Indonesia Etc goes to the printers this week. That ought to mean I’m done, but I’ve been working on an electronic version of the book that will include embedded video, audio and photos as well as the full text.
Here’s a taster video:
The photos and things won’t get in the way of the text — they’ll be signalled by very analogue icons like this in the margin:
but they will mean that readers can get closer to the sights and sounds of any scene that appeals. (There’s no smell option: in the case of this account of a week-old corpse and ritual sacrifice that’s maybe not so bad).
It should work on most e-readers with colour capabilities, and it won’t cost any more than the ordinary e-book. But it’s a hell of a lot of work for me, and as you can see from the sample, video editing is a skill I am still wrestling with. Are home-grown videos like this of thing of interest to potential readers? Let me know, please.
True Fans in Indonesia flash Manchester United credit cards
Dari mana? Where are you from? It’s the first question most rural Indonesians ask. To simplify things, I just say England. Twenty years ago, there was only one response: Wah! Inggris! Lady Di! Now, there are two: Wah! Inggris! David Beckham! and Wah! Inggris! Manchester United!
I mentioned this at a discussion in the UK’s House of Lords the other night hosted by the BBC World Service ideas programme, The Forum. A lot of very clever people were discussing how Britain was perceived in the world: Britain stands for Democracy, I heard, for Fair Play, for Tolerance. Odd how everywhere I go, it stands for football and royals.
I mention this because the current issue of Inside Indonesia asks a similar question about Indonesia, but it turns it inside out. Not “What does Indonesia mean to the world?”, more “What does the world mean to Indonesia?” The piece about West Java by Julian Millie is especially worth a read. He describes “cosmopolitan” as a dirty word, demonised in large part by the kyai, preachers in the local Islamic schools.
“Many rural Muslims consider Indonesia’s mainstream culture, with its pronounced western influences, something to be wary of. An increase in consumption-related media has brought with it advertising images showing independent, individualistic lifestyles. These urban images are disconcerting to people trying to live an Islamic lifestyle, and the kyai provides an alternative message.”
I would replace a single word in that analysis, replacing “Islamic” with “Javanese”. Millie is absolutely right that poor, rural Moslems in Java (including the Sundanese in West Java and other communities in Banten) feel threatened by “urban images”. In every other island I visited in travels that took me over 42,000 kilometres round and about Indonesia last year, people complained of corruption, bureaucracy and the slings and arrows of outrageous decentralisation. In Java, the bogeyman of KKN was replaced by “loe loe, gue gue“. The expression — literally “you you, me me” in Jakarta slang — describes the rampant egotism of the Big Durian, the dog-eat-dog culture which has taken over Indonesia’s capital and which is pumped in to small villages in an endless stream of sinetron soap operas. It represents the breakdown not of religious values, but of society itself: the gotong royong, keluarga besar values that are the foundation of life in Java and other islands respectively. It was what everyone in rural Java seemed to fear most: if things go on like this, we’ll be just like Jakarta, loe loe, gue gue.
Mille, the always thought-provoking Gerry Van Klinken, and Sue Ingham all question whether “cosmopolitan” (and the celebration/abhorrence of mall-and-fast-food culture that goes with it) maps on to “Western” in the Indonesian world-view, as well as in the world’s view of Indonesia. As the diversity of articles in this issue of Inside Indonesia attests, it’s a question that can’t be answered, precisely because Indonesia itself is so diverse, so historically cosmopolitan, indeed.
It made me think again about how Brits perceive the way they are perceived. “Wah! Inggris! Demokrasi dan Toleransi!” — it’s something I’ve never heard. But “Manchester United!” That’s a value which is shared by both Indonesians who read Cosmopolitan and Indonesians who burn it.
It’s easy to be snobby about the Oscars, but just sometimes, they put a spotlight on a film that deserves, indeed demands, to be more widely watched. The Act of Killing, for example, which has just been nominated for Best Documentary.
