Subject: JP: Blind nationalism benefits the real enemy
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 08:49:03 -0400

Jakarta Post Monday, September 20, 1999

Opinion and Editorial

TNI fortified by West's approach to East Timor

By Amir Sidharta

JAKARTA (JP): Following the announcement of the result of the Aug. 30 East Timor direct ballot on Sept. 4, 1999, pro-Indonesia militia, armed with homemade and other weapons, wreaked immense havoc in East Timor, pushing Dili into chaos.

They attacked the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), burned villages and shot at refugees. They even attacked a Red Cross compound and burned the home of Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo.

Meanwhile, Indonesian police assigned to maintain law and order in the territory, stood by and watched without reacting adequately against the militia's violent acts. It was only after the UN Security Council met on the issue on Sept. 6, that the military acted the following day, and this was even following an Indonesian Military decision to impose martial law in the region.

The United Nations' humanitarian concern over the violence happening in East Timor led to a demand to dispatch an international peacekeeping force in the region.

While Australia prepared to send their troops, hundreds of Australians took to the streets, and groups even burned the Indonesian flag.

These actions led to a negative reaction from groups of Indonesian students, who protested against the United Nations and the West, in particular Australia.

Whereas in the past they would protest against Soeharto, and the dual function of the Indonesian Military and their presence in the House of Representatives, this time they blamed President B.J. Habibie for offering the option of independence to East Timor.

However, at the same time, they accused UNAMET of manipulating the ballots and lying about the situation in the region.

Citing the 1978 decree of the People's Consultative Assembly which incorporated East Timor into Indonesia, politicians, including reformist politicians, insisted that based on that decree, East Timor was still part of the sovereign state of Indonesia.

Many Indonesians are now condemning the people of East Timor, who have opted for their independence, for being ungrateful for the enormous material and moral support that Indonesia channeled into the region to ensure development.

Due to government-regulated less than impartial information available about East Timor, little do they know that a major part of the funds channeled to the region was used to ensure a firm grip on power and maintain a repressive military presence.

Now, they could not care less about the real reason why the East Timorese opted for independence as opposed to becoming part of Indonesia.

The threat of aggression against Indonesia has triggered a potent narrow nationalism within certain segments of Indonesian society, causing them to forget who their real enemy actually is.

This nationalistic fervor has overshadowed the fact that the decision of the East Timorese people to become independent from Indonesia was made through a democratic process, which is something for which they themselves struggled for prior to the fall of Soeharto's oppressive regime.

It has also led students to overlook two of their main enemies: Soeharto and the role of the military in politics. They are the ones to blame for starting and causing all of East Timor's problems.

They turn a blind eye to the fact that the 1978 Parliamentary Act which legitimizes Indonesia's annexation of East Timor was a product of the New Order regime, and should be reviewed in a highly critical manner.

Whereas in the past, students fought idealistically for the people in the name of humanity and democracy, today the issue has been degraded to plain and blind nationalism.

This blind nationalism causes people to tend to tolerate and even accept the mistakes of the New Order regime, and forget about their demands for democracy and their concern for humanity and justice.

In effect, although this nationalism seems to undermine Habibie's position, it may strengthen the military and the status quo's grip on power.

Therefore, it may be important for the international community to reconsider their approach in condemning the horrendous violence that has happened and might still be continuing in East Timor. The international community should shift the focus of their widely-directed political condemnation against Indonesia and the Indonesian people, to condemnation based on humanitarian concerns, directed only against the excesses of the New Order regime, including Habibie's incompetent government and the military.

By following this course of action, the international community will avoid triggering outbreaks of blind and narrow nationalism, which will only strengthen the military and the status quo's position.

This approach may also remind the Indonesian people that their struggle is against the mistakes of the New Order and Habibie's supposedly "reformist" rule, and not against democracy, justice and humanity.

Only by working together with the Indonesian people, can the world help to put and end to a tyranny that has been allowed to continue for 33 years.

The writer is an observer of political affairs.


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