Mounted on the Web September 10, 1996.
Carried on INDONESIA-L mailing list May 21, 1997.
Annotated corrections and Retrospective added on
June 11, 1997.
An Indonesian translation was clandestinely published
in April 1998 in Indonesia.

Waruno Mahdi

The Pragmatics of Championing Democracy


Should We Somehow React upon What is Happenning in Indonesia?


On July the 27th, the headquarters of the Indonesian Democracy Party PDI at 58 Jalan Diponegoro, Jakarta, held by supporters of the presidential candidate Megawati Sukarnoputri heading a relatively wide coalition of supporters of a democratic renovation of government, was raided and occupied by government forces with a degree of violence and brutality, which some perhaps considered surprising, others again, perhaps not. All those not immediately involved, either as perpetraters or as victims, within the country and around the world, suddenly found themselves confronted with the challenge -- for some perhaps welcome, for others again, perhaps discomforting -- to take some kind of stance -- if not in the loud open with all its ominous consequences, then in the perhaps even more relentless quietitude of ones own inner self -- in an apparently open-and-shut case of an authoritarian regime cracking down against a movement for democracy. Now, we all know that we are for democracy, and therefore couldn't possibly tolerate such goings-on. Or do we?

The choice in favour of democracy had always been an easy one to make in Sunday speeches. In the bad old days of the cold war, it was also made easy on Mondays. There was this force majeure which set down a very simple, and at the same time compelling criterion: all regimes beyond the iron curtain pertained to the empire of evil, and were per definition undemocratic. Such regimes, however, no matter how authoritarian, even under Pinochet or the Greek colonels, which had the good fortune of having established themselves this side of the curtain, found themselves in the free world. All criticism had to bow to the reason of state that called for a global alliance, if not of democrats, then at least of freeworldlers, to withstand the threat of a domino cascade emanating from behind the curtain. That was the iron logic of the bare facts of the world we lived in as it was at that time, even if some of us were perhaps not as happy about this as others.

The clarity of the situation was only marred by a few idiosyncratic regimes that chose to sit on the fence. But that, we were told, was immoral, so they could not count on getting the whitewash treatment one was compelled to accord free-world dictators. Typically, these fence-sitters were former colonies with some accounts still open with their respective former colonizers, the latter all just happenning to be staunch pillars of the free-world alliance. The same force majeure, by which aforementioned dictators came to their whitewash, accorded indemnity to the former colonial masters, leaving some former colonies or half-colonies standing in the rain. Those, like Castro's Cuba (not even a former colony, or at least not recently enough), who thereupon crossed all the way to the other side out of spite (the politological term currently in for this kind of thing seems to be "cojones"), were the rare exception. And some may argue that even these might have decided differently, if they had seen a realistic alternative. The mainstream, however, chose instead to keep to those basic principles that made up the underlying ideals of the free world and, even on finding themselves pushed out, kept on frantically clinging to the fence, providing as before for the right of property and private enterprise.

I must apologize for pulling in all these bygones by the ear, but the various press reports covering the violence and bloodshed at 58 Jalan Diponegoro had one point in common: they never forgot to remind the reader that Megawati was the daughter of former President Sukarno. Overtly, this was obviously to explain the popularity she enjoyed, making her the only candidate who stood a serious chance of winning the elections against Soeharto. At the same time, however, it also apparently provided for the reserved undertone of, well, you know who Sukarno was, or was supposed to be, or whatever ... Now, strictly speaking, Sukarno really cannot complain. For, what kind of a dictator must a would-be dictator be, if, three decades after having been deposed, and long after his death, his very name is seen mobilizing a majority vote for daddy's daughter. In this way, those deprived of the whitewash referred to above occasionally do come to a whitewash after all, a spontaneous one, not planned from above. Let each person be free to decide for him/herself, which of the two kinds of whitewash would be the preferable one. As for democracy, that's somehow like when you let the people have a say, isn't it? Besides, with regard to nearby Cambodia, I believe, one has learned to appreciate a great leader of his people, whom one had once likewise condemned to sitting on the fence.


Returning now for a second go on the dilemma of to support or not to support a pro-democracy movement (we'll still be having several more), our eyes were first opened to its actual complexity when the cold war was over, and there were no barriers left -- so, at least, one might have thought -- to prevent us from hurling ourselves into an age of global freedom and democracy. Those self-evident principles, not needing of further proof, by which each of us deep in his/her heart distinguished the righteous rule of democracy from the sinister workings of dictatorship, seemed to function, at least in part, in some of the cases. Pinochet was dunked, even if not far enough down for some. The dramatic upheavals in East Europe alone were already more than anyone could have anticipated in the most daring of democratic dreams.

In the Far East too, the wind of change seemed to be blowing. The Tian-an-men massacre and follow-up reprisals met with stern reprimand which has only recently somewhat relaxed to the routine some-serious-words accompanying the otherwise mutually gratifying business as usual. In Korea, Roh Tae Woo is facing charges for a massacre he once unleashed upon freedom-loving compatriots in Kwangju. And in Indonesia, Soeharto got the message that not all the excesses of traditional New-Order methods of power maintenance was going to be tolerated any more. But then ... It took the unlikeliest (and most morbid) of occasions, the burning lashes of a slender cane of bamboo (or was it rattan) on the tender buttocks of a lily-white American teenager, to brutally bring home the inexplicable, the improbable, nay the impossible into our minds: democracy and human rights are not universal? (Sorry, I couldn't get my fingers to type that out without the question mark).

Perhaps there is a vicious conspiracy behind all this, but just at the very moment in the history of mankind, in which the final proof seemed to have been given, of the triumph of democracy over all systems of authoritarian coercion, we are confronted with a new wisdom to tacitly condone high-handed police methods and authoritarian rule under certain conditions. I am not at all happy about rubbing it in to fellow members of enlightened mankind, that it was probably more self-interest and economic calculation, than objective unbiased consideration, that stood behind this statesmanly about of mind. Starry-eyed whiz-dom of the fan club of the West Pacific, perplexed by the stunning pace of economic growth in countries of East and Southeast Asia, came up with an imaginative concoction of oriental esoterics and traditionalist voodoo. The regimes in power in many of these countries would have qualified with honours for a veneer of the good old whitewash, were it not for the incommodious circumstance that the cold war was over. One thing seemed clear, they had to be given some whitewash just the same, one only needed a reason why for presenting to the awe-struck public.

As convenient as this time-tested way of handling things may seem, it might be not only fruitful, but even life-saving to realize, that this too is a relict of the cold war. Can one really still permit oneself, or, to formulate it otherwise: do the unmerciful realities still leave us with no other choice, but to send out unwitting babes-in-the-woods, innocently ignorant of sociological elementaries, to figure it out for themselves in the manner of what Graham Greene once chose to call "the quiet Americans", at the cost of lives? Lives, not only of e.g. Somalians in Mogadisho, but also of US marines and other UN forces? This is not to belittle the efforts of the men behind the scenes -- there is no reason to doubt that they are doing their best. The question is only, whether we are providing the theoretical foundations to encapacitate them to satisfactorily fulfil their important mission.

Early democracy the way it is known from e.g. early Greeks or Norsemen was -- I don't think I am saying anything new -- a remnant of primitive clan society, and had no chance to survive under the processes of economical and political consolidation that made out civilization. The destruction of that rustical democracy at the hands (more correctly under the swords) of Egyptian pharaohs, Roman, Chinese, Aztecan emperors, Alexander, Attila, Jenghiz Khan, Shaka Zulu apparently layed down the conditions (or would have, if allowed to succeed) for further economic development by forcibly uniting a sufficiently large geographic area with a sufficiently large population under a single political administration under uniform legal conditions. It was only at the end of a long and painful process, during which not only economical, political, and social structures, but even people's very mentalities passed through a succession of changes, that modern democracy emerged. The rise of cities and of an urban middle-class, an inevitable consequence of the technical demands of upkeep of the mass armies with which absolute monarchs maintained their sovereignty against rival aggression, finally led to a situation, in which the middle class could successfully contest the primacy of the aristocracy.

It was apparently the very nature of the new economic order, based on the productive force and financial power of middle-class craftmanship, commerce, and banking, that raised the unviolability of the individual, private property, and the freedom of enterprise to the rank of fundamental legal rights, and let democratic representation become the solely adequate system of power derivation. At the same time, however, it seems important to note that the "post-industrial" liberality which the presently living majority of the population of industrial nations experiences or experienced as democracy, was the result of a relatively recent development within this 20th century.

Particularly at earlier stages of pure capitalism, political activity of the labouring majority of the population was subject to various legal restrictions and close police scrutiny. In fact, the very emergence of middle-class power took place under strict Calvinistic and other puritanist ideology, and was followed by a period in which industrial discipline had to be forced upon a population of rustical pastoral culture background. In several countries, notably the UK and the US, the respective political regimes under which the latter disciplining proceeded continue even to be formally (and correctly) characterized as democracies. There is therefore nothing orientally esoteric about the role which austere Confucianist or Islamist ideology is playing in newly emerging industrial societies of the East. Even without realizing it, they are each in their own way faithfully following upon the path once layed out by the West, thereby going through not only all the physical movements, but also all the mental or spiritual ones the West had gone through.

