Jan 24, 2021 Last Updated 1:30 AM, Jan 22, 2021

West Papua in 1999

An urban movement pushes for a peaceful solution

Nina FitzSimons

In the wake of a military crackdown in Biak in July 1998, Christian churches, student and women's groups, and non-government organisations (NGOs) formed a non-party political coalition to pursue a peaceful solution to West Papuan concerns. The Forum for Reconciliation of Irian Jaya Society (Foreri) sought to enter into dialogue with the government.

On the 26th February 1999, after four months of planning and five drafts of the terms of reference, then-President Habibie and cabinet ministers met in Jakarta with a one hundred member delegation of Papuan representatives to launch the 'national dialogue'. Foreri played the role of facilitator. The West Papuans unanimously declared their desire for independence. They wanted President Habibie to publicly recognise the loss of Papua's independence through the 1969 Act of Free Choice. Habibie's response indicated that he was not expecting the declaration. Putting aside his prepared speech, he told the delegation to consider their decision carefully.

Since that meeting there has been no progress. On April 17th 1999 Irian Jaya's chief of police, Hotman Siagian, issued a proclamation banning all discussion and dissemination of information resulting from the national dialogue. This effectively prevents all Papuans from discussing independence or greater autonomy from Indonesia. The workshops and seminars which were to follow the Jakarta meeting will not be taking place.

NGOs in Jayapura say they know the government's answer to the delegation's aspirations. It is the 27th July bill to divide Irian Jaya into three separate provinces. Governors for the new provinces of West Irian, Central Irian and East Irian were sworn in on 12 October 1999. The Protestant church GKI says the division indicates the government's refusal to open any form of conflict resolution. West Papuans fear the administrative expansion will bring in more Javanese bureaucrats. Transmigration (often by Muslims) already means the (largely Christian) Papuan population now only makes up half the territory's population.

Since the February 26th meeting, delegates and facilitators of the national dialogue have become targets of intimidation. Travel restrictions were placed on the main leaders of the national dialogue delegation in August, preventing them from leaving Jayapura. On a wider scale, military command posts are continually being set up to ensure no further 'interference' by delegation parties. Furthermore the government has sought to eliminate the role of Foreri by suspending all communications with the Foreri office. The government discredits the national dialogue as the work of radicals. Some officials have dropped hints that delegate members are part of a group supplying arms to West Papuans opposing the Freeport mine.

In Fak-Fak police raided and vandalised a local traditional house that was being used as a meeting place and information centre on independence issues by local tribal leaders. While no one was injured, police removed all sacred and indigenous artifacts and destroyed them.

The independent human rights organisation in Jayapura, ELS-HAM, has been collecting data on recent killings and intends to publish the results. In August it distributed a report listing human rights abuses in the Central Highlands area as a direct result of the foreign hostage case of early 1996. The abuses implicated the International Committee of the Red Cross and British elite troops SAS. The fact that it took three years to gather enough concrete evidence highlights the difficulties faced by NGOs investigating human rights abuse. As it is, calls by ELS-HAM for the government to protect witnesses relating to this case have fallen on deaf ears.

Nina FitzSimons (ninafitz@solo.wasantara.net.id) is an Australian volunteer in Solo, Central Java. She visited Irian Jaya in June 1999 as an electoral monitor under an ACFOA programme.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Why West Papua deserves another chance

The UN ballot in 1969 broke every rule for genuine self-determination

Sam Blay

West Papua (Irian Jaya) is the oldest self-determination issue in Indonesia since independence. During decolonisation negotations in 1949, the Dutch did not hand over this part of the former Netherlands East Indies to what is now the Republic of Indonesia. However, Indonesia continued to demand sovereignty over West Papua on two grounds: (a) that it succeeded to Dutch sovereignty over the whole of the Netherlands East Indies, including West Papua; (b) that there were historical ties between the rest of Indonesia and West Papua before the colonial era.

In 1962, Indonesia and the Netherlands reached agreement over West Papua under the New York Agreement. The Netherlands transferred sovereignty over West Papua to Indonesia, with an interim administration by the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (Untea). Untea administered West Papua from October 1962 to May 1963, when Indonesia assumed total control and responsibility.

Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua was to be tentative because, under Article XVIII of the agreement, Indonesia undertook to ascertain the wishes of the people of West Papua through a consultation process to establish whether they wanted to remain part of Indonesia or to form an independent state. This consultation, the Act of Free Choice, took place in July 1969.

Right from the outset, considerable sections of the West Papuan population opposed the incorporation. Activists formed the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) in 1970. The movement aimed at independence for West Papua by way of armed struggle. In July 1972, the OPM enacted a provisional constitution and declared West Papua a republic.

The principal claim of West Papuan separatists is that the 1969 consultation process was not properly conducted and was therefore not valid. West Papuans demand the conduct of fresh consultations, as was the case in East Timor. OPM organisations argue that a consultation is now more urgent than ever because of continuous and increasingly gross human rights violations by Indonesia, and because Indonesia has attempted to change the population balance in West Papua through the transmigration of 'mainland' Indonesians.

A series of petitions to the UN on these human rights violations, and pleas for the UN Decolonisation Committee to investigate the conduct of the 1969 referendum and possibly recommend fresh consultations, have all so far failed.

The OPM is fragmented. Too poorly armed to mount any credible guerilla campaign and with no effective strategy, it relies mostly on non-governmental organisations. It lacks any real political support even in the South Pacific. In spite of these difficulties, the events in East Timor and the current focus on self-determination in Indonesia provide some optimism for West Papua's future. International political support would in part depend on the legal merits of their claims in international law.


As a rule, self-determination can be exercised in one of the following three ways: the establishment of an independent state; the association of the beneficiary territory with an existing state; or the integration of the beneficiary territory into an existing state. Whatever the outcome, democratic consultations are the necessary precondition for a valid exercise of the right. The 1969 consultations indicated that West Papuans opted for integration, but the issue is whether the option was validly exercised. According to UN rules, two conditions must be satisfied for a valid exercise of self-determination by integration:

(a) the integrated territory should have attained an advanced stage of self-government with free political institutions, so that its people would have the capacity to make a responsible choice through informed and democratic processes;

(b) the integration should be the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territory's peoples acting with full knowledge of the change in their status, their wishes having been expressed through informed and democratic processes, conducted impartially and based on universal adult suffrage.

It is very doubtful whether the West Papuan integration in 1969 met these conditions. Before the Act of Free Choice, Indonesian authorities had made it quite clear that the consultations were only to be a formality. Indonesia indeed indicated that it was 'going through the motions of the act of free choice because of [its] obligations under the New York Agreement... But West [Papua] is Indonesian and must remain Indonesian. [Indonesia] cannot accept any alternative'. From the Indonesian point of view, the outcome of any consultation was irrelevant - integration was a foregone conclusion.

Under the New York Agreement, a traditional form of consultation was to be used initially to determine the appropriate methods to be followed for the Act of Free Choice. Secondly, the consultation had to involve the participation of all adults (male and female) of West Papua. Thirdly, the method used to ascertain the wishes of the West Papuans had to be in 'accordance with international practice'.

