Oct 18, 2021 Last Updated 1:13 AM, Oct 14, 2021

In this issue

A post-Indonesian generation?

Gerry van Kilinken - Editor

The late novelist YB Mangunwijaya coined the phrase 'post-Indonesian generation'. A young generation was freeing itself from the demands of greying New Order soldiers that they should 'uphold the ideals of the 1945 Revolution', he wrote. No longer in the grip of tradition, they looked to the world at large. I suspect quite a few of the young artists and activists who appear in this edition of Inside Indonesia belong to the post-Indonesian generation.

Like the democracy activists of Eastern Europe once the Berlin Wall had fallen, some of them are unsure where to go next. Theatre, according to Lauren Bain, faces a post-authoritarian identity crisis. The daring new nudity in painting, according to M Dwi Marianto, wants to reject all of today's cynicism as much as shed its restrictive New Order clothes.

Others fight with renewed energy, and there is surely much to fight for. Land reform and the war in Aceh are just two issues canvassed in this edition. These activists too sit loose of the past. If Indonesia is to remain viable, Chusnul Mar'iyah tells Peter King, it must be there for all Indonesians. Dialogue and peace must be over-riding commitments. Suraiya Kamaruzzaman turns a similar sentiment into almost an alternative feminist agenda.

All of this could be new to many Australians, who increasingly think of Indonesia as a place of exotic violence rather than as a neighbour.

This edition introduces a new feature that incorporates the Indonesian language insert. 'Learning about Indonesia' is a new supplement that intends to support a new and young audience interested in learning more about Indonesia. It consists of two parts. 'What do you know about...?' is in English. 'Bahasa' is in Indonesian. The focus of this supplement is also the arts.

A theme edition on the arts breaks some exciting new ground for us. As always, many people helped make it a reality. To all - especially to unnamed friends like the fabulous kids who do the mail-out - we owe sincere thanks.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000

One Crater

Sulphur miners risk their lives on an active volcano. How do they do it?

Ciaran Harman

Agus Alam turned from watching me struggle up towards him, and looked down the mountainside beside the steep path to the squares of rice fields far below. Beyond him, the stubby grey-treed slope, folding and unfolding like a fan, was cut with a path like a fault-line. The first miners were beginning the first descent of the day down it from the smoky crater high above. Slung across their backs were woven baskets filled to the brim with brilliant yellow ore. Sulphur.

In Kawah Ijen (One Crater), far eastern East Java, sulphur ore is mined by hand from an active volcanic crater. On a break from my studies in Yogyakarta in April, I took the night bus heading out that way with vague intentions of photojournalism and trying to understand what a life of hard physical labour would be like. I came back knowing only that I would probably never be able to understand the lives the people I saw, and that to write about them here as though I did would be a flat-out lie.

Java's buckled spine of volcanoes, from Krakatau off the west coast to Gunung Merapi and Kawah Ijen in the far east, form part of the 'ring of fire' that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. Earlier, as my motorcycle taxi buzzed towards the volcano and up its slopes, I had seen the nearby peaks by the vast triangles of stars they blotted out in the pre-dawn sky. Now the sun was feeling its way across the slopes, slowly unfolding them to me, yet leaving so much hidden.

I had caught up with Agus as I began up the path that led from the end of the road and the weigh station where the transport truck was parked. It was 3km up to the crater rim. Short and simple hair, a dirty tee shirt, shorts and thongs; he was in his twenties, about my age or younger, and walked slowly, unwillingly. It was his first day as a sulphur miner.

Agus Alam quietly answered my questions as we ascended. He said he had come to work as a miner for the same reasons his father had many years before. They were poor and owned no land. Agus told me how every day his father left their home well before dawn to walk almost 20km from their village to the crater. Sometimes he stayed away for a couple of weeks and lived on the mountain in a shack shared with other miners. Agus would only ever see his father in daylight on the days he was too sick or tired to work.


His father, I imagined, suffered from many of the ailments I was told are common to those who work in the sulphur clouds. Bad eyes, sore lungs, teeth corroded from the acid fumes. Agus must have known that he too would develop the calluses on his shoulders where up to 100kg of sulphur was balanced for three descents from the crater every day. He said he hoped not to work there long. You could earn a fair bit of money, especially if you were strong. The miners were paid for the weight they carried: about Rp200 (less than 5 cents) a kilo. He would save enough, perhaps, to buy a motorbike and cart around the throngs of tourists that come to see the crater and snap pictures of themselves and a miner in the dry season. But Agus carried his fear as a burden up the mountain, just as later he would carry those yellow rocks down, the load measured with every step.

We came to a station on the path where the sulphur is weighed and the miners' shacks stand that Agus had told me about. In one shack, before my eyes became used to the gloom, it seemed as though stars surrounded me. I remembered for a moment the stars that had been blotted out from the night sky by the mountains. These pinpoints of light, however, turned out to be a thousand holes in the walls and roof. I wondered what the miners did when it rained. They would never be able to avoid a drip from the ceiling or a draught from the walls. The black soot coating everything and the pile of wood in the corner bore testament to the way they staved off the cold and clogged their lungs with smoke at the same time.

