The Nation, March 7, 1997
RENGASDENGKLOK, Indonesia -- Noted experts on anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia gave different explanations on recent outbreaks although most of them agreed that the riot issue is much more complicated than most observers predicted. They also said that the outbreaks need to be analysed carefully before they could offer suggestions to prevent them recurring.
Historian Taufik Abdullah of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Institute of Sciences said the rioting that broke out recently in Surabaya, Tasikmalaya, Situbondo, Pontianak and Rengasdengklok, was not necessarily related to the government’s classical explanation about ethnic, religious and racial tensions.
"What we found is a horizontal pluralism which has become more complex than its initial diversity on ethnic and religion. But we also found vertical pluralism up and down, which is determined by economy and politics,” said Abdullah.
As an example of horizontal pluralism, Abdullah referred to the existence of different ethnic groups like the Javanese, the major ethnic group in Indonesia who mostly live on the islands of Java, via-avis the Chinese minority.
The natural pluralism became more complex because most Javanese are Muslims while the Chinese are Christians. The horizontal pluralism has developed its complexities. It became more difficult when vertical pluralism become added to the already complex horizontal pluralism.
“Chinese Christians the rich versus Javanese Muslim the poor,” said Abdullah, adding that the national development in Indonesia had brought not only but also the seeds of potential conflict.
“We learn how to live in harmony but we forget to learn how to have conflicts in a respectable manner,” he said, adding that most Indonesians are lulled into the nation building efforts of the late President Sukarno in the first two decides after Indonesia’s independence in 1945.
He said that the most important factor in solving the big problems is “people empowerment” on political as well as economic levels.
The potential conflicts should be channeled through legal mechanisms which will not produce “self-infected wounds” on the nation of Indonesia.
Prominent columnist Goenawan Mohmad noted that a lot of Muslim traditions are adopted from Chinese rituals. Writing in a recent column that the Muslim drum locally called “bedug” is nothing more than an adaption of the Chinese leather drums usually hanged and used in Chinese temple but now widely used on Java Island.
Goenawan believe that the rapid pace of economic development in Indonesia had changed a lot of old traditions including physical rituals where teenagers were encouraged to compete in drum beating activities or whip lashing.
“Now every time I go to a kampung, I see teenagers drinking and getting drunk. They don’t even have fields to play football anymore. So where can they channel their energy now?" he asked rhetorically.
Australian scholar James Mackie wrote in his paper entitled “Anti -Chinese Outbreaks in Indonesia 1959-1968” that in general it can be expected that anti-Chinese unrest is more likely to occur in periods when the central government in Jakarta is weak or unsettled that when its security in the saddle. Mackie also concluded from his intensive studies that antagonism toward the Chinese, either latent or overt, could be found in most countries in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia, however, has acquired and unfortunate reputation for particular hostility to them, largely because of several dramatic episodes which have taken place since the first Chinese mass killings in 1740 during Dutch colonial rule, in the 1940s during the short rule of the Japanese imperial army until the first decade of the President Suharto administration in the 1960s.
Anti-Chinese sentiment is also a legacy of Dutch rule which had segregated people living on this archipelago into three different sections: the Whites, the Orientals and the indigenous people.