If you are interested in how societies process their own history of mass murder, Josh Oppenheimer’s extraordinary film is a must-see. For more than a year, I have been carrying a copy of the film around on a USB stick. Every time someone suggests watching a move, I whip it out.* Since it has been on quite limited cinema release in Europe and the States, several people have been grateful for the chance to watch aged Indonesian gangsters re-enact the slaughter, in 1965/66, of people accused of being Communists. Oh, and of anyone else they disliked.
Not my Indonesian friends though. Not one of them, either in Indonesia or in Europe, has wanted to watch the film. Few can articulate why not. But I suspect the response of one Balinese friend probably reflects what many people are feeling.
“It is a little bit too heavy for me just watching the clip [on TV]. I think the same feeling is probably prevalent among Balinese where we lost quite big proportion of our population. Some said almost 10%. Everyone in Bali is still carrying the pain now, but not wanting to discuss about it…
My father was a member of the nationalist youth and my mother was a member of the communists. My fathers side supposed to kill everyone in my mother side, but luckily he didn’t because my mother side is also an many times removed extended family members. Nonetheless, we lost more than 20 of our extended family in the village on top of having communist suspect from other areas of Bali delivered to be executed in our village field.
The animosity from that period in my village still run very deep now, and has been fertile ground for political parties to mobilize support. Those who [lost] their member in 65 now have their chances to join any militia and feel powerful. The biggest problem to emerge from the tragedy is probably the deepened mistrust of Balinese against Javanese. We have an expression for 65 that goes: orang minum di Jawa, mabuknya di Bali. [People drink in Java; their drunkenness is in Bali]“
Reviews of the Act of Killing (including from critics I respect greatly such as Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, and Nigel Andrews in the FT) fulminate that the “perpetrators” are still swaggering around unpunished. Would we make such a film about the Nazis? asks Lane. Would the Khmer Rouge show off in the way that the killers in Indonesia still do? asks Andrews. No.
Why not? Well, the Nazis and the KR lost. Suharto, whose army encouraged the slaughter of 1965/66 in Indonesia won, and he won with the perhaps-more-than-tacit support of the United States, then embroiled in its own anti-communist vendetta in Indochina. So no Nuremberg trials, no US government funding for genocide projects and documentation centres like the ones run by Yale law students in Cambodia in the mid-1990s. Indeed quite the opposite. Foreign governments supported Suharto in his efforts to bring stability to previously chaotic Indonesia. And he did bring stability, along with a virulent strain of anti-Communist propaganda which was used for over three decades to justify the military’s domination of, well, just about everything. Even in the post-Suharto era, history books have been burned because they attempted to give a more nuanced view of the events of 1965/66. In 2012, the Attorney General rejected a report on the killings by the Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights. Though they intevrviewed over 300 eye-witnesses, they did not produce enough evidence to justify an official investigation, said the AG (You can read it in Indonesian here and in English here, and judge for yourself.)
On the one hand, many millions of Indonesians, like my Balinese friend, come from families still scarred by the killings in very real ways. On the other hand, the whole population has for more than three decades been force fed a version of history in which heroic patriots protected the nation from wicked Communists. It is not wildly surprising, then, that most Indonesians would not automatically think of the protagonists of The Act of Killing as “perpetrators”. According to the dominant narrative, they don’t deserve punishment any more than the Royal Air Force pilot who dropped bombs on Dresden in World War II deserves to be hunted down and made to pay for his sins. Many younger and better-educated Indonesians are, however, beginning to question that dominant narrative more openly. Indeed in The Act of Killing we watch the best-educated of the killers underline the facts for his fellow-assassins: if we tell the truth, he warns, people will begin to think of us as brutal, more brutal even than the Communists. Blowing away the core myths upon which modern Indonesia is built might bring down the whole house of cards, he implies. The other gangsters are not smart enough to understand the implication; they wave him away.
