Published: Apr 14, 2007


Angus McIntyre

The marriage of abstract theory with the complexity and particularity of local politics is, perhaps, the most difficult task facing the political scientist writing on Indonesia.

The theorist who pays insufficient attention to this complexity and particularity is likely to get things very wrong. The area specialist who ignores theory may only manage a plodding political history. Edward Aspinall avoids both pitfalls in Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime Change in Indonesia, an account of the late Suharto and early reformasi years. On the one hand, he provides a detailed, finely-judged and intimate account of the participants and events of this period, based on extensive field work. On the other, he is able to place his account within a broader framework derived from his mastery of the political science literature on democratic transitions.

Aspinall persuasively links the changing character of Suharto’s New Order regime, the forms of opposition it engendered, and the subsequent democratic transition. He argues that the mixture of repression and toleration characteristic of the New Order regime until the early 1990s led to the formation of a divided opposition lacking both a coherent ideology and mass support. Consequently, when Suharto resigned under pressure in May 1998, this opposition was unable to prevent his former allies from taking up positions of influence in the new but compromised democratic order.

Edward Aspinall, Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime Change in Indonesia, an account of the late Suharto and early reformasi years Stanford University Press, 2005 ISBN 0804748454 p/b A$35.00

Angus McIntyre (a.mcintyre@latrobe.edu.au )

Review: Indonesia’s war over Aceh from the view of an Australian intellegence analyst


Antje Missbach

In his recent book, Indonesia’s War over Aceh: Last Stand on Mecca’s Porch, Davies adds an Australian intelligence analyst’s view to compliment the growing number of books on the Aceh war by academics.

The first section summarises general facts about Aceh (geopolitics, economic exploitation, GAM’s structure). The following chapters deal with the war’s ‘further reaching causes and effects’ and highly specific details about the security forces deployed there for the last ten years.

Davies describes the Indonesian ‘information-war’, designed to restrict protest within Indonesia. This included tampering with casualty and victim statistics within the public records. Davies also reveals some new insights about the co-operation with deserters and ‘whistle-blowers’, and the Indonesian secret service’s use of GAM splinter groups. He provides detailed information on the establishment of anti-GAM militias and key-players, although not always revealing his sources. In most cases, though, the details about internal military developments have been put together from Indonesian newspapers and public TNI-sources.Davies describes the Indonesian ‘information-war’, designed to restrict protest within Indonesia. This included tampering with casualty and victim statistics within the public records. Davies also reveals some new insights about the co-operation with deserters and ‘whistle-blowers’, and the Indonesian secret service’s use of GAM splinter groups. He provides detailed information on the establishment of anti-GAM militias and key-players, although not always revealing his sources. In most cases, though, the details about internal military developments have been put together from Indonesian newspapers and public TNI-sources.

Davies’ work provides many specific details about TNI and BRIMOB. However, this book is not an introductory text about the Aceh conflict. The lay reader may have difficulty in following his arguments, becoming bogged down in the book’s multitude of militaristic abbreviations and jargon.

Matthew N Davies, Indonesia’s War over Aceh: Last Stand on Mecca’s Porch, Routledge, 2006 ISBN 0415372399 A$160.00

Antje Missbach (antje.missbach@anu.edu.au)

Review: The book provides detailed descriptions of the restoration of a great ninth century Buddhist stupa


Hugh O’Neill

The restoration of this great ninth century Buddhist stupa, begun in 1971 and completed in 1984, is designed to last for at least one thousand years. It was directed by Dr Soekmono, Indonesia’s first archaeologist, who worked with a large group of experts and labourers from many countries including Indonesia, France, the Netherlands, Germany, India, Japan and the US. Tests made in the late 1940s revealed major deterioration thirty-five years after the 1911 conservation work done by Dutch military engineer Th. Van Erp.

The book provides detailed descriptions of the current conditions, particularly problems of water seepage; cleaning and reconstruction; and archaeological techniques. This, together with the history of the building, fills almost three hundred pages. Sixty-six figures include maps, plans, sections, details of stone jointing and archaeological remnants. Thirty-one tables show site and laboratory analyses, soil tests and earthquake risks. Fifty-six photographs include details of jointing; people measuring and working on site; and ethnographic material such as ancient votive stupas and pots dug up on site.

The last chapter, ‘A’New Perspective on Some Old Questions Pertaining to Borobudur’, is particularly interesting. It places the stupa within current historical research and celebrates the important Indonesian contributions to the world of Buddhist–Hindu art and architecture.

I G Anom (editor), The last chapter, A New Perspective on Some Old Questions Pertaining to Borobudur, Paris, UNESCO Publishing, 2005 ISBN 9231039407 A$85.00

Hugh O’Neill


Inside Indonesia 89: Jan-Mar 2007