But does this mean that critics should be silenced? I'd say, by no means. The tricky thing is only, that justification of the one or the other form of criticism of political systems in threshhold countries of the present must be measured by one's respective attitude towards the same in 17th till early 20th century Europe, USA, and Japan (centuries where respectively applicable, of course). Let's be honest: the forms of social equity belonging today to the elementaries of Western democracy too we owe mainly to the commitment of countless self-sacrificing pioneers and protagonists, originally backed at best only by a small minority, an often despised minority. With regard to the situation in Indonesia, one must admit that it is a happy occasion to see, that the laming stupor of fear that had taken grip of society after the mass killings of 1965-1967, subsequently rekindled by periodic crackdowns, has now given way to a growing preparedness to speak out and take action.

For, it is not at all my purpose, in all this, to try to provide a plausible excuse for authoritarian behaviour of Far-Eastern governments. Apologetic theories of orientalist esoterism and the inevitable euphemisms of the diplomats have already done more here, than one could ever hope to achieve by more rational argumentation. It is only that, upon entering into the finer details, one cannot hope to arrive at any cogent results without some analytical insight into the inherrent sociology. That is where esoterics and diplomacy must fail. Nowadays, news programs are not only designed to inform. Their broadcasters' commercial success apparently also depends upon their being sufficiently entertaining. In this sense, perhaps, the more voodoo, the better. But when it comes to making decisions like whether or not to send in the marines, and if yes: how, then men's lives are at stake, then the decisionmakers want results of sober, well-founded, in-depth analysis.


Having been asked to comment on Megawati's nomination as presidential candidate some months ago, I quite frankly replied that one shouldn't choose a president for his or her name, but for his or her political platform, for the political program embodied by the ticket. Although Megawati had managed, among others with the support of her father's name, to consolidate a wide coalition of all pro-democracy groups being in opposition to Soeharto, she had no concrete political and economic program, other than the pledge to democracy. I therefore added in my reply, that it would seem more prudent to choose the government candidate, provided this was not Soeharto himself, but a successor of his own choice. The reason I put forward was, that it is better to change the horse in an orderly manner in the stables, than somewhere midway at an unexpected moment. He should not miss the opportunity to have a successor of his choice taking over the office while he still had the power and influence to provide guidance where he deemed it necessary for the new incumbent, because an unexpected and unplanned change through sudden death -- Soeharto is in an advanced age and suffers from health problems -- is likely to have chaotic consequences for the country.

Returning now to Megawati's coalition, its most striking feature is perhaps its sympathetic image inviting support from anyone considering him/herself a democrat. But the heart is rarely a good counselor in politics. It is very easy to be for democracy when one happens to be in the opposition. Even supposing that all political groups united behind Megawati would also stand up to their pledge after fetching a majority vote, their inability to provide for a common program before elections leaves ample room for doubt that the coalition would hold together for long once it gained power. Democracy can only be successfully maintained under conditions of political stability. The failure to guarantee such conditions would let the best of pro-democracy aspirations remain a dream, a nice one, no doubt, but, alas, "not of this world". Furthermore, political instability would also endanger the economic stability and growth, and even enhance existing centripetal tendencies in the provinces with even more chaotic consequences. In the sum total, this would mean more suffering than benefits for the population in general. From an international perspective, one may not allow for such a massive destabilization in this sensitive region of economic growth even if it were many times more hypothetical. That a fundamental change is necessary in the country can hardly be denied, but what that change should be like is perhaps not necessarily that which may strike us at first glance to be the most obvious.

Soeharto's main weakness lies in his inability to find an adequate successor for himself. This is is a predicament of own making. Ever since deposing former President Sukarno 30 years ago, during which time no legal opposition of any kind was provided for by the political system (the "New Order") he introduced, his main strategy for personal power consolidation lay in cutting down every potential rival from his own alma mater, the military, before that rival could build up enough political profile to infringe upon the absolutist extent of his power. It is only since the end of the cold war, as pressure was brought to bear upon Soeharto from outside, that opposition of any kind received a chance to voice itself, and that the candidacy of Megawati became at all thinkable. This caught Soeharto in a situation, in which he no longer had an own counter-nominee he could move forward, having successfully knocked out all potential candidates from his own stable. Under serious stress for the first time since the untimely death of Tien Soeharto, his wife and consort, the ex-general fails for the first time under fire: his panic-reaction against Megawati's candidacy has resulted in an unprecedent upsurge in her popularity. If he had had any misgivings about perhaps losing the elections to Megawati, he can now be quite certain of that outcome. He has maneuvered himself into the position of standing with his back to the wall: he cannot under any circumstances admit Megawati to the elections as rival candidate, and this at a time when the world is the least inclined to tolerate more bestialities from his henchmen.

Soeharto only has one chance to extricate himself from the mess he got himself into, without losing too many feathers. It is what he should have done from the very start if he had acted with the foresight of a statesman: not being able to come up with a counter-candidate, he should have taken in Megawati as his candidate, and aimed for a "grand coalition". This would actually have been the solely acceptable solution under his professed state philosophy of "harmony", which he never tired to stress when facing political opposition, but always tacitly forgot when it came to cracking down upon oppositioners. After having ransacked the PDI headquarters, and particularly in view of the accompanying bloodshed -- one must not forget that the killed and maimed were friends of Megawati -- this will of course cost him much more than if he had done the right thing from the very beginning. But firstly, people will be watching closely to see, whether the ex-general has the backbone to sacrifice a fraction of what he is used to demand from his men. Secondly, he himself is only too well aware that the "biological solution" is nigh, and that in the predictable free-for-all which will follow there is hardly any chance for the dynastic business empire he and Tien worked so hard to put together to survive. He doesn't have much of a choice, really....

Even under ideal conditions of democratic government, critical situations may arise, demanding that the productive rivalry of competing ideas temporarily give way to a period of the widest possible solidarity of the national community, during which time the country is left with a substantially curtailed opposition. Such was for example the case when Franklin D. Rooselvelt took office to pull the US out of the worst economic crisis in their history with his "New Deal", to then lead the nation through the trials of World War II. We may also recall Charles de Gaule's charismatic recourse to overt populism in reforming the French Republic when the country, its strength drained by the protracted Algerian War, and caught in a vicious circle of inner political fragmentation, was faced with the threat of a military coup d'etat. A particularly instructive example is perhaps the Kiesinger-Brandt big coalition in Germany, which securely led the nation through the most critical phase of the liberal revolution in the national cultural identity it passed through in the outgoing 1960s.


Is it at all worth everybody's while to get excited about the plight of democracy, or even simply of the political ethics of government, or of elementary respect for law and order in Indonesia? Would it not perhaps be wiser to discretely refrain from sticking one's nose into the internal affairs of the country, to simply let things take its own natural course and leave the country alone to solve its problems itself as it sees fit? To my mind, several aspects need to be more closely inspected in this regard.

Under the three decades of Soeharto's authoritarian rule, Indonesia not only successfully averted a nearly catastrophic economical disaster, but had then pulled itself up so far, that it is now vying for a position among the "tiger nations" of the Pacific seaboard. It may indeed be argued that much of this success the country owes on the one hand to the general economic upsurge of the whole region, and on the other on very advantageous price developments on the international market for several important Indonesian export products (coffee, timber, oil, natural gas). Nevertheless, it can hardly be denied that the strict disciplining which the society went through in the three decades of authoritarian government on one hand, and the creation of friendly conditions for investment even at the expence of rather fundamental rights of labour on the other, were crucial in the overall economic achievement.

This, it would seem at first glance, should move us to recall the sociological conclusions made above, characterizing such authoritarian methods as an inevitable phase all nations must once pass through on the road to industrialization. However, as much as such considerations may apply to threshhold and "tiger" nations of the Pacific, Indonesia under Soeharto's rule is a special case.

Several superficially remarkable, even if essentially trivial inconsistencies in the overall picture should already have made us wary. The country not only boasts a very high GNP annual growth-rate, from an importer of foodstuffs including rice, the main staple, it became self-sufficient in, and is now even an exporter of the same. Electricity has reached the villages (once proclaimed by Lenin as a basic condition for his socialist Utopia). And yet the people, better fed and dressed, are more discontented than ever, and anxious to support any opposition candidate. In spite of the spectacular growth of industry and commerce, and of the rising prosperity of a fast growing middle class, this would-be principle beneficiary of Soeharto's rule seems to hold no other pastime in higher esteem, than organizing opposition groups and movements or at least retelling the latest jokes and anecdotes about the president, and privately fears no greater smirch on his/her good name than to pass for a supporter of the latter.

One inconsistency which has passed mostly unnoted so far, however, will perhaps throw immediate light onto the actual nature of the problem. Whereas in most other threshold and "tiger" nations of the region the ideological support for ethical disciplining of society emanates immediately from the ruling party, group, strong-man, or oligarchy, this is not so in Indonesia. Here the government has been instrumental in maintaining the repressive infrastructure, but the ideological foundations of ethical discipline is provided by the essentially oppositional Islamic movement. It is a continuation of the struggle between feudal secular power and Islamic ecclesiastic authority, having a tradition of many centuries in Indonesia.

