Indonesia: Papua In Jakarta's Eyes


Gerry van Klinken

The sheer diversity of a country like Indonesia does not automatically have to be an obstacle to a democratic transition from authoritarianism. The existence of other ethnic groups is not a significant problem, according to some political scientists, if they are not 'awakened'. Even then, such groups can be accommodated if they are not 'militant'. However, when there is an awakened, militant 'nation' within the country's borders that challenges the 'titular nation', then the transition to democracy becomes very difficult.

This scenario fits the Papua-Jakarta relationship. There can be no doubt that Papuan nationalism is not only awakened but also increasingly militant. Jakarta has ruled out any suggestion of federalism, permitting only a very weak form of Papuan 'special autonomy'. Moreover, it has refused to restrain the military, the key institution of the New Order's authoritarianism in the past.

The problems are not all on one side. There are, it must be admitted, negatives in Papua, and positives in Jakarta. But Jakarta's rigid adherence to an inflexible concept of state sovereignty, and its refusal to acknowledge the military’s past brutality or to accept Papuan offers of dialogue, are setting the conditions for disaster. The collapse of reformasi, now evident in so many areas of Indonesia's polity from banking to the school curriculum, is felt most keenly on Indonesia's 'colonial' periphery in Papua and Aceh.

So where is the good news? In civil society in Jakarta, some significant initiatives are being taken to learn more about Papua. On the Papuan side, there is an impressive range of initiatives to break the logjam in Jakarta.

The latest Papuan institution to come up with a set of proposals for Jakarta is the 'Special Papuan parliamentary committee to support the aspirations of 16 May 2002'. Its fifteen delegates are composed of seven members from the provincial parliament (DPRD-I), two from non-government organisations, two from the Papuan Presidium Council (PDP), and four from customary indigenous institutions. The committee was formed following a demonstration on 16 May that protested that the government’s enquiry (KPN) into the murder of PDP leader Theys Eluay last year was flawed. A demand was presented to the military commander, Mahidin Simbolon, for the withdrawal of all Kopassus forces from Papua (suspected of the murder). Committee members then travelled to Jakarta to press again for a credible inquiry into Theys' death, and for political dialogue.

Most Papuans categorically reject the Papuan Special Autonomy law. However, the Papuan leaders in this latest committee are adopting a stance of critical support for special autonomy. They see it as a process rather than a goal, and say that it remains an opportunity for dialogue with Jakarta. They are beginning to focus on one of the law's most important symbolic clauses, Article 46, which provides for the establishment of a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation tasked 'to provide clarification of Papua's history'.

An embryonic movement for solidarity with Papua is beginning to emerge in Jakarta. The prestigious journalistic institute ISAI has begun a program to support the press in Papua. An excellent online news service from the Papuan human rights organisation Elsham is being read around Indonesia. Plans are in hand in Jakarta to make documentary television films about Papuans’ sporting achievements, art and culture, and their history of suffering, that would give Indonesians rare opportunities to reassess common stereotypes.

WATCHPOINT: Now is the time, in Papua, to prove that history can be unpredictable.


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