When the time came for a decision on the method to be used, the representative of the UN Secretary General in West Papua suggested that the 'democratic, orthodox and universally accepted ?one-man-one-vote? method would be most appropriate'. However, he qualified this by saying, 'the geographical and human realities in some parts of the territory required the application of a realistic criterion.' Consequently, he proposed a normal adult suffrage for the urban areas, and a form of tribal consultation for the rural areas. Indonesia rejected the suggestion and adopted instead the tribal musyawarah system throughout the territory.

The musyawarah system involved consultations with tribal council representatives, who in turn were presumed to have had consultations with their tribesmen. Arguably, the system may have been a useful democratic machinery for tribal administration, but it was certainly not in conformity with the essential requirements of the UN's prescriptions on self-determination. By employing the musyawarah system throughout the territory, it would seem that Indonesia breached one of its obligations under the New York Agreement, and indeed, international law.

Indonesia itself admitted that the musyawarah system fell short of the UN requirement, but it justified the use of the system with the argument that 'in West [Papua] there exists? one of the most primitive and underdeveloped communities in the world', and that it was unrealistic to apply normal democratic methods to ascertain their wishes. This was a rather significant admission. If according to the Indonesian administration the West Papuans were so primitive that a single one man one vote adult suffrage was not appropriate for them, it may be argued that they were not sufficiently advanced to appreciate the complex implications of integration.

Some African states that opposed the Indonesian method summed up the general sentiment at the time with the observation that 'no society could be so primitive... in the modern world that the vital exercise of democratic government could be indefinitely denied to its peoples'. Some UN members also held the view that if the West Papuans were that primitive, the way to ensure their right to self-determination was not through the musyawarah system but through an accelerated economic development of the territory under the auspices of the UN to bring them up to a level that could enable them to exercise their right to self- determination meaningfully. Even though these criticisms and suggestions were ignored, they underscored the anomalies associated with West Papua's integration.


The Act of Free Choice had other defects. Under the UN regulations, consultations for integration must not only be by adult suffrage, but must also be conducted impartially, and where the UN deems it necessary, under its own supervision. However, in line with Indonesia's position that West Papua belonged to it in any case and that the consultations were only a formality to rubber-stamp its claims, Indonesia maintained tight controls over all aspects of the consultations. In fact Indonesia allowed a token UN supervision in only 195 of the 1,000 consultative assemblies.

The required impartiality, and the appropriate explanations to West Papuans as to other options for self-determination available to them, were arguably absent in the consultations. The UN representative to West Papua further attested to the unsatisfactory state of affairs in his observation that 'the act of free choice was obviously stage-managed from start to finish ... [Indonesia] exercised at all times a tight control over the population.'

In the frenzy of decolonisation in the 1960s, Third World states at the UN were eager to terminate Dutch colonialism in West Papua. Indonesia enjoyed considerable support at the UN in its claims against the Netherlands for West Papua. Quite apart from its diplomatic advantage, Indonesia had also been preparing a military invasion of West Papua.

In the face of these difficulties, the Netherlands signed the New York Agreement. It was a face-saving measure that enabled the Netherlands to withdraw 'honourably'. For Indonesia, the Agreement had been a great diplomatic victory. After the signing, West Papua became a de facto integral part of Indonesia, despite the requirement of the so-called Act of Free Choice. At the UN, the incorporation seemed a fait accompli.

Secret documents recently released by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade easily indicate that Australia and the United States actively assisted Indonesia at the UN to secure its control over West Papua, even where it was clear that there were serious defects with the procedure. Australia also helped discourage petitions and debate on the merits of the integration at the UN.

It is beyond doubt that the people of West Papua were denied their right to self-determination. Little noticed, separatist agitation in West Papua has persisted for over three decades. Every indication is that it will persist into the new century. After East Timor, the conditions appear right to re-examine the issue to help protect West Papuans rights. Legally there is no barrier for a re-examination of the issues. However as is usually the case in international law, the absence of legal barriers may not be enough.

West Papua needs support for the Decolonisation Committee to accept to investigate the case. Time is of the essence. The UN intends to disestablish the Decolonisation Committee by the year 2001. Given Australia's involvement and its commitment to stability in the region, it has a critical role to play in assisting West Papua.

Sam Blay (sam.blay@uts.edu.au) is professor of law at the University of Technology Sydney.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Humanity, not fascism!

An Indonesian eyewitness to the East Timor tragedy pleads for compassion.

Interview with Yeni Rosa Damayanti

Booing filled the auditorium of the Menara Peninsula Hotel in Jakarta. They were booing Yeni Rosa Damayanti, saying she was 'non-nationalistic', 'without love' for Indonesia, because she had given evidence of the burning of East Timor. One participant in the public debate on post-ballot East Timor, held by the think-tank Cides on 15 September, came to the microphone and accused her of disgracing Indonesia before the world. For Yeye - Damayanti's nickname - it was not the first time. Someone circulated an email headed: 'Do you know who the nation's traitors are?' Yeye was second on the list. The first was Hendardi, director of the legal aid institute PBHI. How did Yeye react to all this?

People just now thought you were too angry. What do you say to them?

I was in Dili until September 11, with seven friends from the independent Indonesian monitoring group Kiper. We saw the people of Timor, adults and children alike, being killed. Their houses looted, then burnt down. Anyone would be angry if they saw humanity trampled like that. Even now, the soul of a whole nation is being murdered.

You mean pro-independence East Timorese?

I mean the nation of Timor Leste. The killings are regardless of the victims' political views. I can prove that. Straight after the announcement of the ballot result on September 4, militias from Barisan Merah Putih (Red and White Front) and Aitarak were going around Dili carrying M-16, SS-1 and homemade guns, as well as machetes. At first it was just psy-war. But then the shooting was aimed directly at the townspeople. They attacked suburbs such as Taibesi and Becora and razed them to the ground. Massive burning took place on September 6 and 7. In just two days, Dili was reduced to ashes.

In a press conference yesterday you mentioned the army's involvement....

Yes. Where did those M-16 and SS-1 rifles come from? And the police and military (TNI) clearly let the militias burn. Militias looted a shopping centre and one managed to find a spring bed. Do you know how they took it away? On an army truck. Before the militias attacked a suburb, police came and announced it would soon be controlled by pro-autonomy forces. 'Residents out or be killed.' This also happened to Kiper. Our Dili office constantly had to move, because the area was being attacked. In the end Kiper's office was also looted and burnt down.

Did you see any shooting between militias and pro-independent supporters?

This is what needs to be clarified. Not a single bullet was fired between the two groups. This was entirely about terror and killing carried out by just one force and supported by the Indonesian military.

There are 800,000 East Timorese. Only about 130,000 have gone to West Timor. Where are the rest?

Some were killed, and more than 500,000 chose to flee to the mountains of East Timor. This is what I'm worried about. Three hundred children in Ermera are facing death by starvation. There is no food for them.

Why didn't they go to the refugee camps already prepared for them in Atambua in West Timor?

All the refugees to West Timor had to sign a letter saying they were pro-autonomy. And TNI guarded the town borders. They would ask: 'Where are you heading?' If they were refugees, they were sent along a special route that no one else was allowed to use. My friends and I tried to follow the same route. The soldiers asked: Refugees? My friend said: No. We were forbidden to go that way. I don't imagine the army will help the refugees. I demand that Timor Leste be opened to humanitarian aid for those in the mountains.

Military intelligence SGI was out looking for you. How did you pass the blockade?

