Sep 21, 2018 Last Updated 3:08 AM, Sep 19, 2018

In this issue

Published: Sep 22, 2007

Swimming against the tide

Activists are impatient, hopeful people. When everyone else sees little change or worse, ruin and destruction, they tend to see the outlines of utopia. Without their vision of a better, more compassionate tomorrow, nothing ever does change. The image of individuals and small groups who courageously swim against the tide is pretty strong in this edition of Inside Indonesia.

The tide for this great country, it seems, is running in a direction few people actually seem to want. Anne Booth examines the growing dissatisfaction in the resource-rich regions and wonders whether Indonesia as we know it might even break up. She hopes that a new government anxious to avoid a worse disaster will work hard to reduce the heavy hand of Jakarta. Anders Uhlin compares Indonesia with post-Soviet Russia and comes to the disturbing conclusion that Indonesia may be even less likely to democratise than mafia-soaked Russia.

Whatever the truth of Anders Uhlin’s dark scenario, it is important not to imagine Indonesians as powerless victims swept along on a tide that has already determined their fate. Lea Jellinek and Anton Lucas in their articles here describe an inventiveness among ordinary Indonesians that does not take a crisis lying down.

James Goodman meets Indonesian activists who, unbeknown to Australians who think East Timor inevitably pits Australians against Indonesians, have been struggling for self-determination in East Timor for years. They’re doing it for the sake of democracy in their own country.

The late Romo Mangun was for many Indonesians, and not only for them, the model swimmer against the tide. Always hopeful, never resigned to the sometimes cruel tide of history - these qualities made him a force for change by example.

The activists we highlight in this edition make demands on us as well. Elizabeth Collins calls on readers in the West to put aside simplistic notions of a clash between Western and Islamic civilisations, and reach out to tens of thousands of displaced Muslims within Indonesia. Fiona Collins and Mia Hoogenboom, cycling around Australia to raise awareness of poverty in Indonesia, show us a determination to do something practical. Andrish Saint-Clare wants us to know about an amazing but under-funded experiment in cross-cultural drama, bridging Arnhem Land with Sulawesi. Ahmad Sofian tells us about his centre’s work on behalf of girls lured into a completely unregulated sex industry in Sumatra.

We salute and thank these ever hopeful activists, as well as those others named and unnamed who made this edition what it is.

Gerry van Klinken

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