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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Unwavering determination to tell

Journalist Oei Him Hwie, 79, (left) continues to maintain his extraordinary collection of books and memorabilia of Soeharto' brutal banishment of 12,000 political prisoners (tapol) to Buru Island.  Pictures, papers and paintings are kept in  a  suburban Surabaya house known as Yayasan Medayu Agung.
 I last visited ten years ago for a story published in Inside Indonesia but which didn't get included in this blog - an omission now rectified:

Hidden Treasures
On the outskirts of the sprawling industrial port of Surabaya is a little library of national significance.
The rented suburban house is far from grand, but it is solidly stocked with books old and new, ancient magazines and musty newspapers.
Perhaps too well stocked. The walls are packed from corner to corner, floor to ceiling, their vast presence bested only by the overwhelming smell of decaying acid-based paper. The house has no air conditioning, so the plastic covers carefully applied by volunteer cataloguers glue the books into bundles in the perpetual heat of East Java’s capital. If more than a van full of students arrives to browse or borrow the place is as packed as a bemo in rush hour. Study? The challenge is to breathe.
Yayasan Medayu Agung Surabaya houses some precious documents that have been lovingly preserved. Among them is a set of five beautifully presented volumes cataloguing and illustrating President Sukarno’s huge art collection, now dispersed. The limited edition was published almost 40 years ago in Indonesian and Chinese. It features work by both Indonesian and European artists, with the emphasis on beautiful women.
There are at least 5,000 titles in the library, mainly written in Indonesian. Some go back to early last century. Many have come from personal collections donated by well-wishers.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Among the gems in the library are some original manuscripts by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Pramoedya is Indonesia’s most internationally famous living writer. Nationally, he is the country’s most controversial.
When Suharto came to power, Pramoedya’s extensive library and writings were seized and his books banned. He spent four years in a Jakarta jail and ten years in exile on Buru, a small island in the Moluccas, along with 13,000 other prisoners. Throughout those terrible years he wrote whenever possible.
The result included the Buru Quartet, which was translated into English and published in the 1980s. The four volumes received international acclaim and calls for the author to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for literature.
Pramoedya’s books are no longer banned in Indonesia. They have been reprinted with fresh modern covers and can now be found in bookshops across the archipelago. Pramoedya now lives in a large new house bought with his overseas royalties at Bojonggede outside Jakarta. His last book, The Mute’s Soliloquy has been followed by lectures and tours overseas, where he has been heralded as a literary hero.
University students who are only now learning about their history are openly encouraged by their lecturers to visit the Surabaya library. Here they study the legend’s works and hear his story.

Oei Hiem Hwie

Pak Oei with a May 1965 copy of his old daily
  Trompet  Masjarakat  (the People's Trumpet -
or the Voice of Society) - closed a few months later

The custodian of the collection is Oei Hiem Hwie, who once worked with Adam Malik, a former vice president of Indonesia. Pak Oei is very clear about the purpose of the Medayu Agung Foundation: ‘Yayasan Medayu Agung is run by a board of academics and entrepreneurs. It was set up to help educate the nation, especially young people’.
Pak Oei explained that medayu is derived from two old Javanese words. Meda means intellect, while yu is derived from mayu, which means to do good.
Pak Oei was also a political prisoner on Buru. During his imprisonment, he helped to smuggle Pramoedya’s manuscripts to publishers.
Some of the pages of the manuscripts were handwritten on both sides of thin and almost transparent paper, which were compressed under a concrete block. Others were typewritten on paper cut from old cement bags. The ribbon ink was made from dyes distilled from plants growing on Buru, and the pages were bound with glue made from cassava. The pages were sewn into the lid of woven bamboo food baskets taken off Buru when Pak Oei was released.
Pak Oei’s collection includes the original manuscript of Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind) and Ensiklopedi Citrawi Indonesia, an unpublished two-volume encyclopedia which contains charts and sketches by Pramoedya.
For Pak Oei, Pramoedya’s manuscripts, and the extraordinary story of their creation, are a precious part of Indonesia’s heritage which should be preserved for the next generation. Max Lane, Pramoedya’s original translator, is seeking a better home for the Pramoedya manuscripts.
Even after release the activists were stigmatised with the initials ET (Ex-Tapol)
on their KTP (ID) cards  (top line) ensuring they could not get work in government agencies

 Pak Oei believes the manuscripts should remain in the country to help Indonesians fill the gaps in their past. The limited funding and resources of Yayasan Medayu Agung, however, mean that such a repository is more likely to be in the US, the Netherlands or Australia where scholars earn PhDs studying the Indonesian writer. 
Wherever the manuscripts are eventually housed, future generations of Indonesians owe a debt of gratitude to Pak Oei for his efforts to conserve a significant part of Indonesia’s literary past.
(First published in Inside Indonesia, June 2007)

