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

Friday, May 26, 2017


Dumping a free trade deal           
For the past two years Australian exporters’ prospects have been jollied along by forecasts of a looming free trade agreement with their giant northern neighbor.
Once in place grain carriers and beef boats would sail past unconcerned customs officials and into the increasingly hungry ports of the world’s fourth largest nation; Indonesian vegetable and mineral oils will head Down Under to a similar welcome. 
Prefacing this nirvana have been big show-and-sell missions to the Archipelago, ministerial handshake photo-ops and glowing statements implying negotiations are running briskly and on the same page.
So all being well the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) should be signed before 2018 dawns. 
However all is not well and that sunrise now seems remote.
The possibilities have been eclipsed - not by nationalist Indonesians fearing floods of foreign goods, but by parochial politics in Australia.
Late last month [april] the Federal Government abruptly announced dumping duties on Indonesian copy paper imports.
“The impact of the decision is potentially lethal,” Australia-Indonesia Business Council President Debneth Guharoy told members. 
“It flies in the face of the visiting President’s pointed request in Sydney for a fair go on paper and palm oil. (In February Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo promoted the CEPA in Australia.)
“We unilaterally decide to turn the (asylum seeker) boats around, stop the exports of live cattle, raise hell over the death penalty and now rollback their paper. Each and every time, we expect the Indonesians to bow to our self-promoted higher standards, our much-touted lofty principles.
“Those of us who have lived in, worked in or frequently travel to Asia cringe at the disdain with which these proclamations are treated by our neighbors.”
Indonesia Institute President Ross Taylor, a former national vice-president of the AIBC, warned that the problem should be “handled with subtlety”.

“Otherwise we run the risk of this tariff issue becoming a catalyst - for those who are anti-free trade - to have the CEPA stall or collapse,” he told Strategic Review.  “That would be a great disappointment.

“Getting an agreement was always going to be a tough task - Indonesia is really focused on the need for big infrastructure projects that can be funded by North Asian countries.

“However it can be done with goodwill and considered perseverance by both sides. The decision by Australian officials to impose the tariff at this time was less than helpful; Mr Guharoy is right in that regard and we share his concern, as would Indonesia.”

The head of Indonesia's negotiation team was reported by Fairfax Media claiming the duties would affect discussions.
“We explained to Australia that it (the dumping accusation) is not true, but they insisted just to protect their industry,” Deddy Saleh was quoted as saying.
“So it means there is unfairness. How can we conduct negotiations when we know that our counterpart is not fair? Negotiation takes mutual trust from both sides.”
The duties will please supporters of trade barriers; they argue free trade agreements are an easy way to avoid developing complex policies to stimulate local yields and build food self-sufficiency.  Instead FTAs favor efficient producers like Australian wheatgrowers who can swamp local markets and put poor farmers out of business
 ‘Dumping’ means an exporter is selling goods overseas below the homeland price. 
Apart from deliberate attempts to weaken rivals through trade wars, there are two main reasons for dumping: A manufacturer has a surplus it can’t shift at home, or its products are being subsidised by government for local political reasons, such as keeping an unprofitable factory running to save jobs.
The upset started when a private company in Victoria complained to the independent Australian Anti-Dumping Commission that paper manufacturers in Indonesia (and some other countries) were undercutting local prices and threatening profits and jobs.  The Commission agreed and told the government.
Despite Australian Paper’s nationalistic name the company is owned by Nippon Paper Industries of Japan.
Its two mills are in Gippsland, a rural area 160 kilometers east of Melbourne.  AP is the biggest employer with around 1,300 on the payroll.  It makes about 600,000 tonnes of paper products a year and much is exported.
The unemployment rate in Gippsland is 9.42 per cent against the national average of 5.7 per cent, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
To stop interest in trade with Indonesia flagging after the latest setback the AIBC has asked National Development Planning Minister Dr Bambang Brodjonegoro to help buoy the disheartened.
“For the first time ever, a ranking Indonesian Minister will visit five of our capital cities (in June) on a whistle-stop tour,” said Guharoy who claims Indonesia could be the fifth largest economy by 2050 with Australia then ranking 32.
“The mission is to talk about Indonesia's economic outlook, the opportunities they present and against that backdrop, encourage Australian enterprises to engage.”
The AIBC has been pushing local businesses to recognise openings in the Indonesian market with 250 million consumers and a growth rate of more than five per cent compared with Australia’s 2.4 per cent.
Indonesia is Australia’s 12th largest trade partner, mainly importing wheat, beef and sugar, and selling oil and some manufactured goods.  Total two-way business is worth about US $11.4 billion.
An AIBC delegation will appear before a Parliamentary Inquiry on the Trading Relationship with Indonesia in Canberra this month.  [may]  “We have an unintelligent relationship with our large neighbour and it does warrant examination,” said Gutharoy. “But I'm not so sure that the politicians will welcome the candor.”
Australia’s dumping duties are likely to be appealed to the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation, a body not known for swift decision-making. Unless the Indonesians ignore Australian protectionism and abandon their own, a free trade deal is unlikely anytime soon.
First published in Strategic Review, 26 May 2017 -

Friday, May 12, 2017


(Photo credit Erlinawati Graham)

Diplomat Fitria (Rennie) Wibowo (above with her husband and fellow diplomat Jose Tavares) has offered an articulate and thoughtful response to the jailing of Jakarta Governor Ahok for blasphemy,  not by waving a placard in a tiny protest crowd but by writing a powerful plea.

Apart from her prose skills she is also a lawyer educated in New York and Vienna and with post-graduate qualifications from Wellington, New Zealand.  Rennie, 40, is a Muslim - her husband Jose a Catholic born in Balibo - now part of Timor Leste.  They were married in Thailand as inter-faith marriages cannot be solemnised in Indonesia.  Her career diplomat father Triyono Wibowo was deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs between 2008 and 2011

Her statement below - reproduced with her permission:

 ... and so I am compelled to comment...