The president's favourite model of "Mandala" is a modification of feudal principles of power maintenance, and indeed manifests itself quite practically in the utilization of marriages of family members for the interest of the dynasty. Personal relationship to the "royal house" seems to be the principal factor for influence and business success. Even lifestyle and aesthetic taste of the "in" group is markedly feudal. The economic empire of the Soeharto family is apparently based on the one hand on funneling of commissions (sometimes reaching an extortionist percentage, and adding up to astronomical sums) up the burocratic hierarchy, and on the other hand on forced co-option of successful private businesses into the family empire. Thus, for instance, a succesful new regional airline may be faced with the choice of either only getting licences for less profitable flight routes, or selling out to one of the family members. One may argue, whether this is the liege lord demanding his due from tennants of his feif, the robber baron extorting his toll from the wayfarer, or the Sicilian godfather collecting contributions from clients, "grateful" for his protection. What they have in common is, that not the businessman collects the main share of the fruits of his productive creativity and venture, but a parasitic overlord. This is diametrically opposed to what we find in the rest of the West Pacific.

The spiritual motivation underlying the ethical discipline of the new industrial moral at grass roots, being the actual spiritual force behind the newly emerging threshold and "tiger" nations, could not possibly have been provided in Indonesia either by the president's "Mandala", or by his mysticist superstitions to which I shall return below. Feudal absolutism, as we know only too well from history, leads to decadence, to demotivation of the population in its economic efforts. The secret of the specific Indonesian variant of the Pacific success story lies in a for Soeharto very fortunate coincidence of factors: the exceptionally great natural wealth of the country and the already mentioned movement of prices on the world market, providing the basis for funding; the inductive effect of the spectacular economic growth of the whole region on private enterprise within the country; consolidation of a monolithic repressive pacification apparatus to ensure the political stability necessary for a booming economy, and to hold down basic rights of labour. This latter, combined with a reform of companies of the state sector served to encourage private investment of foreign capital as well as by domestic private initiative.

The middle class, going after its honest business of making profit and gaining tremendously from these actually quite fabulous conditions, at the same time sees in the mafioid methods of the Soeharto clan, and in the strangling grip of the corrupt burocracy serving the latter, an incalculable potential threat to its business prospectives, and in the decadent feudal lifestyle a continuous subversion of its principles of diligence and thrift. Like the "traditional" middle class in the past since the 15th century or earlier, the new middle class seeks its spiritual foundations in Islam. It seems quite singular, how down-to-earth material interests existing in a myriad of potential happenings may move back in an ephemereal haze, to materialize in the minds as immaterial principles of religion. That possibly explains why conflicting social or economic interests transform so readily into religious wars, e.g. in North Ireland or ex-Yugoslavia (would it sometimes not be easier to solve such conflicts by getting straight at the underlying social or economic factors?).

The statement of solidarity with Megawati by the leader of Nahdatul Ulama (NU), the influential Islamic social organization having longstanding representational ties with the traditional middle class, is an important signal. Although Sukarno always maintained good relations to the Islamic movement in the country since long before he became the first president of Indonesia, his political views were basically secular, and in some of his writings even came astonishingly close to those of a free-thinker. The PDI, whose candidate his daughter Megawati became, is also in its majority secular, and the somewhat smaller religious fractions united in it are Christian rather than Islamic. All this is certainly no secret for the NU, therefore revealing all the more, how much importance the Indonesian Islamic movement places in accomodation to secular demands of modern times in the interest of the country's prosperity on one hand, and in how far it accepts Megawati as a leading political figure on the other. Albeit, due to the Islam-orientated puritanist spirit which has increasingly permeated Indonesian daily life in the past decade, and particularly thanks to the poorly disguised antagonism between this spirit and Soeharto's New-Order style, all secular opposition in the country is to some degree religiously tinged. This makes it additionally attractive as political ally from the point of view of any religious movement proper.

By seeking a coalition with Megawati, Soeharto would more than just secure a tactical political majority to safely negotiate the next elections. Such a coalition would not only abate the nationwide groundswell of antipathy rising against him, it would even open venues for coming to terms with the influential Islamic movement without having to kotau before the clergy. Due to Megawati's relative inexperience, one might wonder whether she would not end up outbargained or even exploited by Soeharto. Now, one shouldn't underestimate the political mettle of daddy's daughter. Already her taking on the task of leading an opposition movement under conditions of the New Order bears testimony to her willpower and stamina. But even for those who still remain sceptical it must be obvious, that compromising Megawati's political stature, even supposing Soeharto managed to do so, would be the greatest of Pyrrhic victories for him. As a coalition partner, she can only be of value to him the way she is. Devaluated, Megawati would not help him anymore than imprisoned or in some other way put out of action, and the moment his failing health lets the reigns slip out of his hands, the hyenas will come in from all sides to finish off his family fortune. In itself, of course, that would not be a thing to be sorry about, if not that it would at the same time cause the whole country to sink into chaos ....

Nevertheless, a coalition is a coalition, and this, it would seem, requires compromises from both sides. The interesting thing about the present situation is, however, that the compromises Megawati will probably have to make wouldn't really be compromises in the actual sense. They wouldn't weaken, but would only strengthen her position. The main requirement for success for her bid for the presidency, regardless of whether with or against Soeharto, would be the continuation and consolidation of those conditions of economic development which provided for the economic growth up to now (freedom and social equity are expensive luxuries, needing a thriving economy). It is imaginable that many participants of the anti-Soeharto coalition backing her might also demand that some of those conditions are reformed. As sympathetic as many such demands might be -- Soeharto's government style was not a particularly savoury one, we need only remember the "mysterius killings" he confessed being responsible for -- one must realise that not all demanded reforms should necessarily lead to positive results. I shall return to the details below.


The crucial question at this point is, what price Soeharto will have to pay. Considering the way the government has treated her so far, Megawati can hardly be expected to be looking forward to a political alliance with Soeharto. Is such a coalition at all feasible?

The most urgent bill Megawati will have to serve to him would be compensation for the repressions against her supporters and followers. Megawati cannot afford to step into the limelight of statesmanship as champion of a "new deal" by dismissing or taking for granted the sacrifices of faithful companions and helpers. Those who were detained, physically or mentally maltreated need only to be released and, where called for, materially compensated, but for the numerous dead and crippled, heads will probably have to role. It seems quite within the realm of what appears realistic, though, that sacrificing a few pawns would not exactly break the calculating smiling general's heart. There are only good points to be won by stating the brutal culprits had been acting against his orders. The central problem to be solved is however the fate of the family fortune and the dismantling of the burocratic system of extortion and corruption that feeds it.

With regard to dubiously accumulated fortunes of persons having gained access to establishment, there appear to be two treatments which are compatible with law and order, freedom, and democracy. I think I ought to apologize beforehand in case someone finds the following too brazenly cynical, but if what I am writing here is to be worth reading for anyone, I must stick to realities regardless of how I might feel about them myself. Well, as for the two elligible treatments, the one is to graciously cover the fortune with a veil of propriety, as happenned for example with the fortunes of the Morgans, the Duponts, or the Rockefellers. The other is to outmaneuver the heirs by overtly legal means of conspirative financial skullduggery and thus deprive them of the possibility of further partaking of the fortune, as happenned in Hongkong with the Murchesson fortune which apparently originated from drug trade. I must confess having had my problems, stomaching the sobering idea that the one and most obvious solution anyone's elementary feeling of decency and justice would suggest, expropriation, does not seem to be among the realistically negotiable options. There are probably several reasons for this. The one that soothes my conscience most effectively is that accumulated capital plays its important role in economy, almost independently of the moral qualities of the owner or originator. The economic disruption, which a dissolution of the dishonestly accumulated fortune occasions, would bring suffering to thousands, even millions of people, but least of all to the expropriated (who usually spend the rest of their life on the Cote d'Azure, in Florida, the Swiss Alps, or some other cozy place of exile).

Therefore, the worst that Soeharto's fortune itself may suffer, would be some pruning here and there to meet certain anti-trust considerations; provided, of course, Soeharto manages to reach a coalition agreement with Megawati and thus avert the violent upheaval which would otherwise be inevitable when he dies. Otherwise, he and his family stand to lose everything.

Having gone through the more obvious factors having a bearing on the feasability of a coalition between Soeharto and Megawati, we can now proceed to what is probably the most fundamental one. The central obstacle on the way to a coalition, being at the same time the main reason of popular opposition towards his rule, seems to be the system of extortion for co-opting successful new enterprises or funnelling commission percentages, the two pillars on which he and Tien built up the family fortune. These are points in which Megawati cannot give way, whereas Soeharto will have difficulties finding excuses for insistence. This is obviously also the chief sacrifice which Soeharto will have to pay, to make a coalition with him acceptable to the estranged middle class. This is in fact what lies at the bottom of Indonesia's main problems: the crisis in popular and particularly middle-class faith in the government; the crisis in the faith of foreign investers in the capability of the government to provide stability of operating conditions and calculatability of investment risks; the crisis in the perspectives for continued economic growth and national construction; and finally, though not so much Indonesia's problem as much more Soeharto's own problem, the crisis in the perspectives of continued securedness of the family fortune.

