Australia ended the twentieth century by refusing to endorse even a mild change in its hundred-year old constitutional arrangements. Its two major parties are look-alikes who do not dare to step out in faith for fear of being branded ideological. It supported self-determination in East Timor leading to independence, but cannot sort out its own relation with the Queen.
Indonesia, by contrast, passed the millenium mark with much greater ambition and hope. Out of a huge field of pretty ideological parties, it successfully elected a new parliament by means of a system that had been cobbled together in just a year. That new parliament first agreed to abandon the blood-soaked colonial experiment of East Timor. It then elected a president and vice-president who enjoy genuine popularity in much of the country.
If we don't appreciate the extent to which hope has lifted as Indonesia moves into the twenty-first century we have missed something. But yes, it will take more than some new faces at the top to turn Indonesia around. Yes, the new cabinet is a compromise. And yes, there is now no clear-cut opposition.
We would like this edition of Inside Indonesia to capture at least a glimpse of those lifted hopes. God knows they, and we in Australia, are going to need it. The new government is weighed down by debt accumulated by a corrupt and super-wealthy elite in the Suharto years. Its seas and forests are being cleaned out in broad daylight by well-connected mafias. Meanwhile it faces demands from Aceh and West Papua that are every bit as insistent as those the East Timorese put up.
The arts make a strong appearance in this edition. Below the surface of political action there flow currents of consciousness, where Indonesians ask Who am I? What does my history mean to me? Why can't I understand the poor? We hope you enjoy these reflections. If you do, we might make space for more in the future.
East Timor is no longer an unwilling part of Indonesia. This edition tells the inside story of how its people seized the moment to free themselves. How will Inside Indonesia report on this new country? Someone needs to start Inside Timor Lorosae! We will certainly continue to highlight East Timor as a post-colonial issue for Indonesia - inspired by Yeni Rosa Damayanti's humanitarian example in this edition.