Up the path the vegetation began to thin out. There was less lush green. The trees were getting greyer and the undergrowth withered to a scrubby, stunted tangle. And then, as I turned a corner in the path, just by where an old miner had stopped to adjust his load of brilliant yellow rocks, I was there. It was as though the peak of the mountain had been struck and shattered. The grey, gaping wound was filled with a grey, steaming lake. The crater rim, jagged like torn paper, encircled it. I could smell the sulphur; I could see it too. Yellow steam roared out of vents in the rock below me. It twisted upward and was carried east by the morning breeze. To the west, up an invisible path through the exploded landscape, the miners ascended, visible only by the way their burdens flared against the dead landscape. It was like Jacob's Ladder in reverse. But these were men, not angels or devils.

Gas would drift over me and I would be reduced to a hacking, coughing mess between the grey rocks.

My descent into this pit was graceless. The miners, balancing the baskets of ore on their shoulders, knew where to place their sandaled feet. They heaved their way up the occasionally vertical route to the rim. I clambered over boulders and slid across sections of gravelly stones, thankful I had my steel-capped work-boots on. The path seemed to go on forever. The rim thrust up above me like a wall. I crossed a stream of hot water where a miner washed the yellow from his hands and then I was at the mine face.

The sulphur vents were far above me. Spilling down from them was a wall of congealed sulphur ore, that brilliant, noxious yellow. Pipes had been built to capture some of the gas and carry it down the slope and let it sweep back up, aiding the process of congealment. The miners would climb up by the pipes and break off the ore, their eyes and lungs stinging from the fumes. By the time I got there though, most of the miners had gone. Just a few old men were left, making artificial sulphur stalactites for tourists by getting the sulphur to congeal on twigs and leaves. I would have to go soon, they said. The wind was about to change and blow the gas westward, over the path to the rim. I watched the rushing steam and the dead lake for a while and then climbed back up the crater wall. Occasionally the gas would drift over me and I would be reduced to a hacking, coughing mess between the grey rocks.

I can never place my feet in their sandals and walk that ruptured path to the rim. I can't tell you what it is like to wonder if one more rock will feed your family or break your back. All I can do is tell you of the shadows of desperate men I saw up there. Some old, trapped in a job that will destroy their health and perhaps ultimately kill them, but that provides for their families, as long as they keep carrying ore. Some young, with their eyes constantly turned down the slopes, working at the mine only so that, one day, they will not have to any more.

Ciaran Harman (ciaran69@hotmail.com) is a student at the University of Western Australia in Perth. He was participating in the Acicis Study Indonesia Program in Yogyakarta.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000

Land for the landless

Why are the democrats in Jakarta not interested in land reform?

Dianto Bachriadi

In May President Gus Dur told farmers he would have 40% of state-owned plantation land redistributed to landless peasants. He said this because farmers had begun unilaterally to occupy plantation land they believed belonged to them. Some of these actions had resulted in arrests, injury and even death. The landless farmers reacted with great enthusiasm, but there has been no follow-up.

Their claim on the plantation land had a historical basis, but the New Order government acted inconsistently with Sukarno's Old Order, resulting in thousands of farmers being pushed off land they had worked for many years. The recent economic crisis increased the desire for land among people who used to look to the cities for work. A scarcity of land made them take the step of occupying other land. Under the influence of reformasi, and with the security apparatus showing more restraint, about 60,000 hectares of plantation land have been taken over and farmed in these massive farmers' actions, leaving about 120 plantation companies feeling aggrieved.

These figures came as no surprise to the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), a non-government organisation that has been following land conflicts for a long time. Their records show that throughout Indonesia land disputes, particularly on plantation lands, are more numerous than any other type of legal conflict.


How many farmers need land, and is there enough to go around? The last census in 1993 showed that 5,989,534 peasant households in Indonesia, or 28% of the total, owned between zero and 0.1 hectares of land. The economic crisis will have increased that figure as unemployed people return to the land from the city. Many of them had migrated to the city in the first place because there was no more land.

A similar number, 6,315,091 households or 29% of the total, had between 0.1 and 0.49 hectares. If we consider half a hectare as adequate for small agricultural production we can see that 57% of rural households in Indonesia do not have enough land. This is a minimal figure, because it does not count all those who have been permanently removed from the land but who still want to return there.

But how much land is available? Ironically, the government does not make available comprehensive data on the amount of land available for land reform. The figures it does release are clearly too low when compared with more credible sources. One such source, Maria Soemardjono, estimates that the cumulative total is 1,397,167 hectares, of which 787,931 hectares or 56.4% had already been redistributed by 1998. It's not quite clear what kind of land is being referred to here.

The 1960 Agrarian Law provides for four kinds of land to be redistributed: (1) land that exceeds a certain maximum area, (2) land held by absentee landlords, (3) land (formerly) owned by traditional ruling families or courts (swapraja), and (4) state-controlled land. All land subject to reform is in practice first declared to be state land before being redistributed.