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Problems brewing in coffee grounds     

When the Tugu Hotel in Malang changed hands the manager suddenly died and the new owner had to take over.
“I didn’t know anything,” said Dr Wedya Julianti.  “I’d been trained as a doctor.  I had to learn management very fast. It was a stressful time.”
Whizz ahead two decades.  The boutique hotel is now one of the most prestigious in the East Java city.  The Tugu Group led by her husband, lawyer Anhar Setjadibrata, has expanded into hotels in other cities and a restaurant / art gallery in Menteng, Jakarta’s Embassy Row.
Recently added to the company portfolio is a coffee plantation.  History then recycled; the manager died and Julianti  (right) was again tossed into a business she knew little about.

“I questioned the people who’ve been working here for years but whose opinions were never sought,” she said.  “They were politely waiting to be told what to do though they’re experienced. They became my teachers.”
The 850-hectare estate was started in 1870 as the Babah Coffee Plantation.  Now known as Kawisari it’s in wild country west of Malang, above Wlingi and close to Mount Kawi. 
This is the mysterious mountain famed as an alternative route to happiness, a weird mix of gravesites and temples, theme parks and crass commercialism. It’s the Lotto Land where good fortune comes – so they say - to the pious and patient.
The location seems to have been propitious for Julianti who claims she has the only estate in the area not making a loss.  That didn’t come from passive prayer for the boss lady is no absentee landlord but a hands-on innovator and inquirer. 
Neighbor plantations have been abandoned or bankrupted by high costs and low returns, the bushes unfertilized, the ground untilled.
Her bleak observation was endorsed by Dr Zaenudin (left) , former director of the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Center based in Jember, but now an independent consultant.

“Sadly most government-funded research goes into crops like rice and corn,” he said.  “Yet coffee is still an important part of the economy.”
Indeed.  Indonesia produces just over half a billion tonnes of beans a year.  A third is consumed in the archipelago.
Coffee in all its forms is a staple of lifestyle mags featuring photos of designer cups topped by decorated froth, the fashion for sophisticates with time and money in abundance.
The idea is to link coffee with elites and so ramp prices, but in reality most is drunk at roadside stalls by everyday workers sipping kopi tubruk in chipped glasses; the first part of the ritual isn’t debating aroma but scraping grounds off the lip. The cost is usually around Rp 5,000 (US $0.40).
Even the nation’s thirst can’t keep the industry blooming for this labor-intensive business resists mechanization – though Julianti has introduced powered string-trimmers to replace sickles for weed control. 

Inventors seeking a challenge more complex than driverless cars should consider a bean harvester able to stride up and down slopes which would defy goats while carrying 35 kilos of crop.
That’s largely done by skilled pickers who can feel which berries are ripe; the women’s strength and cheerful resilience has impressed Julianti, who like most urbanites had little idea of the back pains involved in getting their daily heart-jolters.
She’s a one cup woman with no time for the heavily advertised pre-mix sachets (only eight per cent coffee in some brands) plus sugar, milk powder, ‘thickeners’ and even salt.
Julianti no longer practices medicine.  Once she worked in public neurology wards where every patient’s needs are different and watchfulness vital. 
It’s an approach useful in handling coffee bushes which are also susceptible to stress and disease, particularly leaf rot.  The fungus attacks Arabica favored for high-end coffees so the more resistant – but less desired – Robusta has been widely planted.  Now Arabica, (originally from Ethiopia) is being reintroduced.
Kawisari is no place for picnickers.  Though the views are a visual knockout, physical concussion is a risk along the tortuous tracks shredded by artillery barrages of rain.  The old buildings are plain Dutch functional. This is a work zone selling between 800 and 1,500 tonnes of beans a year, depending on the weather.
Japfa, the giant Singapore-based food conglomerate is building a monster dairy farm above the plantation, beheading hills and re-shaping the topography with scores of diggers and bulldozers.  Clearly the investors see future profits in white drinks, not black.
The company plans to start milking 4,000 cows in March 2018 – generating 200 tonnes of waste daily, much of it liquid.  Julianti said the developers have assured her water quality downstream will not be affected but she still worries.
Apart from the environment and economics her main concern is management.
“Change has to come slowly,” she said. “I now know that handling human relations is the most complicated part of business. We have to work together. If you look after your workers they’ll look after you.
“In the past the manager here was king.  The staff (there’s 220 on the books – more during harvest which opens mid-year) were just told what to do; all the under managers were men. 
“I’m gradually changing that hierarchy.  Now we are quietly promoting competent women and paying wages twice monthly to help with home budgeting.
“Fortunately I like learning. I want to know so I ask.  And I get told because women find it easier to talk to a woman. I’m very blessed.”
Threat from Vietnam
Croppers are price takers, not makers, and the deals are done in mainland US where coffee is not grown commercially.
Beans are traded internationally like oil. Those making serious money in the business are not farmers battling the elements but brokers forecasting trends and trading futures contracts.
The world bean price jumps around like a frog which is why some growers like Kawisari are roasting and retailing their own, charging Rp 70,000 for 250 grams of powder.  That’s Rp 280,000 a kilo, or almost ten times the return from selling beans in bulk.
Most maintenance is done by hand.  Growing coffee is
  a labor-intensive industry

Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest producer behind Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia; although a ‘cup of Java’ remains in British slang, Indonesian coffee needs to be better branded according to Dr Wedya Julianti.
She wants Java coffee to be recognized at breakfast tables everywhere as pure, clean, special and different.
“To boost our exports we must clearly identify our produce,” she said. “The government in Vietnam is supporting its industry one hundred per cent. (Vietnam’s output is twice that of Indonesia.)
“We are at risk of forgetting our history and losing almost 150 years of knowledge and skills.  When that’s gone it has gone forever.”
(First published in the Jakarta Post 24 August 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Rearranging the region       

Professor John Blaxland sees the world differently.  Particularly Southeast Asia which he sets as the centrepoint rather than an afterthought
To help others cope with this unsettling cartography he offers a sweetener – a grouping of nations to better suit new realities than old regimes.
The globe as drawn by seafarers from afar has Indonesia straddling the Equator. The islands of the archipelago look upwards and see the looming might of China.
Below is the Great South Land, adjacent and inviting; this view is the Australian nightmare, the dread that their empty land will have famished millions tumbling down to smother a European outpost.
Blaxland’s chart squashes this fear of population shift through gravity by flattening the projection so the focus is Darwin, population around 200,000 with satellite suburbs.
The lonely little city atop Australia (the capital Canberra is almost 500 kilometers further than Jakarta)  has been hosting 2,500 US troops on six-month rotations for the past five years. The agreement behind this arrangement remains secret.
At the closest point Indonesia and Australia are just 200 kilometres apart, near enough to suggest a neighbourhood watch might be in order.
Blaxland, head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, uses his map to glaze the idea of MANIS as a regional maritime cooperation forum. The word means ‘sweet’ in Indonesian, but here it stands for the cluster of Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Singapore.
He urges against confusion with the 1971 Five Power Defence Arrangements - the same nations plus the UK but minus Indonesia.
“Existing forums, like ASEAN (aged 50) are struggling to reach consensus,” Blaxland told a seminar on Australia and Indonesia Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific held at the University of Western Australia in July.
“A smaller grouping like MANIS would see problem solving more achievable for pressing issues that require regional cooperation.  It would be best to start slowly, gradually generate goodwill and political momentum.
“MANIS would involve collaboration with governments, universities, think tanks, NGOs and community service organisations. Matters to discuss could include police, immigration, border security, legal, judicial, environmental, intelligence, financial and other working groups.
“The groups could exchange information and share concerns.  Closer engagement and sharing of experiences could generate fresh ideas.”
Blaxland is no dreamworld academic.  He’s worked in the military and intelligence so knows how to chat to generals, spies and diplomats. He understands the political sensitivities, like not calling his idea an ‘alliance’.
“With a dose of humility on Australia’s part, and a degree of magnanimous but farsighted Indonesian inclusiveness, the scheme could be made to work,” he said.
Why include a former Dutch colony while the other proposed members have Commonwealth ties? 
 “Indonesia’s population and geo-strategic significance astride the maritime arteries connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans make it the key to multilateral regional maritime cooperation.” In brief, the Republic is now too important to ignore.
Forums thrive in the region.  Many look good, bloom early then wither in breezes of bland.  Blaxland’s word is “cumbersome”.
One of the most unwieldy in title and management is the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. Its 45 members include Jordan and Iran who have more pressing issues almost 10,000 kilometres north-west.
MANIS has been driving around awhile.  That it’s still finding parking space on agendas suggests the tank is full.   Blaxland keeps steering: “This was always something that would take time to get policy traction - and one that would require Indonesian buy-in.”

