FAITH IN INDONESIA

FAITH IN INDONESIA
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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

ONCE A SHOWCASE - NOW FOR EXPATS


NEW NAME, OLD MENU, BUT HOPE LOOMS

Fresh news for stay-at-homes: The ABC has abandoned spin to reveal its overseas TV service is not aired to showcase the nation, but amuse expats.

On 1 July it surreptitiously abandoned Australia Plus, a failed experiment to pollute public broadcasting with advertising, and rebanner itself as ABC Australia.  The tautology ensures viewers don’t think it’s Disney Media’s American Broadcasting Company.  

There are some zingy promo entrees but the menu is the same fare - back-to-back local news, repeats and more repeats, plus hours of AFL. Many individual programmes are fine - they’re those seen in Australia. But the toss-in mix is uncurated and untranslated; it doesn’t serve foreign tastes. 

An ABC submission to the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper said:

…the ABC places the audience at the centre of everything it does. Through its  international services the ABC has the content and infrastructure to enable it to  connect with a range of international audiences in English and their own language,  presenting Australian perspectives and values to the world.

The song has changed. ABC Australia now says its content is ‘for Australians living abroad and local audiences living outside of Australia’.  

Note the priorities. Sports-crazed Okkers, whacked after a day clicking selfies in templescan relax with a few ales in Bali’s Jalan Legian and never miss a mark when the big men fly. 

the ABC Charter requires it to broadcast internationally. TV started in 2001 aABC Asia Pacific and has since been through more brands and slogans than a Clive Palmer bid for political relevance.

At first the service was worthy, its vision articulated in 2006 by CEO Ian Carroll. When relaunched as Australia Network he said

‘Our news and current affairs programmes provide more than the headlines – it is quality world class journalism offering a different view from the London and US-centric networks.
“While we still look at and cover news from around the globe, we focus on the region we live in so our perspective is from this part of the world.

Perhaps that was the real intention, but Carroll, who became ABC Director of Innovation, died in 2011 so we’ll never know. Since then our window to the world has become starred, chipped and fractured; all the damage has been done by missiles hurled  from within. 
A brief background: In 2011 tenders were called to run the $223 million Australia Network. There were just two serious bidders, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV. This was a channel Julia Gillard’s government would never select, so the ABC continued to run the show.
Though not for long. Two years and a new government later, FM Julie Bishop said Australia Network had failed to deliver a cost-effective vehicle’. She turned off the ignition leaving the ABC to drive on an empty tank.
The nearest parking spot was corporate sponsorship and Australia Plus. Five years later it’s now ABC Australia on subscription in 40 Asia-Pacific countries.
The problems are ideological - why support public broadcasting when commercial media can do the job? - and parochial.  There are few votes in spending big on a prestige overseas TV service to challenge BBC World News, Al Jazeera, Voice of America and other flagship services many nations sail abroad.
Now (cue cautious applause), those who do worry about our image have a chance to vent their wrath. Till 3 August the dismayed and concerned can gripe to the Review of Australian Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific.  See: https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/review-australian-broadcasting-services-asia-pacific

The inquiry is assessing the reach of Australia’s media in the Asia-Pacific region, including examining whether shortwave radio technology should be used.
The terms of reference also canvass TV and ‘commercial, community and publicly funded services’.  This puts ABC Australia under the lens. 
The inquiry wasn’t sought by the government or the ABC.  It exists only because the Coalition promised the probe to get Senator Nick Xenophon’s vote for media law changes.

Ironically Xenophon is no longer a political force. After nine years in the Senate he quit last year, then failed to get into the South Australian Parliament.

It was all ho-hum until another event suddenly made the review get serious: The new Red Threat.  Last year the ABC cut shortwave broadcasting in the Asia-Pacific. Radio New Zealand has since reported that China is filling the void.     https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/360095/china-takes-up-australia-s-former-radio-space-in-pacific
Pleas by global citizens and Aunty fans may not move the government, but closet Sinophobia should stir. Former ALP Senator Margaret Reynolds, now president of the activist group ABC Friends is optimistic.  

She’s been telling members the inquiry is being championed by Defence Minister Christopher Pyne who, she claims, has convinced PM Malcolm Turnbull that ‘there is a considerable gap in Australia’s soft power in the region’, adding:


‘While at first glance it may just seem another inquiry, its timing suggests the government may be gearing up to restore some funding to the ABC through foreign and defence policy rather than communications; it does suggest some softening of attitudes in sections of the government.’