The National Land Agency (BPN) said in 1998 that about 84% of all the land for which it had issued a location permit for commercial purpose (izin lokasi) was in fact not being used productively. One reason was land speculation. This amounts to 2,543,944 hectares. Unproductive plantation land, meanwhile, amounted to 2,431,75 hectares. New rules say that land left unused (lahan tidur) or not being used for the purpose of the lease returns to the state to be given to those who will use it. The point is that a certain amount of land is available under the existing law on land reform.

Another rarely mentioned matter is the absentee landlord. The state agency BPN never releases figures in this area. No one knows whether they don't have them or don't want to publish them. Maybe they are afraid of offending the officials (including BPN officers), big businessmen, generals and so on, who control this land without living on it. But whenever we visit the country everyone can point out the land owned by absentee landlords. The BPN office in Bekasi (east of Jakarta) once said 20% of land is absentee land. Research by William Collier and his colleagues says 13.8% of agricultural land in Java falls into this category. If on average each village in Java has 150-250 hectares, redistributing just this absentee land alone would give between eight and fourteen families in every village enough land to live on.

Of course absentee landlordship is a difficult problem to solve without very strong political pressure. Even during the most intensive phase of land reform in the 1960s, only 39% of absentee land could be successfully redistributed. If land reform had been slow under that government, it stopped altogether after the New Order regime took over. The massacres and horizontal conflict of 1965-66 were held up as a reason for viewing land reform, which is blessed by the constitution, as 'unrealistic'. Even though the New Order regime kept talking about land reform and even publishing statistics, this was merely political rhetoric without substance. The populist land reform program effectively died in 1969.

When the first Five Year Plan (Repelita I) was unveiled in 1969, land reform no longer appeared on the 'agricultural development' agenda. Instead the effort was directed at agricultural intensification based on the green revolution. The term land reform did reappear in subsequent plans, but it was connected with transmigration and the resettlement of nomadic tribes people. The special land reform court was abolished in 1970, showing that the program to create a more balanced system of agricultural land control had been systematically abandoned.


Another aspect of Indonesian land reform is that the law is limited to land owned by individuals. It makes an exception to the maximum area rule in the case of land leased by a company. This has allowed companies to control huge tracts of land. Another exception is that land controlled by village chiefs (tanah bengkok or tanah jabatan) is not subject to land reform, with the result that some chiefs control up to 10% of the entire village land.

If the New Order neglected land reform, so did the transitional Habibie government and today's Gus Dur government. In particular they have often allocated land controlled by the state (such as ex-forestry or ex-plantation land), not to landless farmers as the land reform law requires, but back to the big companies who will invest in agribusiness. The two governments that followed Sukarno's Old Order government continued the manipulation of plantation land originally leased by the Dutch that was nationalised in 1957. Leases were given to state-owned plantation companies.

In reality, local farmers had worked a lot of this land since the Japanese occupation and since the revolutionary independence struggle of 1945. That reality was validated in Emergency Law no.1/1958. In some, but unfortunately not all, places this occupied land was formally handed over as part of the national land reform program in the 1960s. It all depended a lot on local political dynamics. As a result a great deal of this land, which had been worked by farmers continuously since that time, was only protected by a few formal acknowledgements. The New Order routinely regarded these acknowledgements as legally invalid. New research I did with Anton Lucas has shown how easy it has been to seize this redistributed land in manipulative ways from the farmers working it.

Things became even more complicated when those state-owned plantation companies (PN Perkebunan or PT Perkebunan) then passed control to large private concerns to be used for a plantation, tourism, or luxury housing. The New Order usually just issued a new lease (Hak Guna Usaha) without considering the fact that the land was in fact being worked productively albeit without formal certification.

The land reform law unfortunately only has jurisdiction over land owned by private individuals, and not that controlled by companies or cooperatives that might be active in plantations, forestry, shrimp farms, or other agro-industry. Only in 1999 did two new government regulations come out in response to reformist pressure to limit mainly the expansion of oil palm and forestry concessions (Hak Pengusaha Hutan) over land. We still need to see how effective these regulations will be.

The uncontrolled seizure of land by big business interests has given rise to serious conflicts with ordinary people all over Indonesia whose productive farming land has been taken over. Much of this land in fact lies fallow as it turns out the company is unable to put it to immediate use.

There are so many farmers who badly need land. Will the Gus Dur government - or anyone else interested in taking his place - listen to them by reviving the land reform program? The executive branch of government is increasingly being controlled by parliament. Yet until now parliament has never asked the government why it is not implementing its constitutional duty of land reform. All the parliamentarians seem to be concerned about is how to increase their party's share of power. KPA has put up a resolution on agrarian reform to the country's supreme parliament the MPR. Plantation interests opposed discussion of this resolution, and two years later it has evoked virtually no comment from those who call themselves the peoples' representatives. They invariably say that land reform is 'not realistic' for Indonesia.