At the moment, the majority of Indonesians continue to wave away the slaughter of 1965; they’d rather not think about it, let alone talk about it. Though I was at first surprised when my friends refused to watch The Act of Killing, I have begun to think that it is because they are among those who understand the implications of a more thorough reckoning very well. But if the movie wins an Oscar, and I dearly hope it will, it will at least be an unavoidable topic for conversation among plugged-in, urban youngsters in Indonesia. And just maybe, they’ll go home and ask their parents what really happened and stories will begin to be told. Will that be a good thing? Not necessarily: scratching at wounds tends to make them bleed again.
*Note to Josh: It’s piracy, I know; I apologise and I owe you several beers as a result. But there just hasn’t been enough opportunity to see The Act of Killing on screen. I have taken many people to see the film when it has been showing in theatres, though, and I tweet it out whenever I see it’s on, so I hope that makes up for the theft a little bit…
2014 seems to have begun with a burst of excitement about “Indonesia” in the foreign media. BBC Radio 4 this morning ran an excellent analysis of the country’s prospects by economist Jim O’Neill, the bloke that invented the term BRICS to describe the boom economies of the 2000s. He proposes the MINTs for the 2010s (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey), though now he’s going around visiting them all, he seems less sure that they are poised to take over the world. (If the Radio 4 link didn’t work for you, try this one from the World Service)
The Wall Street Journal gives us an ecstatic piece about a new generation of selfless young leaders, and the Financial Times follows up with a profile of one of those leaders, a favourite of mine, the Mayoress of Surabaya Tri Risma Hartini.
But all of this excitement is not actually about “Indonesia” at all. It revolves around the stories of the country’s two biggest urban conglomerations, home to perhaps 35 million people in total. O’Neill sounds almost surprised in Jakarta to find quite such a plush carpeting of golden shopping malls and trendy bars populated by home-owning, English-speaking middle-class yuppies, though he draws a nice contrast with some of their less fortunate colleagues, who face ghastly commutes to jerry-built suburbs, and with the Jakarta residents least often visited by business analysts and economists, the ones who live in the oft-flooded slums. In their optimistic WSJ piece about the new political generation, Ben Otto and Andreas Ismar cite examples from Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya. They collectively ignore what’s going on in the rest of the country, home to another 215 million Indonesians. And the picture there is often very different. That’s true even of other parts of better-educated, highly urbanised Java. It’s lovely to grasp at saviour figures in Indonesian politics (ironic, isn’t it, that current darling Joko Widodo used to be a carpenter?). But for a more representative picture of what the present system is delivering, take a look at Michael Buehler’s mind-boggling mapping of dynastic succession and patronage in local politics.
I’m really sorry that Jim O’Neill spent his whole five-day visit to Indonesia in Jakarta. Had he had the opportunity to travel to other parts of the country, I think he would have come closer to answering the question that underpins his article as well as the WSJ’s piece: will Indonesia ever realise its full potential? What is missing from his otherwise excellent report is any real sense of the constraints imposed on progress by Indonesia’s current political structure, it’s extraordinary level of democratic decentralisation. With the probable exception of Finance Minister Chatib Basri, even most of the ruling and business elite that O’Neill talked to in Jakarta has no real grasp of how very little influence the capital has on what goes on in the rest of the country.
Yes, Jakarta could change investment policies to encourage more infrastructure investment. But as long as the actual investment decisions are made at the level of the 509 districts and cities, many opportunities for vital, large-scale, regionally joined-up projects will be missed. And some of the things it needs to do it can’t. “Can [the Indonesian leadership] deal with cronyism?” O’Neill asks at the conclusion of his piece. For now, the answer is a clear no. Right now patronage from Jakarta (and the crony structure through which it works) is the glue that keeps this increasingly diverse country together.
Welcome to Indonesia etc, the new face of Portrait Indonesia. It’s over two years since Portrait Indonesia went on the road. Portrait went quiet for several months as I hunched down over a computer, trying to pin Indonesia’s riotous diversity to the page. The book that will emerge in June 2014 will be called Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation. It will be published in the UK by Granta, in the US by WW Norton and in Indonesia by Godown, an imprint of always-inspiring Lontar.
