Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Friend's Seven Unpopular Propositions

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USINDO Brief: We are pleased to send you the following report of one event in our periodic meetings with expert speakers to discuss topics in their fields.

Indonesia Since Independence: Seven Unpopular Propositions
Dr. Theodore Friend
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute
February 20, 2002
Washington, D.C.

”Please name a country that endured a dictator for 30 years, considers itself unique, is essentially anarchic, and relied on a strong leader,” Dorie Friend asked a USINDO audience on February 20.

Spain, from 1937-67, was the answer.

What Asian country was universally considered a “basket case” in the 1960s, fell under a military dictatorship, then experienced economic and educational growth, developed a middle class, and outsted the military? Answer: Korea
Citing these two examples of democratization after long periods of dictatorship and little experience of democratic governance, Dr. Friend concluded that Indonesia would not replicate their experience. It would proceed more slowly toward democracy. He gave as reasons the following “Seven Unpopular Propositions,” the topic of his talk.

• Geography is fate. Indonesia is a vast, tropical archipelago, subject to recurrent episodes of drought and flood. It is consequently difficult to govern.

• Javanese chauvinism is as repressive and irremediable to Indonesia as Han chauvinism is to China. Mao Tse Tung eventually tried to unify China by exporting Han Chinese to the regions, to the detriment of local development. Friend likened this to Javanism and the export of Javanese to the Indonesian regions under Soeharto’s policy of transmigration. He contended that Javanism and the state ideology of Pancasila have not been good for overall development in Indonesia.

• ABRI/TNI, the Indonesian armed forces, are “extortionate” on the entrepreneurial side and fascistic on the political side, like early fascism in Italy, in which Mussolini relied on street gangs and opposed trade unions. All fascists are alike, he said, in espousing sanctity of the state and submission of the people; opposing rationalism, bourgeois values and democracy; and harkening to “ancient values.” He cited Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, whose denunciation of the decadence of bourgeois values was “not far off from Osama bin Laden,” and whose speeches were full of exhortations to “ancient virtues” like “gotong royong,” (mutual help) and “berdikari” (self reliance).

• Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been and will remain of marginal consequence to Indonesian growth. Friend said that FDI as a percentage of gross domestic product was lower during the New Order period of Soeharto than in the 1910-1920 boom years under the Dutch. He cited a recent UN study which stated that FDI in the manufacturing sector was only 3-6 percent of total investment during the period 1983-1999 and was essentially unprofitable after the payments to partners, royalties and fees. He cited the “Lucas paradox” which states that despite low wages, over time a poorly educated unskilled work force will result in lower productivity than more expensive workers, and will not attract investors.

• The middle class, in size and spirit, has been and will remain a minor force in the dynamics of Indonesian society. Defining the size of a middle class by the percentage of the population owning automobiles, TV sets and motorcycles, Friend said Indonesia’s middle class is now “about five percent” of the population, the “lowest on the Pacific Rim,” and has not been a force for reform nor has it exerted pressure on the government. As an example, he said the “steam has run out on student demonstrations.”

Why has this been the case? Property owners have been dominant in the development of Western democratic societies but this is not so in Indonesia. There, “power dominates property;” and rank and status dominate property as well, according to Friend. “The middle class and civil society are mantras of hope rather than vectors of change,” he said.

Civil society cannot be equated with a middle class, he said. One can see civil societies, or voluntary associations, but unless they consolidate, form networks and create links with government they will not be a force to change society. He compared the comments of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose commentaries on American democracy in the early nineteenth century placed great weight on the importance of civil society. In a similar period “56 years after independence,” Friend does not see an important civil society in Indonesia.

• “Free enterprise democracy” will remain an illusory goal until more Indonesians overcome “split level values,” anomalies between what they say and what they do. He cited interviews with individuals from key elements in Indonesian society: pribumi industrialists, Chinese Indonesians and the military, all of whom were able to articulate quite eloquently the free market concepts of leading Western CEOs. But they were unwilling to talk about their private values, Friend said. (He acknowledged this is not unique to Indonesia and that the United States has also experienced major scandals of business corruption.)

• A major tension in present and future development in Indonesia is and will be between anarco-democracy and anarco-fascism. Friend said that tension between democracy and corporatism has existed since the revolutionary period. He said that Sukarno, probably never a democrat, regretted giving then Vice President Hatta the right to allow the formation of political parties. After his first trip to China in 1955 Sukarno was drawn to its strong central control, and returned to Indonesia to sound the theme of a single party or a no-party system. He got his way in 1959 when he announced that Indonesia would henceforth have a Guided Democracy. Democratic politics have since the end of the Soeharto period been anarchic, he said, and Gus Dur himself was a “prime example of anarco-democracy.” He referred again to the long history of paramilitary organizations as “anarco-fascists” with the example of the Aitarak, the infamous militia that has been widely accused of terrorism against pro-independence civilians in East Timor.

Indonesia needs considerable time to work on democratic values, he said, and “will not take the world by surprise” with any sudden emergence to democracy.

Friend said his propositions were stated in stark terms in order to provoke response. His effort succeeded. Several questioners disputed his assertions, and their views were summed up by Evelyn Colbert, a senior scholar of Southeast Asia, who suggested that although the propositions were pessimistic, “yet you wound up expressing hope that ways will be found” to move toward more democracy. “Why do we all agree on this?” she asked. “Because of our own affection and admiration for the Indonesian people and because of our own belief in progress and democracy, we feel that something good must come out of this process.”

“I’m an American optimist,” answered Friend, “but the problem is that progress is not inevitable. Look at Cambodia, or Argentina. I’m not writing off Indonesia; I’m just writing down: doing an audit.” He suggested some “points of light” in the year-end review conducted by the Jakarta Post in which some respected and thoughtful analysts were reasonably optimistic about the future. Beyond this, he also saw great hope in ordinary people, in the provinces. People are organizing in different ways, he said, although there is not a ‘civil society’ as yet.

Theodore Friend, an historian and former president of Swathmore College, has recently completed a book on Indonesia’s history since independence.

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