The order was indeed to get Yeni Rosa Damayanti. But the militias and the soldiers didn't know what I looked like. SGI were not just looking for me. Also for the East Timorese students now in hiding in various places.

In the debate just now, some thought you were not nationalistic enough.

TNI kills people in Timor Leste, Aceh, Papua, Tanjung Priok. Why doesn't anyone say they are not nationalistic enough? If people say TNI kill to preserve Indonesian nationhood, the integrity of the nation, then in my view our concept of nationalism is chauvinistic, fascist and expansionist. I've had enough of it, if that is the case.

Many demonstrations in Jakarta reject interference by other countries on nationalistic grounds.

Yes, I have heard that our flag was burnt in Australia and this led to demonstrations. Including demonstrations by students. I myself don't agree with flag burning. But we need to consider two things carefully. One is the humanitarian perspective. Don't turn away from this. TNI not only failed to protect the citizens of East Timor, they themselves became agents of violence. We have to see the cause of foreign interference. Secondly, we have all been manipulated to accept the military concept of nationalism. Throughout the Suharto era we fought against words that had become synonymous with power. Why do we still want to regurgitate a militaristic nationalism that is anti-humanitarian?

This interview was recorded just before Interfet troops landed in East Timor. It appeared in Xpos (ekspos@hotmail.com) of 19-25 September 1999. Rani Ambiyo was the translator. Yeni Rosa Damayanti (yenirosa@hotmail.com), is a well-known human rights activist. Under Suharto she spent time in gaol as well as in exile to the Netherlands. James Goodman describes Kiper in an article in Inside Indonesia no.59, July-September 1999.


Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Out of the tiger's teeth

The inside story of East Timor's ballot for freedom

Helene van Klinken

In mid-June 1999 I arrived in East Timor to work with the newly established United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (Unamet). I was sent to the beautiful district of Ermera, in the hills an hour's drive south of Dili. It is a picturesque, fertile, coffee growing area. The welcome people gave to Unamet was unbelievable. Children would pop out of fragrant coffee gardens as we drove past, waving and calling in chorus, 'Unamet, Unamet!'

My job as a political affairs officer was to meet everyone, and report to Unamet's Dili headquarters what they were saying and hoping for, and whether it was possible for the popular consultation to proceed. It is without doubt the most amazing job I have ever done.

The new President Habibie first mentioned offering wide-ranging autonomy to East Timor in June 1998. But the people of East Timor came out instead in support of independence, and of a referendum. In Ermera, long-standing East Timorese supporters of Indonesia made peace with their Timorese bothers and sisters, joining the pro-independence side. Even Timorese soldiers who had fought for Indonesia sought reconciliation with Falintil. This unity among East Timorese represented a dilemma for Indonesians, in whose minds fear of Falintil and pro-independence actors was well established. A foreign visitor in East Timor at the time described the atmosphere to me as a 'Prague Spring'.

With the likelihood of a popular consultation, a savage crackdown began in Ermera on 10 April. A CNRT youth, Antonio Lima, was killed and the CNRT office burnt down. People later told us that the killings were done by Indonesian police and military in uniform, who patrolled the streets searching for and shooting pro-independence leaders. These killings began five days after the widely reported massacre in a church in nearby Liquica. The Ermera district CNRT leader, Eduardo de Deus Barreto, was arrested. He was later jailed for 'extorting money and coercing people to join the CNRT'. All remaining CNRT leaders fled to the hills around Ermera. During the days that followed many more pro-independence people were killed.

In some areas of East Timor, Falintil had managed to maintain long-term control of a few villages. Indonesian military posts stationed in these areas reached some sort of modus vivendi with Falintil, and they did not 'disturb' each other. One such 'liberated area' was Fatubolo village, close to the district administrative centre Gleno. On 10 April all senior Ermera CNRT office-holders fled into this Falintil-controlled territory, though some went to Dili which was also considered safe. When I later visited the Falintil base I met many important people from the Ermera community.

Civil servants who were prepared to sign statements promising to support autonomy could come out of hiding on 24 April, 1999. The CNRT itself was forced to 'disband' on 26 April.


Militias have been part of the military strategy in East Timor since 1975. However, beginning in late 1998 many more were conscripted, bribed and forced to join their ranks. Each district had its own militia, although militia did not always keep to their designated districts and there was even competition between them. In Ermera district they were called Darah Integrasi, Blood of Integration. They claimed 1,500 members, but according to informants the number of committed members was in the low hundreds. Miguel Soares Babo was its commander, while his brother Antonio dos Santos was second-in-command. Antonio was a low ranking TNI officer, who said he was on 'civilian duties'. He was the real force and spokesperson. Miguel was often drunk and prone to abusive language.

While there have always been military outposts in remote areas of East Timor, the numbers of these posts in Ermera was now greatly increased, many of them established after the crackdown in April and May 1999. A military post was usually a simple structure of bamboo and local materials, with the telltale tall communications antenna. At a post there were often four Indonesian officers and about ten East Timorese TNI soldiers. A group of about 20 militia, mostly locally recruited, was also stationed at each post, thus demonstrating once more the close link between militia and military.

We received numerous complaints from villagers about the activities of these soldiers. In the middle of the night soldiers would throw stones on the roofs of houses of people known to have housed Falintil soldiers in the past. They would shoot randomly into the air to intimidate people. They would break into houses saying they had received information that Falintil soldiers were attacking the occupants. Most often they were drunk, and frequently they terrorised female members of the household, sometimes spending all day lying round inebriated in a house, making it impossible for the owners to care for their children or cook.

The many government officials, sub-district and village heads and village secretaries who remained in hiding and refused to sign statements supporting autonomy were replaced with people who were persuaded and bribed to support integration with Indonesia.

CNRT leaders were inspiring people who did not sell their souls, even though they lived with constant threats and in fear. They would express their disappointment about their fellow countrymen who had capitulated to the pressures. Local CNRT leader Amaral would always say that Timorese have to be honest but tell a few lies, and that even while they were afraid they must also be brave. When facing a tiger, you have to be careful or you'll get caught by one of his teeth, he would say.

Indonesians seemed to have no idea of the breadth of support the CNRT enjoyed. One Balinese government official honestly told me that he believed 70% of people in Ermera supported autonomy.


On the first day of registration people turned out in their hundreds at each centre, queuing like sardines in a tin. Registration centres were joyful places. The Timorese people had taken the decision into their own hands. No matter what the security situation was like they were going to vote. Registration was a resounding success, numbers far exceeding estimates. I did not meet any Timorese in Ermera who had wanted to register but were unable to do so. As a result of this success, in some ways Unamet slipped into a false sense of what we could achieve.

We also had to make a judgement as to whether there were equal opportunities for both sides. For the CNRT in Ermera it was a constant struggle, though they philosophically said, 'we've been campaigning for 24 years. Our people know what they want'. Nevertheless they were not passive, and engaged in strategies to raise their profile. As the CNRT had no office and their leadership was in hiding, the pro-autonomy actors felt they had the upper hand.

The next step was the campaign, a period of about ten days prior to voting day. Militia provided the 'crowds' at the autonomy campaigns. Public servants, who were obliged to support autonomy, led the rallies. The militia travelled around all day in several trucks, conducting random campaigns whenever and wherever they could find a crowd. Some militia complained to Unamet local staff about having to 'yell party slogans all day', without even being given food.

