After the West Papua Congress (6/6), Prospects for the Future PDF Afdrukken E-mailadres
woensdag 07 juni 2000 01:00

Continued from
1. A Preliminary Appraisal
2. Rectifying History
3. From West New Guinea to West Irian
4. Is West Irian an Indonesian Colony?
5. Is West Irian Part of Indonesia?


The preceding sections have been principally concerned with investigating all the verious circumstances that have a bearing on the central question which one must answer first, before one can seriously consider any further line of procedure or action. That question is, whether the oppressive regime under which the West Papuans have been suffereing in for three and a half decades was a colonialist one, or whether it was a military dictatorship.
The question is important, not from the point of view of purely academic interest, but because the determination of a correst future policy for West Papuans depends entirely upon correctly answering that question.

On the basis of the foregoing discussion, all indications seem to lead to the conclusion that West Irian cannot under reasonable considerations be classified as a colony of Indonesia. But, like the rest of Indonesia, it has suffered for three and a half centuries under a particularly vicious military dictatorship. Nevertheless, due to some specific conditions, particularly the delayed reunification into Indonesia in 1963 instead of 1949-1950, the subjective impression made by the brutalities of the regime upon West Papuans was not one of military dicatorship, but of colonialist

It should be noted, however, that even if West Irian had been a colony of Indonesia, it would not necessarily have had to secede as separate state.
Theoretically, there would still have been the (under the circumstances perhaps rather unlikely) option of joining Indonesia as an equal.

On the other hand, the fact that it is actually not a colony of Indonesia does not automatically exclude secession through a democratic and lawful procedure as a viable option. So, even having answered the question, of whether it is a colony or not, does not save us from also having to decide between either secession from or continued integration in the Republic of Indonesia. However, not being colonial dependents, West Papuans as formally equal citizens have more rights and hence also more bargaining leverage in negotiating a satisfactory solution with the government, whether either secession or continued integration.

There are many factors which would let continued integration within the Republic of Indonesia appear the most recommendable option. But most of them are not so simply explained as that which was discussed in the previous sections, firstly because I myself am less qualified to attempt such explanations, and secondly because they involve matters on which established views are even more diversified. So I will only concentrate on a few more general macro-scale problems.

Before I do that, however, there is one point which one must bear in
mind, and that is the main factor that lets separation from Indonesia appear imperative. The New Order regime has treated indigenous culture of the West Papuans with the arrogance of conquistadores, pressuring the population which they insultingly classified as "primitive" into adopting the regime's notion of "civilisation". The military regime's quite general contempt for human dignity in all its dealings with civilian society had a particularly antagonising effect on West Papuans.

The main motive behind the West Papuan drive for separate independence is therefore that of regaining their human dignity and salvaging the individuality of their culture. Sufficient rationality to cope with something like this in a politically pragmtic or balanced assessment of relative priorities of interests can only be demanded from the urban population with middle class associations. But egalitarian communities of the interior with recent or partial hunter-gatherer backgrounds have tradiitional ideologies based on the experience of complete dependence on the for them magical, i.e. not rationally fathomable providence of the natural environment. They will therefore be predictably susceptible to messianistic cults of magical providence like that of Cargo in East New Guinea (contrasted to more personality-orientated messianistic cults in peasant movements in West Indonesia or the world in general). The notion of "independence" has possibly acquired for them such a magic quality as icon of deliverance from the "pestilence" embodied by the regime.

Therefore, as a whole, the spiritual force of the idea of independence is stronger than any rational arguments that may favour continued adherrence to the Republic of Indonesia, so any concepts of retaining West Irian in Indonesia based on these latter arguments will only have a chance for realisation if they also adequately fulfill expectations on sustainment of ethnic dignity and cultural individuality that underly the drive for separate independence.

Now, let us consider some of those arguments.

