INDONESIAN NATIONALISM AND PAPUAN IDENTITY

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Tempo Magazine September 4 - 10, 2000

By Frans Maniagasi An observer of Papuan issues

There is a political reality existing in Irian Jaya today which one cannot ignore. That is the reality of a diminishing sense of Indonesian nationalism and a loss of pride in being Indonesian among the Papuans.

This reality was clearly apparent on the 55th anniversary of Indonesian independence last August 17. In nearly every corner of Irian Jaya, the red-and-white Indonesian flag was not seen flying from residents’ houses, nor were there any celebrations traditionally organized to mark the national day.

Why did the Papuans lose their sense of Indonesian nationalism and, increasingly, their pride in being Indonesian? The answer can be found by looking at the problem in perspectives. First, in historical/political perspectives prior to the integration of the territory into the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia on May 1, 1963. Secondly, in subjective ideological perspectives arising from the empirical experience of the Papuans in the development under the New Order regime. Thirdly, in human rights perspectives, i.e. human rights violations by the Indonesian Military.

The historical/political perspectives are irrelevant to our study of the problem. What we need to examine is the second and third aspects of the problem: the ideological and human rights perspectives. It is these two aspects which have brought the Papuans to a point whereby they no longer feel part of the Indonesian nation.

To be sure, nationalism should be understood as a reflection of a subjective awareness, a desire by a community to identify itself in an entity. Prof. Ben Anderson formulates such an identity as an "imagined community" in describing the process of national awareness early in the struggle of the Indonesian people for independence -- colonialism having clearly defined the borders of the territory then called the Dutch East Indies. It is this awareness of an imagined community that has motivated the Papuans to question their place -- their identity -- within the Indonesian entity.

This quest for identity as a social community was reflected in the demand by the Papuans for the restoration of "Papua" as the name of the territory, which was obscured by the Indonesian government by calling the province "Irian Jaya." The Papuan demand certainly has a political significance and implication as it ushers in a new era and paradigm, an actualization of what is meant by Indonesian nationalism. The name Papua itself is a sensitive issue, so much so that the People’s Consultative Assembly in its Annual Session last August flatly rejected the idea of calling the province by that appellation.

The name Papua has moved Papuan intelligentsia to call for a "review" of Indonesian rule over the territory. To put it more bluntly, what the Papuans demand is the establishment of a Free Papua, a demand which was reinforced by the Papuans with public demonstrations, the flying of the Papuan flag and the singing of a national anthem called Hai Tanahku Papua (Hail Papua My Homeland).

This factor needs to be clarified because the subjective awareness of the Papuan people has been damaged and annulled by the empirical experience they endured under the New Order and by human rights violations committed by the Indonesian Military in the name of maintaining "national stability" and stamping out "separatist elements" of the Free Papua Movement.

Many emancipation fighters of the Papuan people have been killed -- men like Ferry Awom, Arnold Ap, Dr. Thomas Wangtai and Steven Saripati. -- and human rights violations perpetrated by the military, such as what happened in Manokwari in 1965, Sorong in 1968, Jayawijaya in 1977, Jayapura in 1984 and 1988, Timika in 1977 and 1986, Mapendua in 1989, Biak and Abepura in 1998 and, most recently, in Sorong last August when police attacked protesters within the compounds of the Immanuel Boswezen Church.

The killings and human rights violations prove that the Indonesian government is unwilling to let the Papuans express and articulate their own cultural identity, thereby further reinforcing their rejection of being part of Indonesia.

Papuans have reached the final phase, in which they have creatively expressed their identify by flying their own Papuan flag and singing their own national anthem.

The subjective Indonesian ideology has been destroyed by the practices and realities of life under the New Order and the empirical experience of the Papuans in development under the regime, not to mention the human rights violations by the Indonesian Military. The subjective awareness of the Papuan people involves a process which eventually will lead to the formation of an identity that is uniquely Papuan.

The problem now is how the Indonesian government should position the Papuan identity correctly within the Indonesian context so that the Papuans will not see themselves being marginalized and extracted from their cultural roots -- "outsiders" within Indonesian society.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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