I think most importantly we need to be cautious because we are being torn apart as a people.

God knows what forces are behind all this, but we need to wake up, fast! All the confused politicians, all the self-righteous fools, everyone who is playing along thinking they're only trying to maintain peace and unity. This is not about one man, this is about the hope, aspirations, and effort to become a truly great nation, hindered and shattered by powers that feed on the very instability of this nation.

Wake up, and realize that none of us will have a better future, in a better Indonesia, if we don't move forward together.
Whatever your race or religion, this is your country, and you are as responsible as the next person to make it a better place. Free of corruption, free of conflict, free of injustice, and free of all the negative things that will hamper you, your children, your family and friends, the next generation from living decently and comfortably in this country.

And for those of us in despair and disappointed at the moment, I understand if you love this country a little less right now.
But whatever you feel or do, don't ever lose hope, because it's the very foundation of what keeps us motivated for betterment.
Don't let anyone or any group of people take away your right and dreams for building a better future.
Don't let anyone or any group of people intimidate you into thinking there is no place for you or any honest, hard-working, selfless persons in this country.
Be brave my fellow Indonesians, whatever your roots or affiliations may be. Muster the strength to fight ignorance and discordance. Have courage to respect differences in all its forms, and to sow the seeds of unity.

God bless Indonesia.


Monday, May 08, 2017


Research a transport to fun    

Dr David Reeve gets revved up about Indonesia’s ‘Transports of Delight’.  To show he’s no desk-driving academic his latest book includes a picture of author in an angkot the mini-busses which plague the major cities.
However the Australian is a portly professor so wisely chose to use the front seat; in this position the hazards are few: A gear shift in the ribs, springless seat spine hammers and lung disease from the driver’s smokes.
If inside the cramped low-roof van with 15 other passengers (licensed to carry ten) Reeve might have pondered re-titling his talks to Indonesian students while preparing exit strategiest without getting stuck in the slot that mimics a doorway. ‘Transports of Discomfort’ sounds more apt.
 Angkot is a squashed word for angkutan kota (city public transport), also known as bemo or oplet depending on the city and local language. They’re the cheap drop-anywhere, wait awhile, overworked and under maintained minibusses which properly belong in a scrapyard not a street.
Novice tourists find these transports quaint, then change their minds after one trip.  Reeve is no newbie being taken for a ride but a class-hardened lecturer whose Indonesian credentials started almost a half century ago and have yet to take a break.
He’s taught at the Republic’s top tertiary institutions and is now a visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales where he’s an Aspro – not a headache cure but an Associate Professor; Indonesia is not a sole trader in compressed language.

Reeve’s interest is not the mechanics of angot (they seem to be largely powered by prayer) but the social attitudes fueling the words and designs, particularly in Padang where the art is vibrant.  Not to the level of the Philippine’s crazy-kitsch jeepneys, but more gaul (cool / trendy) than in other Indonesian metropolises.
His book Angkot dan Bus Minangkabau subtitled ‘popular culture and popular values’ squints at the vans’ often garish decorations as they cruise the West Sumatra capital thrusting the up-you message of hormone-charged kids everywhere: ‘We’re rebels hunting a cause while waiting to grow up.’.
Angkot have a bad name in Minang society and are generally seen as undesirable and transgressive in established adult mainstream opinion,’ Reeve writes. ‘Angkot may be popular with the youth community but adults have a stream of criticisms.’
These include leadfoots’ aggression, road skills, pollution, counter-culture, opposition to traditional conservative mores of a matriarchal society - and noise. Many have been customized into mobile discos with flashing lights and sound systems that would blast the vehicle into space if tipped from horizontal to vertical.

The signs they display are generally macho, concerned with prestige, high tech and speed – ironical as the clunky loaf-shaped angkot spend much time loafing in traffic jams. Fantasy images are drawn from universal pop, Disney and violent films. 
Curiously sex is rarely seen in the artwork;  this is probably to keep tutt-tutting authorities at a distance, though obscene language gets tolerated. PC they are not.
In 2006 Reeve was at a Padang wedding where he got excited by the ‘dramatic and memorable language and decorations’ used on the angkot.  He writes: ‘I was struck by the distance between the ideas expressed there and in more official accounts of the values that are supposed to operate in West Sumatra society’.
And not just in that province. Authorities nationwidc tell citizens to obey the road code, follow the ten-point Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga family welfare rules, not dump rubbish and Say No To Drugs. Readers can judge the effectiveness of these harangues from their own observations.
Reeve is a funny man able to pack an auditorium with students who tend to listen and laugh rather than tweet enjoying his wordplay, highlighting Malang’s ML angkok route. This is local adolescent slang for sex – Making Love.
His work sounds a hoot, but it’s serious.  It included dissecting 780 bodywork slogans to find the lurking cultural directions; curiously 58 per cent are in English.  Well, a sort of English if your 
Dremwold is Holliwood.

These aren’t adverts but statements of owners and drivers that reveal their fantasies of living the good life overseas and having adventures in wild places – the same themes exploited by cigarette adverts. Designs reflect the young men’s codes, morals even, for some are evangelical.
A supporting industry of spray painters, sticker printers and other artists using their imagination and motifs off the Internet, TV, films and comics, serving the angkot drivers’ desires to be different.
  “Research can be fun,” Reeve says which sounds like the sort of statement which might fill the Indonesia Circle with another round of protestors.

“For me (the angkota of Padang display) a set of values presented in especially lively, dynamic, funny and creative ways.’

(First published in The Jakarta Post 8 May 2017)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


Celebrating the Combat Cooks     

Blurred monochrome photos of the Indonesian Revolution generally show training and fighting, meetings, celebrations, speeches, thrusting fists and strident banners. 
Peer closer.  What’s missing?
Were they all subservient homebodies while the gallant guys were out defending the new nation?  Did females have no role during the four-year fight from the 1945 Proclamation to the 1949 withdrawal of the Dutch after two failed ‘police actions’ to recover their colony?
The truth is women played a major part but historians have overlooked their importance.
“Journalists have not been interested in my story,” said Moeljati, 85, a former member of the Laskar Putri (Women’s Army) in Surakarta, also known as Solo. She is one of five surviving veterans in the Central Java city.
“It seems that everyone has paid attention to the men and ignored us even though hundreds volunteered.  We also served.
“I was still in school when I heard broadcasts by Bung (brother) Tomo that fired my spirit so much that I was determined to help kick out the Dutch.  I didn’t hate them as individuals but I did hate what they were doing to my country.
“My main job was to go around shops, farms and houses collecting rice, sugar and other foods for the jungle kitchens that supplied the fighters.  People gave willingly.”
Bung Tomo (Soetomo) was a revolutionary firebrand known for his emotional oratory on Radio Pembarontakan (Radio Rebellion) though Moeljati recalls it as Radio Tunggal (Radio One and Only).
Veterans’ homes are often shrines to the turbulent years of fighting for independence. But there are no medals on the walls of Moeljati’s house or awards on the cupboard and only a few faded documents and pictures in a file.
One is of her former colleague in the kitchens, Siti Hartinah. In 1947 she married a lieutenant-colonel called Soeharto who later become second president.  Siti, known as Ibu Tien, died in 1996 aged 72. Many Laskar Putri wed soldiers after the war according to Moeljati though she claimed they had little interest in romance while serving.
“I was among the smallest and youngest of the volunteers,” she said.  “There was no conflict among us whatever our age, background or religion. I suppose we were also looking for adventure.
“The men treated us with respect. We worked together like members of one family with a clear goal – to defeat the Dutch.  Nothing else mattered.
“We didn’t get paid or have proper uniforms, just a red and white arm badge which we sewed ourselves along with shirts and trousers often made from sacking.
“We had parades every day and I was shown how to use rifles and revolvers.  I scored top marks for shooting.  I never fired at any Dutch soldiers – most were in tanks (probably armored vehicles) and when they came we hid.  Would I have tried to kill?  Mmm.  Maybe.”
Towards the end of her life Soeharto’s wife was dubbed Ibu Ten Per Cent for allegedly creaming government contracts, but for the Laskar Putri there are no bad words: “She did not forget us and gave us houses and our children scholarships when she became First Lady,” said Moeljati.
Her friend Suwarti, 87, joined up because she wanted to be in the front line.  Instead she was made a reservist and first-aid nurse treating guerrillas returning to hideouts after sorties against Dutch troops.
“We expected our camps to be attacked but that never happened,” she said.  “I also worked filling sandbags for defence.  Some women ran messages tucked in their sarongs because the Dutch did not suspect them.

In 1989 a memorial was built in Solo recognizing 114 women who served, though the number is believed to be much greater.  The monolith needs a makeover; names are dropping off and the surrounds are cracking.
A photo from around 1946 shows women apparently marching with mock weapons, though Moeljati says she remembers an abundance of abandoned Japanese arms available which they called gun-gun.
The two women said they regretted the revolutionary fire had gone out and that the modern generation seemed not to know the sacrifices made to create the Republic.  After the Dutch abandoned their lost cause Moeljati became a maths teacher and Suwarti a doctor’s assistant.
Last year a local hotel invited the veterans to a talk show on Kartini Day. They get involved in arisan (women’s welfare club) and take a lively interest in current affairs.
They were scathing about corruptors – “betrayers of the nation and cowards,” said Suwarti.  Both women stressed that they were just humble individuals who had obeyed a call to service and proud they had done something to help build their country.
“Don’t call us heroes,” said Suwarti, “we’re not dead yet.”


While researching for his book Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory Australian historian Dr Frank Palmos found that British and Dutch commanders could not understand how the revolutionaries got food and water to keep fighting.
“The heroine behind the scenes was a 42-year-old East Javanese woman known throughout Surabaya as Dar Mortir (real name Darijah Soerodikoesoemo),” he said.
“With scores of female helpers she successfully created 51 combat kitchens to support the independence fighters, starting out in a small way by creating her first kitchen during the first major clash against the British-Indian forces between 27 and 30 October. 
Bu Mortir’s role in the revolution was forgotten for 30 years until a chance finding of a manuscript she dictated to her nephew in 1972 was discovered in the underground archives of the Tugu Heroes’ Museum in Surabaya … but left unread, in the vaults until 2015.”
Palmos has translated the 11,000-word text into English with local writer Johannes Nugroho handling Javanese phrases.  Palmos plans to present a copy of Ibu Dar Mortir: Combat Queen to Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini next month [may].

(First published in The Jakarta Post 2 May 2017)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Rough and bad – but still committed to democracy       

Overseas observers of Indonesian politics should not be too disheartened by the divisive Jakarta gubernatorial election campaign despite the trauma and the result, according to religious peace activist Yenny Wahid (left)

“The campaign and result will be seen badly by the rest of the world,” the director of the faith-freedom watchdog Wahid Institute told Strategic Review.

“Radicals did not control their excesses.  We are not happy that politics is being driven by religious sentiment.

“It opened a Pandora’s Box but it’s also important not to jump to conclusions.  Investors should stay engaged. We are still committed to democracy and the protection of minority rights.  We must keep talking to each other.”

The campaign featured mass protests - one drew a crowd of half-a-million – organized by Islamists fervently opposed to Governor Basuki (Ahok) Tjahaja Purnama. 

The ‘double-minority’ politician (he’s an ethnic Chinese and Protestant) conceded defeat to Muslim candidate and former Education Minister Dr Anies Baswedan after the 19 April election when unofficial quick counts showed a 57-43 percent result.

Turnout was just under 78 percent of the Indonesian capital’s 7.2 million registered voters according to the General Elections Commission.
The campaign was interpreted by some foreign media as a ‘triumph of prejudice over pluralism’.  The Jakarta Post dubbed it ‘the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen’. 

Stirring the mud was a blasphemy charge against Ahok. In a stump speech last year he allegedly suggested a verse in the Koran was being misused to mean voting for a kafir (unbeliever) was sinful.

The radicals claimed the Jakarta Governor had insulted the Holy Book and should be jailed; Ahok responded that his targets were preachers using religion in politics.

“What we’re seeing, more or less, is an Indonesian version of the US with the Trump win, the Brexit vote in Britain and the rise of (National Front leader) Marine Le Pen in France,” said Wahid.

“The economic gap is getting wider everywhere and people are frustrated… they feel left out of the system and the structure doesn’t allow them to move up a level.”

(This year Oxfam reported that the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the poorest 100 million and that ‘inequality is slowing down poverty reduction, dampening economic growth and threatening social cohesion’.)

The Jakarta-based Wahid Institute is named after Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) who died in 2009.  Prior to becoming Indonesia’s fourth President in 1999 he led the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization with 40 million members.

Wahid helped her father during his 21 months in office.  She has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard and worked as a journalist for Australia’s Fairfax newspapers.  In 2009 she was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. 

She’s become the face of religious harmony in Indonesia with her views sought by international leaders.  This month [april] she met US Vice President Mike Pence and will talk to the Pope in the Vatican next month. [may]

Wahid, 42, constantly addresses all faith groups to promote respect for diversity.  Freedom of worship is guaranteed in the 1945 Constitution which holds that the nation is secular.  There are six government-approved religions.

However Indonesia is also the world’s largest Muslim country with around 88 per cent of its 250 million population as adherents.  Extremists argue these statistics warrant an Islamic state. In 2005 the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI Council of Indonesian Scholars) issued a fatwa (religious instruction) outlawing pluralism, secularism and liberalism.

“It (being director of the Wahid Institute) is hard emotionally because I have family commitments with a husband and three daughters,” Wahid said.  “It might be easier if I was a man in this macho society, but then the pressures could be physical rather than mental.

“I get my values and spirit from my Dad.  He said ‘be brave, don’t hate and don’t lie’. I feel that I have to work for religious understanding – it’s an obligation.

“Dad followed the Javanese principle of sumeleh which means love of God and acceptance when all things that can be done have been done.  It’s not fatalism.

 “Of course we were disappointed with the election result. We expected Ahok to be given a second chance.

“But I was surprised to discover many older Chinese voted for Anies because they feared the whole brouhaha of the campaign and personal intimidation if Ahok won.  Some human rights activists voted against Ahok because they disapproved of his forced slum-clearance policies.”

 Baswedan, 47, a US-educated former university rector, has been labelled a moderate. He is now expected to be either a contender in the 2019 Presidential election or use his power base as Jakarta Governor to champion former army general Prabowo Subianto, 65 who narrowly lost to Joko (Jokowi) Widodo in 2014. 

Subianto’s Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) Party supported Baswedan’s campaign.
Wahid rejected the suggestion that strict Islamic sharia law would be enforced in Jakarta to placate the extremists who helped defeat Ahok
Gerindra is basically a secular party and they would be the first to feel the heat,” she said.  “They would push back vigorously against sharia. Many members and backers, like business tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo, are Chinese Christians.
“How do you answer this (conundrum)? I’m told that if anyone other than Ahok had made comments about the Koranic verse there would have been no worries.
“As a former journalist I understand why editors pick photos of fist shaking radicals waving posters over pictures of nice moderates – but the political situation in Indonesia is not clear cut or as bad as some think.
“There are many versions of Islam. Indonesian Islam in its moderate form can bring enlightenment to the world - and show that there are other ways than extremism. Despite the Jakarta election campaign that’s the message I want others to hear.  We just have to work harder.”


First published in Strategic Review, 25 April 2017:

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Farewell the pioneer parachutist                                        

She was Kartini with a gun – bold, brave, and determined to compete in men’s traditional areas.  First journalism - then the military. 

Herlina Kasim (right, with President Soekarno) was the only female parachuted into the Papua jungle behind the colonialists’ lines.  This was during the 1961-62 Trikora (Tri Komando Rakyat - strategy for mobilizing the nation) campaign led by General Soeharto who later became the Republic’s second president.
The young writer turned warrior was also an exemplar of selfless patriotism. After being rewarded for her exploits by President Soekarno with a belt secured by a half-kilo gold clasp she was known as Srikandi Pending Emas (the gold buckle heroine).
Then she astonished the nation again by giving the prize back to the Palace.
She explained her gesture by saying that fighting for her country was honor enough and that the State needed the money for development.
When she died earlier this year from diabetic complications aged 75 her passing was little noticed. 
As a feminist she was way ahead of her time, a tomboy before the term became acceptable. In early photos she looks self assured as though wearing khaki was as natural as a floral dress. In one group she audaciously thrusts hands in pockets.
Herlina was born in Malang, East Java in 1941, the third of six children. Only one was a boy. After completing basic high schooling in Jakarta she left home in search of adventure in the Moluccas. It’s not known why she wanted to put about 3,500 kilometers between herself and her family.
In Ternate she worked as a journalist on a weekly paper and got involved in anti-colonialism campaigns.  It was a time of gross chauvinism.
Emboldened by shipments of Russian weapons and the backing of so-called ‘non-aligned states’, Soekarno started Trikora to wrest Irian Jaya from the Dutch.  Western diplomats thought the real purpose was to divert attention from a collapsing economy.
Volunteers were sought to fight behind enemy lines. Herlina offered her services and must have had a silver tongue because she persuaded the generals that girls could also be guerrillas. 

This was decades before women became active combatants in Western nations, with restrictions remaining in some armies.  Last year the US finally announced that all roles are open to females.  In Indonesia women in the armed forces are usually assigned to administrative and welfare duties.
After minimal training Herlina was parachuted into Irian Jaya along with 19 men.  Like an earlier seaborne assault which turned into a rout, the drop was not a professional operation. She missed her target, was knocked unconscious and came too in a field of mud. She then set out to find her companions not knowing some had been killed.
After a week of fruitless wanderings and supplies running low she met local tribesmen and was led to a fishing village. Three weeks later Herlina was ferried to an Indonesian island. She hadn’t fired a shot or seized territory.
Trikora cost 400 Indonesian and 126 Dutch lives.  But it showed Indonesia was serious about recovering colonial territory and the Dutch no longer had the stomach for war. Under international pressure they ceded the province to the UN.  In a later referendum selected Irian leaders voted to join Indonesia. 
By then Herlina had left active duties. For a while she worked in Jakarta as an educator in the Women's Army Corps, then as a press secretary in Foreign Affairs. There are reports that she was involved in a fake news campaign during Konfrontasi when Soekarno sent in the army to oppose the creation of Malaysia, but these can’t be confirmed.
She also married and had two sons, Rigel Wahyu Nugroho (born 1962) and now a trader, and five years later Aurigea Bima Sakti who works as a commercial pilot.  Both men live in Malaysia.
“My Mom had a very strong character,” Rigel said by phone and e-mail.  “She was disciplined, straight forward yet a very humble person.  She liked to help people, especially the poor.

Herlina with son Rigel

“She hardly ever wore her army uniform but didn't tell me why. She didn’t care much about her rank - not like others.
“After she left the army she was involved in a few businesses as well as social work together with my Dad Harkomoyo.  (When Rigel was nine his Mom divorced, later remarried but had no more children.)
“In the early 70s she got involved in sports and built the Caprina Football Club.  Again it was not for business but for social activities.  It was very successful. 
“She selected about 24 junior players and gave them accommodation and education.  She also ran a club for under 14s.
“After a few years the club joined the Indonesian professional league.  It was based in Bali and renamed Caprina Bali FC.  It also had a boxing team.
“I think my Mom was the only women who had a football team in Indonesia and maybe in the world.”
Nationally Herlina kept a low profile until 2011 and the 50th Anniversary of Trikora. She reportedly asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to change the name of Papua back to Irian.
It seems her motive was to negate the influence of the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, Free Papua Movement) because she believed its independence campaign damaged the reputation of Trikora.  Irian Jaya became Papua in 2002.)
Herlina was laid to rest in Jakarta. Her family was offered a place in a heroes’ cemetery but she had stipulated an ordinary plot in a public graveyard.  To the end she stayed determined to do things her way.
All pictures courtesy of Rigel Wahyu Nugroho.  

(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 April 2017)

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Learning to be mates, step-by-step       
Numbers are still low and the hurdles remain high, but Dr David Reeve (right) is cautiously positive about building relationships between Indonesia and Australia through education.
The Australian academic’s optimism is not a cosy motherhood statement from a novice booster, but a hard-nosed observation from an old hand.
He believes the ceaseless predictions that Southeast Asia’s largest economy will continue to grow (the World Bank is forecasting 5.2 per cent this year against Australia’s 3 per cent) are pushing students who want to be part of the action. 
Reeve expects the drumbeat of business will draw the doers and dealers of the future to the archipelago seeking the rhythm at its source. In the past 18 months Australian government ministers have led two big trade missions to the Archipelago.
“Interest has moved away from the arts and humanities,” Reeve said. “Learning batik painting or ethnic dance can be done in spare time, as a hobby; it’s not the principal attraction. 
“Visiting Asia is no longer exotic – it has become routine for the young.  Some of these kids are miles ahead of earlier generations in relating to difference.
“The demand is in areas like economics, law, politics, development, sociology and feminism. Students want the whole experience - often taking short in-country courses and following these with work or internships. Tertiary institutions need to identify the possibilities.
“A few are already aware.  Yogyakarta’s Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) has courses in disaster management and conflict resolution attracting foreigners. In Manado (North Sulawesi) marine biology is an obvious area.  Unfortunately market research is seldom done.
“There are difficulties.  Visas to study in Singapore and Malaysia come through in two or three days. In Indonesia it can be two or three months. This has been the situation for too long.”
Reeve  is well credentialed to comment. Apart from being a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales he’s also Deputy Consortium Director and Study Tour Coordinator for the Australia Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies.
This is a non-profit organization helping students enrol at Indonesian universities for one or more semesters earning credits recognized by their home institutions. Around 2,000 have used the scheme in the past two decades.
The success of ACICIS has cleared the scrub for the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP). In the past four years this has supported about 17,500 to study in more than 30 Indo-Pacific countries through ‘mobility grants’ and scholarships. (The original Colombo Plan last century helped students from ‘developing countries’ study in Australia and other Commonwealth nations.)
This year 105 won NCP scholarships.  Only 14 have chosen to study in Indonesia – most are at UGM.
Reeve says the scheme is attracting quality and another reason why he’s more plus than minus about Australians starting to better understand their northern neighbors.
The numbers are tiny when compared to Asians in lecture rooms Down Under.  This January (the latest figures available) more than 382,000 overseas students were enrolled – most from China and India. Around three per cent are Indonesians according to Australian Government statistics.
Reeve argues that Australian undergraduates who go to education institutions abroad are “opening up a new constitution and building personal contacts that will serve them well in their future careers.” 
The government promotes the NCP in similar terms:  ‘Internships, mentorships and practicums … provide students with opportunities to enhance their skills in real life situations, build cross-cultural competencies and develop professional networks that can last a lifetime.’
That’s been the case for Reeve who first came to Indonesia as a diplomat.  “I’d studied French so I was sent to Jakarta,” he commented wryly.  His doctorate analysed Golkar, the government party which dominated politics under second president Soeharto’s authoritarian rule till this century – and remains a major force
He’s lived in Indonesia for eleven years, and worked at four Indonesian universities. He was a founding lecturer in the Australian Studies program at Universitas Indonesia in the 1980s.
His experience has proved the wisdom that in Indonesia personal relationships trump official positions.  Even in university rector’s suites visitors can be asked about the offspring of their loins ahead of inquiries about intellectual output.
“Few campuses have built bilateral relationships that last,” said Reeve. “Australian universities have files of MOU (memorandum of understanding) that are going nowhere.  It’s very hard for head offices to make these work and maintain the links.
“Inter-campus relationships that are a success tend to come about at the departmental level where the bureaucracy is not so obstructive and where dynamic individuals operate through friendships built over the years.  There are signs this reality is being recognised.”
Because such deals are powered by committed individuals flying low they seldom get noticed and promoted by government publicity machines.

Vicki Richardson (left), Dean of Languages at the private co-educational Tranby College in Western Australia is an example.  In 2010 she set up an exchange program with a school in Surabaya.  The arrangement flourished.
Building on her contacts she is now English Coordinator in Senior State Schools in East Java.  It’s a volunteer position she created herself with support from the local government which provides a car, a driver and an advisor.
Richardson visits schools across the province that are below the national standards in English.  Sometimes backed by students from Australia she helps teachers with second language classroom strategies and encourages learners to build conversational confidence.
 Few instructors in state schools have visited English-speaking countries so have limited understanding of daily language use. They rely on grammar-based pedagogy which tends to bore.
Richardson hopes her initiative will be recognised, supported and expanded by the Australian government now she has shown what’s possible.

Reeve agreed, but concedes that the “signs remain mixed” regarding relationships between the Republic and its southern neighbor. 
An outrage like the 2002 Bali bombing or clashes of policy, like Australia’s involvement in Timor Leste’s independence could uproot the path that’s been laid.  Nonetheless Reeve stays smiling. “Anxiety levels are dropping,” he said. “Green shoots are starting to appear.”

(First published in Strategic Review 14 April 2017)

Monday, April 10, 2017


Those were the days                                                 

Indonesia is an historian’s mother lode – a vein of dazzling riches.
From the bloodletting and intrigue of the Majapahit dynasty to the adventures and betrayal of Prince Diponegoro through to building a nation; the mix of mystery and fact continues to yield high quality ore. Some stories feature European adventurers.
Probably the most famous was K’tut Tantri, aka Surabaya Sue, aka Muriel Walker, the Scottish-American Bali hotelier who supported the nationalists.  Tortured by the Japanese she became a broadcaster and speech writer for Soekarno. and told some of her past in Revolt in Paradise. Though not all. 
Less famous and less coy is John Coast though his past is almost as fantastic. Had his biography Recruit to Revolution (first published in 1952) not been reissued by a reputable publisher and edited by scholar Dr Laura Noszlopy it might have been considered suspect.
Coast’s story starts in pre-war Britain where he worked as a bored bank clerk who loved to watch ballet. He enlisted and was sent to defend Singapore two weeks before it fell.
As in The Lunchbox film about the Dabbawallahs of Mumbai ‘sometimes you have to get on the wrong train to get to the right station’. 
For more than three years Coast toiled on the 418 kilometer Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma.  He slaved with thousands of European prisoners and maybe up to 300,000 romusha, conscripted Indonesians; he found them more likeable than the ‘blackguard’ Dutch. 
Despite the appalling conditions (about a third of the workers died) Coast spent his time usefully.  He discovered Balinese dance and organised performances to entertain the men. 
He also studied Dutch and Malay, arousing suspicion as he had the ‘fantastic idea’ of Indonesian independence. Instead of crying in his cups during the long sea voyage home after release he wrote about his experiences. Railroad of Death was published in 1946 and did well. Coast mixed with Indonesians in London and assembled a Javanese dance group to stage tours.

 Coast helped his friends agitating to get the Dutch out of the East Indies through cultural activities, translations and lobbying. Although Independence had been declared after the Japanese surrender the colonialists had returned and were engaged in a guerrilla war.
During this time Coast met key players including the Moscow go-between Suripno and the Sorbonne-educated economist Sumitro Joyohadikusumo, who later became Minister of Finance. He and Coast were the same age – both born in 1917.
 According to Noszlopy’s introduction, Joyohadikusumo was also associated with the Socialist Party of Indonesia.  The reminder may not please his son, failed presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto now Gerindra Party boss.
The closest Coast could get to Indonesia was the British Embassy in Bangkok. He was supposed to be handling public relations but spent time developing contacts with Indonesians.  He quit after a year to work for the new Indonesian government. Coast claimed his former employer considered him ‘unstable’ and a ‘nutcase’.
Long before security clearances and plastic name tags hampered adventurers, oddballs like Coast could get into what he called ‘the thick of things’. He was also a speedy learner, prepared to adapt and dilute his personal beliefs. Keen to be seen as egalitarian in the post-colonial era he wore shorts and walked. 
A Javanese friend who understood the protocols of appearances trumping abilities offered advice: Wear long trousers and a tie; use a car; mix only with top officials and wear glasses to look older.  The ploys worked and Coast then got treated with respect.
His job was organising clandestine flights of goods and guns into Indonesia past the Dutch blockade which was making the Republic a ‘dirty, shabby, isolated, barren, vicious-minded place.’
American pilots flew old Dakotas from Thailand to Bukittinggi and Jambi in Sumatra, and Yogyakarta.  To earn money the revolutionaries exported opium – another awkward piece to fit into the jigsaw of the nation’s history.
Coast met the leaders of the new government and was impressed with their qualities. He formed a close relationship with Agus Salim who cleverly organised support for the new Republic from Arab states using his credentials as an Islamic scholar.
Coast accompanied the Indonesian delegation to the 1949 Round Table Conference in The Hague which led to the Dutch withdrawal from Indonesia.  He was then smart enough to realise his job had been done and there was no place for a foreigner in the new nationalism. 
He moved to Bali to become a concert promoter taking an Indonesian dance troupe called Peliatan (named after a village near Ubud) on a successful tour to Britain and the US.
Coast wrote about his experiences in Dancing out of Bali and for some time was seen as an Indonesian expert. He worked with people like the naturalist film producer Sir David Attenborough on BBC documentaries. Coast’s essay on East-West relationships ( is as relevant today as it was when written in the 1950s.
What this book doesn’t say is that Coast had allegedly been a pre-war fascist and Nazi sympathiser, a background only recently revealed through the release of official papers.
The omission is strange as the information was published in 2015 – and also because Coast was later linked to left-wing activists and causes. Although allegedly of interest to the MI5 spy agency Coast was never arrested though some friends were jailed.
Two years ago Britain’s Express tabloid commented that ‘it is unlikely they (Attenborough and other celebrities) would have wanted much to do with him (Coast) if they had any inkling of the depth of his anti-Semitic fanaticism.’
Was this true – or a Dutch intelligence smear? Fortunately Indonesians saw the man for what he was – a genuine anti-colonialist with the determination to help the new nation through his skills and contacts. Coast married a Javanese (Supianti) and died in 1989, and as the conservative newspaper reluctantly notes, with his reputation intact
Recruit to Revolution                                                                                                                             by John Coast, edited by Laura Noszlopy                                                                                         NIAS Press 2016      

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 2017)                                                                                                                                  

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Seeing the bigger need       

Blind supporters of the Arema Football Club
Few came alone to the birthday bash.
Pairs seemed mismatched, little kids and older men, mothers and adult daughters, relatives and friends holding hands though not side-by-side. More often one person was being led in front or steered from behind with a shoulder grip.
They shuffled uncertainly into the hall even though the welcomes were genuine, the seats prepared and the chocolate cream cake looked splendidly yummy.  All to celebrate the tenth birthday of Pamitra, the association representing blind people in Malang.
Though lunchboxes were bakery-warm the invitees carefully sniffed every banana-leaf package.  Not for freshness, but identification.
There was an energetic band with boisterous back-up singers; the amplifier man ensured everyone within a kilometer knew a special show was underway for some special people.

“Please don’t treat us as though we are stupid,” said former educator Erni Suliati (left with mother Mestika). ”We may not be able to see like you but that doesn’t mean we’re not capable. We can do more than just manual work.”
However in Indonesia there’s a tradition which slots the blind into performing music or becoming a pijat tunanetra a traditional masseur. Some seek a broader choice; Suliati, 38, was an elementary school teacher before brain tumor surgery two years ago went wrong and robbed her of sight.
“I can still care for my two children though I depend on my mother, Mestika, to help me get around,” Suliati said. “I don’t blame anyone for what’s happened.  This is a test for me.”
It was the same with other handicapped celebrants; whatever misfortune had brought them to this point in life they faced the future with resignation, frequently saying that their blindness was from God – so what could they do?  It was a response that litigious Westerners seeking someone or something to blame might find difficult to fathom.
Told of the situation in Australasia where the disabled are paid a regular allowance and given access to special training and facilities, the blind and their carers reacted not with envy or disbelief but wan smiles. This was the stuff of fantasy, like trips to Mars.
“There are no guide dogs because Muslims are not allowed to have dogs,” said helper Puji Rahayu. “Some people have canes but the sidewalks aren’t suitable.”  The smart sticks which use sonar to warn of hazards would never stop pinging on Indonesia’s cluttered and dangerous streets. Pedestrian crossing signals which beep to alert the blind would be ignored by motorists.
So reliance has to be on other people. Rahayu only became aware of the need when a neighbor turned blind.  So she started leading him to shops.  “I’m OK and have a good life and business,” she said. “When I understood his situation I thought it was my responsibility to help.”

That man is Hendro Setiawan (right) and now head of Pamitra. His wife is also blind; their two sighted children are committed to school so for special events he calls on Rahayu.
“As a community we care for each other in many ways, though it would be better with more government help and our own meeting place,” he said. “We even organize futsal the five-a-side indoor soccer.” (The ball makes a jangling sound and players shout their intent).
Pamitra’s network includes becak (pedicab) drivers who are understanding and patient for some members are doubly disabled like Anis Hidayati, 29. She was born blind and later turned deaf. If her doctors know why, they haven’t told their patient.

Hidayati’s father died when she was three so she relies on her stoical Mom Musyarofah (left).  Now aged 60 the position has reversed and she depends on the income her daughter earns through massages using a table and training provided by the local government.  Sometimes Hidayati makes Rp 30,000 (about US $2.40) a day.
To be more independent and communicate with clients Hidayati carries a card where the alphabet has been written in capital letters with the shapes pricked out beneath, a home-made version of Braille. The sighted person asks questions by holding Hidayati’s finger and touching the letters to spell words.
Her mother bought a wrist watch with raised digits over the numbers so she can tell the time. There are now handphones on the market with similar markings.
“Everyone wants to be successful but my destiny is to a masseur,” said Achmad Jazuli, 60.  “I hope that someone develops a device to tell the value of rupiah notes.  I have to ask friends to tell me how much I have.”
The principal hosts for the event were the local departments of Social Welfare (Dinas Sosial) and Tax (Dinas Pendapatan) backed by a couple of small businesses. Malang Mayor Muhammad Anton was expected but failed to front.
Dinas Sosial head Pipih Trastuti said her agency was helping about 80 sightless people through training courses and gatherings like the birthday party. “People should never underestimate the handicapped,” she said. “The blind often have more acute senses, like being able to smell and hear better than you and I.
“When you can’t see a face you have to rely on voice to assess whether someone is friendly or otherwise. The blind identify me and my staff from our footsteps.”
Around 1.5 per cent of the population has a serious sight problem; that’s more than three million people. According to the World Health Organisation about half the cases are genetically transmitted or the result of accidents and diseases like glaucoma. 
The rest are caused by cataracts.  These can now be treated through relatively simple surgery, but Pamitra head Setiawan said the cost of around Rp 7 million (US $525) an eye was beyond the reach of most people at the party.
“What we also want is for society to change its mindset towards the blind,” he said.  “We can be extraordinary if we get the right support.”

First published in The Jakarta Post 5 April 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017


Lost in transit   
Indonesia was once a short stop-over for Middle East asylum seekers queuing for ferries to Northern Australia.  Now it’s a terminal. The lines are getting longer.  So is the wait for a resolution.  Duncan Graham reports:
The grim posters feature a rickety craft on a rolling sea under a dirty sky. They are captioned:  NO WAY.  You will not make Australia home. The small print warns those registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees in Jakarta after 1 July 2014 will never reach their goal.
The government says its policy will ‘reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek settlement in countries of first asylum.’ 
A year ago there were around 13,800 known illegal migrants (the official Indonesian term) stranded in the Republic with about half from Afghanistan.  The number is now 14,475 according to Dicky Komar, the Director of Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The increase is despite 1,236 refugees being resettled, mainly in Canada and the US in the same year.  This means almost 2,000 got into Indonesia in 2016 by-passing immigration.  Researchers say the usual route is to fly into Malaysia, take a boat across the Malacca Straits to Sumatra then public transport to Java.
Those who ignored the posters and didn’t drown in the Arafura Sea have been caught by Australian patrols and either turned back or sent to offshore detention camps now holding around 1,360. Most are young men; the majority are on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island – the rest on Nauru.
Those who did heed the posters’ message and stayed in Indonesia are seeing their resettlement hopes dashed daily. Last year Australia took 347 (down from more than 800 three years earlier), the US 761.  These numbers will tumble.  President Donald Trump is cutting the intake and trying to ban people from six Muslim-majority nations.  Refugees from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya are in Indonesia.
Jakarta hasn’t signed the UN Refugee Convention so those trapped in the Archipelago can't legally study or work. Claims to be a refugee are determined by the UNHCR. The process can take years.
Indonesia is getting serious about trafficking. This month [Mar] a Rote Island court sentenced notorious people smuggler Abraham (Captain Bram) Louhenapessy to six years' jail.
He’s not the only one in cramped quarters.  Chairul Anwar of Indonesia’s Transnational Crimes Unit claims the 13 rudenin (detention centres) are full. So around 4,000 squat in community halls or rent rooms around Cisarua in West Java known for its cheap lodgings.
Anwar said it would take 14 years to clear all asylum seekers at the current rate of resettlement provided no new arrivals. He forecast conflict unless the process is accelerated.
Indonesia is confronting the issues but Australia is paying the bills.  This financial year it has budgeted US $1.7 million for the International Organization for Migration and US $43 million to fund ‘regional cooperation arrangements in Indonesia …to manage their asylum seeker populations’.
The social strife forecast by Anwar was downplayed by advocate Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney.  He said there are “large communities of Afghan families” who have been living in Cisarua for many years.
These domestic arrangements could sink soon. This year Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed a decree confirming refugees have three options – resettlement, repatriation or deportation, though countries like Iran refuse to accept returnees. Integration is not on the menu.
“Australia has created the bottle neck that leaves asylum seekers in limbo in Indonesia for years,” Rintoul said. “Australia effectively forces Indonesia to warehouse asylum seekers … while they wait hopelessly for resettlement.”
Australian academic Dr Antje Missbach was at a Jakarta briefing where the figures were released.  In her book Troubled Transit she wrote ‘most displaced people in need of protection do not have Indonesia in mind as the ultimate country of final settlement … (but) a way station and the final stepping stone on the journey to Australia.’
After the briefing she told Strategic Review:  “Indonesia is no longer so much a transit country but will become more of a containment country.”
Asylum seekers’ hopes of a life Down Under have collided with citizens’ fears of open floodgates, a popular metaphor in the debate with connotations of the ‘boundless plains’ of the national anthem being inundated. 
The major parties support the turn-back policy; polls show politicians inclined to a more humanitarian line could be thumped at the ballot box.
Although Indonesian officials complain about the foreigners the numbers in the archipelago are small when compared to neighbouring lands. There are now more than half a million asylum seekers in Southeast Asia. Most are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar hunkered down in Malaysia and Thailand after escaping alleged persecution. 

Indonesia also has its own refugees.  According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre there are at least 31,440 citizens ‘who remained internally displaced in Indonesia as a result of conflict, violence and human rights violations’.

The increase in asylum seekers is likely to be discussed in May by a working group of the Bali Process  on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime a talkfest first formed in 2002 and now involving more than 50 nations and agencies. It is co-chaired by Indonesia and Australia.
Rintoul was pessimistic about the outcome. “There will be no constructive results because Australia has used the Bali Process to enforce anti-people smuggling (i.e. anti-refugee) arrangements onto participating countries,” he said.
Commented Missbach: “So far the Bali Process has always been more concerned with protecting borders rather than people; if this is the prime goal they have been successful, but that is to the detriment to the people who need protection.”
Whatever the Bali Process decides, it will be tackling symptoms, and not the reasons people flee.

First published in Strategic Review 24 March 2017