Monday, August 6, 2007

BATAK Indo Younger Generation Migrating to the West

On Monday, June 7, Indonesians go to the polls to select a new government in what some see as the first truly free election in that nation's history as an independent state. Last year, Indonesia's President Suharto resigned under pressure after 32 years of iron rule. Though many Suharto supporters remain in positions of power, there are indications that voters may back opposition parties determined to reform a government that is, by almost any standard, exceedingly corrupt and oppressive.
Indonesia, long a Dutch colony, won independence shortly after World War II. Its first leader, President Sukarno, was a fiery nationalist who was overthrown in a murky coup in 1965. The coup was followed by a purge of leftists and violent outbursts resulting in the deaths or imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians. Suharto, who took power from Sukarno, established what he called a "new order" for Indonesia, a Western-friendly policy that emphasized economic development. Supported by funds from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Suharto was able to transform Indonesia into an economic tiger, while lining his own pockets and those of his supporters and brutally suppressing opposition voices. This came crashing down last year, when the Asian financial collapse emboldened Indonesian students and other reformers who succeeded in their demands for Suharto's resignation.
Many in Indonesia suffered under the autocratic rule of the Suharto regime, but few more than that country's leading novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He was imprisoned without charges or trial for 14 years and has been held under town arrest in Jakarta since 1979. Pramoedya's books are banned in Indonesia to this day, even under the reform government of the current president, B.J. Habibie. Still, Pramoedya's works, including four novels he wrote in prison that are collectively titled "The Buru Quartet," are circulated and prized by many in Indonesia.
Now 74, Pramoedya recently completed a tour of the United States, his first visit to this country and his first trip outside Indonesia since 1959. His memoir of his years in prison, "The Mute's Soliloquy," was recently published here in an English translation. The book includes letters he wrote to his wife, Maimoenah Thamrin, and eight children, three of whom are from an earlier marriage. A native of Java, Pramoedya sees his work as a writer as part of the process of building a sense of nationhood in Indonesia, a land of some 13,000 islands and 350 languages. In a conversation during the author's visit to Los Angeles late last month, translated by expatriate Indonesian Aya Ratih, Pramoedya talked about the plight of the Indonesian people who suffered first at the hands of the colonial Dutch and then at the hands of their own leaders, about the interplay between art and politics and of his concerns for the future of his nation.
Question: What should the role of politics be in literature, and can you imagine writing if you were not so intensely interested in politics?
Answer: Politics is about power, and everyone is affected by those in power. There are some who say literature should be free of politics. The irony here is that by taking that position, one is, in fact, making a political statement. When we accept, or reject, citizenship in a nation, that is a political act. Paying taxes is a political act, because it is an acknowledgment of political power. It is impossible to separate politics from literature or any other part of human life, because everyone is touched by political power.
Q: In Indonesia, power is concentrated in Jakarta, on the island of Java. How has Javanese culture affected the development of Indonesia as a country?
A: Java and its culture have been very influential in Indonesia. One reason for this is geographical. Java has many rivers, and these rivers were the main routes for travel, commerce and communication. Java has also traditionally been the largest supplier of rice in the region. These are two reasons why Java has been the most densely populated island in the area since before the colonial era. This, too, is why the Javanese culture is the most developed in Indonesia. Javanese Indonesians have been the most influential members of the military structure in Indonesia. The Portuguese, and later the Dutch colonists, established their headquarters on Java. The Dutch colonized the area by operating with the rulers of Java and actually exported local rulers from Java to rule the entire archipelago. Thus, under the Dutch, all power became centralized in Java, with the capital, Jakarta, as its center.
This Java-centric policy continues to exist in Indonesia today. The power structure in Java has extracted resources from the rest of the country for the benefit of those living in Java.
Q: Given that Indonesia has a long history of strong, centralized rule, how will the country survive in the post-"new order" Suharto era? Indonesia is so diverse and scattered across so much ocean--what will make it a nation without a totalitarian ruler at the helm?
A: Politically, this diversity was actually, at first, a unifying force. Under Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, we had a motto--"Unity in Diversity." But in the longer term, this idea has its shortcomings because it doesn't provide for a unique, overall Indonesian perspective. For instance, Indonesia is a land of islands, connected by the sea, and as such is a maritime country. But from the days of the Dutch until the present day, it has been ruled by an army, not a navy. Under the rule of an army, the ocean becomes a separator, rather than the connector that it should be. Were we a maritime country, the ocean would be a bridge rather than a barrier. And time and time again, it has been proven that an army cannot defend the archipelago. This was proven when the Dutch were overwhelmed by British forces in 1812, and again when the Japanese quickly overran the islands in 1942.
In spite of repeated failures in the past, the power in Indonesia is still concentrated in a land-based army. The lesson is clear. If Indonesia doesn't want to experience this kind of defeat again, it must be managed as a maritime country. It must also move away from the Java-centric policies of the past.
In fact, at one time, President Sukarno suggested the capital of Indonesia be moved to the island of Borneo, geographically in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago. This might have created a more diverse government that was less controlled by the interests of Java. This idea died with the Sukarno government and the arrival of Suharto, whose government went on to loot the rain forests of Borneo for [its] personal gain .
Q: But what unites all these people from all these various island cultures? What makes them all feel Indonesian?