Economically, West Irian is not only quite thoroughly integrated within Indonesia with its entire infrastructure, but, for historical reasons, it is still one of the least economically developed provinces (beside perhaps East Nusa Tenggara). It may seem simple to separate West Irian from the rest of Indonesia politically, but economically it would remain substantially dependent on Indonesia. Just like Indonesia in the 1950s, which discovered that independence merely meant transition from colonial to neo-colonial dependence because key industries and vital elements of the infastructure remained in Dutch hands, so also would a separated
West Papua remain economically dependent of Indonesia considerably more than e.g. dependence of PNG in certain technical matters from Australia.

Integrated in a democratic Indonesia, West Papuans would retain various political means of influencing central executive and legislative decisions, particularly in view of increased autonomy of provinces presently being developed. After all, as we have seen, West Irian is not a colony, but a province, and its population can claim equal rights as normal citizens.
But as a separate state, it would have to lead all attempts at influencing Jakarta's decisions having a bearing on West Papuan economic dependence through conventional diplomatic channels.

Indonesia in the 1950s decided to free itself of its economic dependency by nationalising Dutch companies. But unfortunately, Indonesia did not yet have sufficiently trained specialists to run the companies, so that the economic situation deteriorated even further, finally ending in the political crisis which allowed Soeharto to usurp power. Analogical problems will also hound a separate West Papua.

There is of course no law that reqires an independent West Papuan political establishment to fall into the same pitfalls into which the Indonesians had once blundered. But already the coexistence of an indigenous and a culturally divergent immigrant population creates the potentials of antagonisms we find for example in Fiji. Culture diversity not only exists in comparison to immigrants. The range of indigenous diversity alone, between northcoast mercantile traditions and egalitarian hunter-gatherer communities, greatly exceeds that e.g. in PNG. And in combination with influencing of local politicians by prosperous foreign companies, this leads to a potentially even more explosive situation than in the Solomons. What exploitation of rich resources can do one could also see in Zaire (copper), Nigeria (oil), Sierra Leone (diamonds).
Being part of a large national formation like Indonesia would, under
conditions of a democratic state, provide greater security in dealing
with large companies.

So what? Does not everyone have a sovereign right to make their own mistakes in their own fair chance for success or failure in pursuit of happiness and prosperity?

Indeed, but, firstly, the West Papuans probably will not get a fair
chance. In view of international guarantees and reassurances supporting continued integration within Indonesia, separation would have to be
fought out in a purely domestic political showdown with the government.
Even if that succeeds, and the military does not go on a rampage, a
fledgling West Papuan government would have to fulfill expectations of almost messianistic dimensions from an extremely traumatised population under conditions of total economic dependence.
One succeeded in sustaining unity at the West Papua Congress because all were facing a common outside challenge. Once West Papua is idependent, that unifying factor would be gone. The point will come, when the political class will see no other way than recourse to an authoritarian regime (this happened just about everywhere in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, sometimes under far less compelling circumstances).

Secondly, the West Papuans have actually already paid their entrance fees, and should not be required to pay it a second time at a probably even stiffer price. It is indeed "unfair", that West Papuans joined the rest of Indonesia too late to take part in the "making of mistakes" in the process of coming of age of Indonesia's political class. But it came just in time to take a sizable share of the punishments for those mistakes: the economic crisis of the 1960s, the brutalities of Soeharto's military regime, ending in the economic crisis of the outgoing 1990s still not yet ended till now. So it is actually entitled to share all future dividends of the joint venture "Republic of Indonesia".

Now the West Papuans stand before a fork in the road. They can take the long road to a future of stability which takes them once more through all the perils they have actually already gone through, with no guarantee that it will lead to success, or they can take the short road that is open to them, where they also have no guarantee for success, but where they are at least part of a much larger community with which to share the risk. In case they decide to follow the first road, and insist on secession, they would stand alone, facing the joint opposition of the government and the remnants fo the old regime in the military and burocracy. But in case they decide to take the short road to democracy and stability, they would suddenly find a lot of allies: the government and all reform and pro-democracy forces and particularly all other ethnic groups with comparable problems in the country, all of which would collectively face only one oponent: the remnants of the former
regime or so-called "status quo" faction. Which of the roads would be more likely to lead to success?

