK also initiated an international arts festival in Makassar in September 1999. Their intention was to revitalise the cultural expression stifled during the New Order period.

Lontara

Members of the group have also tried another experiment to raise awareness of political and development issues. In order to increase grass-roots participation in decision-making they have adopted the historical and mythical texts found in South Sulawesi and known as lontara'. These old manuscripts were once written on leaves taken from the lontar palm.

Ordinary people have long been depoliticised under the New Order concept of the 'floating mass'. Many of them are concerned that democracy represents the breakdown of social order, and a Western threat to customary values. If unaddressed, such anxiety about change could result in a superficial 'reformasi' which does not significantly alter patterns of thought.

FIK members therefore embarked on a public information campaign drawing on the widely respected lontara'. They use these manuscripts to demonstrate that, prior to Dutch colonial influence, South Sulawesi had democratic systems of government. Rather than threatening customary values, egalitarianism is part of those values.

The lontara' manuscripts were produced only in the lowlands kingdoms, but FIK activists have also included examples of egalitarianism followed by highland communities in their campaign. In the mountains of Toraja, for example, where writing did not develop until the twentieth century, examples are taken from oral traditions and ritual practice.

They then use this traditional framework to discuss the rights and responsibilities of leaders and citizens. Among the issues they raise in their seminars and essays are these: civil contracts between leaders and citizens; systems of government including federalism; the right to constructive and open debate and the freedom to criticise leaders; the appointment of political officials; abuses of power; and ethical issues surrounding the accumulation of wealth by rulers. Democracy is shown to be an indigenous principle, rather than a concept alien to local communities.

Over many centuries in South Sulawesi, written script has produced thousands of manuscripts. These reveal a detailed historiography, and are a source of great local pride. The lontara' documents have now been catalogued under the title Naskah Lontara' Sulawesi Selatan. The catalogue was compiled at Hasanuddin University and the office of the National Archives in Makassar, with assistance from The Ford Foundation. It lists almost 4,000 texts written in the principal regional languages and Arabic.

The documents take many different forms, and cover a wide variety of topics. Among them are aspects of traditional law and punishment, discussions between rulers, government treaties, and inter-island trade. Not all manuscripts have yet been translated into the Indonesian language, but most have been microfilmed for future research, and some have been published.

Limited power

Many manuscripts describe the relations of power which existed in the small kingdoms of the South Sulawesi peninsula. They indicate systems of government in which citizens appeared to enjoy considerable levels of participation. According to the documents, organised kingdoms developed during the thirteenth century. But despite a mythology of divine descent, rulers did not hold absolute power. Within most kingdoms, local chiefs retained leadership over their respective communities.

Many confederations existed within the kingdom system, in which political units at different levels agreed to share power. This provides the basis for today's discussions of federalism and increased regional autonomy. Not all kingdoms were governed by hereditary rulers claiming divine descent. Some kingdom histories refer to governing councils, and to social contracts specifying the freedom of the people. According to several translated manuscripts, most kings and queens held positions of shared authority with other community leaders. Strong obligations and responsibilities for the welfare of their subjects limited their power. Royal power was modified by the council of customary (adat) leaders. Sovereignty rested with adat rather than with the rulers as such.

Democracy in the modern sense did not exist. Yet the lontara' record many examples of egalitarianism, including agreements for the protection of human rights. Rulers could lose office if they did not carry out their obligations, or if they abused their power. History records that some were removed in a constitutional manner, while others were deposed or killed for crimes against the people.

The responsibilities of power are prescribed in manuscripts which instructed the rulers in the importance of honesty, the necessity of justice, accessibility to their subjects, and sensitivity to their needs. In the northern kingdom of Luwu', aspiring rulers were required to live for a short period in small, basic and uncomfortable housing conditions, in order to teach them empathy with their subjects. During that time they were supplied with a minimal amount of food. The candidate then had to satisfy the community that he or she was familiar with adat law, especially as it related to leadership and ethics.

The manuscripts also discussed the misappropriation of public assets. Prosperity was important, and wealth was listed as a desirable characteristic of leadership. But this wealth was to be used for the overall good of the kingdom. Examples show rulers demonstrating concern for subjects living in poverty. Furthermore, a prosperous kingdom was a stable kingdom. The wealth of the state offered security for the populace, while misconduct by the ruler resulted in general misfortune.

This ethical concept of wealth allows FIK activists to draw parallels with Suharto's rule, in which prosperity was limited and selective, and which eventually resulted in economic crisis and social disorder. They interpret the manuscripts to say that this disorder was the fault of the ruler, not of the people.

Practical

How reliable are the lontara' as historical documents by which to shape the future? Local scholars rarely question the veracity of the information contained in them. One reason for this is the manuscripts' open, uncomplicated writing style that suggests honesty. The literature emanated from the courts, yet modern interpretations stress that the manuscripts communicate clearly and without apparent deceit or obscurity. The texts do not hide the unacceptable behaviour of some rulers. At times rulers are criticised, and their faults recorded. This point enables discussion of modern restrictions on freedom of speech.

The manuscripts reveal a simple, concise, practical literature that is firmly based in reason. It pursues the functional aims of recording history, listing genealogies, maintaining order and stability, ensuring agricultural and economic success, and understanding religious law. Even cosmology was discussed in a functional style, and for practical purposes. The literary aesthetic was one in which rationality, the application of knowledge, and the clear understanding of historical events took precedence over romance, drama, and esoteric knowledge.

When FIK activists re-present the lontara' texts they are not rejecting modernity. They are simply recognising the power of history in the cultural identity of all ethnic groups in the peninsula. That is another reason why FIK does not contest the historical record contained in the lontara'. They use the popular acceptance of historicity to demonstrate that precedents for democracy do exist.

Following the texts, they point out that it is not the people who cause destabilisation, but inappropriate government practices neglecting the rights of the people. They point out that throughout local history, society has had the right to reform injustice.

It was not always so. During the Suharto period, some local scholars did use the lontara' to draw attention to customary values as an ordering rather than a liberating principle. But this newest generation of lontara' scholars recalls history with a different purpose, namely to give society the confidence to deal with a changing order.

Elizabeth Morrell (emorrell@metz.une.edu.au) teaches Indonesian language and culture at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia. Contact FIK at tel +62-411-86857.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Gutted by greed

Illegal logging in Indonesia's national parks

Julian Newman

In 1998 it was voracious forest fire. In 1999, rampant illegal logging, as the future prospects for Indonesia's remaining tropical forests continue to darken.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency in collaboration with the Indonesian group Telapak have been monitoring illegal logging in two of Indonesia's flagship national parks Tanjung Puting in Central Kalimantan, and Gunung Leuser in northern Sumatra.

Both parks provide a protected haven for some of the country's most endangered wildlife including the orangutan, proboscis monkey, Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhino and clouded leopard. Both are being devastated by illegal logging on a commercial scale.

In Tanjung Puting the EIA/ Telapak investigators witnessed virtual anarchy in the park. While there has always been small-scale illegal logging in the more remote parts of the 400,000 hectare park, over the last year the logging has escalated dramatically and is now affecting the core area where scientific research stations and tourist lodges are found.

Along the Sekonyer River - one of the park's main arteries blatant logging activity was observed. Logging camps were found in close proximity to the park's guard posts and the scientific camps. An extensive network of wooden rails had been constructed to pull the logs out and the sound of chainsaws permeated the air. On a single day over 700 illegal logs were counted being towed down the river in broad daylight by a succession of small boats.

Once the logs reach Kumai Bay they are either loaded onto steel barges or taken to nearby sawmills. All of this activity takes place in full view of the authorities charged with protecting the park. Many local officials from the forest department and police are implicated in the logging, and actually issue 'permits' for the loggers to operate in the park and charge a levy on the illegal timber being brought down the Sekonyer River.