In the end the CNRT cancelled all but two of its six planned meetings, because the leaders were worried about threats to ordinary people who attended rallies, especially those held far from the main Unamet headquarters.

There were strong indications that Timorese from both sides wanted to resolve their differences peacefully. In this they requested the mediation of Unamet. The militia commanders were particularly keen to meet with Falintil. The Indonesian district police commander was supportive of such a meeting. In mid-June he visited Falintil in the area controlled by them (Region IV), and saluted its commander, whose code name was Ular (Snake), before shaking hands. The Timorese were jubilant about this meeting, claiming it was the first time in 24 years an Indonesian official had openly recognised Falintil. However, after some time it became clear that the Indonesian district military commander was against any such rapprochement. He would always say he could not guarantee security.

So how did the CNRT convey their message to the people, given that the right to campaign and open an office was basically denied them? At every sub-district and village level there were CNRT secretaries, who carried the message, albeit clandestinely. Priests and nuns also gave moral courage and leadership, many at great personal risk. On the occasion that Bishop Belo came to Ermera he told the people that this vote was a once-only opportunity given to them by the international community. They should not be afraid. They should vote according to their conscience, not just thinking of their own safety but remembering they were choosing the future for their children and grandchildren.

Also a group of university students was instrumental in spreading the message. The university students mostly belonged to the East Timorese Students' Solidarity Council. Some belonged to East Timorese organisations in Java, Bali and Sulawesi. In Ermera they were very well organised. Some 200 of them originating in Ermera returned to their home villages at the commencement of registration to explain to people the registration and voting process, and to gather information about human rights abuses. They were in constant conflict with the authorities, who claimed they 'angered the people'.


After an agreement between Falintil commanders and senior Dili Unamet officials, Falintil guerillas moved into 'cantonment', meaning they pulled back to predefined areas in the mountains while retaining their weapons. One of these areas was located in Ermera district, in Poetete village. There on 20 August, they celebrated Falintil Day. It was the first time ever they had been able to celebrate it openly, and for many East Timorese it was the first time they had met with the guerillas. The celebration was no less than a campaign rally of 18,000 people.

The shops and streets of the towns in Ermera were deserted. The militia, with their police and TNI escorts, were angry to find no one at the village where they had planned a rally. On their way home the next day, they vented their anger by attacking villagers and destroying homes of people who had just returned from attending the Falintil celebration.

Two days before the vote, the CNRT held a flag raising in the cantonment. As the flag rose slowly under the intense tropical glare, men hugged each other, their tears flowing unashamedly. The cantonment was by far the most interesting place in Ermera district, alive with hope and indeed forgiveness.

Incidents involving militia, reported to Unamet, were passed to the Indonesian police, as they were responsible for investigation. But little action was ever taken, despite the promises, and never an arrest of a militia member. After the vote, the police commander told the Unamet police commander that he had been ordered 'from above' not to interfere with the actions of the militia.

Voting day, Monday 30 August, unlike registration, was not a jubilant occasion. Bishop Belo, in a pastoral letter read in all churches the previous day, exhorted people to go home afterwards and pray, and keep on praying. Don't do anything to provoke, he told them, presumably meaning 'don't celebrate'. By 7:30 on the morning of the vote, we heard on our Unamet radios that most people were already waiting in line to vote, and this was the case everywhere in East Timor. Many people had travelled the previous evening to their polling centres, as voting had to take place where you registered. A small percentage of people were intimidated after registration and left the areas where they had registered, so were unable to vote. Despite all the fears that voting might be disrupted, 98.5% of registered voters were successful in casting their votes.

The militia attack on our Gleno polling station at midday that day came as a surprise, as Ermera was by this time considered safe, although it was always a knife-edge situation. The US ambassador, Roy Stapleton, had come to view voting there, and was in the yard when shooting broke out and rocks were thrown at the walls of the polling station. The Timorese could hardly believe their luck, to have the ambassador of the superpower actually witness this attack! After several hours and an attempt to address the militia's complaints, the polling station was reopened. Only about 300 of the approximately 2,500 registered voters at this polling station were too frightened to return after the attack.

In a distant sub-district of Ermera, Atsabe, over three hours drive away, a more disturbing attack was taking place, in which at least one and probably three local Unamet staff were murdered by militias.

Even the ballot boxes in Gleno were not removed without incident. New militia arrived in town the day after polling. The rumour was that they were inserted because Darah Integrasi had never been 'effective'. They tried to prevent the helicopter from picking up the ballot boxes, but not with sufficient determination to succeed. During this attempt, Unamet staff saw Indonesian police mobile brigade members handing traditional weapons to the militia.

The evening after the vote, the burning of houses of CNRT leaders began. A young twelve-year old girl came to the Unamet headquarters to tell us about her house that was burnt, together with their store of rice and corn. Soon after that, all of East Timor was in ashes, and we were evacuated back to Australia. It was as if winter had come to beautiful Ermera.

Helene van Klinken (helenevk@hotmail.com) teaches Indonesian language in Brisbane. The views in this article represent her own and are not necessarily the official Unamet position. This essay is dedicated to Ana, a wonderful East Timorese friend whose fate remains unknown. A longer version appears in a special edition of the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000


Fifty years ago, Indonesian nationalism was open to the world

Goenawan Mohamad

On 29 July 1949, a Dakota aircraft crashed near Maguwo, Yogyakarta, killing three officers of the Republic of Indonesia Air Force. A civilian aircraft, on a flight from New Delhi, it was carrying medical supplies donated by the Republic of India to the Republic of Indonesia. Its broken fuselage still bore the letters 'VT-CLA'. Reports suggested the Dakota had been pursued and shot down by fighter planes of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, which controlled the northern part of Java.

A youth of 17 visited the crash site. He was not a photographer, but he wanted to record what had happened. He was a painter, and he made a drawing of what was left of the plane, hoping that it would stand as a witness: a civilian aircraft shot down without compunction by Dutch troops intent on using military might to take back control of Indonesia.

Now, in 1999, that young man is recognised as one of Indonesia's foremost painters, Srihadi Sudarsono. But it has taken 50 years, until his first exhibition at the Lontar Gallery in Jakarta last week, for Srihadi's priceless collection of drawings of the battles and negotiations of the revolution to become widely known. Not all of his work has survived. Most of it in fact was lost in a fire that destroyed one of the buildings which played a key role in the events of the revolution. But at the Lontar Gallery I was privileged to see not only the remains of the Dakota, but also the figure of a guerilla fighter riding on a train, a group of Dutch soldiers ransacking a private home in Solo, the face of Bung Karno, the face of Moh. Roem, and a group of foreign diplomats at Kaliurang, Yogya, people who - thanks to the UN - were trying to deal with the problems that arose with the end of colonialism in Indonesia.

Indonesia 1949, Indonesia 1999. Srihadi himself is maybe unaware of this, but someone looking at his drawings will easily pick up on a difference, a depressing contrast between then and now.

Half a century ago, the outside world - together with a young and vigorous UN - came to the aid of Indonesia, a weakling in the face of overwhelming odds. Now all we hear is pointed criticism from the rest of the world, directed at a big and brutal Indonesia intent on destroying little Timor Leste (and failing in the effort).