To be able to take advantage of this shorter road, one has to solve
two problems.

Problem No. 1: The resolution of the West Papua Congress called for
secession of West Papua from Indonesia, and this was quite inevitable
for two reasons. The first, it was correct from a tactical point of
view, because anything less would not have sufficiently impressed the
political establishment in Jakarta to take the West Papuans seriously.
The second, even if the moderate leaders of the West Papuans may have
been tempted to touch a more comprimistic tone in the resolution,
the expectations of the hardliners in the Congress and of the tribesmen
from the mountains in the streets left no other choice, if unity was
to be maintained.

If one were to meet the government half way in future negotiations, one
would then have to sell this to those hardliners and tribesmen. For
this one must understand the reason for the adamant position of these
latter, it is that matter of human dignity and cultural individuality
already touched upon above. West Papuan middle class moderates are
culturally more adapted to national All-Indonesian modalities of life,
but it is the proples from the interior who have suffered particularly
badly from the inhuman culture policy of the regime.

Therefore, whether or not West Papuan moderates could agree to continued
integration in Indonesia depends not on their own will (which is probably
there). It depends on the government's capability of creating conditions
that would also make such a decission acceptable to the peoples of the
interior. These must be convinced of sustained future respect for their
dignity and cultural individuality.

An important step has already been done in this direction, and that is
the drive towards so-called "Papuanisation" of the administration and
services in the province. All government offices and resorts should be
encouraged to consult West Papuan personalities, activists, organisations
when seeking solutions for concrete problems. And finally, West Papuans
should also be more frequently employed in various services outside
Irian Jaya, and particularly in Jakarta.

Another absolutely imperative step should be rapid enactment of a law
against racism, tribalism, and religious sectarianism. Racial and
ethnic equality is guaranteed by the constitution, and all Indonesian
administrations since 1945 have abided by this at least with regard to
indigenous ethnic groups (unfortunately not also with regard to
non-indigenous ones) as something quite self-evident and not needing
any further debate. But this has proven not to be enough, because there
have been frequent acts of racism, tribalism, and religious intolerance.
We therefore need a law which criminalises each individual outbreak of
such acts, and determines sufficiently deterent punishments. Attacks
on West Papuan communities outside West Irian should face determined
official reprisal.

No officer or burocrat may in future insult a Papuan as "a primitive"
with impunity, but must be assured of immediate dishonourable discharge.
Every participation of any member of the apparatus in sectarian violence
of any kind should likewise lead to swift and inexorable punishment.
Commanding officers seeking to escape responsibility for systematic or
substantial transgressions of subordinates by claiming to have had no
knowledge of the developments should face inevitable demotion by two or
more ranks for reason of obvious incompetence and failure in duty.

In places where activities of foreign companies have led to clashes
with local ethnic groups, it must be guaranteed that the apparatus
will not function as the political or military arm of that company,
but will uphold the law and help the population in reaching reasonable
understanding with the company. In this, one must anticipate that local
officials will predictably face highly tempting pecunary incentives
from rich companies, and precautionary measures must become effective
before rather than after damage has been done, or at least swiftly
enough to avoid the even temporary public impression of their impunity.
Although this of course does not only concern West Irian, but precautions
are particularly important in this province.

Problem No. 2: Just as important as that care should be taken that the
West Papuan side will be in a situation that realistically encapacitates
it to reach an adequate political solution, so too must the government
attain such a situation. At present, this is not at all the case yet.

To be able to guarantee the conditions which would make it possible
for West Papuans to feel at home within an Indonesian unitary state,
the government must gain sufficient control over the state apparatus
to exclude further sabotage by so-called "rogue" structures of the
former military regime, but these are unfortunately still very much
intact, and in possession of ample resources and logistical networks.
This situation is creating a kind of vicious circle.

The most ridiculous aspect of the present constellation is that West
Papuans are standing face-to-face against the government that appears
to be on the same side of the fence as the rogue military, rather than
that West Papuans and the government were in the same boat facing up
to their common foe, the rogue military.

