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Independence Day and Collective Amnesia

Independence Day
Indonesian Independence Day Ceremony. Image: Mufid Majnun (Unsplash)

The Republic of Indonesia is now 76 years old.

Those who turn 76 mean that they are in the ageing period. As a country, the period signifies maturity given the turbulence — turbulent democratisation, economic development and the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — made Indonesia has its ups and downs with the latest turbulence reaching 1998 reform eventually making people aware of their sovereignty.

In spite of its maturity, this country remains in an enigmatic circle considering an acute ailment predating its commitment to moving on to progress, namely collective amnesia; the negligence for the tragedy that continues to occur. Like it or not, it is now turning into a distinctively Indonesian malady. Psychologically speaking, collective amnesia can be a result of forcible repression of memories, ignorance, changing circumstances, or the forgetting that comes from changing interests. Politically speaking, which is the major causal factor within the Indonesian context, such a malady is closely bound to several aspects.

First, problem-solving is apt to deal with symptoms rather than rooting out the “vine” that has spread all over the country’s garden. In recent times, this is particularly true seen from a certain local tragedy without taking local wisdom into account. Papuans, for instance, are noted for their tolerant behaviour.

Adherents of different religions such as Christians and Muslims have mutual respect and live for years. Any attempts to mainstream local wisdom, both in Papua and in other areas of the archipelago, would be operational by esteeming local values and institutions in every decision-making and religious teaching, like the construction of worship places and religious propagation. Resistance to the spread of religion will recede when local wisdom cushions people’s system of belief. This is the essence of religious indigenisation. The spirit of independence never closes the eyes to localized religious expression.

Granted the security approach cannot be separated from the legally formal requirements necessary to uphold justice for the victims. Yet it represents a symptom instead of the root of the problem. Excessive reliance on symptoms when it comes to solving problems simply generates tentative and short-term outcomes such as counterfeit stability. Uprooting the causal factor on deep structure, on the other hand, is instrumental in establishing long term, mutual benefit and win-win solutions.

Second, the blame game has been Indonesians’ favourite political mode of survival. The growing opposition to critics and distinction conforms to the fact. It is clearly visible through recent attempts to revive an old article in the Criminal Code on defaming the head of state. President Jokowi’s proposed defamation clause truly runs contrary to the spirit of Independence Day setting the ground for freedom of speech. Jokowi needs to learn from the history how the country’s previous presidents setting the limit to free speech suffered a convincing licking. Soekarno was becoming more and more draconian toward the end of his reign while Soeharto managed to shut our mouths completely after he took over.

Blaming others among Indonesian elites for survival would only fuel apathy among the people. Voters are no longer concerned with policy debates and many kinds of policy issues introduced by the government. Criticism, which should be seen as part of a great effort to keep the president and his administration on the right track, is actually the highest form of attention from the people. Democracy needs to be orderly, but there is no need for the state to turn repressive.

Third, intellectuals tend to toy with and fall into fallacy. Frankly speaking, Indonesian intellectuals assume great responsibility for failing people to move on with full confidence, which is against the independence message accentuating empowerment. Their strong idealism, however, is often polluted with strong subjectivity as well. The latter is injurious to the development of dialogue-oriented culture with a view to achieving the common platform. A scholar with a highly subjective judgment tends to shut the door for dialogue.

Intellectuals, expected to enlighten people’s horizon of mine for a qualitative change, now like “tongkat membawa rebah” (the prop brings about the fall) as they pollute people’s trust in them with political bigotry. This becomes crystal clear when many intellectuals seriously pave the smooth way to the deep-rooted and short-sighted political coalition in myriad regions prior to local elections.

They do not realise that their involvement in political pragmatism would simply set the scene for political interest per se; dialogue only appears so long as there is a transactional advantage. That is why many parties are not in the best preparation for the previous local election following their transactional leadership cushioned by the intellectuals. In fact, intellectuals need to push for true leaders who dare to resist mainstream power and take the risk despite its popularity in an attempt to tackle the country’s problems for real independence of Indonesia.

The writer is a lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University.

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