Stay tuned, as you can at any Kuta bar

#
First published in Pearls and Irritations 10 July 2018.  See:
https://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-new-name-old-menu-but-hope-looms/

Saturday, June 30, 2018

MORE WASHINGTON, LESS JAKARTA



IGNORING AN ELECTION NEXT DOOR          

The World is a nightly news show on Australia Plus, our overseas TV showcase transmitted to 44 countries in Asia and the Pacific .  The one-hour programme pulls together the day’s global issues, often adding lengthy interviews dissecting international developments.

On 27 June the prime set-piece story in Southeast Asia was Indonesia’s first simultaneous regional elections called Pilkada; about 150 million voters got the chance to pick 171 governors, regents and mayors. It was ignored by The World.then and the following night.

Psephologists labeled Pilkada’s results a bellwether for next year’s presidential election. This is likely to be a rematch between the moderate civilian incumbent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, 57, and tough guy Prabowo Subianto, 66.  He’s a retired general, alleged human rights abuser and relic from last century when his dictator father-in-law Soeharto ruled for 32 years. 

Alarmists worried about an eruption of racial and religious hate during the poll, especially after East Java church bombings the previous month. 

Instead all ran peacefully with early results showing the electorate is getting smarter and Indonesia’s teenage democracy taking a firmer grip.  

Indonesian politics are so knotty they make unraveling Australian Senate tangles as easy as tying a clove hitch.  Candidates move around parties like diplomats at Christmas, bemusing Indonesian electors and befogging outsiders.

When The Jakarta Post frontpaged Wednesday’s results Jokowi gains, PDI-P loses it was like saying ‘Turnbull backers won, Liberal candidates lost’.  

The Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) is Jokowi’s party, but the real leader is Megawati Soekarnoputri, 71, daughter of founding president Soekarno and herself a former president. She really wants her daughter Puan Maharani in the Palace.

These difficulties should not have stopped The World recruiting an academic expert from Indonesia or Australia to explain the importance of Pilkada and interpret results. Much of Indonesia’s media is owned by political partisans, so factual news and impartial analysis from outside the Republic is critical for locals and foreigners.

Overall the Komisi Pemilihan Umum  (KPU General Elections Commission) appears to have done well, opening booths from 7 am to I pm in thousands of locations - often closing streets to traffic for easy pedestrian access. Making the day a national holiday helped boost participation as voting is not compulsory. 

Electors chose by punching a hole in the voting slip; officials at the counts held up punctured papers to show scrutineers that all is open. There were a few reports of funny business, but nothing serious. 

Candidates have been plastering the country with banners and posters. Policies seldom featured, just touched-up portraits of hopefuls in regional or religious dress, and the same cliche slogans we get in the West. Officials ripped down all signs before the vote,

Figures are still being tallied. The official result will be announced on 9 July

While Australians are familiar with the names of many American and European politicians who feature regularly in the media, they know little of Indonesian public figures.  One candidate who could be heading for international notice is former Bandung (West Java) mayor Ridwan Kamil, 46, a cosmopolitan US-educated architect with a can-do reputation.  He’s leading in the West Java Governorship and is tipped as a future presidential candidate.

Indonesia ranks 96 on Transparency International’s corruption perception index; clean NZ tops the 180 nations measured, while Australia is number 13. Politicians are among the worst offenders.  In East Java, Malang mayor Mochamad Anton campaigned for re-election from prison where he’s being held on charges of allegedly plundering contractors’ budgets.  He lost.

Politics in the world’s third largest democracy is big business, according to Indonesian academic Muhammad Beni Saputra. In The Diplomat he wrote:

To become a village head it costs 130-150 million rupiahs; becoming a member of the People’s  Representative Council (DPR) costs 1.18 to 4.6 billion rupiahs, a mayor is from 20-30 billion  rupiahs, a regent is 75 billion rupiahs, a governor ranges from 100 to 400 billion rupiahs, and  president costs up to 7 trillion rupiahs!  

(One Australian dollar buys just over Rp 10,000. The average income is under Rp 50 million a year.)

Apart from rallies and advertising costs, much is alleged to go on goodies for fans, though the increasingly effective Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK - Anti-Corruption Commission) has been cracking down on handouts and kickbacks. Unlike previous campaigns T-shirts featuring candidates’ mug shots have been hard to find.