The loggers are targeting ramin trees, a valuable luxury hardwood used for mouldings, picture frames, furniture components and futon beds. Ramin is listed as vulnerable across its range and only grows in swamps so it cannot be cultivated. Sawn ramin can fetch up to US$800 per cubic metre on the international market. Yet the loggers inside Tanjung Putting receive a pittance a few dollars per cubic metre cut. It is the corrupt officials and local timber bosses making the money from the pillage of the park.

EIA/ Telapak traced the illegal timber to two sawmills in Kumai, and to the factories of a local timber baron Abdul Rasyid. Posing as timber buyers the investigators gained access to two of Rasyid's factories and discovered a huge operation based solely on ramin. Unmarked logs were seen being delivered to one of the factories, proof that the timber was illegal. Within minutes of meeting Rasyid's nephew, the investigators were offered the opportunity to conduct illegal business.

Leuser

The situation in Gunung Leuser National Park is just as dire. Logging activities were apparent even in the Suaq Balimbing research station, the only place where orangutans have been observed using tools such as sticks to open fruit. Once again EIA/ Telapak traced the activities of the loggers inside the park to local sawmill owners, who were funding and organising the illegal logging.

From field reports it appears that many of Indonesia's stunning national parks are being heavily logged. Such a finding is indicative of a much deeper malaise threatening the country's remaining forests. Recent research by the Indonesia-UK Tropical Forest Management Programme reveals that illegal logging now outstrips legal timber production in Indonesia.

The research found illegal logging to account for 32 million cubic metres every year (equivalent to 800,000 hectares of land being logged), compared with official production of 29.5 million cubic metres. Indonesia is not only losing its forests at a rapid rate, but is also losing vast amounts of revenue in a country where 50 million people are below the poverty line.

The impact of this wanton destruction cannot be underestimated. Species such as the orangutan are increasingly being hemmed into the pockets of protected forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra, and even these area are now being logged. Orangutan populations have plummeted by 50% in the last decade, and fewer than 25,000 remain in the wild.

The outbreak of illegal logging in the national parks is a legacy of 30 years of mismanagement and corruption in Indonesia's forest sector under the Suharto regime. Vast tracts of land were dished out to business cronies, the overwhelming majority of forest concession holders broke the rules, and local people were thrown off the land.

The only viable solution to the illegal logging epidemic in Indonesia is to effect genuine forest reform, not the watered down version the previous government forced through the parliament in its dying days last October. Such a reform must include the participation of local communities, and the dismantling of the present concession system, which has seen half of Kalimantan's forests destroyed in the last 25 years.

EIA and Telapak are also pressuring the Indonesian authorities to take action against the timber bosses implicated in the illegal logging of national parks, and for the replacement of corrupt officials who have presided over the destruction.

Julian Newman is an investigator at the Environmental Investigation Agency. The report 'The final cut Illegal logging in Indonesia's orangutan parks' is available from: EIA, 69-85 Old St, London EC1V 9HX, tel +44-171-490 7040, fax +44-171-490 0436, e-mail eiauk@gn.apc.org, web http://eia-international.org

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Business and pleasure

Indonesia's super-wealthy still love their Gulfstreams and Harley Davidsons

Veven Wardhana and Herry Barus

What if we try to track down some of Indonesia's super-rich for whom travelling is a hobby and find out something about their special travel preferences? The first thing we discover is that the travel bureaus in Indonesia are coy about providing any information. We suspect that this is not because their clients insist on confidentiality but more because it's a mystery to the travel bureaus themselves. The problem is that most of your Indonesian super-rich don't book their plane tickets through travel agents. They just jump on a private jet. Nor are the companies which look after the privately owned planes keen to talk. They are unwilling to release information, many of them, because they are close to ex-president Suharto's family, and our own enquiries came just after Suharto announced his resignation from the presidency. Only one or two of them were able to help us, and even then they wouldn't say much.