Dianto Bachriadi can be contacted through the Konsorsium Pembaharuan Agraria, KPA (kpa@kpa.or.id) in Bandung, or through penk@bdg.centrin.net.id.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000

Blood on the map

A conference on recent violence in Indonesia

Jemma Purdey

Suharto is gone and the structures that maintained his power are weakened, yet the violence remains. Violent conflict in Indonesia has become more frequent and more varied. It is no longer sufficient to explain it in terms of state terrorism orchestrated by 'third party agents' alone.

From July 3-7, a panel on 'Violent conflict in Asia: Comparative perspectives' was part of the biennial Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference. It was followed by a two-day workshop on 'Violent conflict in Indonesia: Analysis, representation, resolution'. Both were held at the University of Melbourne. Australian and overseas researchers and academics joined a number of Indonesian activists, academics, a lawyer, journalist, and a publisher.

In post New Order Indonesia there is increasing recognition of the plurality of truths about violent conflict. State truths, 'media reality' and the 'factual' and 'moral' truths told by human rights organisations are all in tension. The challenge for researchers is to navigate around the various representations of violence to understand what happened. During the New Order, researchers most often found explanations within the authoritarian system. Today the links between the actors involved in the conflicts in Ambon, West Kalimantan and even Aceh with the state elite in Jakarta cannot be made so easily. Tim Lindsey urged us to turn our focus to new structures that have emerged in the absence of state controls. These have evoked what he terms the 'preman state', driven by corruption and violence. Elsewhere we see local communities bypassing the state system altogether and enacting their own forms of justice and order, also violently. Nick Herriman described lynchings in South Malang, East Java, where weakened local authorities have no power to halt these acts of 'community justice'.

The complexity of unraveling the 'truth' about violent conflict was made very clear by Suraiya from Flower Aceh. In a moving account, she spoke of the terror gripping the people of Aceh every day as they struggle to make sense of a conflict in which they have become pawns (see elsewhere in this issue). The truth about the violence has been monopolised by both the Indonesian military TNI and the armed Free Aceh Movement GAM, leaving no space for the victims to tell their story. Beth Drexler noted in her paper that by negotiating a ceasefire agreement with GAM in May this year, the government and military have accorded this group an international credibility and authentication, albeit false, as representatives of the people of Aceh.

Hilmar Farid of the Volunteer Team for Humanity (TRuK) demanded that the experiences of the victims be given a central place in the search for understanding and resolving violence, because the 'events of violence are not just in particular points of time, they have a great influence on the social structure of the community.' In his paper on the torture of ex 'communist' political prisoners, Budiawan Purwadi demonstrated how the trauma endures for many victims.

Discussion about resolution and justice issues after the violence reflected the difficulties this process will encounter in Indonesia. New Order ways of thinking persist. The South African 'Truth and Reconciliation' model being offered by the government and its elite advisers aims to seek out the 'truth about the past' - to finally be able to tell the whole story and thereby bestow justice. Retribution and revenge would be unachievable and futile. However, many outside those elite circles, the victims of the New Order, fear that once again their voices will not be heard. Mary Zurbuchen of the Ford Foundation contrasted this elite push for 'reconciliation' with work being done by human rights organisations and victim groups to research the violence. The latter emphasise the 'truth' aspect, and not necessarily 'reconciliation'.

The violence in Maluku constitutes perhaps the greatest challenge so far to the ideal and reality of Indonesian nationalism. As government officials continue to declare, this is an internal conflict in which there can be no clear division between those representing 'good' and those representing 'evil', as there was in East Timor and now in Aceh. Richard Chauvel depicted the conflict in Ambon as localised and specific to this place. He argued for local sources of resolution, a method which Gus Dur, for a time, also appeared to support. However, it is increasingly clear that such a process will not work. The conflict in Ambon and the surrounding islands baffles even analysts, politicians and historians with intimate knowledge of the place. It is clear that a new discourse on violence is necessary to understand this next chapter in the country's history.

Jemma Purdey (jepurdey@hotmail.com) and Charles Coppel (c.coppel@history.unimelb.edu.au), both from the University of Melbourne, organised the conference panel and workshop with the help of an advisory committee. For the program and abstracts see www.history.unimelb.edu.au/indonesia. Jemma Purdey is a PhD candidate researching anti-Chinese violence in Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000

A different freedom

Islamic rebellion in Aceh and Mindanao is not so irrational

Jacqueline Aquino Siapno

'Mountain goats eat the corn; village goats get hit with stones.' This Acehnese saying poignantly captures the ongoing violence there. Unable to capture Free Aceh guerrillas, the Indonesian military go after Acehnese villagers. My own work in the Southern Philippines and in Aceh tries to help dispel the negative propaganda against the Acehnese and against Bangsamoro in Mindanao as 'fundamentalists' and irrational troublemakers. It is astounding to see how easily the government, media, and 'experts' can influence the public into forming opinions about these movements without a need for critical reflection and careful investigation. This fosters a pernicious cycle of violence and ignorance.

News coverage of the rebellions in Aceh and Mindanao against the Indonesian and Philippine states respectively has much to say about the 'terrorism' conducted by Free Aceh (GAM) and by Abu Sayyaf. The latter, leader of a splinter group of the factionalised Bangsamoro rebellion, was responsible for kidnapping tourists from a Malaysian resort in April. Yet hardly anything is said, at least not in the Australian media, about what the Indonesian and Philippine governments are doing to the unarmed civilian populations there, or about the political-economic dimensions of the conflicts, or about why independence movements emerged in the first place.

Mention is rarely made of a history of more than twenty five years of armed rebellion in Mindanao, producing at least one million internal refugees, including more than 100,000 Filipino Muslims who have fled to Malaysia, and about 120,000 dead. Propaganda against the Free Aceh Movement and against Muslim 'rebels' in Mindanao as 'security disturbing gangs' (GPK), as extortionists, kidnappers, and extremists is pervasive in the media, and uncritically reproduced even by progressive intellectuals. Institutionalised, systematic state violence in Aceh and the Philippines, meanwhile, is hardly ever called 'criminal'. Only recently are observers belatedly beginning to acknowledge that members of the government and the military have behaved like no less than war criminals in these two places.

Making a state

My own interpretation places the armed rebellions in Aceh and in Mindanao within a larger context. The construction of modern nation-states and citizen-subjects in these areas is itself a new and violent historical project. This project tends to paint populist movements that are anti-occupation culture, anti-colonial, anti-secular, and anti-capitalist as a sort of 'quintessence of evil'. It dismisses acts of resistance as 'fundamentalist', 'fanatical' responses to depressed rural conditions, conditions that need to be dealt with by education and the mediation of a secular, representative government.

The state-building project justifies state terror through a judicial system that makes it impossible for its victims to seek redress or even challenge its language. It portrays whole communities who threaten to break up the nation-state and put it to shame as terrorists, kidnappers, and 'subversives'. The Philippine government and the Indonesian government have failed in Mindanao and in Aceh. They have failed because they have had to resort to extremely brutal measures to implement their goals of integrating the Acehnese and the Muslims in Mindanao into the nation-state project.

The reasons for the continuing Acehnese and Bangsamoro rebellions are complex and numerous, but certainly not irrational. More than twenty five years now of political instability and violence, class conflict, and underdevelopment have produced impoverishment. The most basic infrastructure is lacking, as is access to schools and higher education. Moreover, occupation culture has been a culture of terror. It has produced militarisation and sadism. Both areas have suffered from policies of massive transmigration of non-organic groups: from over-populated Luzon to Mindanao, and from other areas in Indonesia to the under-populated, fertile lands of Aceh. This has created conflict by dispossessing people from their land.

In Aceh, colonising power has been institutionalised through an extensive system of surveillance, torture, road checkpoints, street harassment, sexual harassment and rape, 'sweeping operations' and house-to-house searches. Aceh's oil and natural gas resources are exploited for the benefit of Jakarta. Its over-centralised administration has alienated the people. The independence movement and its sympathisers are demonised as 'enemies of the state'. Indonesian government officials constantly use a language of paranoid absolutes, for example: 'referendum is out of the question'; 'separation would be a violation of national integrity'.

I do not wish to be misunderstood as an apologist for independence and/ or Islamist movements, nor for predominantly male nationalist movements which claim to represent their entire nation while keeping the female half of the population invisible. But unless the structural roots of the conflicts are genuinely addressed, any short-term measures will serve merely as band-aid solutions. That could include the humanitarian assistance and 'confidence-building measures' recommended these past few months by 'conflict resolution' consultants to the Indonesian and Philippine governments.

In both cases, armed rebellion has a history which spans several decades, if not centuries if we incorporate their anti-colonial struggles against the Dutch in Aceh, and against Spanish and American colonialism in Mindanao. Given these long histories, it would be fatal to bludgeon them from the arrogant centre with a quick-fix, ahistorical, militaristic solution.

In the Philippines, the historic peace agreement known as the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by its founder Nur Misuari in 1996, did not end the armed rebellion. A different faction, namely the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), rejected the agreement. Less than a year after the historic 'peace' agreement was signed, on 16 March 1997, the Philippine armed forces shelled the MILF's main Camp Abubakar and hit a religious school (madrasah), resulting in the deaths of ten female students and their male teacher. In June and July of 1997, armed clashes occurred between the MILF and the Philippine military that involved the aerial bombardment of the MILF's Camp Rajamuda. This produced more civilian and combatant casualties and evacuations, much like the present situation in Aceh.

This may be a useful comparative study for Acehnese who want to understand the lasting effect of 'ceasefires' and 'peace negotiations' that neglect to include all important groups. In a glaring omission, women's groups that have been at the forefront of political organising, among them the Duek Pakat Inong Aceh Congress participants of last March, were not included in the Joint Understanding on Humanitarian Pause for Aceh signed in Switzerland in mid-May. A genuinely democratic negotiation with any hope of lasting should include the women's groups, however ideologically diverse they may be.

There is too much emphasis on the role of the Free Aceh Movement GAM. The independence movement in Aceh today is much larger than GAM. Any genuine solution to the conflict ought to include all the other groups outside GAM. These also want independence, but talk about it in very different terms - in some cases extremely critical of GAM's policies.


The dominant myth that needs to be dispelled is that the conflicts in Aceh and Mindanao are religious conflicts aimed at setting up an Islamic state. Most analysts like to portray the Mindanao conflict as one between a dominant Catholic majority and a Muslim minority. This argument is seriously problematic. It says nothing about the just redistribution of economic capital or the problem of underdevelopment. And it is certainly not applicable in Aceh, where a Muslim majority is oppressing a Muslim community. In reality, the conflicts in Aceh and Mindanao are about natural resources, about land and capital, and about social justice for the victims of state terror. At bottom, they are about the structural re-organisation of the nation-state - much like the struggle for justice in West Papua and East Timor.

In any case, contrary to popular phobias against Islamic law as being somehow more oppressive of women than secular law, in some cases it is actually more egalitarian and in favour of women's rights, particularly in the fields of inheritance and divorce. The ongoing debate about gender and Islamic law in Aceh and in the Muslim world generally is complex, but it would serve us well not to assume that secular law is somehow more liberating for women.

Perhaps we should ask why it is that Islam in both these places has become such a powerful expression of cultural identity and mobilisation. Conceptions of social justice in resistance Islam are in fundamental opposition to the bureaucratic values of the secular state, which emphasise integration into the national economy and global capital rather than political community. The earlier idealisms of 'Islamic socialism', Third World nationalism, the 1955 Bandung Conference, and Sukarno's 'Go to hell with your aid!' have faded. But the vision of Islam as a form of community that demands social and economic justice remains very much alive.

Jacqui Siapno (j.siapno@politics.unimelb.edu.au) lectures in political science at the University of Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000

Women and the war in Aceh

These women want to silence all the guns, whether Indonesian or Acehnese

Suraiya Kamaruzzaman

Aceh is rich in natural resources. Large corporations moved into North Aceh following the discovery of natural gas. Related industries spread through the Greater Aceh region (Aceh Besar). Outsiders dominated these huge corporations. Their displays of wealth alienated the Acehnese, who were largely excluded from the economic gains of industrialisation.

Even in North Aceh, referred to in jest as the petro-dollar region, 70% of villages remained officially in the 'backward' category (desa tertinggal). According to some sources, Aceh's natural resources supplied Jakarta's coffers with Rp 33 trillion each year, of which only one percent was returned to the province. Locals who live around these companies are just spectators who watch the prosperity inside from their poverty outside. This has gone on for decades.

This was the context in which the armed struggle for Acehnese independence, GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, Aceh Freedom Movement) was established under the leadership of Hasan di Tiro. In 1990 the Suharto government launched its Operation Red Net (Operasi Jaring Merah) to root out what the New Order chose to call a Movement to Disturb Peace and Order, or GPK. The operation continued for eight years, but failed to resolve the Aceh problem. Instead, innocent civilians faced state-sponsored brutality. Anyone who refused to support the Indonesian military effort was labelled GPK.

Thousands of women were widowed, their husbands murdered or kidnapped. Children were orphaned. Some women faced sexual violence from soldiers, in part as a deliberate instrument of terror against their communities. The women became pariahs in their own communities, which did not want to associate with anyone dangerously tainted by GPK suspicions. These single women, with children to support, could no longer go out safely to work in the fields.

In late 1998, after the fall of Suharto, and with many human rights abuses well documented, the commander of the armed forces General Wiranto revoked Aceh's status as 'special military operations area' (DOM).

Data from the Coalition of Human Rights NGOs had documented 7,727 cases of human rights abuse between 1990-98. But the situation did not improve when DOM status was revoked. From January 1999 to February 2000 the coalition documented nine cases of 'massacre' in which 132 civilians were killed and 472 wounded, 304 arbitrary detentions, 318 extra-judicial executions, and 138 disappearances.


From February 1999, the Indonesian army started deliberately displacing inhabitants from some parts of Aceh. From June to August 1999 there were 250,000 to 300,000 internally displaced persons in Aceh. No human rights investigation has been conducted so far on this tragedy. Then the numbers of refugees fell, with only a few hundred remaining displaced by May 2000.

However, in the following two months, despite the relative reduction in armed conflict, the numbers of displaced rose rapidly again into the thousands. In one camp there were 4,110 refugees, including 712 infants, 818 children less than five years, 52 pregnant women and 112 women who were still nursing infants.

The following is a summary of their reasons for seeking refuge:

Frequent searches for GAM members carried out by the Indonesian army in villages. These searches were inevitably brutal, involving beatings, forcible removal of individuals from their home, and destruction or forcible removal of property. Continued armed contacts between GAM and the army in rural areas, threatening the security of villagers. In some villages, the Indonesian armed forces and other unidentified groups burnt homes. Kidnappings carried out by both the military and civilian militia, the latter suspected of being supporters of GAM. Certain groups prohibited the refugees from returning to their village, even though the refugees themselves considered the situation safe.

Some wealthier villagers such as business people found themselves openly harassed by alleged armed GAM members demanding money. One witness said a man had his house burnt down after refusing to contribute. However, such cases were relatively few and these people could usually afford to make a permanent move and start business elsewhere. Also, it is not entirely clear whether such attackers were always GAM members, or Indonesian soldiers or even ordinary criminals taking advantage of the chaotic law and order situation in Aceh.

The camps did not always provide the safety the refugees sought. On 13 October 1999, in the Abu Beureueh Mosque camp in Pidie, the army, allegedly in search of GAM activists, fired several rounds. The shooting scattered 10,000 refugees in fear of their lives. Several women were sexually assaulted. On 29 December, 150 refugees in the Seulimun Mosque camp were poisoned and had to be hospitalised.

Living conditions in many camps remain appalling. Many have only plastic sheets as shelter. Malnutrition is rampant among pregnant women and children. Dozens of babies have been born in the camps, with little or no medical facility. Sickness due to lack of clean water and exhaustion is commonplace.

Even in the camps no gender equity has been established. The women's 'double burden' continues to operate! Like the men, they face the brutality of the state. But they also continue to be repressed by patriarchal social practices. In Acehnese norms, the woman's place is at home. While many women work in the fields and in the markets, they are always seen as only 'helping their husbands'. It was therefore normal for the women to assume food preparation as their function in the camps. However, that was regarded as a public activity, so men took over the work. This deprived women of the one function that legitimised their existence as social beings.

Men make all decisions in the camps. Women, many of them war widows with no access to any particular male, are deprived of information and other facilities.

Children have been severely traumatised by their experience of the war and by being displaced. Hundreds of schools have been burnt. According to one report the war has disrupted schooling for more than 11,000 Acehnese children.

When a group of women activists provided paper and pen to children in a refugee camp, their drawings visualised the violence they had experienced. There were pictures of marching Indonesian soldiers, of battle between GAM and the Indonesian army, of weapons, dead bodies and mutilated corpses.

The armed struggle between the Indonesian army and the Aceh Freedom Movement has been disastrous for the civilian population. There are villages where only women and children remain. Some of these women are working for other people in return for a few kilos of rice. Others are feeding their family on boiled trunks of banana trees.

Women for peace

The armed conflict in Aceh must be brought to an end - by whatever means. And women must be included in that peaceprocess. This is not only because women constitute 53% of Aceh's population. It is because women have suffered grievously throughout this conflict. As citizens, they have suffered at the hands of the state, having been raped and abused by the Indonesian army. Culturally, they have been repressed by patriarchy and through the wrong interpretations of Islamic law (such as the forcible imposition of dress codes). Even at home, they have faced domestic violence, being beaten and raped by their husbands. Women must be included in any decision making process. Data from the provincial government shows there are no fewer than 460,000 female heads of households, of whom 377,000 are widows.

Women are organising for peace. They are praying, marching in the streets, distributing flowers and the message 'stop violence against women'. Women have held discussions with President Gus Dur and even with the army. They have also proposed to the commander of the Aceh Freedom Movement army that a special zone of peace for women should be set up. They have taken their campaign to the United Nations.

With the cease-fire arranged in May this year, there are new hopes for peace. But there is no peace yet in Aceh. Violence continues, from both the Indonesian army and GAM. New sweeps as the army searches for GAM members are starting a fresh movement of refugees in East Aceh. Women want all weapons to cease fire, whether they belong to the Indonesian army or to the soldiers of GAM. We hope that the current agreement between the combatants for a humanitarian cessation of hostilities is not just rhetoric for the Indonesian army and Aceh Freedom Movement.

Suraiya Kamaruzzaman is executive director of Flower Aceh (flower@aceh.wasantara.net.id). Established in 1989, this was the first women's group set up by Acehnese women to deal with the consequences of the Indonesian army's brutal crackdown on the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM). This article is extracted from her passionate presentation at the recent conference on Indonesian violence held in Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000

View from the top

Parliament, the constitution, and the future, as seen from the presidential palace

Greg Barton interviews President Abdurrahman Wahid

Tell us your impressions of this annual session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

The most important thing about the current MPR session as expressed by some PKB members is that instead of having the arrogance of the executive, as was the case in the past, now we have the arrogance of the legislature. We need to understand the reasons for this. In my opinion many are afraid of an executive that is too arrogant and because of that they want something to check its power. The check and balance has shifted from the one envisioned in the constitution of 1945.

The necessity now is to adjust the powers of the two sides: the legislative as well as the executive branches of the government. I think that this problem has existed for many years, even in 1945. Do you know that when independence was declared and the 1945 constitution was applied, a declaration was issued that gave the prime minister the power to form a parliamentary cabinet with a parliament dominated by the parties? That was in clear breach of the constitution. If we see now people like Heri Achmadi (PDI-P parliamentarian) and Budi Santoso (Golkar parliamentarian) and many other members of the MPR, this same mistake can be repeated again in a bid to check the power of the executive.

As I told Megawati Sukarnoputri during this session: 'They can check the power of the executive but they should not do it at the expense of changing the constitution. You see, if you change the basic formulation of the constitution of 1945 I am afraid that this will provoke the other side to stage a coup d'etat. That will mean the constitution of 1945 has been violated.' So I told her that if this scenario should develop I would have to take the side of those who launch the coup d'etat. Why? Because for me it is only possible to have democracy if you have a state. But if you constantly have such turbulence that the very form of the state is questioned then you have will have no democracy at all. So the most important thing is to guarantee the existence of the state. The important thing is to avoid the situation deteriorating to the point of a coup d'etat being launched.

It is essential to have a stable state. Without it democracy cannot function. So because of this I have stressed the importance of returning to the constitution of 1945. But of course the holder of the presidency has the duty to heed the warnings as well as the wishes of those who would like to have a more balanced government. The executive should not be too powerful. This we can achieve not by weakening the executive as a whole but by weakening the presidency.

So I had to reply to the parties that I will assign technical daily tasks involving the cabinet to the vice president, in order to distribute the power of the office holder. Each decision needs to be made on the basis of discussion between myself together with the vice president and the two coordinating ministers. Through this arrangement, in which the leadership team discusses all important matters, the power of the president will be checked so that he is not able to simply do things for his own purposes.

And the system will remain a presidential one with the final authority left with the president?

Yes, of course, until the MPR is convinced otherwise.

In what way will your new cabinet be different to the cabinet of the past ten months?

I think that the stress will not be on balancing party-political interests but instead upon expertise. Technical matters will be taken care of by three people: the two coordinating ministers and the vice president, whilst I will take care the 'big picture matters' both domestic and international.

If, to some extent, assessment of the previous cabinet's performance was a matter of perception, is this partly a result of the fact that many did not appreciate that regime change takes at least five years, and often ten to make substantial changes?

Whatever people say about Indonesians as a whole, as a nation, one thing that seems clear to me is that they understand that the changes have to be profound, have to be fundamental. Although they might be very noisy in protesting many things, both the intellectuals and everyone else, in the end they understand that we have to change. This is very important to understand. Otherwise, if we don't know our own people we will be returning to the clichof the past, and I am against this sort of attitude. We have to stick to the principles and apply them to the day-to-day realities of our nation.

What sort of 'cliche of the past' do you have in mind?

Well the sort of things said recently by (UN human rights commissioner) Mary Robinson that we have to be against those in the armed forces. That's crazy because we have so many good people among the soldiers. So we have to differentiate between the institution and the individuals. There are so many individuals and it may be that many of them were not good but we have to back the good people, the honest people. You know the most democratic of people, Ali Sadikin, was a lieutenant general in the marines.

So your vision is one of moderate and gradual change?

We have to continue to stress the fundamental direction of change but also not to forget the reality of the situation.

How would you summarise your vision for what you want to achieve over the next four years?

The most important thing is to establish democracy, which means bringing the principles of democracy to bear on the day-to-day realities of life in this nation. The second thing is to revive the economy, this is very important. We have to stimulate foreign investment and build confidence. We have to rationalise the entire way in which this nation functions, the way that business works here. I see that one of the main obstacles that we need to overcome is establishing sufficient infrastructure to enable future development in the form of roads, bridges, airports, harbours, schools, hospitals and so forth.

Apart from that I think that Indonesia as the fourth-largest nation and the third-largest democracy has the right to play an important role in international affairs. It is important to monitor and contribute to international affairs and I intend to do this, with the assistance of the minister for foreign affairs.

In this context it is important to recognise that we have not, and will not, take the path of pure socialism. Instead our system is based on capitalism but it needs to be a capitalism which is mindful of the needs of all people.

What about the political parties? After all it is not possible to have a healthy democracy without good parties. In particular, how do you see the future for PDI-P and PKB?

One thing that is clear now is that our political landscape will change. The change will be caused by many things. The first is that Golkar is so discredited by its past. To some extent the Golkar leadership could rectify the situation by acknowledging the fact that they were guilty of many wrongs in that past and declaring that they now want to make amends, to ask for forgiveness from the people. But up until now they have not done that. If they continue like this Golkar will be soundly rejected in the next election.

The second thing is that the next election will be determined by complex party affiliations that cut across a wide range of social groupings. Both PDI-P and PKB need to become parties with broad-based support across society. The parties need to apply rationalism to develop their positions and not simply rely on emotionalism. PDI-P needs to move beyond a simplistic kind of 'Sukarnoism' and stress a more thoughtful understanding of Sukarno's legacy. I myself follow him in many ways, adapting his thinking and techniques but seeking to be true to his principles.

At the same time PKB needs move beyond Islam and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) as its political base. It needs to move beyond politics based on communal affiliation. That is why I said to the chairman of PKB, Matori Abdul Djalil, that whilst in the short term we need to draw our party leadership from largely Islamic sources we should try to be as inclusive as possible and draw from across the full spectrum of Muslim communities, associations, NGOs and social groupings.

Greg Barton (gjbarton@deakin.edu.au) teaches at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He is writing a biography of Abdurrahman Wahid. These are excerpts from an exclusive interview recorded for 'Inside Indonesia' on 15 August 2000, partway through the MPR session.

Inside Indonesia 64: Oct - Dec 2000
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