Saturday, August 19, 2006

A universalist reflection on Indonesia’s independence

During my college years, Indonesia's independence day celebration every August 17th was always coupled with ITB students rallying to say that "we're NOT really independent." Of course, those were the days of Suharto; and they were criticizing Suharto's regime. Now, after ten or so years have passed, what does independence day mean to me? Apparently I've put less weight on nationalism, and more weight on independence as a prerequisite for interdependence.

Why do many people think nationalism is so important? When I was in L.A., independence day celebrations at the Consulate were often coupled by protests by the pro-independence Mollucans and Papuans. I also remember participating in an AMARC conference in Jakarta last year, where a participant from Timor Leste explained how proud she was of Timor Leste's independence from Indonesia. Whereas in Indonesia, so-called nationalists raged about Timor Timur’s break-out. Can nationalism hurt? Apparently so.

I am NOT an advocate of disintegration. But if a certain people think they can live better off by themselves, and not beneath another's wings, then why not? Who are we to say that they should be a part of us when the feeling's not mutual? Nationalism is a state of mind. Anderson said that it's "imagined." After Indonesia gained independence, Sukarno had to work hard to build the nation. And to a large extent, he was successful. But time moves on, leaders change, policies change, distribution of wealth gets to be unfair, and administration corrupts. Who is then to blame for the thinning of Indonesia's nationalism? Nationalism, as a state of mind, should be earned, not imposed on.

Why am I so lenient on nationalism?
  1. because I believe today is the era of interdependence, not independence. However, to be interdependent, each and every component involved must be essentially independent (this is from Covey, and often reminded to me by my friend Alex Lai). I think Indonesia (as a region) and any other region in the world would work better with the principle of interdependence. To achieve this, if some areas feel that they need to have their independence first, then be it. Any area that breaks out from Indonesia (given the break-out was peaceful and left no grudge) would eventually need to cooperate with Indonesia. In the end, they would still be a part of "us," just wearing a different "jacket."
  2. because first and foremost I care about the people, then secondly, the country. Humanism, brotherhood, sisterhood, or whatever word fits this concept, is universal; it knows no boundaries.

Having said that, independence (aka freedom) has its own virtues. Amartya Sen said that this should be the core of "development" (Development as Freedom). Sick of enomomics-oriented developmentalists putting too much emphasis on economic growth as the core of development, Sen rebutted by saying that the goal and the means of development should be five freedoms:

  1. political freedoms
  2. social facilities
  3. economic opportunities
  4. transparency guarantees
  5. protective security

By achieving one type of freedom, we increase our chances of achieving another. In essence, these freedoms enable people "to live a life that they value, and not a life that others value." Unfortunately, as Enda pointed out, for the poor, there are obstructions to achieve these freedoms. Thus the poor face unfreedoms which need to be removed.

So this weekend, I celebrate Indonesia's independence day to remind me how:

  • I am proud to be a part of the Indonesian people
  • I, as an Indonesian citizen, knowingly or unknowingly, may impose unfreedoms on other peoples, and I am sorry for that
  • many people of the world are still facing tremendous unfreedoms, maybe not so much because of their nationality, but more likely because of their race, class, gender, and religion. If these people form a nation, then that’s the “nation” I want to be associated with
  • by enabling people to achieve freedoms, they can live a life that really matters to them, based on their own standards and measures. Then, together we can build an interdependent relationship that's genuine and long-lasting.

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  1. "unfreedoms", baru tahu terminologi ini, thanks bong! :D

  2. Thanks juga, Nda! Gue suka dapat link asik dari quicklinks lu.