The existence of aviation charter companies in Indonesia is not a new phenomenon. PT Dayajasa Transindo Pratama for example has been going since 1986, while Indonesian Air Transport (IAT) started up even earlier, in 1968. The majority of air charter aircraft are leased out by the oil companies. Recently, however a number of private individuals have begun to appreciate the benefits of jet-powered travel. And we don't necessarily mean leasing. Many of them find the purchase option increasingly attractive, especially with the demands of business being what they are in this era of globalisation, when fast communications with the outside world have become an absolute necessity.

Once you have the jet, of course, you find that it's useful not only for business purposes but also for taking the family on trips abroad business permitting, that is. Families who often make use of private jets include Pontjo Sutowo, Sudwikatmono, Aburizal Bakrie and also Abdul Latief.

Private jet prices can range from US$3 million to US$33 million. This figure does not include the cost of fitting out the interior of the aircraft. After the purchase has been transacted, the interior decor and external colour scheme are dependent on customer taste. Communications and navigation equipment likewise: although standard installations are provided, it is common for executives everywhere, including Indonesia, to specify more sophisticated equipment as they might if they were buying a yacht to sail around in.

On larger aircraft, the cabin lends itself for conversion to sleeping quarters. The ALatief Corporation's BAC 1-11, for example, in its original configuration could accommodate 100 passengers. After purchasing the aircraft, ALatief remodelled the interior completely, leaving seating for only 18 passengers. This made space for a large bedroom, a bathroom complete with shower and vanity with gold-plated faucets, and two sofas. The additional cost of conversions like this can be as much as US$3 million or from 10 to 20 percent of the purchase price of the aircraft.

Apart from the capital cost, the expense of using an aircraft can be gauged from the operating costs. Fuel, maintenance and catering alone can cost up to US$2,500 per flying hour. And then there are crew salaries, training, insurance and hangarage which might be as much as US$30,000 per month. These rates are for a new aircraft, whereas the rates for a used aircraft can be even higher. The maintenance cost for the aircraft operated by Sudwikatmono and associates is US$100,000 per month. 'Not including spare parts as required,' said the cinema chain king Sudwikatmono.

But are they privately owned, these aircraft? Isn't private ownership of aircraft banned by government regulation? Well, just as the shadow puppeteer is never without a story, so your Indonesian entrepreneur is never without a way around the regulations. As in the case of the prohibition on private ownership of islands, where it was found that Indonesian executives who were rich enough could acquire them in the name of a company, so also can your private plane be acquired in the name of a company.

Unlike private islands, though, most private planes are made available by their owners for commercial use by others. In other words, the private aircraft is actually placed in the hands of an aviation charter firm and made available for hire. Pontjo Sutowo's Gulfstream IV, for example, is looked after by Indonesian Air Transport, as are the aircraft of Aburizal Bakrie and Sudwikatmono. 'The maintenance costs are prohibitive if you don't get some commercial return,' explained Sudwikatmono.

Disneyland

Setya Novanto, president director of PT Citra Permatasakti Persada, a consortium of companies active in a variety of fields, and also the owner of the Tee Box Cafe, a watering hole in South Jakarta, tends to choose his travel destinations with the help of the rest of the family. 'Once, before the difficult times caused by the monetary crisis, the children would all come along. I would arrange my own holidays to coincide with the children's school vacation time. Usually I would make the arrangements a month ahead. But in the critical times we're going through now I haven't made any plans, and I think the children understand the situation,' said this businessman, author of the book Manajemen Soeharto (1997).

If the children were on their long vacation, Novanto would take them to Disneyland or other places suitable for children of their age. Otherwise, in the summer, they might choose to go together to Europe. For the shorter vacations, they might go somewhere within Indonesia. Bali was a favourite destination.

Harley Davidson

Another kind of travelling is indulged in by members of a different set of super-rich Indonesians. They are the Harley Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts. They have an association called the Harley Davidson Club of Indonesia, HDCI. Because of their love of this particular make of motorcycle, you can be sure that the travelling the members of the association do will always involve this favourite mode of transport of theirs. Recently they organised a tour to Daytona, USA.