The title Indonesia Etc is taken from Indonesia’s declaration of independence, which reads, in full:
We the People of Indonesia declare the independence of the Republic of Indonesia. The details of the transfer of power etc. will be worked out as soon as possible.
As Indonesia gears up for the 2014 elections, it is still working on its political “etc”. “Democracy by trial and error” was how one retired company head described it to me with a mirthless laugh. How far will decentralisation go? Will independent candidates and local parties be allowed? Much is still up for discussion or re-discussion. And yet the improbable nation muddles along remarkably well for such a young country. Re-reading Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address today, I was reminded that the United States, at a similar stage after its own declaration of independence, still had a bloody civil war ahead of it.
Though it looked touch-and-go for a few years at the start of this century, few people now expect Indonesia to face that kind of chaos in any of its vast territory (except, perhaps, Tanah Papua). In honour of Indonesia’s ongoing Etcs, and of my forthcoming books, this site has migrated from http://portraitindonesia.com.
- If you were signed up to Portrait Indonesia by e-mail, you should now get notifications of new posts on Indonesia Etc.
- If you were signed up by RSS feed, you’ll need to add http://indonesiaetc.com/feed/ to your reader of choice.
Thanks for sticking with the journey so far, and selamat jalan to the next incarnations.
Wandering through the Southeast Asian galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art over Christmas, I was struck by the glory of the bronzes produced in Java more than 1,000 years ago. And of their prescience. This depiction of the Shakyamuni Buddha suggests that in 10th Century Java, the Gods were already playing with their Blackberrys.
In need of public care? Malinda Dee, pre-leaks.
(Photo from Luwuraya.net)
So 2014 will be an exciting year for Indonesia. Mostly, of course, because of the elections. But also because, if things go well, a national health insurance scheme will be expanded to cover all Indonesians. It’s an incredibly ambitious plan. But in a wonderful report on BBC radio by Claire Bolderson, Health Minister Nasfsiah Mboi is optimistic. Asked if the government can achieve a target that appears to elude even the mighty United States, she replies “Inshallah, by 2014, we’ll be there”. You can listen to Claire’s report here (mp3), and I recommend that you do; my favourite scene is the nurse gilling fish on a ward in Makassar but there are some tragic tales of really good intentions frustrated, as well as of unnecessary death.
In theory, poorer Indonesians already get free healthcare through the Jamkesmas scheme. But in practice, Jamkesmas leads sick people into a rabbit warren of incomprehensible bureaucracy, and often offers third rate services. And it doesn’t only go to the poor. A useful World Bank report on the scheme (pdf) notes that “Not all of the poor are reached by the program, and there is considerable leakage to the non-poor.”
Speaking of leakage, who remembers Malinda Dee, the glamour puss owner of two Ferraris, a Mercedes and a Hummer? She argued that Jamkesmas should foot the bill to fix a botched breast enlargement. At the time her silicon sacks burst, the former “relationship manager” at Citibank was being held on charges of stealing 4.4 million dollars from her clients. Since she was a ward of the state, Malinda said, the Indonesian people should pay for her operation.
Few of the users of Jamkesmas are quite so undeserving. But Indonesia has one of the lowest ratios of doctors and of hospital beds to population of any country at its income level. If all poor people really were able to afford care from next year and immediately started to demand it, the system would be overloaded very quickly. That’s already happening in some parts of the country. In Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, indigenous Papuans are spurning (free) local clinics and travelling miles to hospitals because they think they will get better care. The rush to hospitals was so overwhelming that what they actually get is very long queues. When the nation’s capital Jakarta made health care free for all earlier this year, it turned in to exactly that: a free-for-all. People who had never had access to any higher level health care at all suddenly abandoned primary clincis and stampeded the hospitals, sometimes just because they could. Predictably, the result was chaos.