Let us start with the latter, because, though troubling the minds of the least number of people, it probably constitutes the principle reason for Soeharto to finally bow to the necessity of seeking a coalition with Megawati. So far, he has restricted himself to verbal invocations, appealing to some sort of intrinsic compassion he wishfully sees in the Indonesian people, to respectfully revere the memory of former presidents. Just the same, he cannot but be all too aware of the futility of such wishfull thinking, he needs only remember how he himself treated the previous Indonesian president. The only chance for Soeharto's family fortune to survive the next change of president, is for other big boys and strong men, and those considering themselves as such, to see for themselves a realistic chance to build their own fortunes. Such a chance cannot exist as long as the country's system of economic administration is geared to constantly funnel all the gravy into one sole jar, that of the Soeharto clan and its faithful servants. Some very fundamental reforms, particularly such leading to the separation of powers, and realistic conditions to guarantee that those reforms are carried out, will therefore have to be agreed upon, to effectively cut extortion and corruption. This will mean that laws will then also have to apply to representatives of the Government, a truely revolutionary idea for the judicial system of Indonesia's New Order. It will probably also mean that many of Soeharto's faithful stooges in strategic positions of the administration will have to find fields of occupation that answer better to their actual qualifications and attitudes towards legality.

In spite of his notorious political shrewdness, it is very doubtful, though, that Soeharto will sufficiently appreciate the implications of the circumstance just described above. For all the aura of regal magnamania he likes to bathe himself in, Soeharto remains the captive of a rather unenlightened fatalistic variety of old Javanese feudal ideology, seeing himself more as a humble pawn of destiny, rather than as its sovereign agent. One small but telling detail is, for example, that whereas Sukarno gave his children the patrinym "Sukarnoputra/-i" (Sukarno's son/daughter), Soeharto preferred for his heirs the designation "Mandalaputra" (son of the royal domain). At the height of his autocratic political power, he innerly remained the sergeant of the Sultan of Surakarta's brigade of henchmen he had started out as in his youth, steeped in traditionalist feudal concepts of subordination of the individual to the cosmic plan. Only wrapped in a cocoon of imagined kingly responsibility has he dared assume the identity he enacts outwardly (please forgive me for this apparent descent into the nether spheres of oriental esoterism, but it just happens to be an intrinsic feature of the object of description himself). Correspondingly, the family fortune, though accumulated by hook and crook, he probably never associated with corruptness or personal greed, but with fulfilment of his duty to endlessly enlarge the fortune of the royal house -- medieval kings were, after all, predators, kind of robber barons on a larger scale. A degradation of the dynastic fortune to the status of a profane business conglomerate would, more than the desacration of some royal insignia, cause his whole system of values to collapse. It seems, therefore, that it will take a very great deal of convincing from all sides, to bring him to come to terms with the bare facts of life.

The recourse to orientalist esoterics in apologetic pleas for more understanding for authoritarian regimes of the Western Pacific was criticized above as being inadequate. One significant aspect, distinguishing the Indonesian case from that of the other countries in the region seems to be, that here, obsolete ideological forms which emerged from long bygone feudal relations, long forgotten in the West, do indeed still serve as motivation of the ruler. Soeharto is in fact a practicing adept of Javanese mysticism and regularly consults his privy magus/fortuneteller. Hence my own inevitable indulgence in esoteric hocus-pocus above. Otherwise, even the most exotic aspects of ritual at the imperial palace of Japan or the royal court in Thailand have no more and no less bearing on the process of industrial development in each respective country, than e.g. royal pageantry in Victorian Britain. Those forms of Confucianism, Buddhism, and other eastern ideologies, which do indeed have a direct bearing on the economic process, only do so in the function once (and in part even now still) performed by protestant puritanism in Europe, North America, and the Antipodes. It is in this, that Soeharto's mysticism has failed most dismally. It's all part of that same crucial point, by which Indonesia diverges from the rest of the Western Pacific, already referred to above.

The legacy which Soeharto sees himself leaving behind for posterity when he retreats to his regal mausoleum, is the respectable achievement in economic growth of the country during the 30 years of his rule, already touched upon above. A potential collapse of this vision provides a further factor by which he could be motivated to swallow the bitter pill of a coalition if that promises to salvage the legacy. As it happens, the salvaging and continuation of these economic achievements is also everybody else's chief interest, so that all efforts will have to be concentrated on reaching adequate results here. The present system of extortion and corruption, meanwhile, is quite effectively endangering this would-be legacy in more than one way, threatening to stop or at least seriously slow down economic growth and national reconstruction. The system of extortion is strangling private initiative. Promising ventures often find themselves forced to seek foreign participation, not so much for need of funding or technological know-how, as for immunity to being swallowed up by the clan. Foreign investors are being baffled without stop by a jungle of regulations, ostentatively in the interest of some important aims in protecting the natural environment or minority rights, but in practice merely serving as levers of extortion so that none of the declared aims are served, only the pockets of the burocrats.

The corrupt burocracy is meanwhile becoming one of the greatest growth inhibitors. On the one side, it brings to nought the positive results of projects aimed at heightening efficiency and productivity, the effects of all economic incentives being thwarted by two imperatives: who gives the highest bribe, and does it please the clan. On the other side, corrupt but otherwise totally incompetent burocrats must defend their positions from potentially more competent younger colleagues. A fatally effective defence against this threat has been a continuous deterioration of the level of education of each consecutive younger generation. This process has been particularly enhanced by the fact that teachers and other school staff too have been forced to follow the subsistence strategy of be-corrupt-or-lose, letting not only good marks, but the very access to an ever slackening standard of learning be dependent on the parents' finantial potency rather than on the pupils' will and ability to learn. This all has taken place against the background of consistent indoctrination of the population in the principle, that the truth of a statement depends not upon its relation to reality by some means of logical deduction, but upon the rank and position of the authority emitting the statement. The national system of education urgently needs a thorough shake-up to extricate it from the rut of corruption and ignorantism. At the present, Indonesia thus presents us with the unique instance of an attempt at national reconstruction under conditions of continuous deterioration of education. This is another, and this time different aspect in which Indonesia diverges from other countries of the Western Pacific, though it ultimately roots in the same basic evil of relict feudalist foundations inherrent in Soeharto's New Order.

Even a study abroad does not in most cases compensate the damage invoked in the elementary and middle schools. In spite of a spectacular disparaty between salaries for foreign and domestic specialists with formally equal degrees, private employers have to be forced by quota regulations to include domestic specialists in their personel. Under conditions of a fast growing economic region, this is an increasingly volatile situation. It is the frustration of a young generation deprived of the fruits of education it had a right on for its learning efforts in an environment of increasing demands on qualification. Thus, the monumental degree of new ignorance will not only perhaps become the most memorable legacy of Soeharto's spiritual leadership as head of state, it is an element of destabilization which may prove fatal as the country heads for a political crisis. The tragic irony of the situation again lies in that Soeharto himself is evidently quite oblivious of the existence of any deficits in the national standards of education, let alone of such for which his New Order is directly responsible. His ideas of wisdom, enlightenment, and knowledge he once had published in form of a less than mediocre collection of aphorisms, embarrassedly hush-hushed by the world press. "The West is simply not capable of understanding ..."


What can be done, and need one care about getting anything done? And, to return to the questions this all began with, would it be wise to advocate democracy for Indonesia, and, if yes, how should that democracy look like? One hears so little about this Indonesia, where is it in anyway, aren't there more important things to trouble our minds with?

The last question seems to be the easiest to answer. Since time immemorial, Indonesia was known as a country of fertile land and fabulous wealth, the source of gold and even more expensive spices and aromatics. Goldland, the Island of Grain, the Spice Islands, Island of Pepper, etc. were some of the names by which various regions of the country went down in history. "He who goes to Yava (another such name) never returns", went an old Gujerati saying, "if he returns, then with such riches as will suffice for seven generations". One is inadvertently reminded of Charles in Balzac's "Eugénie Grandet" -- just to cite another East-West analogy.

Today there are only three states in the world with natural resources in sufficient variety and abundance for an autarchic modern industrial economy, the two other ones being the USA and Russia. Indonesia's resources include oil, natural gas, tin, iron, copper, nickel, bauxites, uranium, coal, diamonds, sulphur, as also hydro, wind, and solar energy, and geothermal sources. Its territorial waters are important fishing grounds. In addition to all this Indonesia is a major exporter of timber and of such technical crops as rubber, sugar, coffee, tobacco, etc. It houses the world's fourth1 largest polulation (after China, India, and the USA). It is thus a mighty labour and consumer market, and this immediately in the world's presently most exciting economic region. It not only sits on the world's busiest sea lane, the Strait of Malacca, but bridges the Asian and Australian continents, and separates the Pacific from the Indian Ocean. It also occupies a larger segment of the equator than any other country. All this together would have more than sufficed to understand, that the acute danger of a crisis in Indonesia must worry not only Indonesians, and even not only Asians, but the world community as a whole. However, there are perhaps some less obvious reasons, which should really be getting the alarm signals buzzing all over the world.

Indonesia is quite unique, and of inestimable value to the world community, to the West in particular, for its national culture. This is not because of more spectacular monuments than the Egyptian pyramids, the great wall of China. or that jewel of human heritage, the Taj Mahal, also not for art treasures dwarfing the Louvre or the Heremitage, or for a tradition of performance outcrying la Scala and the Peking Opera. It is also not for having brought forth a Michelangelo or a Beethoven, a William Shakespeare or a Lev Tolstoi, a Thomas Edison or an Albert Einstein. It is for a prosaic, unassuming, but invaluable feature of everyday life, that makes Indonesia the one country where East and West meet in peace and harmony, not just across counters or in the streets, not only in shop windows or in hotels and bars, and not even only when two strong men meet, to quote Rudyard Kippling, but inside the minds of the common people, of the man in the street. Further still, when one observes a pair of synonyms in Indonesian, of which one is of indigenous or other oriental origin, and the other of European provenance borrowed before 1945, the latter will usually turn out to be colloquial and the preferred term in informal speech, whereas the former will often be bookish or high style. So "at home" does the Indonesian feel in the European component of his/her national culture.