Achmad Rizal, executive director of the well-known Jakarta restaurant 'Waroeng Kemang', a member of HDCI, hasn't missed one annual visit to South Dakota in the last three years. Sturgis, South Dakota is the world's other Harley Davidson Mecca. Harley Davidson enthusiasts flock here from all over the world at the same time every year. 'At that time there would be upwards of 250,000 Harley Davidson enthusiasts getting together to talk about the Harley or show off their riding skills on the Harley Davidson. It's a lot of fun. One year, 1997, there were a million people there, all Harley Davidson enthusiasts,' he said.

Rizal usually goes with ten other HD enthusiasts from Indonesia. When they arrive in the land of Uncle Sam, the Indonesian team members go straight off to collect their Harley Davidsons from a hire company and set off on the road to the rallying point on their hired machines complete with all the essential attributes and accessories. And what does the Indonesian delegation do when they get to their destination? 'Ya, immerse ourselves in the general Harley-mania, buy up gear and accessories sporting the HD logo or buy HD parts and equipment to take home and install on our own machines in Indonesia.'

When it comes to cost, Rizal explains that the members of the group will each have their own budget. 'On a tour like this, involving your favourite hobby, there's no limit to the amount you might spend. Each person would spend at least Rp15 million. That would be just for the plane ticket and hotel. Then you would need about Rp10 million to hire a Harley. Some people would spend Rp 35 million to Rp 40 million on one trip,' Rizal said.

Besides touring America on Harley Davidsons, Rizal with a number of Jakarta and Bandung business associates once made a round trip of 960 kilometres on the continent of Australia. Starting from the Gold Coast, this trip took them along the Eastern seaboard and into the mountains, with opportunity to sample the renowned Australian seafood and visit all the popular tourist spots. As well, they are frequent visitors to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand needless to say, on their Harley Davidsons.

Abdul Latief, Minister of Labour (1993-1998), Minister of Tourism, Art and Culture (16 March 21 May 1998), CEO of the holding company ALatief Corporation with subsidiaries in the construction, retail, agribusiness and hotel industries including the supermarket chain PT Pasaraya Toserjaya.

Aburizal Bakrie, Board Chairman of Grup Bakrie and Brothers, Chair of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), major shareholder in Bank Nusa, May Bank Nusa International, PT Daya Sarana Pratama and other companies.

Achmad Rizal, well-known professional in the hospitality industry, especially bars and cafes, executive director of Jakarta restaurant 'Waroeng Kemang'.

Pontjo Nugro Susilo Sutowo, President Director of Nugra Sentana, major shareholder in about 30 business companies including a marine dry dock, CEO of PT Indobuild Company which manages the Jakarta Convention Centre, and Chairman of the Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association (PHRI).

Setya Novanto, Executive Director of PT Dwisetya Indolestari; board member of a number of companies, including PT Solusindo Mitrasejati, PT Dwimakmur and PT Multi Dwisentosa, board chairman of PT Bukit Granit Mining Mandiri and PT Nagoya Plaza Hotel; as well as having a key role with one of Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana's companies in the national driver's licence computerisation project.

Sudwikatmono, owner of a business empire comprising the Subendra Group, Jababeka Group and Golden Truly Group, and one of the four Indonesian business tycoons known as The Gang of Four; the other three being Liem Sioe Liong, Djuhar Sutanto, and Ibrahim Risjad.

Veven Wardhana (veven@indosat.net.id) is a virtual media editor with Gramedia Majalah in Jakarta. He also coordinates the Media Watch programme at the Institute for the Free Flow of Information (ISAI). Herry Barus is a journalist with Warta Kota (Jakarta), and before that covered professional lifestyles for Tiara magazine. This article is extracted with permission from their book 'Para Superkaya Indonesia'(Jakarta: ISAI, December 1998). John Gare (johngare@melbpc.org.au) was the translator.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

The case for debt relief

Indonesian non-government organisations call for massive relief

Binny Buchori & Sugeng Bahagijo

Indonesia has just freed itself from an authoritarian regime, but the Indonesian people are not free from the debt burden. Unless massive debt relief is extended to Indonesia, the next decade will be lost for millions of Indonesians and their children. Supported by international public institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the Paris Club, the Suharto regime accumulated US$159 billion in external debt. This debt now threatens Indonesian economic recovery.

The highlights of Indonesian external debt are as follows:

 Over the period 1993-1998, Indonesia suffered a net transfer of minus US$ 5,354 million. This means that the inflow of money from loans by various creditors (bilateral, multilateral and private) was smaller than the outflow under Indonesia's repayment obligations by this amount.

Indonesia has to pay more than half of her export earnings to service its debt. This means that over half the country's hard currency, which could be used to buy goods and services for economic recovery and for the social safety net, goes to the rich countries and banks in the north.

Without rescheduling or debt relief, the principal repayments on Indonesia's public external debt will increase from about $2 billion in 1999 to $5 billion in 2000, rising to $9 billion a year in both 2001 and 2002, according to the credit rating firm Standard & Poor.

Indonesian debt now amounts to over 140 percent of the annual gross domestic product, double what it was eight years ago.

How bad is it?

Before the 1997 financial crisis, Suharto preferred to call foreign debt by the name foreign aid. Because of mismanagement in handling loan proceeds, and corruption in the collection of taxes, Indonesia was not able to rely on domestic resources like manufacturing and oil and gas to gradually reduce the external debt. Indonesia continued to increase her external debt every year. At the same time the World Bank, IMF, ADB and other creditors (Paris Club, CGI) were always eager to extend new loans, despite knowing about this corruption and mismanagement.

A recent study by the independent Jakarta economic think tank Econit (table) pictures continually increasing government or public debt - that is, debt owed not by private companies but ultimately by the public through the state. In 1998, the year an IMF package kicked in, it rose to US$144 billion. This debt is now higher than the total amount Indonesia produces in a year (gross domestic product, GDP). The debt service ratio (DSR) measures debt repayments (interest and principal) as a proportion of export earning. It now stands at well over half.

Indonesia's debt

The financial crisis of 1997 became an economic crisis due to rapid devaluation, spiraling external debt, and a loss of investor confidence. When the IMF came to Indonesia's rescue it applied its classic prescription of increased taxes, reduced public spending, and increased interest rates. The package caused a dramatic surge in Indonesia indebtedness. In the words of aid agency Oxfam, the IMF was not responsible for East Asia's crisis, but it was responsible for deepening and prolonging the recession.

Behind these statistics lies a real human cost suffered by Indonesians. Here are some of the facts on how the crisis directly affects child and maternal welfare:

  • In West Sumatra, more than 32 thousand children out of 300 thousand children under 5 years old are critically malnourished. In Riau province, the incidence of malnourishment among children under five is 27,690 children. Across Indonesia, malnourishment among children under 5 is found in 200 district (kabupatens) out of 320.
  • Vitamin A deficiency has reemerged. The proportion of children aged between one and two years that do not consume eggs (the main source of vitamin A) has almost doubled to 14 percent (Hellen Keller International - HKI - data, quoted by Oxfam report, 1999)
  • Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA), which impairs the immune system and the intellectual development of children, has increased from 50 per cent in 1985 to 64 percent. Both childhood and maternal anemia rates have risen during the crisis (HKI data).
  • Maternal malnutrition is increasing. Since 1996 the average body mass among women of reproductive age fell by 1 kg - almost reversing the increase achieved over the past 30 years. (HKI data).

The effects are also visible in education. Oxfam reports recently:

  • A decrease of 4-5 per cent in school enrolments. This translates to about 1.3 million children who are deprived of access to the education they need to escape a life of poverty. The rate of decline for girls' enrollment is twice that for boys.
  • The most significant reductions in enrolment level have been recorded in Central Java, Jakarta and Maluku.