Indonesia then, Indonesia now. A half century ago the leaders of the Indonesian Republic noted with conviction and emotion in the preamble to their new constitution: 'Whereas freedom is the right of all nations...'. They stood firm in their belief that freedom was a right that everyone had to recognise because it was one expression of universal values. Now we only ever hear the phrase recited with indifference. For the last 40 years, the leaders of Indonesia have tried to proclaim that there is no such thing as universal values. We cannot be measured by 'Western' standards, they cry. We have our own democracy, we are unique, you know, you must understand Javanese culture, Asian values.... It's as though for oppressed peoples there is some essential difference between Indonesian military cruelties and, say, the tyranny of the Portuguese.

The crash of a Dakota aircraft carrying medical supplies from the outside world. A number of foreign faces at a meeting in Kaliurang. In Srihadi's 1946 drawings there is no implication in the way foreigners are drawn that they are something to be feared, something weird or distant from ourselves. When he makes a drawing, Srihadi doesn't only record an event. As a soldier who knows what a war of independence means, he also records an attitude. In the lines of his drawings, we can sense that the Indonesian revolution - and Indonesian nationalism - contained no suspicion of the 'outside', was not closed to what was 'foreign'.

From Srihadi we learn that the Indonesian revolution was not something 'inward looking', the kind of revolution that could emerge from, for example, the ideology and actions of the Khmer Rouge when they went about building a republic in Cambodia. Srihadi's record of events shows that even in the midst of its war of independence, Indonesia was an open book. The outside world came and looked, and skinny little Indonesia stood up boldly before it.

On a street wall in Jakarta, around November 1945, the young independence fighters wrote in large letters, in English: 'Give me liberty or give me death'. They were not addressing Indonesians themselves. The words were those of Patrick Henry, an American, spoken in the face of British colonialism in the 18th century. By quoting them, the young Indonesians seemed to want to remind the outside world: the voice of an American patriot in the 18th century is the same as the voices of Indonesian patriots in 1945.

How eloquent they were, how different from the gun-bearing, speechless wearers of safari suits we see all around us now. The outside world had to be convinced, because we were right. There was nothing that needed to be covered up, because we had no cause to be ashamed. Just like the conviction of the revolutionary troops of the 1940s who mobilised painters like Srihadi: they wanted to make a record of events, even if only in painting, at a time when they didn't own cameras. They didn't want to lose the traces of where they had stood. They were not thieves. They were making a history, one that also has meaning for people in a different place, at a different time, in a new millenium.

Goenawan Mohamad is a poet and senior journalist. This article appeared in Tempo magazine, 10 October 1999. It was translated, with permission from the author, by Keith Foulcher (keith.foulcher@asia.su.edu.au).

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Eight surprises

President Gus Dur's cabinet breaks much new ground. Inside Indonesia highlights eight of its 37 members.

Abdurrahman Wahid (President)

In all that has been written about Indonesia's fourth president, little has been said about one outstanding passion which dramatically distinguishes him from his predecessors, Suharto in particular, namely his long record of support for civil society in Indonesia and internationally. He created space for many community initiatives by lending his name and protecting them from official harassment. These included Infid, a key coalition of over 100 Indonesian and mainly Western NGOs concerned to promote a human rights approach to Indonesia's often repressive development programs. At Infid forums when the prevailing wisdom counselled compromise, it was often Gus Dur who would advocate the bolder course, particularly on human rights. East Timor was no exception. Gus Dur was the first prominent Indonesian to dialogue with Jose Ramos Horta, whom he met in Paris in the early 90s. In a bold move to improve people-to-people relations with Indonesia, Australian NGOs invited a delegation of their Indonesian counterparts to visit in 1987. Anxious about the reception they would get on issues like East Timor, the Indonesian NGOs asked Gus Dur to lead the delegation. As so often happened, he agreed but then had to pull out. But his endorsement was really all that was needed. The visit was a success. Suharto retarded Indonesia's development by repressing civil society. There are good reasons to hope that Indonesian civil society and Australia-Indonesia people to people relations will thrive during Gus Dur's term as president.

Alwi Shihab (Foreign Affairs)

Born in South Sulawesi into a well-to-do family of Arabic descent 53 years ago. He first met Gus Dur three decades ago when they studied Islam together in Cairo, and they have been close friends since. Gus Dur did not finish his degree, but Shihab did - a master's and a PhD, then another master's and PhD in the US, all in religious studies. Taught comparative religion at Temple University and Hartford Seminary in the US from 1993. Has written widely in the Indonesian media on the need for 'active' religious tolerance. After Suharto resigned, Gus Dur asked him to leave academia and support his bid for the presidency. Alwi Shihab spent the next 15 months as perhaps Gus Dur's main political operator. As one of several chairmen of PKB, he worked hard to bring together Megawati's PDI-P and Amien Rais' PAN into a loose reformist alliance. His older brother Quraish Shihab is close to the Suharto family and served as minister of religion in Suharto's last cabinet. Though comfortable in the West, the job of Foreign Minister will be a huge challenge for this gentle religious scholar.

Erna Witoelar (Housing and Regional Development)

One of only two female ministers (the other is Khofifah). Born in South Sulawesi in February 1947. Civil society activist with excellent international contacts. In 1991 she was elected chairperson of The International Organisation of Consumers Unions, the first woman from the developing world to hold this position. Chairperson of the Indonesian environmental umbrella Walhi in the mid-1990s. Indeed Walhi wanted her as environment minister. In 1998 she supported a half-hearted presidential campaign by former Environment Minister Emil Salim. Reportedly refused an invitation to sit on Habibie's cabinet in 1998. In 1999 she represented the general Indonesian movement of non-government organisations to the inter-governmental funding group for Indonesia CGI, to the World Bank, to the UN Development Programme, and as an appointed member to the Consultative Assembly MPR. She was also active in the poll monitoring activities of KIPP. Married to Rachmat Witoelar, former Golkar secretary-general (1988-93) and Indonesian ambassador to Russia, who remains politically active in the National Front (Barnas).

Rear Admiral Freddy Numberi (Administrative Reform)

Born 52 years ago in a village on Serui near Biak, West Papua/ Irian Jaya. Joined the navy in 1968 and became the first Papuan in the armed forces to reach senior officer rank. Is now the first Papuan to become a member of cabinet. In April 1998 he was appointed governor of Irian Jaya. Before that he commanded the naval base in Jayapura that covers Maluku and Irian Jaya. In his brief stint as governor he seemed more often swept along than in charge. No one applauded him when he assured demonstrators in mid-1998 that President Habibie had promised autonomy. On 26 February 1999 Numberi, who had often said how impossible independence was, found himself amid a 100-strong delegation to President Habibie that unanimously demanded independence. Threatened to resign in anger last October when the Interior Minister broke Irian Jaya into three provinces without consulting him. The breakup is widely condemned in Irian Jaya. In cabinet he has the opportunity to become de facto minister for West Papuan affairs as well. It may not be a job he relishes.