Indonesia is probably also one of the few countries in the world. perhaps the only one among the developing countries, where building a church in a mostly Muslim populated city, or building a mosque in a mostly Christian populated city, must not lead to riots, or at least to trouble. It is a country, in which le désir d'être ensemble under the national motto Bhineka tunggal ika, meaning the same as E pluribus unum, is practiced with an ethnic diversity involving some 500 languages,2 in which one has spontaneously agreed upon one sole language of communication, a form of Malay one has decided to call Indonesian, without the violent consequences of e.g. setting Hindi through in India, or French in the Bretagne, or Spanish in Catalonia or among the Basques.

At a time when the world, having at last overcome the East-West rift of the cold war, is now seeking ways to a new world order of peace and understanding, but suffering so far one setback after another in Somalia, ex-Yugoslavia, Ruanda and Burundi, losing Indonesia may be like letting that one plant in the Amazonas die out, which might have given mankind the wonderdrug against cancer. At a time, that Western democracies are observing the economic wonders of an authoritarian remote orient not without secret anxiety, losing Indonesia as geographical and cultural connecting link could mean losing an important justification for hopes of reaching a common modus vivandi worth living up to. At a time, when a base and hateful deed exploding the peace of Olympic Atlanta immediately provoked spontaneous clichees (apparently quite unsupported by facts) about "Muslim terrorists", losing Indonesia would mean losing a people from whom one might one day learn, how to maintain a peaceful coexistence of Islam, Christianity and other religions. Finally, though by no means less important, losing Indonesia would leave two irresistably likeable isolated outposts "down under" of all those things we value the West for, to be suddenly standing alone, face-to-face with a strange and sinister sphinx called Asia ....

Indonesians are by no means angels. We are no less prone to mayhem than the rest of human kind. Those of our early ancestors, who did not practice headhunting, were ferocious sea pirates. The expression "to run amock" originates from Indonesia, just like, apparently, the word "bogeyman". A Madurese, so the clichee goes, who is buying a kris dagger, would first place it to his side to measure whether it would thrust all the way through the body. A réncong2a is a knife somewhat resembling that of the Gurkhas, and having a similar mode of employ. In the hands of an Achehnese, it may be quite deadly. And about the Ambonese the story goes, that if you face one in a fight, forget everything you ever learned about fairplay, chivalry, etc. Concentrate all you have in one Sunday punch delivered without warning. Then watch carefully: if he can still twitch a little finger, you lost, run for your life as fast and far as your feet will carry you. The Dutch knew why they liked to have Ambonese in their colonial army. So, if all those remarkable things work with a nation like ours, you may be assured it would work with other nations as well. Just allow for us to be around long enough for you to figure out, how we do it.

The unique culture situation in Indonesia is a result of numerous coincidences of circumstances spanning many centuries of the country's history. The entire island realm has been held together by an ever more densely stitched web of interinsular sailing and trade routes, attested since the 2nd century B.C. in results of archaeological research into the spread of iron, and of onyx beads imported from India, and by historiographic sources through the export of cloves (originating from the Moluccas at the eastern end of the country) to China and India. The famous Norwegian anthropologist and traveler, Thor Heyerdahl, once noted quite correctly that, throughout the history of mankind, mountains have tended to separate and isolate, whereas seas and oceans tended to connect. Nowhere in the world are so many little patches of land so tightly held together by such a narrow piece of connecting sea.

The web of interinsular sea trade served as a kind of superconductor of external and internal culture influence, leading at the same time to the emergence of a common language of communication, so-called Bazaar Malay, which existed in several mutually intelligible versions. The extreme variety of levels of economic development of the ethnicities served by this communication ring, ranging from the centralized feudal monarchies of Central and East Java to tribal leagues and headhunting communities on some "outer islands", led to a very high degree of flexibility and versatility in the culture tradition of the Bazaar-Malay speaking communities. Continuous contacts and transactions with foreign merchants and travelers from near and far, over a period of some two millennia, made these language communities particularly tolerant and receptive with regard to novel and exotic features of culture, particularly when this served some domestic interest, be it of economic, social, political, or of other nature. That communication ring was perhaps instrumental to the rapid propagation of Hindu-Buddhist culture in the country at the beginning of the Christian era. It is known to have channeled the influx of Islam into the country in the 12th till 16th centuries.

When the Portuguese and the Dutch appeared on the scene, Bazaar-Malay was quick to absorb the new culture features they brought with them. Whereas earlier arrived world religions such as Hinduism and Islam had established themselves over the greater part of West and Central Indonesia, they were more sparcely represented in the eastern part of the country, and, particularly the Moluccas and the Lesser Sunda Islands offered fertile ground for Christian missionary activity (successful results were, of course, also achieved in some areas in the western and the central parts). Having only a very small own population, the Netherlands had to rely heavily on the local population for recruiting into the colonial army. Portuguese Creoles, remnants of earlier Portuguese presence, and indigenous Christians formed the first major contingents of that army. Through relicts of Portuguese folk music and Christian church music, Western dodecaphonic music tradition was spread by the soldiers throughout the country, soon becoming essential features of folk music in Java, Sumatra, and other regions with otherwise established non-Western music tradition. Apparently, nothing propagates an ethno-cultural feeling as rapidly and effectively as music, a circumstance one may have noted from the role of jazz in the globalization of American lifestyle, or simply in the unbeatable effectivity of advertisement jinggles.

The colonial army, in which all confessions were represented, soon became a cultural and ethnical melting pot in a westernly dominated environment. It also became the medium of a further variety of Bazaar Malay, known as Barracks Malay. It was so omnipresent throughout army life, that even casual speech of purely Dutch units became thoroughly interspersed with Malayisms. Dutch initially played almost no role at all in the colony, where the principal languages of communication were Bazaar Malay and Portuguese Creole, the latter more particularly in conversation involving Eurasians and Europeans. Correspondence of the colonial authorities with local heads or involving indigenous personel was mainly written in a further variety of Bazaar Malay, known as Service Malay, another Malay language tradition developing at least under substantial participation of Europeans.

The liberal economic reforms of the second half of the 19th century had fundamental effects on the economy, social structure, and of course also the language. Dutch quickly displaced Portuguese Creole as second important language after Bazaar Malay. Having opened the way for foreign (mainly Dutch) capital investment, bringing with it also demands for a modern system of transport and communication, the reform extricated communal peasants from a natural economy in feudal environment, and made of them a class of landless wage-earning labourers and employees being in a commodity economy, in immediate contact with contemporary agricultural, industrial, and communicational technology. Naturally, Bazaar Malay became the language of communication here too, and as the European master's mastery of this language often fluctuated in the vincinity of zero, the labourer had to know all the relevant Dutch terms to understand and be understood. Bazaar Malay soon acquired a sizeable inventory of modern technical terms borrowed from Dutch, phonologically modified in correspondence with the low level of education and literacy among the labourers.

Another consequence of the socio-ecenomic upheaval was the need for indigenous civil servants, the new settlements of labourers needing to be administrated differently than peasant villages had been by the local feudal gentry's henchmen. Their health could no longer be entrusted to the village sorcerer, and schools were needed for their children. A new layer of Western educated indigenous officials, doctors, teachers, and later also lawyers and civil engineers emerged. However, precautions had to be made, to forstall the country's becoming independent. The new Western-educated elite was taught in Dutch schools in Dutch. Their daily speech was Dutch: at work, among peers, and even in the family. In this way, they were kept culturally closer to the Dutch community, and their acquired knowledge remained a feature of Dutch rather than Malay or other indigenous language culture. One important consequence of all this was, that the marriage of East and West in Bazaar Malay initially took place not in the speech of the educated elite, but in that of the labourer and the man in the street. It was thus a feature of culture preferentially involving the broad masses of the population, not a privileged elitarian minority. Another consequence was, that this newly forming Asian nation emerged with an almost 100% Westernly educated elite which in its majority spoke a European language, Dutch, more fluently than any indigenous language, and whose knowledge of things oriental was usually limited to that which was to be found in European literature on the subject. It seems symptomatic, that Indonesia is probably the only former colony in the world, whose vernacular name is a word of European origin, adopted as name of the country by its own people even against the explicit will of the colonial master, who was eventually forced to accept it only as a result of the struggle for independence.

Space limitations do not permit following the further development here, particularly the effects of the vernacular press, and that of indigenous political movements in further consolidating the East-West culture cocktail in Indonesia, and this more especially in the main bulk of the population rather than only in the elite. It is important now to follow adverse effects, particularly the recent ones, tending to undo the unique culture situation which makes Indonesia so remarkable.


