Papua: Not another East Timor or Aceh, please
Aboeprijadi Santoso, Amsterdam | Fri, 11/04/2011 8:27 AM
A dialogue initiated by Jakarta has recently been followed up by massive strikes at the Freeport gold mining site and third Papuan People’s Congress on the rights of the people and the future of Papua. The violence that erupted amid all these, however, is rooted elsewhere — not in Papua.
Papua may be viewed to have been the result of a series of historic fait accompli.
First, it was incorporated into the colonial edifice of Dutch-Indies only in the early last century. Next, it was put under the sovereignty of independent Indonesia, but this only materialized much later than the other parts of the republic.
As a result, like East Timor, Papua was not part of the processes of Indonesia’s nation-building when this reached its height from the 1940s to 1960s.
Lastly, Soeharto’s 30-year militarized state, which was the first to put Papua under Jakarta’s effective control since 1969, was more interested in its economic potential than its impoverished and denigrated people, which made Papua, like Aceh, grow alienated vis-à-vis the central government.
The combination of these faits accomplis has made Papua uniquely different to both East Timor and Aceh. But Papua is now being treated in the same way East Timor and Aceh were during the times of conflict in those regions.
Let’s briefly review the cases. By the late 1990s it was obvious people in Aceh, in towns and the countryside, were harboring resentment toward the central administration, the Mobile Police Brigade and military.
It was similar in East Timor, whose people went through even more painful episodes that resembled Saddam’s “Republic of Fear”.
It took more than two decades for the East Timor conflicts to be resolved and its people to be freed as Soeharto’s regime began to crumble and pushed president B.J. Habibie to offer plebiscite.
At the same time, though, the reformasi helped the Aceh revolt get massive popular support.
At this crucial juncture, we thus “lost” East Timor just as we, with Aceh rebellion at its peak, felt the threat of disintegration.
This resulted in state-nationalism, which desperately defends the old nationhood, facing a few local nationalisms.
As a consequence, despite the drive toward democracy, we either blame our new spring and openness, or strengthen a “blind” nationalism in efforts to maintain the unitary state (NKRI), or both.
The consequences of this can now be seen in Papua as Indonesia becomes “a democracy minus Papua”. Papua thus turns into an anomaly: a “sick man” to be healed, from Jakarta’s perspective, by its classic formula that we used to deal with East Timor and Aceh: “NKRI Harga Mati!”
This state rhetoric means that the “unitary state” has yet again become the deadly bottom line that justifies any means, including violence, to keep Indonesia “united”.
We thus tend to ignore that ongoing violence, no matter how excessive, as the cases of East Timor and Aceh demonstrated, would only breed growing local hatred, which in turn threatens state unity and hurts the existing nationhood.
It is important here to recall that our Founding Fathers’ dream of a unitary state was based on the 1928 Youth Pledge and the principles of, to borrow Sukarno’s phrase, “nationalism within the garden of humanity”. Hence, they called for persatoean Indonesia — a current parlance rather than a doctrine.
By contrast, NKRI has in effect become a slogan-turned-operational doctrine ever since the New Order invented it in an effort to impose a centralized state by using the concept of kesatuan (unit, in a military sense). The militarily inspired doctrine thus becomes a popular discourse that takes the violence-prone phrase “NKRI Harga Mati!” for granted.
One wonders indeed whether this state discourse and method to call for unity can be reconciled with our Constitution that acknowledges the right of every nation and calls to respect its dignity.
While the New Order’s state-building thus expanded at the expense of nation-building, its legacy put our democratic experiment to a serious test. Indeed, it contributed little to the resolution of conflict on East Timor — which we left with a bloody mayhem (1999) — and Aceh, where the war didn’t end until peace was signed (2005).
In the end, it was the foreign mediating role — the United Nations for East Timor and Helsinki peace makers for Aceh — that actually ended the war. It was not the tsunami, which accelerated rather than motivated peace at the latest minutes, but the military stagnation on the ground, the dignity bestowed upon the warring sides, and Jakarta’s agreeing (even if reluctantly) to local party, that led to the Helsinki peace deal.
In short, no military solution would resolve the conflict. Lessons from Aceh peace may hopefully be useful as Jakarta now acts, if somewhat late, by sending a special team led by an Aceh war-veteran and peace delegation member, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bambang Dharmono, to Papua.
However, Jakarta remains reluctant to involve foreign mediators. The fact that special autonomy has poured trillions of rupiah into Papua may have encouraged not only the growth of a local elite and corruption, but possibly also has empowered local resistance.
Papua needs “a [Jakarta] leader who we can trust,” the late Papua leader Theys Hiyo Eluay, referring to president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, insisted when I met him in 2001.
Whoever would negotiate with Papuans will have to be open, honest and ready to discuss the past methods by which former West New Guinea (West Irian) was incorporated into the republic, which has been Papua’s universal demand ever since the second Papua People Congress in 2000.
No autonomy, no matter how many trillions of rupiah it provides, will recover Papua’s dignity as long as Jakarta refuses to discuss the legitimacy of the genesis of the United Nations-held 1969 plebiscite.
In short, no more “East Timor” and “Aceh” methods can be used to deal with Papua.
The writer is a journalist. He covered East Timor and Aceh throughout the 1990s and 2000s for Radio Netherlands