20 years on: The Special Anniversary Edition

Published: Feb 25, 2018


Marking Inside Indonesia’s 35th year and 20 years since the fall of the New Order

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2018 is a significant anniversary year for Indonesia and for our magazine too. Inside Indonesia turns 35 years young this year and Indonesia marks 20 years since the fall of the New Order regime ushered in the reformasi era.

To celebrate and mark these anniversaries, we have put together a special edition (number 131) republishing some of the pieces our readers have most appreciated over the past 20 years (editions 53 to 130). We don’t often look back like this. When we did, we were surprised how frequently some articles have been viewed, quoted in major news outlets, or cited in academic papers. II articles have been downloaded almost five million times since we went online in 2005. Considering that every one of them was written, edited, formatted, and uploaded by an unpaid volunteer, that says something about the power of the passion for telling Indonesia’s stories to the world, often those that are little heard elsewhere.

As we surveyed the results of our investigation we wondered why people appreciated precisely these articles so much. Let’s have a look at a selection of the most popular II articles from the past 20 years or so.

The first three are some of the most downloaded articles on our site. Two are about sex. No surprise there, since ‘sex’ and ‘porn’ are by far the biggest search keywords on the internet. People who landed here probably got a surprise. Each is written in a distinctive Inside Indonesia style. One is a cheeky look at easy-going cheap brothels in the city of Semarang. The other is about the five genders (yes, you read that right) acknowledged in Sulawesi.

The third is by Elisabeth Pisani, author of the runaway best-seller Indonesia, Etc (try typing ‘Indonesia’ into Amazon). The article has the politically incorrect title ‘A nation of dunces’ and is an angry look at the poor schooling Indonesians have to endure.

The next three are among those most often cited by scholars writing about Indonesia. (There would be another list of articles lecturers give out in class, but we didn’t know how to count them.) What made these pieces stand out to those in the academic world? Probably two things:

(a) They are awesomely well-informed. See Marcus Mietzner on the corrupt yet remarkably legitimate local democracies that emerged after the New Order.

(b) They break stereotypes. See the Acehnese woman Suraiya Kamaruzzaman protesting about syariah law in her province.

And maybe a third – they don’t lack humour. See Loren Ryter on the thugs that pop up wherever you look in politics or the economy.

Well-informed yet funny breaking of stereotypes actually defines Inside Indonesia’s style. It is no doubt the reason why II articles have been picked up by the Washington Post, the New York Times, ABC’s Four Corners, and yes, even by Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News.

Finally, we didn’t want to withhold from you some of our own favourites. These are pieces that fully live up to the II style, yet haven’t been picked up as often as we think they deserve.

A shocking exposé of past rights abuses by presidential candidate Prabowo – not in Jakarta but East Timor.

An equally outraged article about an environmental disaster in the provinces. An indictment of western platitudes about Papua.

And, to close on a happy note, a lovely wry piece about punk in Yogyakarta in the early days of reformasi, and another on bringing Javanese arts to Australia, from our big collection of arts articles.

A little magazine like ours can have a surprising impact if it stays close to what matters – ordinary people doing extraordinary things in one of the world’s most under-appreciated nations, Indonesia. We thank our wonderful and generous writers, editors, proofreaders, web-managers, social media team and board members for making it all possible – and of course, you our readers!

Selamat membaca! 

Gerry van Klinken and Jemma Purdey

on behalf of the entire Inside Indonesia Team



Inside Indonesia 131:

Jan-Mar 2018