The least effective of the adverse effects were those invoked by the colonial administration with the apparent aim of forstalling or hindering the movement for independence. The first was the canonification of so-called School Malay as language for Malay language instruction in schools, and then as language of all Malay literature published by the government publisher and dispersed through the government's system of book depositories. It was an obsolete language tradition, practically extinct, which was scrupulously kept free of innovations current in actually spoken contemporary Malay. However, negative influences on the actually spoken language, either with regard to the continuous incorporation of new words and ideas of Western culture, or with regard to the growth of a common national consciousness (School Malay was not nearly as universally intelligible nationwide, as Bazaar Malay), were practically non-existent (negative effects in other respects will not interest us here). During the Dutch-Indonesian War of 1946-1949, puppet states were set up in Dutch occupied territories to minimize political influence of the government of the Indonesian Republic on the local population, but with little effect. For example, when the Republican government introduced a new spelling system in 1947-1948, known as the spelling system of the Republic, its use spread like wildfire in the shortest time to all parts of the country, Dutch occupied or free, totally displacing the former colonial spelling. A most astonishing spontaneous feat for a nation with the literacy level of a developing country at war to defend its independence, forcing even the leaders of the puppet states to use the new spelling in their official publications.

More serious were the detrimental effects of adverse actions taking place after the former colonializers finally left the country in 1949. Here one can discern three consecutive phases with ever greater destructive effect on the inner interethnic peace and solidarity, as well as on the affinity of the national culture to the West.

Right after the Dutch queen formally handed over sovereignty over the country to the government of United Indonesia (led by a reconciliation cabinet including leaders of the puppet states, and having a united armed forces in which remains of the indigenous contingent of the colonial army were integrated on equal footing with the former armed forces of the Republic), some diehard colonial officers instigated a series of (abortive) revolts. The last of the series had fateful consequences: it took place in Ambon, where Ambonese colonial soldiers, known for their unconditional faithfulness to the Dutch queen, were involved. The conspirers had apparently managed to keep the queen's giving off the sovereignty a secret from their men, in order to get them to rebel against the government that had been handed that sovereignty by the queen. After all attempts for a peaceful solution failed (the government even sent an Ambonese cabinet member into rebel-occupied Ambon for negotiations), troops had to be sent in. The Ambonese are not only known for their fighting qualities, but also for admirable traditions of deeply ingrained communal solidarity. The population was moved to valiantly defend their rebel brethren. It was a protracted and horrible carnage, which did not fail to bring out all those base instincts in the soldiers, which wars, and particularly civil wars are known to bring out in men. For the first time, Indonesian soldiers were not only engaged in hostilities against a part of the own population, but also committed atrocities against it (the preceding revolts ended as purely terrorist affairs without succeeding to get the population involved, except as victims of the terrorism). All this was in the first year of "peace" after the Dutch-Indonesian War.

The second phase "built" upon the results of the first, with tragic consequences. A series of local revolts organized by some army officers and leading politicians, with rather obvious moral and material support from abroad, particularly with abundant armament superior to that of the government forces, rocked the nation, threatening to break up the unitary state into many fragments. The revolts were eventually all put down, but not without grave losses and injuries suffered by the population, the immaterial losses being perhaps even more serious than the material. Lasting damage was caused by the wounds inflicted in the process on the interethnic relations in the country. Furthermore, as a result of the endless revolts, the military gained constantly in influence, taking over central functions of inner security, and fully escaping all control by the body politick. During the same period, the conflict with the Netherlands over West Irian/New Guinea (present Irian Jaya) came to a head. Not only did the long duration of strained relations with the Netherlands lead to a marked decrease in the acquaintance with Dutch particularly among intellectuals of the younger generations, but the government finally expelled all Dutch citizens, leading to an exodus of Dutch and Eurasians who had up to then regarded Indonesia as their homeland. This was a sensitive setback for the cultivation of Western affinities in Indonesian culture. It was more aggravated rather than compensated by European "culture influence" of a quite different genre. One consequence of the ensuing distantiation from the West was that the language temporarily took up a considerable amount of features of communist rhetorics and scholastics, and otherwise slipped gradually into intellectually paralysing polit-"Newspeak", in which acronymic tokens take the place of thoughts.

Whereas the adverse effects of the two first phases were at least partially foreign inspired (or should I say misguided?), directly or indirectly, by Dutch or other Western interests, the last and in its consequences most devastating of the three phases was practically a purely internal Indonesian affair. Soeharto's very ascendance to power was marked by the worst mass killings of the own population, surpassed so far only by the "killing fields" of Cambodia. The New Order not only placed all branches of the armed forces under the formal supremacy of the army, but also subordinated the police force. Under conditions of unlimited authoritarianism, the army recieved the ideal opportunity to demonstrate all that it had learned in the preceding two phases, and lorded it out over the entire political class, over all political and social institutions, and particularly over the population, in the central island of Java, just as in the remotest peripheries. The consequence on interethnic solidarity was disastrous, separatist sentiments were aroused and inspired separatist movements from Acheh in the West till Irian Jaya in the East. The term "Javanese imperialism" was coined. That not enough, the government turned its back on the own roots of Indonesian independence and the basic principles of Bandung to the formulation of which Indonesia had once contributed so much, and staged an all-out military aggression in best gunboat tradition against the neighbouring people of East Timor, unleashing a massacre of unprecedent brutality against its people. Albeit, the West was reportedly not quite innocent in the Indonesian aggression against East Timor (fair or unfairly, the UK alone, it seems, got rapped on the knuckles for that -- in the Falklands).

The Dutch-educated, Dutch-speaking elite which originally led Indonesia to independence was to a considerable degree of feudal origins. Sukarno, Hatta, and other leaders of the first hour contrasted the traditional communal solidarity inherrent in indigenous communal peasant, clan, and tribal societies against principles of material values and profit ascribed to the West. The sociological principle underlying this contrast, having little to do with geographic distinctions of orient and occident, remained obscure. Soeharto's rule has brought about an amazing inversion of associations, by which culture values of the West are presently aligned with feudal slackness of the "in" group, and ever more often placed in contrast with industriousness, enterprise, thrift, and diligence of the middle class, associated with oriental or Islamic puritanism. In this way, Soeharto's spiritual leadership resulted in an alarming tendency of turning away from the former view towards Europe as a source of inspiration for progress and enlightenment. Alarming, because it has the effect of negating that positive element in what Indonesia inherited from the colonial era, which served as a sort of compensation for the losses and damage that was inflicted upon it. Since Soeharto took over power too, we find ourselves confronted with (fortunately very isolated) instances of serious interconfessional friction.3


The viewer from abroad is predictably and understandable preoccupied first of all by the glitter of Indonesia's economic successes during Soeharto's presidency. These successes were indeed remarkable. However, the investments and dividends, as noted above, are seriously endangered, and may suddenly transform into ruinous liabilities when chaos breaks out after the president's death. Already for this reason alone, a coalition with Megawati, providing for continuity over the critical period of Soeharto's approaching departure from public life, becomes imperative.

However, the real value Indonesia has to offer to the world lies elsewhere, in her unique culture tradition just discussed above. Though appearing to be a chiefly spiritual, immaterial value it will translate into very tangible pecuniary values as more and more problems of world economy and politics demand solutions under conditions of worldwide globalization in a new post-coldwar world order. An immediate appreciation of the material values involved may be close at hand, if chaos is permitted to break out in the country. A Somalia or ex-Yugoslavia on an Indonesian scale can hardly be contained with the available means which already fared rather poorly in the former crisis regions as it is. But apart from its size, its tropical snake-infested jungles and malaria-ridden swamps, Indonesia has an enormous population, acquainted since generations with guerilla warfare (see also above: bogeyman, réncong3a, Ambonese, etc.). Losses which would be incurred through inevitable collapses in regional and world trade and financial markets defy the imagination.

It is in this respect, in maintenance and preservation of those features which make Indonesia really valuable for the world community, and particularly for the West, that Soeharto's presidency has caused the most damage, even more than all preceding colonial, neo-colonial, and other foreign adverse influences put together. It is in this respect, that neither a continuation of Soeharto's presidency even if he should outlive Methusalem, nor a continuation of his policy by a candidate of his own liking could lead to acceptable results. Even Soerjadi, the stooge Soeharto placed at the head of the PDI, will not do: Soeharto would never have nominated him in the first place if he had had any chances of winning a majority, but whatever chances he once may have had will now have been put to nought by Soeharto's golden kiss.4 There is really no other choice, than seeing to it that Soeharto seeks and reaches reconciliation with Megawati. For, whatever agreement Megawati may be prepared to reach with Soeharto to ensure further economic stability and growth, welfare and prosperity for the country, one may firmly rely on one thing: she will be strongly motivated to maintain her father's legacy of consolidating interethnic harmony and interconfessional peace, and of cherishing the European component in Indonesia's culture heritage.

Sukarno's record, what the former is concerned, is too wellknown to need further review here. His actively positive attitude towards Europe's culture heritage seems to be less known, and may perhaps surprise many. Sukarno was a typical intellectual of colonial Indonesia, speaking Dutch more fluently than Malay, even in the intimate circle of his family and closest friends. He actually thought in Dutch. The typical education with university options he recieved included a fair mastery of English, French, and German as well. Already in 1927, he is reported teaching in Dutch at a non-governmental school for indigenous pupils (an activity, regarded as subversive by colonial authorities of that time). At the eve of World War II, when some Indonesian intellectuals let themselves be dazzled by anti-Western Japanese imperial ambitions, Sukarno actively supported the initiative of Hoesni Thamrin, Abikoesno Tjokrosoejoso, and Amir Sjarifoeddin to form a united front of all Indonesian political parties, groups, and social organizations, and offer the Dutch authorities a total mobilization of the Indonesian population to defend Netherlands East Indies, as Indonesia was officially known, against possible Japanese aggression, in return for the right to an elected parliament under the sovereignty of the Dutch queen. Sukarno was the main speaker at the Congress5 of the Indonesian People (December 1939) which passed this proposal as its resolution in the name of the Indonesian people. Even after the proposal was turned down by the Netherlands, contacts were made to US diplomats (particularly by Hoesni Thamrin) to salvage whatever could still be salvaged, but the US apparently had to take consideration of their European ally (that force majeure was already operative even then). After Indonesia was unconditionally surrendered to Japan by the colonial masters who had rejected the helping hand offered to them, Sukarno, Hatta and other Indonesian leaders were left to do whatever could still be done to avert the even worse for the people, and this was later exploited to construe an alleged anti-allied, pro-Japanese picture of them.

In the subsequent period, Sukarno was confronted by the contradiction that Europe, which he held in such esteem in his ideals, presented itself primarily as a number of colonial states in practice. Under these circumstances, he channeled the relations to Europe he wished for in the ideal into the actual relations of Indonesia to Germany which was not burdened by colonies of its own. It seems to have escaped general attention so far, that although Indonesia under Sukarno maintained two embassies in divided Vietnam (Hanoi, Saigon), and two in divided Korea (Seoul, Pyongyang) as behooves a true fence-sitter, it on the other side held up to five diplomatic representations in divided Germany (an embassy in Bonn, consulates general in West Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, and Munich), but not a single one of them in the GDR (the embassy in East Berlin was only opened under Soeharto). One may be tempted to ascribe this to the Hallstein doctrine, but would that explain Sukarno's going totally overboard with five diplomatic representations? The consulates in Bremen and Hamburg could be connected with Indonesian tobacco and coffee6 export interests, but how to explain Munich and particularly Berlin? West Berlin expressed its gratitude for Indonesia's demonstration of the flag in this part of the divided city by awarding Sukarno -- who also personally visited this forepost of the free world -- with an honorary doctorate of the Berlin Technical University. Finally, associating Sukarno's fancy for Germany with a sporadic tendency in some former British colonies (Ireland, Egypt, India) to see an ally in the Third Reich would be totally unfounded. Even if some prewar Indonesian intellectuals had toyed with opportunistic ideas with regard to Japan (see above), there was a general concensus about regarding European fascism as being hostile to the ideals of the independence movement, and this under continued favourable attitudes towards German culture and to great German humanistic writers and thinkers who were quite wellknown (perhaps one reason for the anti-fascist concensus). Indonesian nationalist activists caught by the war in the Netherlands joined the Dutch résistance as one man.

It seems quite unrealistic to doubt, that Megawati will take great pains to restore interethnic and interconfessional harmony the way her father would have wanted to see it. One may also rest assured, that Sukarno's europaphilic mental attitude, having been not just a distinctive personal feature of his own, but one that was shared by the social cultural group he was part of, must also have coloured off on his daughter. There are, however, still other facets to Sukarno's political record, and it would be quite irresponsible to ignore them, or whatever implications they may have on Megawati's handling of Indonesian government if she should become president. Happily, the basic conceptual elements of Soeharto's New Order government were no more than his specific applications (and missapplications) of concepts developed before him by Sukarno. In principle, therefore, anyone who was satisfied with Soeharto's rule will not have anything basical to worry about if Megawati becomes president under conditions of an agreement with Soeharto (this is also the secret behind the intrinsic feasability of the proposed coalition). It is only the nuances and some details that call for brief perusal.

Let us begin with nationalizations, state monopolies, and the state sector in the economy. The basic principles were not an invention of Sukarno, but were taken over by the Indonesian legal system from the Dutch agrarian legislation of 1870, which barred ownership of land by foreigners, and in part from even much older monopoly rights enforced by the Dutch United East-India Company. Sukarno's immediate initiative pertains to expropriations undertaken as retaliation against the Netherlands in the dispute over West Irian (Irian Jaya), and the somewhat incoherent attempts to deal with total incompetence of the Indonesian civil and military burocracy in managing the nationalized companies, some of which were of vital importance for the economy. The socialistic rhetoric, mobilized as last straw to come to terms with the problems (probably more out of spite against the West) proved quite ineffective.

Today, Indonesia is not expected to encounter similar situations which might provoke Megawati or any other president to resort to retaliatory nationalizations. And above all, the damage to the Indonesian economy would be much greater. The Indonesian economy today is quite a different one than in those days. The worst that one may fear of, if Megawati becomes president, is that she would handle the question of foreign landownership the same way as Soeharto did. A change, if it were found to suit Indonesian interests, would in any case require an ammendment of the Constitution, which takes time.The same may probably be expected of Megawati's handling of major companies of the state sector. If any changes are to be expected here, they would probably first of all be directed at evicting corrupt stooges of the family clan. It seems doubtful, however, that Megawati would even contemplate the kind of nationalization/privatization merry-go-round which has become traditional e.g. for labour/conservative changes of government in the UK (and in France).7 It would certainly not enhance stability of the Indonesian economy, so that it is hardly imaginable that an agreement between Soeharto and Megawati would allow for such frivolity. Finally, enlarging the state-sector involvement in the economy would be grosly counterproductive in the fight against corruption and nepotism necessarily standing high up in Megawati's agenda.

Sukarno's gravest "sin" towards the West was probably the setting up of the so-called Jakarta-Peking axis. It seemed to provide him independence from one superpower, the USSR, without the consequence of dependence from the other: important for any fence-sitter. That was well before Henry Kissinger's historic discovery of the pragmatic delights of the "Chinese card". This is one point in which Soeharto did not "borrow" a principle of Sukarno's political credo (well, not directly), but at first did the exact opposite, and this with all the energy and verve of true Oedipal pubertarian rebellion: he sent a mob of youth led by army tanks to ransack the Chinese embassy (there is 30 years of tradition behind the ransacking of the PDI headquarters). Since the Nixon era, meanwhile, just about everybody has followed the wisdom of US policy in laying out a red carpet to Peking, and Soeharto too has grudgingly bowed to the inevitable, even if as one of the last to fall in with the ranks. Should Megawati ever have harboured plans of restoring good relations with the Peoples Republic, even say for old times' sake, she now comes too late. It has already been done by Soeharto himself. Besides, under no circumstances would the West now take offence the way it did in Sukarno's time.

The most difficult problem group I have left for the last: the five principles of Panchasila, "guided democracy", and the Constitution of 1945. Soeharto has taken over everything from Sukarno on these points, but only after first emptying them of all vestiges of democratic content. The concept of "harmony" or "solidarity" serving as quintessence of Panchasila led Sukarno to pardon most leaders of separatist rebellions. Soeharto sees the same principle as basis to forbid any opinions not being in harmony with his own, and to ruthlessly crack down on those not quick enough to comply, which must strike many as a rather peculiar interpretation of the term "harmony" (Soeharto has actually confessed responsibility for the "mysterious killings" campaign: the cut-off heads of victims were placed as warning for potential followers). "Concensus" under Soeharto has become what the press has dubbed "that rare animal, the unilateral concensus". Under Sukarno's rule of "guided democracy", political parties retained their political and organizational autonomy. There are ample reasons for questioning the wisdom of prohibitting the Masyumi and Socialist parties, but the legal grounds for the move would have also been valid in many if not all Western democracies: the parties' refusal to distantiate themselves from armed rebellions against the state. Under Soeharto's New Order, the government may directly intervene into inner matters of parties, to approve or reject election candidates and incumbents of leading positions within the party. Strictly speaking therefore, Soeharto's New Order "guided democracy" has only retained the verbal shell of Sukarno's "guided democracy". In content, however, it is apparently inspired by former East-block so-called "people's democracies" in which alternative parties were compulsorily integrated into a "national front". In his apologetic self-justification for this too, Soeharto leans dangerously close to the notorious "the Party always knows best, the Party is always right" maxim.

From all this one can already happily draw the preliminary conclusion, that even if Megawati should be motivated to reinstall "guided democracy" as her father understood it, and if she would be successful in that, then we would already experience a tremendous improvement in democracy in the country. However, the conditions that led to Sukarno's invoking "guided democracy", the state of deadlock and fragmentation in which the country's political system found itself under a free democratic constitution, the state of military seige by numerous simultaneous armed rebellions, the state of political seige resulting from maneuvering between the fronts of the cold war, all this no longer exists. Reasons for limiting democracy by some form of guidance in presentday Indonesia are quite different, and derive from middle-class puritanism conditioned by the process of industrialization. As we saw above, this principle of ethical guidance emanates not from Soeharto's mysticism, but from mainly Islamic puritanism being in opposition to the New Order. This already tends to exclude any resemblance to Soeharto's type of "guidance" in whatever form of "guided democracy" the opposition might want Megawati to adopt.

Among the opposition groups supporting Megawati there are also supporters of an immediate transition to free democracy as stipulated in the Provisional Constitution of 1950 (annulled by Sukarno in favour of the Constitution of 1945). However, there are some very important reasons for avoiding this. It would lead to excessive political fragmentation and an ensuing general destabilization of the country. The constitution of 1950 led to a situation in the 1950s, known in postwar Europe as parliamentarianism Italian style which left all problems including the Mafia unsolved, and in Europe between the wars as Germany of the Weimar Constitution which ended with the Nazi take-over (the system of representation in most stabile larger Western democracies have special majority-maximizing and concensus-enforcing mechanisms). In the period from 1950 till 1957, Indonesia had seven cabinets in seven years and, not unlike the Italian experience, this left none of the problems of the country solved, least of all army racketeering (every division had its own illegal business enterprise) and insurgency. The main reason for favouring the constitution of 1950 seems to be, that stipulations for basic freedoms, particularly freedom of speech, are more explicitly formulated. The constitution of 1945 is indeed more vague on this point, and the respective rights partly have to be derived from more general principles layed down in the preamble, and thus require special laws to make them explicit. In the light of presently prevailing puritanist tendencies in society, the latter solution probably provides a greater latitude of options for constant accommodation to progressing transitions in ethical views of a society in transition. It also offers the under the present situation perhaps vital advantage, that a general discussion for a new constitution is avoided. After the 30-years clamp-down on free airings of opinion, there is a lot of pent-up emotions that will make reaching a concensus about the new constitution difficult. For the sake of political stability, it seems prudent to allow for a longer period of dialogue and deliberation before contemplating a constitutional reform.

The main weakness of the above solution is, however, that it more readily opens venues to misuse. Nevertheless, danger of misuse will only remain acute as long as the present situation of non-separation of the three powers and army domination is maintained. Soeharto's particular implementation, which is obviously the principal reason discrediting the constitution of 1945 in the eyes of the public, is actually not an implementation, but a transgression. For example, his "people's democracy"-style treatment of political parties cannot in any way be reconciled with the principle of people's representation, consultation, and concensus maintained in the preamble of the constitution. It is thus not a case of misuse of an unclearly formulated clause, but of misuse of dictatorial power to override stipulations made in the Constitution.

This brings us to the matter which is in my opinion the most important one in the reforms to be made in the political system. It is the return to government by the rule of law, and the restoration of the separation of executive, legislative, and judicative powers. For all the authoritarianism of other threshold and "tiger" nations of the West Pacific, whether in Malaysia or in South Korea, the courts are for example independent enough to pass sentences which do not necessarily suit the government. Not so under Soeharto's New Order. Quite interestingly though, Soeharto himself has strong reasons to avoid the continuity of his own style of autocratic authoritarianism under his successor. He'd want his family's business conglomerate to enjoy all the protection against extortion that government by the rule of law guarantees, i.e. all that which he and his family have refused the others.

A second point of importance for a return to constitutional normality seems to be the restoration of autonomy of the three armed forces (army, navy, air force) and the removal of the police force (also water police, customs etc.) from the field of competence of the minister of defence back to that of the minister of interior. A strict separation between defence and internal affairs would also require restoring the disbanded Mobile Brigade, having functions roughly equivalent to those of e.g. the National Guard, Guardia Civil, Carabinieri, Bundesgrenzschutz. And finally, all armed forces personel must be given back the right of secret ballot. All this will practically put an end to the so-called "double function" principle which permitted the army to intervene into all internal affairs, uncontrolled by parliament or the judiciary.8 In this, it is perhaps worth noting that Soeharto too has an interest to see his civilian heirs protected against harassment by the next strong-man from the military.

These points, serving as foundation for effectively fighting corruption, extortionism, and nepotism, beside the preservation of Soeharto's family business already touched upon further above, seem to be a practicable basis for reaching a coalition compromise which would on the one hand satisfy Soeharto's principal interest, and on the other provide a solid foundation for restoration of the basics of democracy in the country, while maintaining Megawati's credibility among supporters inspired by the memory of her father, among supporters motivated by interests of the new middle class and its puritanism, among intellectuals demanding democratic freedoms of the individual, and among labour driven by anxiety over draconian and brutal treatment by the government.

Obviously, however, none of the supporter groups will probably be fully satisfied. If this were a fairytale, one could simply let Hans and Gretel innocently shove Soeharto into the oven. But in real life one cannot tolerate such violent methods. It has often been said, that politics is a rather dirty business, and compromises are perhaps the dirtiest thing they have in politics. But it is also the art of achieving the best that can be reached under some given circumstances, and that also means averting chaos, war, violence and other sources of great suffering of the people. It will be Megawati's difficult job to convince everybody she is indeed winning the best possible deal for them. Her father once was a great talent in that, and it seems not unreasonable to expect that some of it has been inherited by Megawati.

Another problem is selling the idea to Soeharto. The world community will, as so often before, probably be divided over in how far one would like to commit oneself to the restoration of democracy in Indonesia, just as it will probably be divided about how much democracy one would want to see restored. Besides, one can sometimes intervene to topple a dictator, but setting up democracy must come from within a nation itself. However, the world community is strongly interested in the maintenance of stability in Indonesia through the transition period to the era after Soeharto. It also holds an important lever in its hands, with which it could actively contribute to the achievement of such a result. No, moral appeals to Soeharto have not been particularly effective. Soeharto will also quite certainly not respond to offers of political asylum for when it comes to the worst. But diplomatic arbitration between Soeharto and Megawati could lead to international guarantees against what Soeharto fears the most: being later treated the way he had once treated his predecessor, Sukarno. The perspectives of Sukarno's daughter becoming the next president to avenge her father must be letting these fears take the form of nightmares. Soeharto sees his reign endorsed by divine provision, not to be questioned by ordinary mortals. We may leave him in this idle belief, and even offer him the flattery of becoming the first Indonesian president to have been peacefully and lawfully succeeded by another. As a result of a coalition agreement with Megawati, the new president would even be "his own candidate", saving him from losing face. It is, I find, not too much of a price to pay for averting war and chaos. And best of all, everybody will be able to say they contributed to the restoration of democracy in Indonesia (should probably look pretty good in an election year).



Added after June 10, 1997.

The completion of the count-up after the general elections of May 29 seems a fitting occasion to add some retrospective comments to this essay. I am also grasping this opportunity to introduce some corrections which will be duely noted below (except some minor spelling and grammatical corrections).
Click on [to text] to return to the referent passage in the text.

1. The original mistakenly had "fifth largest population", which was the situation before the division of the former Soviet Union. [to text]
2. The originally given "more than 200 languages" was the traditionally assumed number, but more recent surveys permit citing the number more precisely as "some 500 languages", the remaining uncertainty mainly deriving from the problem of distinguishing "language" from "dialect". [to text]
2a. The original text mistakenly had kléwang instead of réncong. [to text]
3. Right after the essay was mounted on Internet, a series of mysterius and apparently unmotivated church burnings broke out, which would seem to belie this statement. However, Muslim leaders were quick to condemn these barbaric outbreaks of violence, and to seek an understanding with Christian leaders, not to allow the incidents to provoke interconfessional hostilities. Nevertheless, the series of incidents did have a for the government perhaps convenient effect that Christian PDI-voters, deprived of the possibility of voting for Megawati's PDI, were emotionally hindered from giving their vote to the remaining opposition party, the Muslim PPP. [to text]
3a. The original text mistakenly had kléwang instead of réncong. [to text]
4. The Soerjadi-led PDI only got a humiliating 3 percent of the vote, about one eighth of what the PPP got, or even hardly one third of the number of invalid votes (believed to have been mainly cast by traditional PDI-voters supporting Megawati). [to text]
5. Not "Conference" as mistakenly indicated in the original. The Congress Ra'jat Indonesia, held December 23-25, 1939, in which just about all indigenous social organizations and political parties of the kooperasi as well as the non-kooperasi wing, and also organizations of the non-indigenous ethnic communities took part, was the most representative assembly of the Indonesian people ever to have been brought together in the entire colonial history of the country. Sukarno himself was in banishment at that time. His (written) address was read out at the congress. [to text]
6. Indonesian "tea", originally referred to by mistake in this context in place of "coffee", seems to have been mainly imported into Europe through Antwerp. [to text]
7. Anthony Blair seems meanwhile to have put a stop to this tradition in Britain, and Lionel Jospin seems not to be inclined to keep it up in France either. [to text]
8. Since the writing of the essay, there has been intensive discussion in the Indonesian armed forces on whether the "double function" principle should be maintained in the future. The problem of army involvement in politics is similar to that of religion in a theocratic state. Just like that an overburdenning of a religious hierarchy with the task of political government in addition to religious leadership necessarily leads to its corruption by the politic, thereby undermining its authority in exercizing its primary function, so also will the military be invariably corrupted by involvement in the exercizing of political and economic power. In addition to that, letting the army perform tasks of internal security leads to confrontations with part of the own population, divides this latter in "friends" and "foes". This creates breaches in the chain of national solidarity which would otherwise back an army in its intrinsic task of defending the nation as a whole against an outside aggressor, or representing it in an international peace-keeping mission, for example, as part of UN forces. It also undermines discipline within the ranks, as ethnical adherence of the soldiers could then lead to split loyalties. [to text]

A Retrospective Comment (June 11, 1997)


© 1996, 1997 Waruno Mahdi.
This text may be freely copied and multiplied on a non-profit basis.

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