Subject: 4 Book on Indonesia Reviewd: Parry, Nevins; Suryakusuma, Steele
also: The Australian: Moving with the Tempo of the Times
The Australian Saturday, October 22, 2005
New Order, Old View
Reviewed By Francesca Beddie (Public policy researcher, member of the Australian Press Council and editor of Asian Currents)
Three outsiders offer very different versions of Indonesia's tumultuous past, writes Francesca Beddie
In the Time of Madness By Richard Lloyd Parry, Jonathan Cape, 315pp, $39.95
A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor By Joseph Nevins, Cornell University Press, 273pp, $38
Sex, Power and Nation: An Anthology of Writings, 1979-2003 By Julia I. Suryakusuma, Metafor Publishing, 453pp, $24.95
IN 1985 I caught the Indonesian bug. As a new recruit to the diplomatic service my heart was set on Moscow, not Jakarta, but Jakarta was where I was sent. It took time to get used to the heat and smells and language, yet once I was established and reporting on Indonesian politics I was hooked. The issues were important: the role of the military and religion in the state; the complex relations of a huge, developing country with its neighbours, its donors and within its own borders. All these things mattered to the Indonesians I met, charming people who were passionately and critically engaged in nation building.
They also mattered in Canberra, where my colleagues analysed, argued and tried to formulate good policy that balanced principles of human rights and justice with the national interest. This led to exchanges of military personnel aimed at helping Australia know more about the way the Indonesian armed forces worked and planned, and at instilling some of our rules about the limits of power.
The authors of these three books would be dismissive of this interpretation. They see things more bluntly: the West colluded to prop up the Suharto dictatorship.
But their vision is blurred. All three are outsiders: Julia Suryakusuma, the daughter of an Indonesian diplomat and educated abroad, has remained an unconventional citizen, while Richard Lloyd Parry and Joseph Nevins are unable to step back from their own involvement in the story. For that reason I find it difficult to recommend their books unless you want to read something that confirms the oft-touted views about the Indonesian propensity for cruelty (Parry's dominant coda) or the international conspiracy against East Timor (the premise that clouds Nevins's account). Suryakusuma's essays are likeliest to appeal if you are interested in feminist analyses of Indonesian politics and society.
Parry is a fly-in, fly-out journalist, The Times' Asia editor based in Tokyo. I'd hoped his book would be a refreshing change from Australian accounts of contemporary Indonesia, so many of which are haunted by Balibo, where five journalists were killed in 1975. It is not. Parry's background knowledge comes from those accounts. He has not delved far enough into Indonesian history and culture to bring fresh insight, which is why he makes the same mistake TV cameras do when they home in on a laughing Indonesian, suggesting the smile denotes mockery or defiance when it is quite possibly a mask for embarrassment or shame.
In the Time of Madness recounts the crises Parry reported on during Indonesia's tumultuous transition from 1997 to 1999. It is also his reflection on his response to traumatic events, how they gave him nightmares and challenged his courage. He explores these themes in an engaging style, but the result is a distorted view of Indonesia, one you would see in a circus mirror.
Far too much of the book is a gory account of the clashes between Dayak and Madurese populations in Kalimantan. Parry was witness to headhunting and cannibalism. These are irresistible material for a journalist, but what do they tell us about Indonesia? Does he intend to show how close to the surface the violent streak in Indonesia lurks or how magic permeates the culture and has even been a powerful influence on the way the nation is governed? It is hard to tell because his analysis is subterranean.
The second part of the book examines the downfall of the New Order. While his observations of Suharto are clever, they are founded on strange assertions about the nature of the dictator's 30-year rule. Speaking of politics, Parry says: "Suharto's greatest achievement [was] to tame the frenzied bull [that] Sukarno had ridden and transform it into a dozy, cud-chewing cow." Not for those who lived there. This is the line of a newcomer who does not realise that Suharto's grip on power was considered tentative in the first years; that it was the man's political skill, not his mystical powers, that allowed him to weave through crises and machinations.
Nor does it show an understanding of the extraordinary economic changes that came about during the New Order: the green revolution in the villages, the rise of the oil industry, the entrenchment of corruption. There was nothing somnolent about these. Parry goes on: "The New Order rested on a nullity, a denial of ideas and imagination." I disagree. It was a ferment of ideas.
Suryakusuma's book gives an inkling of these. Hers is a collection of writings from several decades. The focus is sex and politics, no easy topic to write about in Suharto's Indonesia but one she tackles by examining, for example, the role of officials' wives, the rise of non-government organisations and the sometimes defiant role of the Indonesian press.
Then we come to East Timor, a personal nadir for Parry who was evacuated from the UN compound when it was attacked in September 1999 in the wake of the referendum (officially the "popular consultation") on independence. He talks about the shame he felt about leaving, a sense of helplessness as he sat in Darwin watching events in Dili on television and the itchiness to get back, which he did to witness the arrival of Interfet. What he may have gone on to consider is the role of the journalist in modern conflict, reporting in real time, racing to beat the opposition or escape the bullets. Do these pressures compromise good reportage, blur the distinction between observer and participant? Why do journalists take the risk? Is telling the story enough or do beheadings and massacres and individual tales deserve explanation?
East Timor is also the subject of Nevins's book. He is an American academic by profession but a campaigner at heart and his mission is justice for the East Timorese people, betrayed by the international community and oppressed by the Indonesian occupation. There is no question that East Timor has suffered for far too long. Its Portuguese colonial masters neglected the place for centuries; the Japanese inflicted cruelty in World War II; in 1975 an era dominated by brutal Indonesian military rule began, culminating in the horrors of 1999.
What neither Parry's nor Nevins's book does is to place this history in context. In particular, neither is prepared to countenance that there was a different world view in 1975, informed by a fear of communism. People across the globe, in North America, Britain, Australia and Southeast Asia, believed the communists were encroaching and feared East Timor could become Indonesia's Cuba. Steeped in this mentality, the West's priority was for a stable Indonesia. It was a sell-out of the East Timorese but not an international conspiracy against them, as Nevins would suggest.
Both books make it plain that the world knew the timing of the "popular consultation" was dangerous. The Indonesian military did not agree with president Habibie's mercurial decision to cut East Timor loose. What we still do not know is the extent of that military opposition: Was it orchestrated from the top or was it, as the top has argued, rogue elements in East Timor that Jakarta could not control? Nevins tells us the Indonesian armed forces wanted to use Timor to warn others in the archipelago of the costs of challenging them and to deal a parting blow to the Timorese. That is plausible, but why then did the world push on, leaving the East Timorese exposed?
The answer seems to be an irresistible momentum that was embraced in East Timor and by activists across the world. The price was paid by the East Timorese, who achieved independence at far too high a cost.
Now they are their own country, grappling to forge a nation. That task is a secondary concern for Nevins, whose focus is on justice. He is critical of just about everyone, most of all Western governments but also the media and even those East Timorese who are not paying enough attention to the crimes of the past. He won't be satisfied until there is retribution. As he says, that has not been delivered by the woefully inadequate response of the Indonesian justice system. And while he is more tempered in his account of East Timor's decision to take a more conciliatory approach, it is clear this is not enough for Nevins.
Perhaps it is still too early to expect cool-headed reflections on the New Order and East Timor, but they are what would really contribute to the efforts under way to build better societies in the Indonesian archipelago.
The Australian Saturday, October 22, 2005
Moving with the Tempo of the Times
Reviewed By Dewi Anggraeni (Australia correspondent for TEMPO, and a regular contributor to The Jakarta Post)
Wars Within: The Story of Tempo, an Independent Magazine in Soeharto's Indonesia By Janet Steele Equinox Publishing 320pp, $22.95
WHEN, on June 21, 1994, Tempo, then the most respected news magazine in Indonesia, was banned by the Suharto government, many of its editors and journalists refused to accept defeat. They began publishing an online version, known as Tempo Interaktif. In Australia, while I started writing for The Jakarta Post and FORUM Keadilan, at social gatherings involving Indonesians and Indonesianists I continued to say I was the Australia correspondent for Tempo. And most people, including those working for the Indonesian government, expressed outrage or at least disappointment at the ban.
Occasionally, I attended events run by the consulate; at one gathering an Australian businessman, told I was a journalist for Tempo, asked, "So you work for the consulate?" I inquired why he'd drawn such an extraordinary conclusion. It transpired that all he knew about Indonesia and its politics was that it was a totalitarian society where the president and his family owned everything. "So this Temple must be a government newspaper and run from the consulate," he said.
I did not know where to start enlightening him on Indonesian politics. Janet Steele's Wars Within, while perfect, would not be published until 10 years after that occasion. This is not to say that Wars Within is not timely for today's readers in Australia, when the tendency for reductionism, instead of diminishing, is gaining prominence at an alarming pace. Steele, who began interviewing Tempo journalists in 1997 "while Tempo was still a ghost", reconstructed a biography of the publication from its founding in 1971 by Goenawan Mohamad, Fikri Jufri and their coterie of friends who shared their idealism and aspirations. Her research uncovers the remarkably complex modus operandi and continuous power play inside Tempo, transcending the period of necrolepsy between 1994 and 1998, the year it again began publishing in hard copy, right until this year. For readers outside Indonesia, what is more intriguing is the revelation of how Tempo editors and senior journalists had to perform dangerous pas de deux with the power wielders during Suharto's rule, all the while maintaining the quality of a news magazine that confronted difficult issues while so many others were driven to swim with the flow. It is worth remembering that Tempo's founders began by supporting Suharto's New Order because during the last years of Sukarno's government, when the communist-leaning cultural organisation LEKRA ruled the roost, they were persecuted, or at least pushed to a corner, for refusing to toe LEKRA's line. But it did not take long before those in Tempo felt let down by the new government and constrained from openly airing criticisms. It was clear that while this government was not averse to adopting free-market economy, it would not embrace liberal democracy.
One strategy was to assign senior editors to lobby different members of the power elite. A kind of symbiotic relationship inevitably developed between the designated senior editor and the powerful man. The editor as Tempo representative needed the man in order to get first exclusive interviews when there were turns in political development. The interviews would then be used as a springboard to a wider coverage, where the man's political opponents would also be quoted. In the meantime, the powerful man needed the prestige derived from being the first quoted by a publication well known to maintain impartiality and commanding more respect than those belonging to a particular interest group or simply mouthing the official propaganda. This strategy often proved slippery, since the constellation of power was never permanent. Suharto kept a vigilant eye on it, making sure that those who became too prominent and too solid for his liking were quickly sidestepped by orchestrating a power struggle where the party he favoured would receive every necessary assistance.
When in 1982 Tempo and several news publications were banned, deputy chief editor Fikri Jufri pursued the then information minister, General Ali Moertopo, who kept avoiding him. Fikri, who had known Moertopo since his student activism days in 1966, finally resorted to some emotional arm-twisting. He approached Moertopo's adjutant and said, "Look, you talk to him. Just tell him: I want to meet the man I knew when he was captain. I want to meet the Ali Moertopo I knew in 1966." And he got through.
That was when Tempo's licence to publish was merely frozen. In 1994 its licence to operate as a company was revoked. That was meant to kill the magazine and it took a change of government to bring the magazine back to life. Aptly, the present deputy chief editor, Toriq Hadad, is quoted recalling Goenawan's words, "We can be afraid but never subjugated".