May 22, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Crisis and the politics of engagement

Published: Jul 27, 2007

Max Lane

This issue reads on the front cover: ‘Out of crisis? Agendas for the future’. The first two articles by Wasono and Abimanyu, and the article by Sarah Gardner on women workers, start to paint the picture of devastation still being wrought in the aftermath of the 1997 economic crisis and made worse by the policies of the Megawati government and the International Monetary Fund. The formation of alliances opposing the policies and institutions of neo-liberalism described by Wasono draws attention to the direction in which movements for social change are heading. The article by Bain on NGOs and theatre also points to the kind of resistance values that are already developing.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, in his speech, presents an even more radical argument. Will not reformasi fail if it is not able to understand that there is a revolution to finish: a revolution that started at the beginning of the century aimed at freeing Indonesia from the grip of what he calls imperialist domination. The New Order, says Toer, subverted that revolution surrendering Indonesia back into the hands of imperialism. This still stands today, he argues; even to the extent of adopting an old habit of the Dutch colonial state, that of sending soldiers out from Java to subdue other areas of Indonesia. This latter issue is dealt with in the articles by Aspinall and Budiardjo.

Crisis and suffering, globalisation, militarism, imperialism, alliances of opposition: these are the issues raised in these articles. What are the implications for people here in Australia wanting to engage with their neighbours in Indonesia? What is the nature of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia? This is an issue that has been discussed in wider Australia for a long time now. There are perhaps two things that are most often emphasised: cultural differences (East and West); levels of wealth (poor and prosperous).

Today, the current government adds another: Indonesia is a source of threat to Australians. This assertion is sometimes made explicitly, sometimes it is signalled through almost weekly travel warnings, aggressive propaganda from Canberra saying the Australian army must resume working with Kopassus so that potential Australian kidnap victims can be saved. This latest theme is, of course, part of the Australian government’s attempt to revive racism and xenophobia. It is part of the general fear-mongering package that includes detention centres for refugees, constant talk about border security, about failed states in the Pacific and Third World generally. It should be rejected.

There is another aspect of the relations between neighbours that rarely gets discussed however. Indonesia is a Third World country suffering under the same exploitive relations with the First World as all so-called developing countries. Australia is part of the exploiting First World. The articles by Lane, on the challenge before Inside Indonesia, by Hinman and Hearman on solidarity and by Vickers on the values orientation of Inside Indonesia in relation to the ideas of Pramoedya all speak, directly or indirectly, for an engagement with Indonesia that includes fighting against this exploitative and even oppressive relationship that the Australian economy and establishment has with Indonesia and its peoples.

The intellectual and cultural bridges that are already there between concerned people are reflected in all the articles in this issue, and indeed in the articles of all Inside Indonesias of the past. The spirit of seeking mutual understanding, and the efforts to achieve that through Inside Indonesia are discussed in van Klinken’s review of 20 years of Inside Indonesia. The extremely informative article by Piper brings us up to date as to what is being done already in the cultural field.

But we cannot let ourselves drift too far away from forgetting the questions raised by Abimanyu, Wasono and Pramoedya Ananta Toer: the questions of crisis, social disaster and an unfinished revolution. Studying and reporting Indonesia can be interesting in the extreme; a fascinating connection with a world of incredible and interesting people, many interesting because of their own engagement in struggle. But today being interested and interesting is not enough; in fact it can be indulgent. We need to be useful to those Indonesians trying to find a way to finish their revolution.

Max Lane ( is a Guest editor for Inside Indonesia

Inside Indonesia 76: Oct - Dec 2003

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