A proposal

There are at least five arguments in favour of debt relief for Indonesia:

  • Without relief, economic and social recovery will be threatened. Indonesia post-crisis is similar to post-second world war Germany. Many schools, factories, and offices are closed. Many children under five are malnourished. Many public health clinics do not have medicines. Unemployment is rising. The only hope is revenue from exporting oil and manufactured products. But if the debt service ratio continues at its current level of more than 50%, the prospect for recovery is long and difficult. Certainly the budget for health, education, and subsidies for medicine, food and kerosene will be sacrificed.
  • The new government under president Gus Dur needs budget and fiscal flexibility to allow it to stimulate economic growth through increased public spending, increased real sector investment and to finance the costs of the social safety net. (The current social safety net is financed, once more, by loan money from the World Bank with adjustment conditionalities.) Without such flexibility, any government will have difficulty in delivering its economic recovery agenda.
  • Loans that were misused or corrupted by Suharto cronies and New Order officials cannot be the responsibility of the new government. We propose that odious or criminal debts be cancelled. The World Bank admitted the leakage and estimated it amounted to about 30%. We propose that the coming Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) meeting, and talks with the IMF, should include the cancellation of this debt.
  • Creditors are ready to discuss the issue of debt and debt relief now. During World Bank consultations with Infid, World Bank country director for Indonesia Mark Baird expressed his concern about the rising Indonesia debt burden, both external (owed to bilateral, multilateral and private banks in the north) and domestic (the government has issued billions of rupiahs in bonds to finance the recapitalisation of sick banks).
  • Debt relief experience in the past has been workable and good, both for debtors and creditors. The massive debt relief extended to Germany after world war two by the allied powers, and the huge debt relief for Indonesia granted by the Paris Club (for bilateral debt) in 1970-71 are prime examples. The debtor economy can use the money to buy goods and services for recovery. As long as there is common sense and political will on the side of the creditors, debt relief is workable.

The International Non-government organisations (NGO) Forum on Indonesian Development, Infid, therefore proposes debt relief for Indonesia as follows:

  • A minimum 30% debt cancellation/ reduction to be taken out of the US$70 billion government debt owed to multilateral (WB, IMF and ADB), bilateral (Japan, US, Germany) and private banks;
  • Indonesia only to repay debt at an annual level not to exceed 5% of DSR ( 5 per cent from export revenues). This will free up money for public spending and the social safety net;
  • Private debt should not become a burden for public debt. The Indonesian government should not be forced to pay the private debt. Creditor and debtor should both be held responsible for bad lending and bad decisions.

Binny Buchori is executive secretary of Infid (the International Non-government organisations Forum on Indonesian Development). Sugeng Bahagijo is information manager. Contact Infid: Jalan Mampang Prapatan XI/23, Jakarta 12790, Indonesia, tel +62-21-79196721, 79196722, fax +62-21-794 1577, email infid@nusa.or.id or krakatau@cbn.net.id

  
Public external debt (US$bn) % of GDP DSR %
1991 72 62 45
1995 107 53 43
1997 137 63 46
1998 144 147 52

Source: Econit 1999.

 

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Aceh's causes

A conversation with an activist reveals there is more than one Aceh cause?

Maree Keating

Otto Syamsuddin Ishak is at once public servant, academic and activist. He lectures in agriculture at the Syiah University in Banda Aceh and is executive officer of Cordova, a non-government organisation (NGO) educating the public on civil society and human rights. He also has links with the armed section of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). I met Otto in Melbourne during an awareness-raising tour last October.

To an outsider, there seem many grounds for hope. New president Gus Dur says he is prepared to negotiate with GAM. He created the new portfolio of Minister for Human Rights, and appointed long term Acehnese human rights campaigner Hasballah Saad to fill it. More concessions have been granted to Islamic syari'ah law in Aceh. Aceh is no longer classified as a military operations area (DOM), and General Wiranto has admitted military excesses.

But when I ask Otto how the Acehnese perceive these concessions he tells me bluntly: 'There is not a single policy that gives us cause for hope, because both Gus Dur and Megawati have the same principle - they want a united nation and give no indication they will free Aceh'. He is equally pessimistic about Hasballah: 'Nobody really believes that he can be successful, because he is not a popular figure in Aceh. The people in Aceh feel better represented by the PPP leader, Ghazali Abbas Adan. He is the only one in a position to speak about human rights in Aceh to Jakarta.'