The next biggie will be the 17 April 2019 general election for the DPR and president. Unlike Australia, voters get to select the pres for a five-year stint - two terms maximum. 

In the past scores of parties mushroomed causing chaos; now only those with at least 20 per cent of seats in the legislature, or 25 per cent of votes at the 2014 election, can field candidates. Coalitions are allowed to help make up the numbers, which leads to some strange pairings

Maybe then Australia Plus (soon to be rebadged as ABC Australia) will take what’s happening next door seriously.

## 

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 30 June 2018
http://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-our-failing-media-again-ignoring-an-election-next-door

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

PUTTING A GOOD FACE FORWARD

From asking to tasking via masking




Two years ago Ali Sudarjo, 48, (below) was squashed into Sukun, an old kampong in Malang. 



He rattled off the negatives:  “Life was hard. I didn’t like the way my children were growing up.  Pollution was bad. Not much work, so not much future. No space. Then we got the chance to move.”

Sudarjo and his wife Siti Mutmainah, 42, and their six kids were shifted 20 kilometers out of town to a Rp 2.5 billion (US $182,000) government social experiment underway in a forest.

Despite ups and downs, so far it seems to be going well.

Sudarjo still fixes motorbikes as he did in Sukun, but there’s not much work in a community of only 250.  So the versatile mechanic has started other businesses – raising catfish and fighting cocks.

“Life is much better,” he said as his children sorted fingerlings into buckets.  “Moving was the right thing to do.”

Kampong Topeng (mask village) is being run by Malang City using funds from Jakarta to relocate gepeng.  This truncated term is formed from gelandangan (homeless) and pengamis (beggars).

 “We selected 40 families who we thought stood the best chance of adapting,” said social worker Safria Effendi, 27.

“We’ve had a few who couldn’t cope and left so there are now three vacant houses.  But we’ve had others leave who’ve built new skills and enough confidence to move on – which is just what we want.”





Effendi and his colleague Aisyah, 21,( right) help run the little settlement collecting Rp 5,000 (US 36 cents) entrance fees from curious visitors keen on taking selfies with the masks. The public servants live outside the village and spend their working hours on site or their department’s office in Malang.

The government built the village on a sloping one-hectare plot of virgin forest and lets the houses rent free, though residents pay for basic facilities. For an isolated hamlet the services are good, with mains power and piped water.   

There’s a well-equipped playground, meeting hall and a small café. Tourists who find this too pedestrian can soar over the valley on a flying fox.

A communal kitchen is available for making krupuk (crackers) and other snacks for sale.  One family is Christian – they have to travel to find a church. For the others there’s a new mosque.



Trainers have been employed to help the settlers find jobs.  One household has a worm farm, another is making chocolates shaped and painted like masks.  These should be a hit in up-scale stores and hotels if promoted well.  

“Developing markets is something we’re still working on,” said Safria.  “We have many ideas but implementing these takes time.”

Malang is famous for its dance masks, now also sought by home decorators wanting a dash of culture on their feature walls. There are 76 characters, but few in the village can identify the images painted on walls or mounted on frames, apart from the two 7.5 meter high topeng that dominate the settlement. 

These are Asmar Bangun and his wife Dewi Sekartaji from the ancient Panji stories of East Java.

A shop offers fiberglass masks formed using moulds for Rp 45,000 (US $3.25), and hand-carved wooden topeng for four times the price.  The artisan is Prasetiyo Hadi, 42, originally from the East Java tourist center Batu.

Quality control and pricing are an issue as cheaper well-made Javanese artifacts mainly from Yogyakarta in Central Java can be found in Malang’s handicraft outlets.



For a project hoping to attract tourist there are several shortfalls.  The brick-paved entrance road is only one car wide, creating hazards for drivers. The village is poorly signposted and has had little publicity; your correspondent was said to be the first foreigner to visit.

In the past transmigration projects shifted whole communities from overcrowded Java to West Papua and Kalimantan. Outcomes weren’t always positive as some locals resented people with different faiths, languages and values, while the newcomers often found their farming techniques didn’t suit strange soil types and climates.

Social engineering is thick with risks. People aren’t ciphers but individuals with quirks and passions, agreeing today and disagreeing tomorrow. One person’s paradise is another’s hell.  And so it has been with Kampong Topeng, a form of local transmigration with the government doing far more to help.

It is also less prone to the ills of the inter-island moves as friends and relatives are still nearby and there are no culture or language differences.




Heri Wiyono,(left)  head of rehabilitation at the Malang Department of Social Services, said he was aware of the flaws but stressed that the venture was still a work in progress.

“The idea came from the government in Jakarta as part of its Desaku Menanti (My Village is waiting for you) program,” he said.  “This is a pilot project, one of four nationwide.

“There are many challenges.  We have to be careful in picking people keen to turn around their lives. 

“Before it began we spoke to nearby residents about the enterprise and its purpose.  We anticipated some would be jealous, so we appealed to their moral duty to help those less fortunate.”

Wiyono said a mosque had been built because nearby communities only had musholla (prayer rooms.)  A school was not necessary because the children had access to one in an adjacent village.  However classrooms may be established in the future.

“Our aim is to empower the poor,” he said. “We’ll evaluate this project before we go further – but we need to develop the criteria. How many are able to change from asking for help, to doing things to help themselves?  So far it’s working well.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 26 June 2018)

Friday, June 22, 2018

CHARGES NO DETERRENT FOR CANDIDATE

A picture tells a thousand lies 

Indonesians will go the polls on Wednesday 27 June to elect their local government represenatives.  The process is called Pilkada  (Pemilihan Kepala Daerah) 




This big beamer on the front page of the Jawa Pos is the mayor of Malang, H Mochamad Anton. If you don’t understand the headlines you might assume his abundant joy shows he’s won either another five-year term in office or a lottery, which in Indonesia can be much the same.


The reality is strikingly different: Anton, leader of the central East Java city and the second largest in the province, had just been charged with bribery by the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission - KPK). His orange vest is the fashion statement for those under arrest.

It’s alleged he paid other public reps to pass the 2015 budget.


Eighteen Malang city councilors - that’s 40 per cent of the total - have also been named as suspects in the scandal. They include Anton’s main rival in the upcoming elections, Ya’qud Ananda Gudban from the Hanura Party.


Hanura’s full title is Hati Nurani Rakyat, which loosely and ironically translates as the People’s Conscience Party. Anton’s backer is the Islamic Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa – the National Awakening Party.


\Opinion polls rate the KPK as the most trusted authority in the nation with a 100 per cent conviction rate; its bag has included regional governors, scores of lesser officials and even national government ministers like Dahlan Iskan.


In 2017 the former CEO of the Jawa Pos media conglomerate was sentenced to two years jail for selling East Java Government assets while Minister for State-Owned Enterprises.

Anton must be concerned he’ll be treated like former Bandung mayor Dada Rosada; in 2014 the West Java leader was handed a ten year term for bribing judges to acquit city officials caught stealing millions in social aid funds.


Further proof of the KPK’s effectiveness has been fang-pulling attempts by politicians who want oversight of the Commission’s activities and their own nominees in key positions.


More brutal has been an acid assault outside a Jakarta mosque. The target was investigator Novel Baswedan who is now partly blind. The police, who have no love for the KPK, say they are still seeking the attackers who struck a year ago.


The H in Malang Mayor Anton’s title stands for Haji, meaning he’s a pious fellow who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.




He’s also rich; according to data declared to the KPK his personal wealth is more than Rp 113 billion - around 11 million Australian dollars. His two main rivals report they have Rp 6 billion and Rp 2 billion.

Perhaps Anton is grinning because he reckons he can squeeze out of jail by claiming it’s a political stitch-up. Or maybe he thinks his candidature in this year’s Pilkada (election of regional heads) will stay put for the 27 June vote.


Two weeks after Anton’s arrest giant billboards and banners were still on Malang streets promoting his values. His slogan is apik, which in Javanese means ‘good and clean’ – a lie because the city has a major waste disposal problem while traffic congestions worsens by the week. Citizens still toss their rubbish into the Brantas and its tributaries, or any empty lot. Rodents squeak their joy.


Anton has twisted apik into an acronym standing for agamis (religious), progresif, inklusif and kreatif. Like political motherhood slogans everywhere, they are vague enough for electors to accept as shared values. Policies? Too boring to bother.


Campaign photos usually have men wearing the peci, the traditional rimless black Javanese cap, women the full jilbab or penutup kepala, a shawl which partly covers the hair. This is supposed to prove they are devout, though not extreme, so safe for the non-Muslim vote.


To prove they are just everyday folk some male contenders go bareheaded and don casual gear. They add honorifics of endearment like Mas (similar to bro or mate) and Abah (Arabic for father). Academic qualifications, whether earned or bought, are another essential tag.


For those who claim to be real sons of the soil, the weird Malang trend of writing words backwards is supposed to prove local authenticity. So one hopeful has dubbed himself Sam, Mas in reverse.

Because the big TV networks are Jakarta-based, regional candidates rarely use national TV. Local stations are seldom watched so contestants rely on banners and rallies.


Students of cultural differences might contrast Anton’s Jawa Pos pic with those in the Australian press of wet-eyed former Test cricketer Dave Warner. These showed a portrait of shame though there’s no risk the cricket cheat will end up behind bars.


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Thursday, June 07, 2018

MORE TO BLITAR THAN A MAUSOLEUM


A grave town                                                          


There’s much that’s curious about Blitar.  Harmonious yet discordant, mainly subtle - then abruptly blunt. Certainly different. Well worth sampling.

 It’s not so big; with just 140,000 residents Blitar ranks number eight in the hierarchy of East Java’s cities.

That doesn’t always mean less traffic- smaller towns are often more cramped and crowded.  But through a measure of planning wisdom decades past, the streets are mainly wide and straight.

Later administrations added one-way traffic.  All it needs now are police cameras to snare the hoons who believe space needs speed.

Fortunately they are few (jerks and cops) so it’s possible to cross Jalan Merdeka at almost any point without getting snared for jaywalking or skittled by feral Hondas.

Where to stay? This is not a puff for the grand 19th century Tugu Hotel on this same street, but even if you camp elsewhere take a peek – staff members are accommodating and there are cheaper rooms tucked away.

The central pavilion, where prices start at a million rupiah plus plus, is grand without being majestic. The restorers have been gentle.  Here’s a suite devoted to founding President Soekarno, as is the whole town.

When the 1945 Proclamator of Indonesia’s Independence died of kidney failure in 1970 General Soeharto, who’d ousted him five years earlier, had a grave problem. He feared a Soekarno headstone in Jakarta would become a rallying point for the resentful angered by the 1965 military takeover and purge of communists.

So the remains of the 69-year old were sent 750 kilometers southeast to Blitar where Soekarno had lived as a child with his grandparents.  Soeharto’s fears were well grounded; neither distance nor time has dissuaded pilgrims. The founder’s tomb has become a national shrine and a huge earner for the city.

Well over half the archipelago’s 260 million citizens were born after Soekarno died yet the nostalgia industry seems unquenchable, with busses often delivering crowds keen to commemorate the father of the Republic and his supposed glory times.  On special days, like 21 June, the anniversary of his death, the pride is palpable.

In this intoxicating environment the unwelcome voices are sober historians reminding that although Soekarno was a towering revolutionary he was a midget manager of the economy.  He shunned the West, seized foreign-owned businesses and courted the Reds.
He had nine known wives; the 132-meter Russian-realism Monas (Monumen Nasional) pillar in Central Jakarta is known as ‘Soekarno’s last erection’.  It was supposed to rival the Eiffel Tower.

Unfortunately the Blitar mausoleum is almost as kitsch as the back-scratchers and other trashy souvenirs sold outside the gates.  More authentic is the house where Sukarno lived.

The gravesite’s slab design is weird, for the city and its surrounds are full of creatives.  One village makes kendang jimbe, the goblet-shaped hand drums, and exports to China.

There are potters, carvers, musicians and painters, descendants of the artisans who over 250 years built the Penataran Shiva Temple complex.  This is 12 kilometers out of town on the lower slopes of Mount Kelud, 1,731 meters and last active in 2014.

The reliefs, many showing episodes from the Ramayana epic and scenes of daily life, are marvelously rich and superbly executed. Some are quirky and playful.  All are spellbinding, the past speaking to the present with clarity.

This is not manicured, hyper-commercialized Borobudur, which is not to demean the mighty Central Java Buddhist temple built four centuries earlier. But smaller Penataran is so much easier to wander and ponder.

 However getting there can be tricky.  Blitar doesn’t have taxis, public transport or an airport.  The city is accessible by rail - five hours from Yogya, two from Malang. Then it’s a stroll from station to center – though not beyond. There are becak (pedicabs) but the old peddlers keep to city limits.

There are only four hotels; two rent bicycles.  The roads are mainly flat and there’s much to marvel.  Foreigners still turn heads so Bali-style rip-offs are rare.  Expect to be recruited for selfies.                          

Blitar can be raw. On Jalan Merdeka a door opens onto cages with four long-tailed macaques.  The friendly owner sluices their droppings into the street.  Adjacent is a shop packed with fireworks waiting for one fag to blow up the block.

Down the road is the freshest butchery in the region.  The animals are slaughtered in a back room and the quivering bloody meat barrowed to the shop front.

A street behind is the lush and lovely flower market squeezed between a narrow lane and the railway line.  It’s not signposted or promoted.  It should be.

Diners at the Pacific restaurant are served by a guy in a police uniform - an arresting experience.  Don’t bother looking for Western food away from the Tugu.  Best adapt to the Real Thing with rice.

Further down Jalan Merdeka is the grassed alun-alun (town square) where thousands of Javanese pond herons roost in the banyan trees and slime the streets. Finding wildlife in an urban area is as rare as road rage, so this is special.

Next-door is a prison for juveniles flanked by Blitar’s first shopping mall with a crass façade in the current minimalist style.  More acceptable is the old-era streetscape, which includes the Po An Kiong Buddhist Temple close by the markets. Here women gather to exercise at dawn.

Blitar is supposed to be an acronym for Bhumi Laya Ika Tantra Adhi Raja, the Land Where Kings Reside.  It’s also a land soaked with blood.

In early 1945, months before atomic bombs ended the Pacific War, Blitar nationalists took on the Japanese occupiers. The revolt was poorly organized and soon put down, but it startled the Japanese who unwisely thought Indonesians welcomed their presence as fellow Asians.  It inspired others to fight back.

Four years later the returning Dutch were the killers. A monument in nearby Peniwen records the shooting of 12 civilians and rape of three women by Netherlands’ troops.  Their gross evil became internationally known and hastened the Dutch departure,

There are more benign reminders of the colonialists.  About five kilometres above the Penataran Temple is the 19th century De Karanganjar Koffieplantage.

Other surviving coffee plantations in East Java hilltowns are often boringly functional, plain sheds with rusting machines; this one is being turned into a museum and education centre by the family of former Blitar bupati (regent) Herry Noegroho.  Though still a work in progress it has great potential and charges foreigners local prices.  An overnight room costs Rp 200,000.

For outsiders seeking some understanding of Indonesia’s complex past and present, the culture, concerns and expectations of the citizens of the world’s third largest democracy - then Blitar is the nation’s one-stop shop.

 A short film by Blitar-born, now US-based director Livi Zheng can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg-YN2sDrZI

 First published in Indonesian Expat 6 June 2018
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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

MAN IN A HURRY


 Running down Track II    

Djalal (left) and FM Retno Marsudi  (Photo Erlinawati Graham)

                                               


Before losing base support and plunging to earth, Dr Dino Patti Djalal was Indonesia’s highflier.

The cosmopolitan ambassador to the US with a professional wife and three little kids sparkled as the new face of the world’s third largest democracy, a welcome offset to the image of past authoritarian rule.

The Republic ranked as a middle power emerging from a chaotic turn-of-the-century revolution but Djalal pushed the positives.

Not through bellicosity but by promoting the archipelago’s rich culture and the policy of its sixth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), ‘to have a million friends and zero enemies.’

Appointed to the most coveted job in foreign affairs at just 45 after a six-year apprenticeship as presidential spokesman, Djalal knew citizens back home were bored by their overseas reps’ talkfests on arcane topics. So he played showman and in 2011 staged the world’s largest angklung performance at the Washington Memorial.

With more than 5,000 people rattling the bamboo tubes to the tune of We Are the World, the diplomat startled – and probably annoyed - his staid US colleagues, but delighted compatriots.  ‘This recognises our multiculturalism,’ he said at the time,

Another initiative was to encourage talented Indonesians who’d prospered abroad to help recover their nation’s mana, as they say in New Zealand, meaning honor, respect and status.  Much had been trashed during 32 years of despotic rule under second president and army general Soeharto.

In 2012 Djalal set up the world’s first Congress of Indonesian Diasporas in Los Angeles, recognising citizens who’ve quit their nation to better their lives.

In an elite profession where maintaining stern-faced reticence has been as essential as multilingualism, Djalal was a self-promoter, adding authorship to his CV. Among his nine titles is Nationalism Unggul: Bukan Hanya Slogan (Excellence in nationalism is more than a slogan.)

This pocketbook is more snack than meal, a gallery of selfies with past world leaders, lightened with some self-deprecation: ‘I used to be a frog until Rosa kissed me.’ (Rosa is his wife and a dentist.)

His maxims don’t strain the brain: ‘The worst thing that can happen to 21st Century Indonesians is to live in a strong democracy with weak ideals, or to live in a rich country with poor people, or to achieve progress but lose our soul.’ 

Djalal started life as the son of Soeharto-era diplomat Hasyim Djalal and well up the pyramid. 

First degrees in Canada, then a doctorate from the left-leaning London School of Economics.  He spent 27 years in government service and was a confidante of the last president; the final assault on the summit just needed the clouds to lift.

Then Djalal made the wrong call.  Too sure of his ability and appeal he made a pitch to be a candidate for the 2014 Presidential election.

Joko ’Jokowi’ Widodo, the former Governor of Jakarta and one-time furniture trader with no military background or family ties to the oligarchy but backed by another party, became president.

His priorities were local. He appointed the little-known Ambassador to the Netherlands, Retno Marsudi, as Foreign Minister.

Although Djalal claimed he never joined SBY’s Democratic Party, like Icarus he’d flown too close to the sun of party politics. The wax on his wings melted and he fell far.  

“The experience was a cold shower,” Djalal told Strategic Review in his Jakarta-based NGO where he’s trying to develop a new persona.  “I got a sudden sense of my limitations, of what could be done.”

Too young to retire to a golf course and too energetic to settle into an academic life, Djalal faced a dilemma: How to get back into foreign affairs when the big game is played by governments on Track I?

How about Track II, the unofficial ‘backdoor diplomacy’ used by NGOs, companies and altruistic individuals?  Unable to threaten sanctions or bombs their only tools are trust and words.

He also had to move at speed.  Fame perishes fast - ‘former’ is a giveaway adjective in the top line of a resume.  In 2012 he’d won a Marketeer of the Year award.  Two years later the last product on the shelf was himself.

Djalal opened the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) at a Jakarta suburban address so drab he cooked up excuses to meet contacts elsewhere. 

The shame-days have gone.  A supporter offered space in a South Jakarta high-rise with a towering Salvador Dali bronze Homage to Newton in the marble lobby – grand enough to comfort VIPs.

Officially opened by FM Marsudi in May, the FPCI’s ‘School of Diplomacy’ offers modules in speech writing and public speaking, workshops on geopolitics, global trends and other issues parked under the international relations umbrella.

“I used my own money,” Djalal said.  Like pensioned generals he hangs on to his previous title.  When it was suggested the FPCI might have a hidden financier he kept his diplomatic cool:  “There are no big entrepreneurs behind me – I’m beholden to no-one.

“This is a non-profit, non political and non religious foundation. The rent is about Rp 2 billion (USD 142,000) a year and staff wages a similar amount.  We get our money from our courses, workshops and sponsors.  We can create space and do things that governments can’t do.  I’m far more effective now than before.

“Our mission is to promote peace and bring foreign policy to the public.  That means finding out how to talk to ordinary people about these issues.  They may not seem interested but that changes when, for example, the price of imports rise.

“We want to develop understanding between nations.  Our youth exchange program with China should help reduce Sinophobia”.

The Institute’s researchers have set up overseas study tours including one to North Korea, returning just before the North and South leaders’ Panmunjom summit in April.

The next ambition is to run backgrounders in Indonesian current affairs for incoming diplomats.

Djalal claims more than 6,000 came to one of his events; many participants are students of international relations. There are 18 ‘FPCI chapters’ on tertiary campuses.  The mailing list has 40,000 subscribers.  He says there’s nothing quite like the FPCI anywhere in the world.

If true this reflects either his entrepreneurial skills - or reveals great gaps in the universities where low pay and lower prestige deter top talents.

Djalal has been in Perth this month (May).  Freed of diplomatic gags he talks bluntly:

“I’m dying to kill the idea that Australia has a hidden agenda on Papua.  I think that’s rubbish.  (NGOs in Australasia, though not governments, have been supporting independence.)

“Australia should not be part of ASEAN which is geographically apart, though China is now working to redefine Southeast Asia.

“Australia is supposed to understand Indonesia best because it’s next door but in fact only a very small group understands us, while we don’t understand you.  There are stereotypes on both sides that need to change.”

(First published in Strategic Review 6 June 2018 - http://sr.sgpp.ac.id/read/Running-down-track-2