But I do find myself slightly agreeing with the sainted Jakarta Governor Jokowi when he said that with something as necessary as health insurance, it was better to get started and then iron out the wrinkles later than to drag one’s feet for ever. I don’t doubt that many Indonesians will be disappointed and frustrated by the roll-out of universal health insurance from next year. But I salute the government for even putting it on the national agenda, less than 70 years after independence. It took the United States more than 225 years to do the same; and they’re still working on the wrinkles, too.
Many people took offence at the title of my earlier post about Indonesia’s appalling performance in maths and science in the internationally standardised PISA test.
Those who also read the article rightly pointed out that the headline, which called Indonesian students “stupid”, did not match the contents of the post, which was about the failure of Indonesia’s educational system to prepare children for the needs of a modern economy. I apologise for any offence caused, but am glad that the headline piqued some people into reading about this indicator of Indonesia’s educational melt-down, widely ignored by mainstream media.
Now, over at Inside Indonesia, I’ve written a longer piece with an equally inflammatory title, which gives some of the reasons for that failure. A nation of dunces describes the use of teaching jobs as sources of patronage in decentralised Indonesia, and takes a look at the government’s (so far failing) efforts to increase quality in teaching.
Spotted on a classroom wall in South Sulawesi
Four cars have different engine capacites:
Which of the cars has the smallest engine capacity?
It’s not a trick question. But over 75 percent of 15 year-old school children in Indonesia do not have the mathematical skills to answer it correctly.
Every three years, Indonesia’s education system goes through the ritual humiliation of the PISA tests, comparing the performance of 15 year-olds in 65 countries in reading, maths and science. Indonesia has more teachers per student than most much richer countries, and an amendment to the constitution guarantees that 20 percent of the national budget is spent on education. And yet the 2012 PISA results, released this week, show that Indonesia ranked at the bottom of the heap in maths and science, and did only marginally better in reading.
A full 42% of 15 year-old Indonesians in school don’t reach the lowest defined level for maths, meaning they can’t “perform actions that are almost always obvious, and follow immediately from given stimuli”. Three out of four do not reach level 2 in maths, meaning that they are not capable of making literal interpretations of the results of simply presented data, such as reading values off a bar chart. Just 0.3% of Indonesian students managed to score at level 5, the second highest grade, compared with 55% in Shanghai. Here’s the full table of results (xls),in alphabetical order, though it’s easier to find Indonesia if you look at the ranked chart below, because you just have to go straight to the bottom.
In science, a quarter of Indonesian students did not reach the bottom level of proficiency, and a further 42% were mired at level 1 (for those who can’t do the maths, that means two out of three kids are unable to draw conclusions based on simple investigations — full excel table here). Though every other country that was at Indonesia’s dismal level in the 2009 round has pulled its socks up significantly, the performance of Indonesian students in science has actually fallen since three years ago. We can’t yet blame this on the new policy, instituted recently by all those well-educated people in the Ministry of Education, to remove science from the primary school curriculum. No Indonesian managed to score at level 5 in science.
In reading, they are doing better. A whole 45% of students have managed to demonstrate “a baseline level of proficiency… that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life” (though of course that leaves over half that have not attained this dizzy goal). Level 5 was reached by 0.1% (full excel table here).
Not one Indonesian student managed to reach the highest level, level 6, in any of the three test subjects.
There’s one table that turns everything upside down, putting Indonesian kids right on top: the proportion who report being happy in school. Over 95% of Indonesians say they are happy in school, compared with 85% in top-performing Shanghai and just 60% in South Korea, which also comes close to the top in maths and science (excel data here). I wondered if they might be happy because so little was demanded of them, and made a little graph comparing happiness in school with maths scores. Here it is:
It does seem that in general, less competent kids feel happier in school. And there’s nothing wrong with being happy. But it worries me that Indonesian children do not even realise how badly the school system is failing them. Though the overwhelming majority have not, by the age of 15, acquired even the basic skills needed to function in modern society, they think they’re all set for the future. Some 95% report that they have learned things that have prepared them for their future jobs, and almost three quarters think that school has prepared them adequately for adult life. Fewer than one in ten think that school has been a waste of time.
Which makes me wonder what kind of future Indonesia will have.