Hasballah's position, Otto says, is dilemmatic - he stands between the Acehnese struggle and the Indonesian military, each as determined as the other. I wonder if rejecting Hasballah on these grounds is not tantamount to ruling out any form of cooperation. But Otto puts it like this: 'Jakarta always sets up teams [to investigate abuses], without any consultation. Because of that, people have no faith in these teams. None of its members are credible.'

Is Ghazali credible because PPP supports a referendum for Aceh, whereas Hasballah remains less definite on it? Otto seemed reluctant to articulate such political differences, perhaps because, as he says, human rights have become an intensely unifying issue for those championing independence. 'At the moment GAM has a human rights perspective', he says. 'Human rights are being used as a way to find a sympathetic focus. They use the issue of human rights to mobilise society.'

Religion

Otto is also wary of Jakarta's concessions in the area of Islamic syari'ah law. He seems to suggest it could be an attempt by Jakarta to fuel horizontal conflict. Operasi Jilbab is a recent phenomenon where Islamic officials force people to dress in accordance with strict Islamic codes, attend mosque regularly and behave in a devout manner. It is unclear whether Operasi Jilbab sprang spontaneously from a desire for more religion within the community, or whether outside forces played a role in developing an Islamic militancy which most people find oppressive.

When I ask Otto to explain the role of religion in the conflict, he says: 'It is really a secular issue. People have resorted to the security of Islam as a kind of regional identity and as a means of survival.... So they would not feel they were dying in vain? It is not GAM so much as the people themselves who have turned to religion.'

It is difficult for me to imagine what living in a devoutly religious society is like. Perhaps an Islamic version of Christian liberation theology I can recognise, but when people start talking about holy wars and public floggings, I realise that not all things can be translated easily for an Australian public. It strikes me as odd that Otto calls the Aceh conflict a secular issue, for how could anything be secular in a society where Operasi Jilbab can take place and where religious leaders are so powerful?

I ask him about the worst case scenario, and his reply reveals the depth of religious feeling in Aceh. He says: 'The worst scenario is a face to face confrontation. The religious leaders (ulama) have declared that if there is no referendum in the next six months they will take a decision to declare a holy war (jihad). If the ulama want it, they will get the support from the community.' When asked how he and others in the NGO community feel about that, his answer implies that the power of the religious leaders is stronger than that of the non-violent civil society movement. 'They are worried about what will happen', he says. 'But they are not brave enough to say this because they will become a target for the community's anger.'

The referendum movement in Aceh seems to consist of groups with sometimes opposing aims. They include the armed and unarmed sections of GAM, the religious leaders (divided into 'old' and 'new'), students, NGOs and other advocates for a civil society. There is in fact no single Acehnese movement.

Some of the 'old' style ulama lost credibility in the past for aligning themselves too closely with Golkar. They now want to regain popular support by taking a strong stance on the referendum. According to Otto, ninety percent of the population want a referendum. Whereas militant GAM leaders in the past have said they will not engage with the 'Javanese' government on a referendum, Otto says this stance has recently changed. 'If the ulama call for a referendum, GAM will support it, even though previously they did not.'

But if ninety percent support a referendum, it is not clear whether people want the outcome to be a sultanate or a democratic republic. Otto says: 'There are those who want democracy (who use non-violence), and those who want a sultanate (who use violence)? There is a symbiosis between the two which is mutually beneficial. Student activists and all the groups with an interest in a democratic society believe that a sultanate will not be democratic. Because of that they are taking the initiative towards a referendum.'

For Australians wanting to answer Otto's call for support, the challenge remains to find a clearer understanding about what kinds of dialogue are possible within Aceh. If groups within Aceh are afraid to speak out against a violent solution for fear of unleashing the community's anger upon them, the potential for a democratic process could be a fragile one.

Maree Keating (mkeating@ozvol.org.au) is country program manager for Indonesia with Australian Volunteers International. The views in this article are her own and not necessarily those of AVI.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000
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