Hasballah M Saad (Human Rights)

Born into a poor rice-farming family in Pidie, Aceh, 51 years ago, he taught in an isolated primary school for 7 years before becoming a human rights activist for the next 15 years. He was imprisoned for 15 months in 1978 for criticising Suharto. In 1998 he was among the most outspoken Acehnese demanding the military be held accountable for years of killing and rape. In 1998 he joined Amien Rais' National Mandate Party (PAN) and was elected to parliament in the 1999 elections. He was also a member of the commission that implemented the new electoral system. The creation of his ministry suggests a new seriousness to tackle the cycle of violence of the Suharto era. Hasballah is a strong supporter of a federal structure for Indonesia. He will effectively be the minister for a democratic resolution in Aceh, but his interests extend throughout Indonesia.

Khofifah Indar Parawansa (Women's Affairs)

At 34 the youngest member of cabinet. She was an activist in the NU-related Indonesian Muslim Student Movement (PMII) while studying political science in Surabaya, graduating in 1990. Through the 1992 election she entered parliament (DPR) with the Islamic PPP party. In the March 1998 Consultative Assembly (MPR) session she read a PPP statement critical of President Suharto. When NU activists set up PKB in July 1998 to contest the 1999 election she moved across to that party with Gus Dur's encouragement. She became its main spokesperson on gender and other issues, in the face of religious conservatism even within her own party. At first she supported Megawati rather than Gus Dur for president, partly for feminist reasons, but she admires Gus Dur for his religious tolerance and acceptance of women in leadership roles. Married with three children.

Marzuki Darusman (Attorney General)

Born into a diplomat's family in Bogor, West Java, in 1945. Spent much of his early life overseas, learning fluent English. Graduated in law from a Bandung university. His determined work to build up the credibility of the National Human Rights Commission, which Suharto established in 1993, earned him a well-deserved reputation as a human rights advocate. However, he is just as much a Golkar politician, having sat in parliament since 1977. In the months before the June 1999 election he emerged as the only hope Golkar had of making itself acceptable to the public, but it was not enough. More hopes ride on this attorney general than ever before. He needs to clean up his deeply corrupt department, then prosecute key individuals of the Suharto era for corruption and for human rights abuse. Some fear that, his liberalism and human rights reputation notwithstanding, a lifetime career in Golkar might make it difficult for him to prosecute fellow Golkar members.

Ryaas Rasyid (Regional Autonomy)

Born in South Sulawesi in 1949. Will be the key administrator in this cabinet. His appointment reflects the urgency that the new government places on finding a non-violent resolution to dissatisfaction in regions such as Aceh, Riau, Kalimantan, Ambon and West Papua. Rasyid is a non-party-political bureaucrat highly educated in politics and public administration in the US (Northern Illinois 1988 and Hawaii 1994). With a team of academics he drafted the key legislation for the democratic elections of June 1999 in just a few months, beginning immediately after Suharto resigned. He led a government academy of public administration until appointed to a powerful post overseeing regional autonomy within the Home Ministry in July 1998. From here he also designed new legislation that will bring greater autonomy to regions outside Java, in an attempt to stop them seceding. He says the legislation 'is federalistic in all but name'.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

End of the Jakartan empire?

Wahid's presidency may herald the end of Indonesia as we know it.

Michael van Langenberg

The Jakarta Post on November 10 editorialised as follows:

The central government must do away with its obsession with national unity and start giving real autonomy to the regions. The government must not offer half-hearted measures if it wants to spare this nation from disintegrating. Barring complete separation, the ultimate form of autonomy is federalism.... Ultimately, the real threat to disintegration.... comes from Jakarta.

The New Order regime from its inception in 1966 constructed a state-system in which two factors predominated. First was an idealised nation conceived in the official motto of 'Unity in Diversity' (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika). Second were notions of an 'integralistic' state resting on 'family' principles, designed to protect an archipelaegic unity (wawasan nusantara). From its very beginning in 1945 there has been a crucial contradiction in the Indonesian state-system between ideal legal principles of regional autonomy, and the reality of an increasingly centralised national state.

The collapse of the Suharto presidency in 1998 may mark the end of a century-long process of bureaucratic centralism in state building. That process began with the consolidation of the imperial state of the Netherlands Indies at the turn of the 20th century. In its later stage, Suharto's presidency came to resemble the imperial governor-generalships, supplemented with resonances of pre-colonial divine kingship. Suharto's presidency ended amid a massive loss of popular legitimacy. National government itself was perceived widely as corrupt and nepotistic, responsible for abuses by the military, greedily appropriating regional resources, and culturally arrogant.

In the past decade, coherent independence movements emerged in several territories of the state. East Timor is now on the road to full independence. Aceh seems destined to achieve either independence or some kind of special 'federalist' relationship with Jakarta in the immediate future. Irian Jaya has just been divided into three provinces, creating increased local resentment against what is perceived as a further example of Jakartan imperialism. Increasingly coherent movements for regional 'autonomy' are now also active in the Moluccas (in two areas), Sulawesi (more than one!), Riau, West and East Kalimantan, West Sumatra, and Bali.


How will the new government headed by President Abdurrahman Wahid deal with these movements? Executive government is vastly weaker than a decade earlier. The legislature is now more powerful and more legitimate than at any time since the mid-1950s. It has successfully restricted presidential incumbency to two five-year terms, and made the president answerable to parliament once a year. The chairman of the Peoples' Consultative Assembly (MPR), Amien Rais, is a prominent advocate of a federalist state. Popular legitimacy of the internal security functions and political role of the military is now lower than at any time in the history of independent Indonesia. The ruling oligarchy of the New Order no longer dominates the economy to the extent it did prior to the economic crisis of 1997-98. Conditions are ripe for a significant dispersal of power within the Jakartan empire.

Supporters of Wahid and vice-president Megawati Sukarnoputri present their political partnership as an integrating leadership 'duality' (dwitunggal), echoing that of Indonesia's two independence 'proklamator's Sukarno and Hatta. Like them, Wahid and Megawati reflect a partnership of Islamic identity and secularist orientation. Similar echoes of the earlier dwitunggal are heard in Wahid's stated preference for a federalist Indonesia, while Megawati has emphasised commitment to her father's vision of a centralised unitary state. However, unlike the symbolic regional duality of Java/Bali and Sumatra/'outer islands' of the Sukarno-Hatta dwitunggal, Wahid and Megawati constitute an emphatically Javanese variant of national political culture.

The new cabinet has been designated the Cabinet of National Unity. In reality it is a cabinet of compromise and coalition building. It brings together conflicting political forces - rural Javanese Islam, modernising reformist Islam, secularist nationalism, federalists, unitarists, military professionals, internationalists, protectionists, liberal democrats. It reflects the broad coalition that Wahid built within the MPR in October to gain the presidency. In a sense this was less a coalition to ensure that Wahid became president than to ensure that Megawati did not. Once the Wahid-Megawati dwitunggal was in place, the cabinet had to accommodate the wide range of interests behind it. These negotiations saw the cabinet increase from Wahid's initially intended 25 to an eventual 35 portfolios. Policy coherence might prove impossible. Executive government instability is a distinct likelihood.

Alongside 'reformasi', 'referendum' has entered the dominant national discourse. The former emphasises a new era of 'moral' politics, with national leaders seeking popular legitimacy as a matter of priority. The latter discourse, on display most vocally in East Timor and Aceh, has placed the debate about federalism and secessionism at centre stage. The 'Jakartan empire' is facing far-reaching structural change.

Michael van Langenberg (mvl@asia.usyd.edu.au) is a private consultant and researcher on contemporary Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and fractional employee in the School of Asian Studies, University of Sydney.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

After fear, before justice

Indonesia and Australia over the long haul, as if ethics mattered.

Richard Tanter

It's a bad time to talk about relations between Indonesia and Australia as if ethics were important. Over the bodies of East Timorese, Australian and Indonesian political leaders matched each other, measure for repulsive measure, each marked by racialised nationalism, self-interest and brazen hypocrisy.

Even as United Nations teams began their investigations of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor, the country's soon-to-be fourth president Abdurrahman Wahid declared that Australian pressure on Indonesia to fulfil its international obligations in East Timor amounted to 'pissing in our face'. This was no isolated remark by a politician with an eye to a domestic audience. With an astonishingly small number of honourable exceptions such as Onghokham and brave little groups like Kiper and Solidamor, Indonesian intellectuals were paralysed by the nationalism that saturates political thinking in that country. Nationalism in denial prevented them from seeing the truth of the quarter century-long Indonesian colonial project in East Timor.

Yet the Australian government was no less hypocritical than the Indonesian if anything, more egregiously so. John Howard, a man who proudly displays his 1950s white Australian fantasies, accepted a journalist's summary of his position on East Timor as one where Australia was the 'deputy sheriff' of the United States. More importantly, he used the catastrophic end of Indonesian colonialism in East Timor to recycle populist Anglo-Australian images of Australia as an outpost of civilisation perennially faced with always potentially barbaric peoples to our north. The constantly reiterated phrases of 'Australian values' and 'European civilisation' were carefully spoken, but in the codes of Australian politics after Pauline Hanson, the message was clear.

The Indonesian reaction was understandable. After all, the two governments had been partners in crime for more than two decades.

Moreover, Australian politicians and media commentators seem to have a talent for hypocrisy. The same people who less than a few months earlier were still denouncing any possibility of Timorese self-determination or substantial Australian pressure on the Suharto dictatorship, overnight discovered the cause of freedom and democracy.

So it may well be a bad time to talk about exploring a completely different kind of long-term relation between these two peoples. Yet that makes it all the more important to do exactly that. I want to imagine a relationship between these two societies in the lifetime of my now young children a relationship built on the assumption that ethics and justice mattered. We think ethically about all the rest of our lives. Why should international relations alone be severed from the mutual expectations of fairness and right that even children possess? The core ethical assumption must surely be that what applies to me applies to the other person. What do East Timor and Kosovo show us if not the fact that moral communities do not stop at borders?

'Indonesia' and 'Australia' are today part of the same global social and economic system. The hurricane of the Southeast Asian currency crisis arose from the same forces of globalising capital that induced the Hawke, Keating, and Howard governments to transform the industrial structure of Australia in the 1980s and 1990s in the name of 'deregulation'.

Indeed the two countries were formed by the same social forces that are still transforming the world today. A hundred years ago the now neighbouring states of Indonesia and Australia did not exist. Extraordinary violence, as well as periods of great hope and sacrifice, accompanied their formation into two nation states. A century ago the armies and capital of the Netherlands and Britain were still conquering the Malay archipelago. Ten years before Australian federation in 1901, Dutch imperial forces were in the last stages of invading Aceh. Until the coming of a new wave of imperialists in January 1942, Dutch imperialism broke the frame of indigenous Indonesian society and reworked it, at grotesque human cost, to Dutch advantage.

The new post-war Indonesian state followed exactly the outlines of the state the Dutch had carved out in blood. It was marked at its birth and for the next fifty years by the Cold War, and never quite recovered. Always it was a partial state and a dependent economy. Thirty years of Suharto's militarisation was built on oil, American and Japanese economic aid, and American strategic hegemony.

For the indigenous peoples of Australia meanwhile, the British invasion which began in 1788, and which was still in process of unfolding in the north and centre within living memory, brought almost every form of desolation imaginable. The invading settlers from two small islands in the North Sea built a new colonial society founded on extraordinary state violence towards the lower orders, and on a callous solidarity of a caste of all 'white men' over all others, indigenous and foreign.

By slim good fortune, the new Australian settler capitalism was characterised by a continuously expanding imperial need for agricultural commodities, and by a perennial labour shortage throughout the nineteenth century. As a result the scales of class conflict were weighted sufficiently to the left to generate at least an appearance of social democracy, at least for those whose skin was pale enough.

These shared imperial origins extend into the twentieth century. Australian soldiers died in Southeast Asia in their thousands to defend European empires against a newer imperialism, thinking they were defending themselves. The next generation fought in Korea and Vietnam for a cause no less imperial.


Today we stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century. If we look forward in time for comparable periods, what can we see for these entities we call 'Indonesia' and 'Australia'?

In 1933 the German literary critic Walter Benjamin wrote a terse set of Theses on the philosophy of history. In one, Benjamin meditated on a Paul Klee painting he owned and kept with him in his harried exile from Nazi Germany.

'A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees a single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the debris before him grows skywards. This storm is what we call progress.'

This storm shaped our countries, and has not abated; there are more dead, and yet more to make whole. After the linked catastrophic pasts of Australia and Indonesia and East Timor, there is a possibility of a shared future, if we can find it and face it.

Let me start with an extreme proposition. Unless there is some radical change in political dynamics, there will be war between Indonesia and Australia in the lifetime of my young children. This is not a matter of extrapolation of domestic trends visible at the moment, but of normal politics between neighbours with deep differences in a highly militarised world system in which war is normal over the long term.

Unless something surprisingly new happens, the two societies will continue to misrecognise each other. Each will still see the other through unacknowledged racist stereotypes. Australia will still suffer from a deeply deforming misperception of Islam that has deep roots in unexamined but ancient European ideas.

John Marsden is undoubtedly Australia's most popular fiction writer of recent years. A remarkable talent, Marsden has just published the last in a seven-book series of novels for young people known as the Tomorrow series, beginning with Tomorrow, when the war began. This is the story of a group of teenagers in a rural area of south-eastern Australia who return from a remote bush camping trip to find their country successfully invaded, and all adults, including their parents, brutally imprisoned.

A writer of subtly delineated character and strong narrative, Marsden's series is the story of the group's fight to survive, resist, and help turn back the invasion. For our purposes what is important is the setting of invasion, the sense of violation of a relationship with land and space, that Marsden handles equally well, but with a curious and probably deliberate lack of precision.

The invaders are unnamed. Their language is not English. Many of their soldiers have darker skins than most of the Australians, though they are in fact a varied lot. Their army is brutal. Though the invader is not named, the friends of Australia are firstly New Zealand and Papua New Guinea; somewhat more hesitantly, the United States. Who then is the unnamed enemy? It is unlikely that many in his huge audience would have considered too many alternatives to Suharto's Indonesia.

For all Marsden's considerable achievement and his attempt to avoid the worst aspects of the genre, the Tomorrow series is the latest and most successful example of the long-running Australian genre of invasion novels, of which there have been hundreds over the past century or longer. To be a little unfair to Marsden, who is so much better than this suggests, the basic confrontation remains pacific white Australia versus the invading brutal non-whites from the north.