A: What unifies us as Indonesians is our shared experience under the colonial power of the Dutch. There is a uniformity in the systems of government which came from the colonial days. This uniformity exists in the military, the police and the education system, and it all came from the Dutch colonizers. One sees this in almost every facet of life, including sports--Indonesians are great soccer fanatics, for instance.
Q: How do you see the country evolving that base of shared colonial experience to create its own political culture?
A: I have said again and again that this is a test for the young generation of Indonesians. How they deal with this question is key to the future of the nation. The older generation, under the new order, has failed.
Q: How important was the political turmoil in your country in inspiring you to become a writer?
A: Indonesia is a very young nation, and we are still in the nation-building period. For me, writing is both my personal task and my national task. I believe that my books, such as the Buru Quartet, are part of the process of nation-building. Here in the United States, you are not concerned with this. You are well-established as a nation. Perhaps Indonesia today, in terms of nationhood, can be compared to the United States 40 years after the American Revolution. The making of a nation is a long, complex project.
Q: You've expressed disappointment in your fellow Indonesian writers and artists for being less than vocal against the government's excesses. Has the intelligentsia been too economically comfortable to protest, or does its relative silence stem from something else, something cultural?
A: When a government is very oppressive, people have to be hypocritical to survive. This is almost universal.
Q: But in so many countries, intellectuals were a key force in bringing about social change. Do you see Indonesia's intellectuals as part of the failed generation you referred to?
A: Yes, and they have been part of the problem. Indonesian intellectuals cowered under Suharto's feet. They are supposed to be the pioneers in the resistance against oppression. Why didn't they speak out? Perhaps because of the long tradition of colonial paternalism. Indonesia is a country of yes men. Whatever those in power ask, Indonesians find it too easy to simply be hypocritical and say yes.
Q: About the coming election, do you believe it will be a free and fair contest, and are you worried about violence or other problems as a result of the voting?
A: I don't think the elections will result in substantial change. There are still too many elements of Suharto's new order in power. The major political forces, the military and bureaucracy are all still supporters of Suharto. So I have little hope for a free and fair election, and I was disappointed that former President [Jimmy] Carter is lending legitimacy to the process by agreeing to help monitor the voting. First of all, this election is only about choosing a president. And second, I believe when the government says "x," the truth is actually "minus x." So when they say the election will be free and fair, I say it will, in fact, have a predetermined outcome.
The government says it has changed, but I say it has not. My books are still banned. The government seized my home and will not return it. They are using it as a camp for soldiers who return from the war in East Timor. So I don't really believe in the sincerity of this regime when they say they stand for freedom.
Q: I assume you had opportunities to flee Indonesia, and yet you stayed, though you have been imprisoned and held under house arrest for three decades. Why?
A: I take my citizenship very seriously. I didn't get it for free, I fought for it. It would be unthinkable for me to walk away from that responsibility and just give up. If I had left, and had tried to live and work as an exile, I would have not been able to send any message to Indonesians. There are so many protests directed at the Indonesian government from outside Indonesia that they don't even bother to pay attention. So I would have been very ineffective as an exile.
Q: How has this, your first visit to the United States, changed your opinion about this country?
A: Whatever impressions I have are, of course, immediate, and I have not had a great deal of time to fully digest all that I have seen. What I knew about the United States I learned from books. This history of your country is filled with oppression. But when I arrived here, I saw how the different peoples and different races live together, peacefully. I saw this, and it made me cry, because I want this for Indonesia.
I have to reevaluate my thinking about the United States. I just read that the crime rate here has fallen 7%. I also read about the plight of Native Americans, whose land and culture was expropriated. And I have read the shocking news of these shootings by high-school students. All this makes me wonder what's going on in the United States. I think that it is not so easy to understand this country.
I would like to say a few other things about your country. First, I would like to ask that the U.S. stop sending weapons to Indonesia. These weapons are used to oppress the Indonesian people. I would like to see a new, more humane era in relations between Indonesia and the United States. Secondly, I ask that people in this country lend their support to the struggle of the young generation of Indonesians who are trying to make sure the reform process continues. American support is important to these young people.
Q: Why do you think the Indonesian government allowed you to leave the country after keeping you under house arrest for all these years?
A: I believe that, because the request came from the U.S. government, the Indonesian regime could not say no. Perhaps it is a small victory for the student movement. It is certainly a personal victory for me.
Q: Even those of us who live fairly comfortable lives sometimes find ourselves in despair. You have been able to find hope under some of the worst circumstances imaginable. How did you continue to live and look forward to a new day?
A: For me, it was a sense of injustice. That gave me the spirit to fight against it, to live so that I could resist. I continue to have hope because I believe that the young generation of Indonesians will be more critical than the previous generation, because they are more educated. Of course, throughout our history, there have always been external factors which influence developments within Indonesia. I believe now that young people in Indonesia are being influenced by the new generation from all over the world in their desire for responsible government. During my visit here, I have seen that many young Americans support the student movement in Indonesia. So that, too, gives me hope.*


No comments: