The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Getting back on the rails   

Attention railbuffs on platforms everywhere: Stand by for an important announcement from Grand Gricer Rob Dickinson:
‘China, Java and maybe the Balkans are the last places in the world where the independent traveller can experience real working steam in sufficient quantity to make a special expedition worthwhile.’ 
Duncan Graham reports on the weird world of the loco lovers who’ll go just about anywhere for a blast of nostalgia, a whiff of woodsmoke and the majestic sight of the monsters which fired the industrial revolution.
Curiously the place to search for records on Java’s old steam locos is neither Indonesia nor Holland, though both have  information.  The treasures are in Britain where gricers get up a good head of steam.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a gricer as ‘a railway enthusiast, especially one who assiduously seeks out and photographs unusual trains; loosely, a train-spotter’.

An urban dictionary adds: ‘Someone who braves rainy and windy station platforms to catch a glimpse of unusual trains’. Some readers might consider this behavior eccentric.  Some readers might be right.

While normal folks see two parallel lines of steel boring in their symmetry, the foundry-hardened gricer detects romance in rail.  Gricers are also known as anoraks in Britain (after the hooded windcheaters worn by shivering watchers) – or if they are really posh, ferroequinologists.  (Iron horse – get it?)


Retired Java tour guide Rob Dickinson, who probably fits all definitions, runs a gricers’ website from Gloucestershire where he tells all: ‘The only real steam trains left are in Indonesia which has the greatest concentration of working stationary steam engines in the world today’.
He calls them ‘sugar steam’ because they worked the cane farms and mills, and has picture galleries of these splendid triumphs of engineering.  A few are puffing like dragons, others disappearing under tangles of green vines, some retired behind chain fences so small boys won’t clamber aboard and realise their fireman fantasies.
Dickinson hasn’t confined his interest to lowland contours – he’s also climbed every peak in Java and used to run tours for gricers from Europe, the US and Japan.  He’s also something of a purist who wants to see machines in settings that are ‘natural and real’.
He has little time for dilettantes who want to snap and go – and even less for tourists who toss money around.
Now he writes: ‘Most steam enthusiasts do not have sufficient patience or understanding of the value of real steam … which is rather sad.
‘On the other hand it does keep the numbers of visitors to Java down and as a result, you can visit Java as an independent traveller and expect to receive a warm welcome and no demands for money save the official entry fee charged for access to most of the mill areas which are not in the public domain.’
He and his colleagues, who include Indonesian railfans, have assembled a list of 54 known locations in Central and East Java where several hundred oldtimers rest.
Some sites are graveyards.  Engines were imported early last century from 17 manufacturers – mostly in Germany, but a couple from the US (Pennsylvania) and one each from the UK, the Netherlands, France and Belgium.
The oldest known loco in Java was built in 1899 and the last in 1938.  One engine came from Britain in 1971 but has since done a Brexit and returned to its homeland, presumably after finding Java full of European machines. 
Most stand where their boilers were finally allowed to go cold\; a few have been preserved.
There’s a 1911 Henschel at Taman Mini in Jakarta and another is supposed to be on a tourist railway in Jambi.  The rail depot at Cepu between East and Central Java is reported to have the largest concentration of active preserved steam locos in the nation

Few are chuffing through the cane fields – though Dutch steam machinery is still operating in some old sugar mills.
Getting accurate information has been difficult. Many locos have been cannibalised. One outside a mill near Malang carries a Henschel nameplate, though Dickinson says it’s actually an  Orenstein & Koppel from Germany. Gricers beware; you could get railroaded.
End of the line
As repairs of the nation’s infrastructure get underway issues of land ownership and access often become roadblocks.  Literally.
In the village of Jatinom near the East Java city of Malang a road-widening project is underway to help speed traffic from the Abdul Rachman Saleh airport.  This entails bulldozing scores of businesses squatting on the road reserve.
Bamboo-framed warung (roadside cafes), fruit vendors and even stoutly-built shops have  been carted or crushed.  Apart from natural barriers like rivers, only one major obstacle remains  – an ancient  25 tonne loco and its two smaller consorts.

They are owned by local businessman Eko Yudi Irawan who likes to collect – well, just about everything.  His café has old radios, telephones, carved timber gateways, wayang Potehi (wooden puppets) a bicycle with a petrol engine that drives a cog on the front tyre, a farmer’s plough – and locomotives.
He had ten.  Most have been sold to hotels and entertainment parks, a couple have gone overseas - one to the Netherlands and the other to Norway.
Just as Cuba became a living museum of American fin-tailed gas-guzzlers when borders were closed between the two nations in the 1960s, so old Dutch machinery is still working and drawing admirers from afar.
“Most of the equipment comes from sugar mills,” said Irawan. “Locally they are only worth scrap metal prices, but I like to buy intact and resell.  I think I’m the only person doing this in Java.
“Plenty of places have old ships and cars, even aeroplanes.  As a child I grew up close to the rail line and watched the trains every day.  I want history preserved. I find it sad that so many Indonesians are not interested.”
Unfortunately vandals have hacked off the name plates on the old steam engine, but train-trader Irawan said he’d been told that it had been built in Holland, worked for a century and then shipped to Java in 1915. Till recently it hauled cane to the mill at Kebon Agung, south of Malang
The beast’s provenance sounds exaggerated.  Dutch cultural historian Ben de Vries identified the loco as a “crippled C26 (Henschel- Germany) from the area of Kediri, probably Kediri Stoomtram Maatschappij (Kediri Steamtrain Company KSM) around 1900 on the Kediri-Pare-Jombang line.”
 Henschel, based in Kassel didn’t start making locos till 1848.  The East Java KSM line only opened in the late 19th century, so Irawan’s engine is ancient – though not excessively so.
Last year de Vries produced a report on old locos in Java after a team of European rail experts went to  Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Solo, Tegal, Bandung, Semarang and Cepu, gathering information on rolling stock.
They also visited Ambarawa in Central Java, which has a railway museum, though not East Java.
The historians worked on a project called Shared Cultural Heritage.  They were invited by the Heritage Conservation and Architecture Design division of the Indonesian railway company Kereta Api Indonesia.

Irawan’s other two engines standing in the way of progress are smaller, lighter and diesel-powered.  Both were made by the German company SCHÖMA Christoph Schöttler in the 1970s.
They’re probably too juvenile to attract foreign buyers so will likely feature in recreation parks. Gricers are into wood and water power, not smelly fossil fuels.
Irawan said he’ll clear the land by the end of the year but will have to hire a crane from Surabaya to do the job at a cost of around Rp 25 million (US$2,000).
If a European restorer wants the loco the price will be around Rp 1.5 billion (US$112,000) plus freight.  If not it will rust in peace in some distant paddy..
(First published in J-Plus - The Jakarta Post 23 July 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016


Through a window darkly     
 For Kuta pub managers Australia Plus is the TV channel to screen AFL games.  Who needs Hindu temples and Kecak trance dances when you can watch the big men fly and drink Fosters?
 If you reckon television is an ideal expat’s nipper-pacifier, a substitute for the kids playing in the hazardous outdoors, then Australia Plus is your channel too.
It’s also first choice for those without a device to record a cooking show or travelogue.  No worries.  Your favourite program will be repeated again.  And again.  And again.
However if Australia’s overseas TV  is supposed to project a robust modern Western democracy, a creative explorer of art and technology and a leader in education, then Australia Plus is a turn off. 
Our presentations to the Asia Pacific used to be different. Australian governments once believed that broadcasting and telecasting into the region was an important responsibility, sowing ideas, informing and influencing.  
Radio Australia started in 1939 using shortwave, mainly to counter Japanese propaganda.  After the war it became a ‘soft power diplomacy tool’ in the jargon of foreign affairs.
Millions learned about Australia and its values; many received world news censored by their governments.  RA was a trusted source in a region where facts are often scarce.
 Thousands developed their English skills huddled over crackling transistors, particularly during the 1950s and 60s. 
Technology forced changes. Satellites eclipsed land-based transmitters and enlarged reach.  Rebrands became necessary; but the vision remained and the mission expanded.
In 2006 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced that ABC Asia Pacific (formerly Australia Television International) would become Australia Network, with funding from Foreign Affairs and Trade plus advertising.
It would reach 10 million homes and 200,000 hotel rooms in 41 countries; maybe one million viewers a month.
Downer said the ABC would run the network offering “high quality programs about Australia and its engagement with the region.”
Also promised were “extensive news and current affairs programs, Australian-produced education, drama, entertainment and lifestyle programs.”  Note the order of priorities.
The Minister included a homely metaphor with his Reithian principles:  “A key requirement of the service is to provide a credible and independent voice through programs that present a 'window' on Australia and Australian perspectives of the world.” 
Australia Network CEO Ian Carroll added: “Our news and current affairs programs provide more than the headlines – it’s quality world class journalism offering a different view from the London and US-centric networks”.
By then there were other windows to peer though. BBC World, France24, Al Jazeera, NHK (Japan), Deutsche Welle and other international telecasters were offering vistas grand using serious money. The French Government is reported to spend AUD 117 million a year on France 24.
Then in 2014 the government broke its AUD 223 million ten-year deal with the ABC after budget cuts. Eighty staff – some in Asian news rooms – lost their jobs.
As Australia Network faded to black, Australia Plus flickered to life.  Suddenly all the ringing rhetoric about engagement with the region lost its potency. The graffiti scrawled on the cracked and soiled window of the new service asks:  Does anyone care? 
How did this come about?  Blame pronged lobbying by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV which wanted to get the contract, spooking governments more concerned with domestic trivia than reaching the neighbours.
Prime among these are the people next door in the world’s third largest democracy.  As Australian leaders recite the mantra that Indonesia is our most important foreign relationship it might be logical to assume we’d be showcasing our best and brightest. .
When Australia Network died the then ABC managing director Mark Scott reportedly said the decision “runs counter to the approach adopted by the vast majority of G20 countries.
“Countries around the world are expanding their international broadcasting services as key instruments of public diplomacy.
“It sends a strange message to the region that the government does not want to use the most powerful communication tools available to it to talk to our regional neighbours about Australia.”
Australia Plus took over as a pay-to-view channel with a stated “mission to provide a television and digital service that informs, entertains and inspires our audience with an uniquely Australian perspective.”  Note the new order of priorities.
Indonesians and others in the region can enjoy a 24-hour service dominated by Bananas in Pyjamas, Play School and Little Ted’s Big Adventure on a loop for much of the morning plus a few English lessons.
ABC News Breakfast does starts at 3 am in Jakarta. World News at 8 pm seems to be the only program created for the channel, not just lifted and dumped, like a Bondi Rescue wave?
At 5.30 pm Java time 7.30 is shown. Q & A runs a day late; there are old editions of Australia Story and the brilliant Jenny Brockie SBS series Insight. Weeklies like Insiders and The Drum get a guernsey. Four Corners does not.  That’s about it for current affairs.
Home and Away fans get five episodes back-to-back, relieved by weird monochrome promotions for Monash University that would puzzle and probably frighten prospective students. 
Other sponsors are vitamin manufacturer Swisse and the tourist promoter Melbourne, Victoria. Tellingly absent are the 360 Australian businesses which launched a mighty assault on the Indonesian market last year.
What’s the target audience for this dog’s breakfast? Asians play soccer, not AFL. Where are the other sports which SBS does well, the docos, the ‘uniquely Australia perspective’ on the region’?
 The fractured Australia Plus window needs ripping out and the gap filled with concrete (a metaphor to warn potential asylum seekers) or reglazed with quality glass, custom made to fit.
None of this seems to concern the major parties. While they enjoy ABC and SBS excellence at home, their neighbours get Australia Minus.
(First published in New Mandala 22 July 2016 

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Confronting pain and shame                             

Mery Kolimon reckons Indonesian Christians should learn from the revolutionary socialist Karl Marx.
That statement is a red rag to a bullish government, so jinxed by the phantoms of massacred victims that it’s distracting public inquiry with warnings of a return by the communist bogeyman.
The recommendation sounds like the ravings of a ragged-beard  radical yet to understand the nation’s turbulent history, the lurking fears and the stalking hates.
But Kolimon is a middle-aged married mother of three with a doctorate in theology.  She’s an articulate advocate, firm but not combative, politically aware and personally scarified by the brutal past.
Her research so challenges the government’s version of history that she was bumped off the program at last October’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. If that was supposed to cripple her credibility, it failed.  Soon after she was elected leader of two million Protestants in the Archipelago’s eastern islands.
Had the festival been run by locals like literary giant Goenawan Mohamad and staged in Jakarta, Kolimon believes it would have been hard for the police to shut down discussions about the atrocities following the 30 September 1965 coup.
The 12-year old Ubud festival is directed by founder Australian Janet DeNeefe who has business interests in Bali so more susceptible to political pressure. Local police chief Farman was quoted as saying the bans were “for the benefit of the people. The spirit of the festival is not to discuss things that would just open old wounds.”
Said Kolimon: “Tensions have certainly risen since the forum was banned where I and others were to address the topic of Bearing Witness.
“But that experience has also told us that we need to build a global community seeking justice for the victims of violence everywhere.
 “I was angry and disappointed.  I wanted people to hear what I had to say. I know young people in particular are keen to learn the truth about the past.  Strangely we’d already run public discussions around Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT – Eastern Islands) with no interference.”
The sudden police action in Ubud silenced the speakers but amplified the issues.  It shifted stories about a literary event from the ho-hum arts sections to news page headlines around the world.
 Kolimon was on the bill as co-editor of the translated edition of Forbidden Memories – Women’s Experiences of 1965 in Eastern Indonesia published by Australia’s Monash University. 
Kolimon, 44, was born after the pogrom which brought second president Soeharto to power taking an estimated 500,000 lives in an anti-Communist purge. But her quest for truth is more than academic; her late father was a police officer ordered to take part in executions of communists. He killed 17 men but suffered a tormented conscience.
Kolimon discovered her parent’s awful secret as a highschooler and later exposed the story as Memecah Pembisuan (Breaking the Silence) a book which split her family. She said her siblings have since reconciled following their father’s search for forgiveness.
Forbidden Memories is a collection of searing interviews by Kolimon and her colleagues with women who recalled the horrors.  It tells how husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were rounded up and shot, their bodies buried or dumped at sea.
Few were party members (communism was not illegal before the coup) or even active supporters. Many were arbitrarily condemned because informants claimed they harboured anti-government views. It was also a handy way for feuding neighbors to settle old scores.
Some women were also found guilty by association, imprisoned, tortured, sexually abused and then had their heads shaved.  The widows were kicked out of their jobs and shoved back into a fearful society that discriminated for decades. 
The book claims the church was complicit in the purge by not speaking out or ministering to prisoners, and by accepting government claims about communism. Pastors demanded alleged members publicly confess their ‘sins’ to be allowed communion.
Kolimon said the research had been published to give the victims a voice, to raise awareness of “this dark shadow over the nation … this humanitarian tragedy.” She also wants to start reform of the religious institutions because the church “lost its critical voice.”
Now she is standing on a more substantial platform than the Ubud festival following her win as Synod Moderator for the Church in NTT against two male candidates.
In her Kupang office photos of Kolipon’s 11 predecessors stare down from a wall.  Most look sombre and authoritarian.  All are men.
She considers the International People’s Tribunal held at The Hague last November another reason for the government’s attempts to ignite anti-communist hysteria.
During the 2014 presidential election campaign successful candidate Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo offered voters the Nawa Cita (Sanskrit for nine goals) agenda; this included a pledge to address the claims of victims of historical abuse.
When this didn’t happen the tribunal took evidence. The panel of judges concluded the Indonesian government was responsible for the massacres and oppression that followed the coup.
The government has refused to recognize the IPT. Attorney General HM Prasetyo was reported as saying: “We solve our own issues. There is no need for other parties to be involved.” 
Kolimon believes the army and others are worried by the overseas attention. “Whatever they say they are facing a big challenge with people seeking reconciliation,” she said.  “I want to meet the President and ask him to be consistent in his promise of reformation.
“We will support him in developing a stronger civil society after decades of an authoritarian state.”
Despite her extra authority as leader of NTT churches Kolimon says the situation for activists has become “so dangerous” since the Ubud festival closure. 
“There’s been no direct attack, but we can feel the tension, I’m protected somewhat by my position, but maybe the victims are not so secure.  It’s very important to be careful, but not to panic.
“The authorities say they are against a communist revival. Radicals and communists and LGBT causes are being bundled together.  I’ve even been called a communist. Can you imagine it?  What’s happening?  This is crazy – but this is my country now.
“I can’t prove it but I think my phone is being tapped. Just before my election (as Moderator) the TNI tried to stop us showing films on Rote (the island next to Kupang). We were so afraid, but we went ahead.”
In the Forbidden Memories epilogue Kolimon writes: “It is high time that Christianity in Indonesia …thinks seriously about the possibilities of learning from Marxism rather than perpetuating hatred towards it. 
“Openness to this will allow the Church to become more sensitive to people’s suffering and to show a clear attitude about where the church stands.
“Specifically in the context of global capitalism today which tends to exploit the poor, the Church can take important lessons from Marxism which will help to enable it to carry out Jesus’ teaching about serving those who are marginalised.”
Later this month [july] she will speak at a seminar in Melbourne. She claims that reconciliation is not just an issue for Indonesia but must also involve the US and Australia.  Both nations applauded the fall of first president Soekarno because they feared he was getting too close to communism, and may have assisted with names of members to be targeted.
“Some people think that peace will come so long as we leave things alone,” Kolimon said. “The opposite is true – we’ll continue to be haunted by ghosts of the past.  We must try and heal this trauma which is affecting the whole nation.”
(First published in Strategic Review, 21 July 2016)

Friday, July 15, 2016


­­Backscratchers, banquets and goosebumps   


Blitar is history in the raw.
Visitors eager to understand more of the Archipelago’s distant and recent past untouched by image polishers will find rough-cut gems in the small East Java city
The marvellous and the mundane, the profound and the crass, the graceful and the kitsch all rub shoulders – but don’t create friction.
Blitar is the resting place of President Soekarno, the Proklamator of Independence. In 1970 his body was banished to the inland town 170 kilometers below Surabaya by his usurper Soeharto, fearing that a Jakarta grave would become a shrine for dissent.
In other countries such an internationally historic figure would be weighed down with grand titles, but in Blitar he’s just Bung Karno.  ‘Bung’ is street talk for mate or brother and gives a good feel for how Soekarno has been embraced as a man of the people.

Blitar is more than BK.  It includes the 12th century Candi Penataran, the largest Hindu temple in East Java and still a revered site – another reason to visit.  Unlike Borobudur in Central Java, Penataran has not been over commercialised.  Tourists are rare, so likewise touts.

The Haul (commemorations) marking the eve of Soekarno’s passing had a religious theme, though only through happenchance.  This year Ramadhan fasting falls in June, which is normally BK’s month.  Otherwise the Haul was secular, sunny and fun.  Security had nothing to do but yawn and rub their tummies.

The theme was 1,000 Tumpeng, the yellow rice cones encircled by a landscape of vegetables and meats. This spectacular dish is presented on a tampah, a large woven bamboo plate, the arrangement so precise that demolition seems sacrilege.  However hunger, like love, conquers all.
Tumpeng represent the national cuisine, though the widely-exported nasi goreng (fried rice) holds that position overseas.  Combining nationalism with religion meant fasters could assuage the gnawing beast at 5.25 pm while giving thanks to Bung Karno for making his people proud. 
The Tumpeng were served on red carpets laid on the roads, the banquet enjoyed by many of Blitar’s 140,000 residents.  Visitors were invited to join whatever their faith. The foods were donated, with the most lavish presentations from the biggest government departments and corporations.
Although supposedly an egalitarian feast, the footwear left at the edge of the carpets revealed the gap - handcrafted leather shoes at the VIP end, battered rubber sandals in the kampong.
The gourmet gauntlet stretched at least two kilometers from the well-preserved home of BK’s family right to his grave.
This is the sort of place you wouldn’t want to be seen dead in - slippery marble, cracked concrete and columns devoid of art.   There’s an abundance of photos and memorabilia wanting preservation – along with the roof. 
Three drip-catching buckets among the portraits told the broader story, unworthy of a man who had taste in everything – including women.

The official tally is nine wives and 14 children, though only Sukmawati Soekarnoputri (left) visited Blitar on 20 June to remember the passing of her Dad.
Although not at the official buka puasa (breaking of the fast) the stylishly dressed daughter did watch a staged love story about her grandparents.  This had a plotline more like a TV sinetron (soap opera) than recall of a momentous moment, but the crowd wasn’t expecting Sophocles so thought it a hoot. 
In the play Javanese schoolteacher Raden Soekemi Sosrodihardjo meets his future Balinese wife Ida Ayu Nyoman Rai, overcoming religious and regional prejudice and eventually producing baby Bung.
For three hours around 2,000 onlookers heard rousing speeches praising Pancasila, stirring songs in Javanese and frequent shouting of Merdeka! (Freedom!) All was jovial.
A marathon noteless recital of BK’s life and times by schoolgirl Galuh Adriani Sulaiman preceded elegant dancing by bare-shouldered beauties who would be whipped in Aceh for public indecency.  Such is the diversity of Indonesia.
Further proof was the presence of hundreds of white-clad Hindus, recognized with many Om shanti peace greetings.  Indonesia has a reputation for being almost monotheistic and at times intolerant of non-Islamic religions.  But at Blitar’s Haul Muslims mixed openly and cheerfully with followers of Java’s original faith.

Also in the audience was Singgih Hartono,(right)  a 70-year old market gardener from Probolinggo.  He makes an annual five-hour journey from the north coast just to recall the greatness of yesteryear.  He was one of the few who had actually met BK.
“I was a teenage scout and he told me we had to grow a great nation,” Hartono said. “I will not tolerate anyone saying bad things about him. Bung Karno is our Nelson Mandela (the anti-apartheid champion of South Africa.)
“He is still alive in my heart.  Just talking about him now gives me goosebumps.”
If these bothered him, Hartono could have bought a BK back-scratcher, catapult, massage sandals and other trashy souvenirs of a statesman.  Otherwise a T-shirt with a portrait and slogan to suit every viewpoint.

The air-punching demagogue in black glasses screaming into a microphone, the dapper diplomat meeting foreign heads of state, the family guy with wives and kids.
This year the image is of a friendly fellow, though the colorists had spilt the pastel paintpot giving BK a wishy-washy look diluting his reputation.
How he is remembered depends on the history lens used – clear-sighted visionary or devious manipulator, hero or betrayer, despot or democrat, hypnotic orator but flawed economist.
Blitar only knows a son who went into the world and dazzled.  The city honors him in a way that’s neither solemn nor sad, though elements of those emotions linger and are there to be savored by all.
 Said Hartono: “Other leaders built grand houses for themselves.  Bung Karno built a nation for his people.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 15 July 2016)

Friday, July 08, 2016


Not right in Ramadhan       
In late 1965 Beny was a young policeman serving in Nusa Tenggara Timor, Indonesia’s far eastern province that’s closer to Darwin than Jakarta
It was a turbulent time for the Republic, then only two decades old.  A moral tsunami was sweeping the nation, the waves generated in the distant capital where a military coup had dethroned first president Soekarno.
His successor General Soeharto said the army acted because the godless communists were about to seize control.  He ordered a purge. An estimated 500,000 died.
Citizens were condemned as reds though membership of the Communist Party had been legal. They were imprisoned, brutally treated, then forced to beach or jungle and shot.
Beny was among the official executioners.  He squinted down the sights of his rifle, aimed at the bowed heads of neighbours he’d known and pulled the trigger.
The defenceless targets were so close he could hardly miss. Then he saw what he’d done - the shattered skulls, the splashed brains and the gore. Over several months he killed 17 men.
When the insanity eventually passed a sort of nervous normality returned.  Memories of the terror were buried along with the victims, but could not be stilled.
A teenage daughter discovered her parent’s awful secret. To help lay the ghosts she later wrote his story published as a chapter in Memecah Pembisuan - Breaking the Silence, (Monash University Publishing).
Speaking of her research she said: “He told me that he was very much affected by the killing. He felt as if he were going mad. Two years after the killings, my parents got married.
“The first year of their marriage was very hard for my mum. My father beat her a lot. Only after they performed some traditional rituals, visited a local shaman, and prayed every midnight for several months in the church, did my father become calm.
“For the first four years of their marriage they did not have any children. My mother had some miscarriages. So they prayed and asked forgiveness from God and promised God that if they had children, they would dedicate their first one to God.”

That child is now the Rev Dr Mery Kolimon (left), a leading advocate for reconciliation as co-editor of Forbidden Memories – Women’s Experiences of 1965 in Eastern Indonesia (MUP). 
Her father had someone to shrive his soul and died quickly of a heart attack.  Other executioners burdened by their terrible deeds went insane or committed suicide. Their distressed families seldom understood why their loved ones were going crazy and causing so much strife.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s films about the 1965 massacres, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence reveal the unstoppable mental torments suffered by the executioners despite outward bravado.
Along with its agents, the state is also a victim.  Last year the Indonesian government savaged its reputation as a modern civilised nation by killing eight drug traffickers including two Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands withdrew their ambassadors. There were protests around the world.  Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo claimed the shootings were “more orderly and more perfect” than earlier executions. Now more are planned.
Prasetyo said he delayed the next round in respect for Ramadhan which ended on 7 July. Sometime soon five local and five foreign convicts, mostly drug traffickers will be tied to posts at Nusa Kambangan prison and gunned down at midnight.
Prasetyo reportedly told journalists:  “Conducting executions during the holy month will not sound right.”
Nor does the sound of gunshots in jail whatever the month and wherever in the world.  Judicial killings have long ceased to be right along with crucifixions, burning witches and dismemberments.  All nations have a history of enacting ghastly punishments.  Most have matured, repented and reformed.
 Along with 31 US States, Indonesia has yet to find the moral courage to join the majority.
Supporters of the grizzly procedure say it’s a deterrent but show no figures.  If true drug trafficking would have ceased long ago. What is known is that Indonesia’s legal system is so rotten there’s no certainty the convicted are guilty as charged.
Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, 42, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Priest Charlie Burrows said the condemned man could not understand that he was to die in the last batch.
Filipino Mary Jane Veloso got a last-hour stay when new evidence showed she may have been an unknowing drug mule.
 Polls show locals approve capital punishment. Indonesia often demonstrates its inferiority complex through demands to be treated as great nation. The public thinks executions prove its position with a tough guy president giving the finger to the international community.  
Those scheduled for the next mass execution are men from countries like China and Nigeria which also retain the death penalty.  There are no Westerners or pretty women listed this time which probably means protests will be muted, diluting the abolitionists’ campaign.
Indonesia is also hypocritical.  Around 280 citizens are on death rows overseas, principally Saudi Arabia where maids allegedly despatching their brutal bosses seem to be a regular tragedy.  Spurred by an outraged media the Indonesian government pleads for clemency, not always successfully.
Among those involved in the coming gruesome ritual are 150 marksmen undergoing training, though no skill is needed to shoot a sitting target.  Authorities say some rifles will be loaded with blanks so no-one can be sure they were responsible.
This is nonsense. Army trainees who have used live rounds and blanks are well aware the kick is different.  The guilty will know.
Like Dr Kolimon’s dad they’ll spend the rest of their days reliving the unholy nightmares, tormenting themselves and families.  Attorney General Prasetyo should rest well for ensuring no wrong sounds upset the peace of  Ramadhan.

(First published in New Mandala 8 July 2016.  See:  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Close to paradise, far from prosperity        


A Malang-based community development agency is the Indonesian winner of the National Energy Globe Foundation award for 2016.
Yayasan Daya Pertiwi (Daya Pertiwi Foundation - DPF) will now compete through audience and on-line voting against 177 country winners for the grand award of 10,000 Euros (Rp 152 million) later this year. There were more than 1,700 applicants world-wide.
The Austrian-based environmental awards started in 1999.  Last year’s Indonesian winner was Yayasan Ekosistem Gili Indah for its work in restoring coral reefs using renewable energy in islands off Lombok. A reforestation project in Ethiopia won the global award.
The DPF has been recognized for its Integrated Rural Development - Social Forestry and Water Development project on Nusa Penida, an island between Bali and Lombok.
Despite being just 45 minutes by motor boat from one of the world’s most lush and famous tourist resorts where billions have been invested in luxury accommodation, Nusa Penida is arid, poor and overlooked.
About 45,000 people live in 40 villages.  There are few tourist lures other than a bird sanctuary for the rare Bali starling, and diving sites which are difficult to access.
DPF’s Nusa Penida project has had a long and bumpy history. According to Foundation chair Made Polak the first work started in 1987 with limited funds.  These dried up two years later until German agency Bread for the World got involved in 1991.
They dropped out three years later, but were replaced by another German group, the Church Development Service.  That aid lasted until the Dutch Inter-church Cooperative for Development Cooperation offered support.
“This disjointed funding and the small amount allocated each time has extended the project,” Polak said. “The total amount spent since we started, including our own money, has been around one million Euros (Rp 15 billion.)
“Projects like this go through several stages involving planning, education, training and implementation.  These might take up to seven years in East Java, but twice that time on Nusa Penida.
“The island has severe geographical conditions, little infrastructure and high illiteracy. The people had little work. We had to help strengthen them to be self sufficient.”
The project’s economic programs include cashew plantations, fuel and fodder crops and building hundreds of underground tanks to provide continuity of water supplies for people and stock. 
Polak said the reservoirs have been the key to stabilising the community which suffered from droughts.
“The position of women is less advantageous than in Bali as they are still subordinate to their husbands,” Polak said.
“This has now changed and various economic ventures have been developed, like animal husbandry, handicrafts and processing nuts.
“Rehabilitation of degraded land and the underground rainwater catchments have transformed bare limestone rock into a green and flourishing landscape. Thanks to the reforestation program annual rainfall has increased from 42 to 65 days.
“The trees will help increase soil fertility and prevent erosion. Forage planting ensures stock have feed throughout the year.”
Polak said winning the award for Indonesia drew world attention to the needs of isolated communities, and showed how international funds could make a real and lasting difference. The award would also boost morale among the Nusa Penida people and the project’s seven staff.
Turning hate into aid                                                    
Leonardo Sahuburua’s journey to working with YDP in Nusa Penida started with violence and a chance encounter far away.
The man was in a uniform and had a gun. “Are you a troublemaker?” he shouted.
“No,” replied the young environmentalist.  He could smell alcohol on the man’s breath, they were that close.
Maybe the mild response made a difference.  Instead of pulling the trigger the man raised the butt of his machine gun.  Sahuburua put up his arm to ward off the blow and took a heavy hit. 
He ran into the bush, jumped off a cliff and tumbled down a 20 meter slope.  Then he staggered home in agony to his parents in Ambon and told them he had to flee.  They gave him money and he headed for the harbor with no clear plan.
The year was 2000, the place the Moluccas. The once peaceful islands were in the middle of a bitter three-year sectarian conflict pitching Muslims and Christians against each other. An estimated 700,000 people were displaced and 5,000 lost their lives.
Sahuburua reasoned it best to head for Bali as it was unlikely his attackers would pursue him to a place watched by the world. Covering his wounded arm he got on a boat and sailed away from his province and eventually into an entirely new life.
What didn’t end was the pain.   X rays revealed his arm had been fractured in the assault, the bone had knit and he needed surgery.  He now has a 20 centimeter scar to remind him that the Ambon experience was no fantasy.
He also discovered that to love and forgive enemies is one of his faith’s toughest commands.
“I held hate in my stomach towards that man for some time,” he said. “I don’t know who he was and he didn’t know me.
“Eventually I realized hate wasn’t doing me any good and it certainly wasn’t affecting him. I had to let go, though I continue to have nightmares.
After working as a tour guide and with a National Geographic film crew he got a scholarship to attend the Haggai Institute training center in Hawaii. He was taught leadership skills which have been used in his aid work.
Who gave the money?  Sahuburua says he doesn’t know.  “That was in 2006 when I was 30,” he said.  “It was another turning point in my life, along with my escape from Ambon.
“I still cannot stand the sight of uniforms – they trigger the memories.  But if I hadn’t been hit in Ambon I wouldn’t be here on Nusa Penida.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post  21 June 2016)

Monday, June 20, 2016


Don’t stir the giant possum next door                                  
Back in the 1970s presenters on the Australian Broadcasting Commission (now Corporation) stations were urged to use a ‘mid-Atlantic’ accent.
This ludicrous instruction was designed to please the plumb-in-mouth British and the quick-lipped Americans. It only succeeded in annoying Australian nationalists who wanted their own ‘strine’ recognised.
But like the Greek philosopher Plato’s fabled lost land of Atlantis, the ‘mid-Atlantic’ was also the place where Australians secretly wished they lived, close to cousins.
That’s still the sad situation as the Federal election campaign cranks its way to the 2 July climax when more than 15.5 million citizens will go to the polls.  Australia is one of 22 nations (the majority in Latin America) that make voting compulsory. Turnout is usually around 95 per cent; the 2012 US Federal election had a 55 per cent turnout.
Australia has a bicameral parliament with 12 senators elected from each of the six states plus two each from the two Territories. The House of Representatives has 125 seats.
In what has been a yawn-inducing eight-week campaign, candidates have for the most part stuck to scripts prepared by party bosses. 
The first televised clash between Labor leader Bill Shorten and Liberal Malcolm Turnbull - the current Prime Minister - was a Bland v Bland show. Veteran political journalist Paul Bongiorno called it ‘the most unwatched leaders’ debate in its 32-year history’. 
At the time of writing most pundits reckon Turnbull, backed by the rural-based National Party, will win the Lower House by a whisker. However because this is a double-dissolution election with all Senate seats contested (normally only half the Senators retire every three years) predictions are best left to those studying chicken entrails.  Minor parties may hold sway in the Upper House.
Unlike the US presidential contest, foreign affairs are seldom mentioned as the two major contestants gargle the same chants on domestic affairs – the sacred trinity of more jobs, less tax and higher growth.
Agreed positions include the ANZUS Security Treaty with America and New Zealand (wholehearted approval), keeping asylum seekers in detention to deter others (accept with a tweak here and there), and avoid upsetting Indonesia.  Or as Australians say – don’t stir the possum.
An exception is the minority Greens Party which wants the offshore detention centres closed and more refugees welcomed, but so far attracted little support.
Occasionally a maverick breaks ranks.  The most important has been Deputy PM and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce commenting on Australia halting live beef shipments to Indonesia in 2011.  He implied this led to a surge in asylum seeker boats carrying Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians but coming through Indonesia.
As reported in Strategic Review on 4 April this year, the exports were abruptly stopped by the former Labor government when activists published videos of gratuitous cruelty at Indonesian abattoirs. The ban was imposed a few weeks ahead of the fasting month of Ramadhan when beef is in much demand, infuriating importers and consumers.
Indonesia, unwilling to feature in its neighbor’s domestic disputes, denied Joyce’s suggestion.  The minister’s more disciplined colleagues reheated the usual menu of excuses – the media misreported, the candidate misspoke, words were taken out of context, blah, blah.  But voters nudged, winked and connected the dots.
Cattle are once again being shipped across the Arafura Sea and the slaughterhouses have allegedly stopped brutalising stock. Animal welfare activists want the trade scrapped, but pastoralists are grinning again under their broad-brimmed hats. Australia is the world’s largest live stock exporter, and Indonesia the biggest buyer.
It’s the same with wheat, another market Australia is desperate not to lose; mature politicians know one perceived slight could reignite anger.  The most inflammatory issue is likely to be West Papua independence. Although Labor and Liberal swear support for Indonesian control of the province, some left-wing unions goad Indonesia by flying the Morning Star flag banned in Indonesia.
Andre Siregar, the Indonesian consul in Darwin, has reportedly asked for an outdoor mural of the flag to be erased. The north coast port is home to activists agitating for separatism. Siregar’s alleged involvement ensured wide coverage and a reminder of Indonesian intolerance.
Australians can relate to former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau’s famous anxiety about being close to the US: ‘Like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, if one can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.’
Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, is not always friendly or even-tempered. As it’s not part of the Anglosphere few Australians know what to make of their huge northern neighbor. Around a million enjoy cheap holidays in Bali every year but few go further than the Hindu island and into Islamic Java where the real power throbs.
Last year’s Lowy Institute poll revealed Australians’ feelings towards Indonesia. It said these had fallen to ‘the equal lowest point in our past decade of polling … This places Indonesia on a par with Russia and Egypt.’  
Only 34 per cent of Australians surveyed regard Indonesia as a democracy, though the world’s fourth largest nation has had that status since 1999.
In the mid 1990s the acerbic Labor PM Paul Keating went to Jakarta and said: ‘No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete.’
Astonishingly Keating, an avowed democrat, got on well with then President Soeharto whose reputation was already being shredded by students and activists kicking against the dictator’s corruption. 
His decision to step down in 1998 amidst widespread riots was followed by Indonesia’s scorched earth withdrawal from East Timor.  Then came the 2002 Bali bomb and other outrages targeting Westerners.
Australians started rethinking the Keating doctrine, noting that a reciprocal view never comes from Indonesia.
 ‘Indonesia is important’ has become a mantra uttered by every Australian PM since Keating.  Tony Abbott, the man Turnbull overthrew last year, promised his foreign policy would be ‘more Jakarta, less Geneva’. It wasn’t, and Abbott’s clumsy and futile attempts to save two Australian drug traffickers from the death penalty added angst on both sides.
The routine comments about the relationship will surely be repeated again by whoever wins next month’s election. The voters will pay little attention; they fear Indonesia is too complex to comprehend, too weird to fathom and too unpredictable to trust.
It also remains too close for comfort – a situation unlikely to change this side of the next Ice Age. That leaves Australians having to ignore the facts, or accept and adjust. Or as they say in the vernacular: ‘Get real’.
(First published in Strategic Review 20June 2016 -  )