Marsden is at pains to acknowledge and hence neutralise the worst of this. His wonderful protagonist Ellie is well aware that she is the beneficiary of an earlier invasion, and wonders about the ghosts of the losers as she moves through the bush she knows and loves. Most importantly, she thinks about one of the basic moral issues: by what right do we monopolise this continent?

If I sit in the bush, and try to catch an imaginative glimpse of what it may have been like for people of another culture to have lived there, I cannot fail to wonder what it will be like for yet another culture to make the same attempt. For we must surely accept that there will be another shift at some point. For me, the important question is whether the next great historical transformation visited on the Australian landscape will be as violent and bloody, as ecologically ruthless, as the last.

Quite likely, the Southeast Asians will indeed come. But perhaps, too, that coming will be, not the stuff of a 'yellow peril' nightmare, but in some sense a return to the pre-imperial Southeast Asia in which borders mattered less.

Asian Community?

Imagine, just for a moment, that ethics did matter, and that there was a decision to treat the peoples within the two societies we now call 'Indonesia' and 'Australia' as members of a single system, with shared moral responsibilities. Almost immediately infantile fantasies arise: in the 'Australian' case, the fear of loss, the fear of being swamped. Not racist in themselves, but the constitutive racism of Australia certainly gives such elemental fantasies added power. I cannot really imagine the 'Indonesian' side of the well of fantasy, but it would be deep.

Now let those night fears return to sleep, and try to imagine a path we might tread towards this single system involving an 'Indonesia' and an 'Australia'. A path in which ethics mattered.

Let me put another extreme proposition. Within 50 years let us say 100 years to be conservative - the states we now call 'Indonesia' and 'Australia' will not exist, and the shape and location of the underlying societies will be quite different.

The end of the Cold War apart, the most startling change in international relations in the past 50 years has been the establishment of the European Community. Beginning from the construction of a 'common market', the European Community is now halfway to living up to its name. There are EC-wide legislative, executive and judicial institutions, each of which has a complex but precisely defined constitutional relationship to national counterparts. National sovereignty has not disappeared, but it is greatly circumscribed.

Is it absurd, starting from our two instances of 'Australia' and 'Indonesia', to think about an Asian Community, or a Southeast Asian Community? Already both countries are part of the stuttering Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Forum, which is attempting under US leadership to eliminate barriers to trade within a much larger region in the name of economic deregulation. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir, understandably concerned about the ideology of blanket deregulation and excessive US influence on Apec, has proposed a Japan-centred East Asian Economic Caucus, though Japan's public disinterest has stalled further discussions.

These trade-centred models of 'community' present only one limited aspect of the possibilities. Why not begin with some simple re-thinking about borders between 'Indonesia' and 'Australia'? The oldest tradition of foreign trade in Australia long antedates western colonialism. For at least 300 years before 1907, Makassan fishing praus brought Indonesian fishermen to the northern coastline of Australia searching for trepang. Aboriginal people, in places hostile, in places friendly to the visitors, received new technologies, new diseases and vocabulary for their languages. Some accompanied their visitors back home. At the end of the nineteenth century, the South Australian government imposed a tax on 'foreign' trepang harvesting, killing the Makassan trade in a decade. Yet while the colonial legal borders were inviolate, the memories of the trade remain in both Sulawesi and Arnhem Land even today.

Building on the Mabo case which led to recognition of prior ownership of the Australian continent by its indigenous inhabitants, Campbell Watson has proposed that Australia recognise the traditional fishing rights of Indonesian fishermen from the island of Roti. For more than 400 years these people have fished for shark, trepang, trochus, sponges and molluscs in the shallow waters around Ashmore Reef off north-western Australia. The Mabo decision of Australia's High Court in 1992 rendered notions of land title and land usage less singular and absolutist. In the same way of thinking, our borders would become just slightly more permeable. As we know from exemplary models such as the joint management of Uluru-Katatjuta National Park in Central Australia, our ability to understand and protect the environment is strengthened rather than weakened by fusing indigenous and industrial approaches to land management.

How should such issues be settled? The present approach is that 'the line is the line'. International law puts the 200-mile exclusive economic zone at a certain point on the seabed. But the truth of the matter is that the rulings of international law represent frozen power, the embodiment of past victories and defeats. It represents a moral advance on violence, but its moral limits lie in its inability to question its origins. Even here in our outermost sea-boundaries, the core questions confront us.

And what of two other fundamental questions: immigration and labour? Let us never forget that the first act passed by the first Australian parliament was an immigration control act to secure 'Australia for the white man'. Much has changed since then, but immigration control is a universal preoccupation of Australian politics. Anglo-conservatives worry about the changing character of 'our part of the country', to use Geoffrey Blainey's telling phrase. Serious environmentalists rightly fret about the impact of even the present dispersed population level on a largely arid environment. Moreover, the achievements of Australian labour were built on the exclusion of non-white labour.

Yet the mobility of capital in this age of globalisation mocks and exploits the caste solidarities of national labour. Nothing is easier than to close a factory in Wangaratta and move it Tangerang. If we were to take ethics seriously in this single system, we would be looking for ways to equalise labour conditions in the two places. That is in fact already happening, but on the worst possible terms for both sides. What is needed is some framework that will begin to allow a flow of labour between the two parts of this single, imaginary system of 'Indonesia' and 'Australia'. At the same time there should develop a 'levelling-up' (instead of the current 'levelling-down') of the political and environmental playing field in which labour is bought and sold.

Democracy is a remarkably universal value. Indeed all the contemporary arguments for the reform of both Indonesian and Australian politics use the idiom of 'democracy'. Yet our existing democratic institutions are derived from eighteenth century European political thinking about regulating power within nation-states. The global capitalist economy flows over and through this system of nation-states. Today the globalisation of international finance and the dominant ideology of government deregulation has rendered national governments, democratic or otherwise, almost powerless.

Democracy, in Australia as much as Indonesia, needs rethinking on the basis of shared trans-national interests to regulate highly mobile capital. What is needed is a new stage of democratic innovation that operates above and beyond borders, that identifies areas of shared responsibilities and risks, and where moral notions of 'citizenship' and 'obligation' rise above the seas that divide the two geographies. An Asian version of the European Community would involve a great deal more than Apec's deregulation of trade barriers. After centuries of nationalist war, Europe has invented a new category of citizenship the European, that co-exists in carefully defined ways with national citizenship. Is a new category of shared 'Indonesian-Australian' citizenship inconceivable?

It's a bad time for these thoughts after thirty years of Suharto plus Timor. But for those long years Indonesia was not the expression of the shared aspirations of Indonesians. On the contrary, Australia, together with the United States and Japan, made possible the violation of Indonesia. In time, there is a good chance of decent government in Indonesia. And there is always the historical chance of regression in Australia.

But what if ethics were to matter? We might then expect that the needs of 210 million or more 'Indonesians' have some claim in addition to those of 20 million 'Australians'. A new framework of decision-making, a new concept of trans-national democracy, a recognition that ecology, economics and morality mock borders. This is the new agenda that might show the way to unfreezing the arbitrary results of colonial history, and bring a measure of justice.

Richard Tanter (rtanter@hotmail.com) recently co-edited a special issue of the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars on 'East Timor and the Indonesian crisis' (http://csf.colorado.edu/bcas/bcashome.html).

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000
Page 2 of 2

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The Australian Communist Party’s response to the anti-leftist violence in Indonesia

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Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar