Nov 15, 2018 Last Updated 12:17 PM, Nov 15, 2018

The backlash

Published: Jul 30, 2007

Richard Chauvel

On 8 June 2000, the Director General of National Unity in the Department of Internal Affairs, Ermaya Suradinata, held a meeting with representatives of the military and intelligence community in Jakarta. Among the latter were Bakin, Bais, Kostrad and Kopassus. From the meeting emerged a framework for Jakarta's response to the challenge posed by Papuan nationalism. By mid November 2000, the report of the meeting was circulating widely in Jayapura and its contents were summarised in the weekly Tifa Papua.

The context for this meeting was the Papuan Congress held a few days earlier. This was a critical juncture in the development of the central government's policy towards Papua. President Gus Dur had made important symbolic gestures to Papuan opinion during his visit for New Year. He declined the invitation to open the congress, but he did contribute one billion rupiah to facilitate a meeting that was to reiterate the Papuan demand for independence. In the first half of 2000 the Papuan independence movement had gained significant momentum. Through the congress and the earlier General Assembly (Musyawarah Besar), the Papuan Presidium Council had acquired legitimacy and been recognised by the Indonesian authorities in Jakarta and Jayapura as the de facto leaders.

The document signed by Ermaya Suradinata reveals much about how Jakarta assesses developments in Papua. It observes that the atmosphere down to the village level after the congress was euphoric about the idea of Merdeka. The 'conspiratorial groups' supporting Merdeka were increasingly cohesive, and were endeavouring to 'socialise' the congress results throughout Irian Jaya and beyond. Nevertheless, despite this appreciation of the Papuan enthusiasm for independence, the document estimates support at only 10-20%.

Particularly revealing is the analysis of these 'conspiratorial groups'. A diagram attached to the report, entitled 'Papuan political conspiracy', backgrounds the pro-independence Papuan leaders. Besides well-known public figures such as Theys Eluay and Tom Beanal, the diagram includes two former governors, one ambassador and a couple of members of the national parliament, one of the latter being the new governor Jaap Solossa.

The people in the diagram represent a broad spectrum of opinion within the Papuan political elite. It thus illustrates one of Jakarta's most difficult problems: the 'conspiracy' contains many of the Papuans who have achieved most in the Indonesian system. In an unintended manner, the document supports the common assertion that all Papuans, even those who serve the Indonesian state, in their heart of hearts are pro-'M' (Merdeka, or Independence).

The document recognises that even some provincial officials have been 'contaminated' by the Merdeka ideal, and recommends 'strong sanctions' against those who openly support independence. In September 2000 the Minister of Internal Affairs followed this up with an instruction to the governor to take unspecified action against pro-independence officials. This writer often saw one of those named in the report, Filip Karma, in Jayapura dressed in his Indonesian bureaucratic attire, proudly wearing a large Papuan flag pinned to his chest. These senior Papuan officials are not the key leaders of the independence movement, but their inclusion in Jakarta's version of the 'Papuan political conspiracy' highlights how fragile the foundations of Indonesian authority in Papua are.

The Ermaya Suradinata memorandum to the Minister of Internal Affairs argues for 'immediate, concrete and appropriate' actions to anticipate the burgeoning pro-independence climate. It envisages graduated activities, both overt and clandestine, targeting a broad spectrum of Papuan society. The proposed covert activities include recruiting, training and supporting pro-Indonesian militia at village level. The less sinister means involve providing those leaders who support Indonesia with government positions at all levels from the village to the province. Honours for local leaders and the elevation of 'national heroes' from Irian Jaya are two further suggestions.

The memorandum stresses the need for consistency in official central government statements in order not to confuse provincial officials - no doubt a veiled criticism of Gus Dur and his ministers.

At the provincial level, the draft strategy envisages creating a more 'conducive' environment by raising the level of material welfare in Papuan society. This, it is hoped, will improve the government's credibility and persuade people to support Indonesia.


Some of the approach and several specific measures advocated in Ermaya Suradinata's memorandum appear to have been influential. A 'crash program' of economic aid is consistent with the objective of raising welfare. It has so far distributed Rp 410 billion, nearly the size of the provincial budget again, to the district level administration (kabupatan). Its aim is to support social and economic development, human resources and places of worship.

Jakarta also clearly promotes regional autonomy, although whether its implementation will meet Papuan expectations is yet to be seen. Habibie's policy of dividing the province into three, rejected in the governor's draft special autonomy legislation, seems to have been put on the backburner. The detention and trial of some presidium leaders, and the rapprochement with other members of the elite also reflects some of the proposals. However, there is so far little evidence that the memorandum's recommendation to minimise the use of force has been widely heard by the security forces in Irian Jaya.

Richard Chauvel ( teaches at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

Inside Indonesia 67: Jul - Sep 2001

Latest Articles

Essay: Contesting urban beauty in Jakarta


Source/ Doyle & Ekin  Wish images

Walking Jakarta’s northern coastline reveals communities experiencing disruptive and rapid change

Photo essay: Hope in the face of disaster


Source/ Melanie Filler & Tim Barretto

Palu after the tsunami

Surviving while seeking asylum

Oct 26, 2018 - GEMIMA HARVEY

Hazara asylum seeker Shiringul first fled Afghanistan to Pakistan and then when the danger spread to Pakistan, she was forced to flee again, this time to Indonesia. She said the streets outside of Kalideres immigration detention centre were her best option. Source/ Gemima Harvey

A change in Australia’s asylum policy has denied refugees in Indonesia vital support

Review: The killing season

Oct 01, 2018 - FRANK BEYER

More than 50 years on, mis-truths about the 1965-66 killings and what motivated them prevail in Indonesia. Geoffrey Robinson's and other books and films on the issue, based on archival research...

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.


Lontar Modern Indonesia



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