On one side, the rogue military is the collective foe of civil
government and of West Papuans, Acehnese, ethnic groups and peasants
reclaiming unlawfully expropriated lands, etc., etc. The most obvious
solution would be for all these to join forces and gang up against
that rogue military. Democracy and government by rule of the law
could then be erected quite efficiently. On the other side, the
government is the hostage of a state apparatus which is still
controlled to a significant extent by the rogue military and other
elements of the former regime. It is in certain sense like a mind
caught in the wrong body, or more exactly like a person whose hands
and feet have an adverse mind of their own.

The president has been remarkably successful in encroaching step by
step upon the influence of the rogue military, compelling them to
retreat ever further. He has now been stopped in his further advance
by the rogue military which suddenly regained some strength through
a strategy it already once successfully employed in 1965-1967.
It has found "useful suckers" to pull out the hot chestnuts out of
the fire for it. The rogue military has been able to incite some
opportunistic minor Muslim parties to block President Abdurrahman
Wahid (Gus Dur) from further steps towards democracy and generally
weakening his position. This is also seriously endangering prospects
of sustainment of territorial integrity of a unitary Indonesia.

Above I touched upon the coming of age of the Indonesian political
class. But Indonesia is large and non-homogenous in its state of
development. The New Order regime had disenfrachised broad layers
of society. The reopening of democratic opportunities of representation
also brought some immature political elements, mainly in some minor
Muslim parties, which have continuously been the source of disruptive
interferences into the reform process.

Already right after the elections of 1998, they tried to blackmail the
establishment into conceding them a larger number of parliamentary seats
than their share of the vote, by threatening not to endorse the results
of the elections (which required a unanimous vote). Subsequently, they
almost caused a crisis in the presidential elections, when the most
promising candidate of the democratic reform wing was a woman (Megawati
Soekarnoputri), by arbitrarily claiming that a woman as president was
in conflict with Islamic law. But beside the fact that the gender of
the president of a secular republic is not regulated by Islamic law,
the attempt to bar women from the office of president violates the
Indonesian Constitution.

With such opportunistic antics, those minority Muslim parties are
only demonstrating their immaturity, because they are actually sawing
away the very branch on which they are sitting.

In 1965-1967, the military did not risk openly moving forwards
itself to undermine and then topple the then President Sukarno.
In the countryside, they incited followers of national and muslim
parties to massacre communists and other leftists. In the cities
they got intellectuals and students to demonstrate against Sukarno
and to purge ministries and other government agencies, etc. But
when the dirty work had been done for them, and the military regime
felt securely in power, it in turn purged its recent allies it no
longer needed, to deprive them of a share in the new power structure.

The Muslim minority parties which are presently lending themselves as
the same kind of "useful suckers" to the rogue military and Soeharto's
crony circle should not believe that they will somehow fare better if
these latter should come to power again. The small parties owe their
existence to the process of democratisation, and will be the first to
succumb in case of a renewal of military dictatorship, because they
cannot mobilize the kind of mass followings that back the major
political parties. Their erratic behaviour is not getting any
appreciation abroad, so they can hardly count on help from there
when the military decides it no longer needs them.

Already now, the rogue military has managed to upset investigations
into the Tanjung Priok massacre of Muslim activists. This has only
been possible because of continuous efforts by the small Muslim parties
to destabilise Gus Dur's government. One can hardly wish for a more
convincing demonstration of how counterproductive this opportunistic
politicking is for own Muslim interests.

More important than perspectives for opportunist party functionaries
are the business interests that stand behind them. These are partly
aggressive expansionist local business interests that speculate on
short term windfall advantages from the opportunistic manoeuvres
that are making life difficult for the president. These are very
shortsighted schemes, because even illegal profits of the mafia
finally want to be invested in a legal established market in a stabile
legal financial environment, and this is not different for windfall
profits. Business in general, whether local or national-scaled, new
or well established, require democratic government with dependable
legal institutions. The opportunistic business circles behind
political manoeuvres aimed at destabilising the government are
therefore actually shooting their very selves in the foot.

Another part of those opportunistic business circles are apparently
tied either with economic enterprises of the army, or with businesses
of Soeharto's crony circle. This rogue capital is particularly difficult
to deal with, because they do not necessarily stand to lose in case of
a restoration of military dictatorship. But if they continue to cause
trouble to the government and thus sabotage the reform to democracy and
restoration of peace in the provinces, they leave the government no
other choice than to expropriate the wealth of the Soeharto clan and
crony circle, and to privatise army-owned businesses.

Already in the 1970s, army officers gained control of lands and businesses
in the provinces, greatly to the disadvantage of already established
local businesses and traditional landowners. Privatisation of military
businesses and investigations into illegally ammassed firtunes by army
officers could be channelled to bring advantage to local businesses,
which would bring good pointsd for the government. Clan and crony-owned
enterprises could be reappropriated in an analogical fashion if it
becomes evident that they are serving as means to undermine peace,
stability, and restoration of democracy.

One must bear in mind, that the democratic government has not yet been
finally established, but that the former regime is still far from having
been entirely liquidated. Political parties will only be able to take
full advantage of a free competition of opinions and policies when
democracy is fully established. Before that, many oppositional policies
would automatically benefit antidemocratic interests of restoring the
old regime and thus be subversive to democracy. It is for this reason,
that the government was formed as a coalition of all parties represented
in parliament. One must therefore constantly remember, that breaking out
of the coalition at this stage is "counter-reformation".

So far, the military as well as clan and crony circles have been
tenaciously resisting inverstigations into their involvement in past
crimes of corruption and violation of human rights. But there still is
another category of crimes that has not yet been even touched upon.
Continuous violations of human rights and corruption of local resources
has led to the acute danger of the country falling apart, and presently
still continuing incitement of violence in the provinces, particularly
in Maluku, is severly aggravating the situation. Therefore, the next
step for government investigations can already be based on charges of
treason. Rogue elements in the military will probably not be able to
rally inner solidarity from the ranks when charged with treason.

Success of the reform to democracy is a vital condition for the
preservation of national unity and continued integration of West Irian
and Aceh in the Republic of Indonesia. If the president does not succeed,
these two provinces will have no other choice than to force a separation
from the Republic. Because, however dubious their perspectives in case
of a separate development might be, remaining within an Indonesia in
which the army retains its extraordinary prerogatives and in which
democratic rules of government are not guaranteed would be for them
even more disastrous.

This series of discussions on the problems raised by the West Papua
Congress began with an appraisal of the organisation and immediate
results of that congress, in which the exceptionally high skill of
the organisers and their very valuable contribution to the general
process of democratisation as well as to the preservation of national
unity were noted. In the time between the writing of that first section
and the present sixth and last one (the delay in outputing this section
was due to my attending a conference these last three days on conflict
and violence in Indonesia), there have been new developments which can
only serve to confirm that first appraisal.

After yesterday's meeting with the president, the official representatives
of the Papuan Council stated their trust in and support of the president,
and at the same time warned that any attempt to topple the president
would automatically lead to secession of West Irian.

Again, like in the results of the West Papua Congress, the West Papuans
have given an important lesson to all Indonesias: the president and all
national reform and pro-democracy forces on one side, and West Papuans,
Acehnese, and other ethnic groups that have becom victims of the regime
on the other side, are each other's natural allies, and must join forces
with each other as the one and only chance for reform to democracy in
Indonesia to be successful.

As long as each of them fights for themselves, and even against each
other, they are making it very easy for the enemies of democracy. Now
too, just like during the struggle for independence from colonialism,
the most effective strategy of the enemy of the nation is "divide et
impera". In fact, the easiest way to dertermine who is a true enemey of
the nation is to observe who is trying to divide rather to unite. The
only chance for the nation to succeed in overcoming the crisis is to
restore and maintain unity.