 The first model rolled out at a 2013 meeting of Aus-CSCAP.  The acronym is unpronounceable but Blaxland reckons the non-government Australian Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific is a useful informal forum for floating ideas about “political and security issues and challenges facing the region.”
The 2014 election all-change in Jakarta gave MANIS a welcome nudge.  New President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, a noted landlubber, surprised many by bringing maritime issues ashore for a policy refit.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi explained this was to “protect Indonesia’s sovereignty … by responding firmly to any intrusions into Indonesian territory”.
Implementation involved much theatre as captured foreign fishing boats were blown up once TV crews were in place.  The big bangs lifted the reputation of Jokowi and his unconventional Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, a former can-do entrepreneur.
Less well publicised were clashes where Indonesian patrol boats were trounced by better armed Chinese craft.  Rhetoric sinks fast when one navy is underequipped. 
Blaxland’s candy got another coating a fortnight after his Perth speech when diplomats from Australia, NZ, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines gathered to worry about militants.  The East Asia Wilayah has been fighting for an Islamic state in Marawi.  More than 600 have reportedly been killed in continuing conflict.
The Filipino city is just 700 kilometres above Indonesia’s Manado where the talks were held.  The envoys said they’d cooperate more closely with intelligence and law enforcement authorities, but didn’t say how.
This concerns the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).  Its July report said that ‘despite the calls for more regional counter-terrorism cooperation in light of the Marawi siege, there are formidable political and institutional obstacles at work, including Philippine-Malaysian distrust that inhibits information-sharing.’ This refers to counter-terrorism responsibilities – police or military?
Blaxland’s group doesn’t include the Philippines.  It may have to if defeated fighters retreat to nearby nations as feared by IPAC director Sidney Jones. Then it would be MANISP which sounds less than sweet.
 “So far I've briefed it (MANIS) in Jakarta to some policy officials and university groups and received very positive feedback,” Blaxland told Strategic Review. “The Indonesian delegation is keen to take it further and we're exploring a policy forum to discuss it in the next few weeks.

“I’ve been speaking on this in Malaysia and briefed some NZ officials on the idea a couple of weeks ago. I'm quietly optimistic it will get off the ground soon.”

First published in Strategic Review 22 August 2017.  See:

Monday, August 21, 2017


Don’t quit – we’re addicted to your suffering  

Cancer wards in Indonesia should have special visitor viewing areas. Like club boxes at sporting events, the spectators would watch the count-down while the watched gasp their way to the siren.
These observatories will be solely for VIPs – Very Immoral People. This group includes tobacco company executives and their advertising agents. In the country next door they work in a barely regulated market, vigorously promoting a product which they know kills, cripples and impoverishes.
According to Australian cancer clinics, smoking more than doubles the chances of a heart attack or stroke; it’s responsible for 85 per cent of lung cancers.  This isn’t fake news – it’s science scripture.
Getting the VIPs to witness their customers’ agonies might be difficult.  Even if attendance was compulsory these guys are seriously rich; in Indonesia they’d buy their way out of any obligation.
Indonesia is one of just eight countries that’s neither a signatory nor a party to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  That puts the Republic way offside with the 180 states which ban or limit ads promoting smoking.
East Java is the heartland of tobacco production and Malang is at the centre.  There’s a cigarette factory directly opposite a Dutch era church and the town square. Even the banks don’t enjoy such a prestigious position.
Malang is also an education city supporting 28 tertiary institutions. Two of the biggest, the Universities of Malang and Brawijaya (around 30,000 students each) plus high schools spill their young learners onto a major road leading to the CBD.
At the first traffic lights they’re confronted by a giant billboard.  It reads in English: NEVER QUIT.  So they don’t.
More than 67 per cent of males over 15 smoke according to Indonesia’s Health Ministry. (The good news is that only three per cent of adult women are users.)
The Ministry predicts that unless serious attempts are made to butt-out the nation will lead the world in smokers by 2030. At the moment it’s number four after China, Russia and the US. While these countries are nudging public health ahead of tobacco company profits, Indonesian firms plan to double output.
That means building a market as the addicts wheeze away at a rate of around 400,000 a year.  So the kids need an introduction to Lady Nicotine who’ll mask facts with fantasies.  
What do lads want?  Fun times, macho adventure, staunch mates and gorgeous girlfriends.  Available for the rich, but few are so lucky.  The rest are puffing to find ‘satisfaction’, to ‘be bold’, become part of the ‘new generation’ and ‘get ahead’. 
That’s what the ads say – and not just in words.  Pictures show the healthiest and happiest youngsters any nation would be proud to display at the Olympics.  Marketing isn’t supposed to target minors so the agencies use adult models with teen features dancing, leaping, singing – all the things coughers can’t do.
Close to 30 million Indonesians live on less than US $25 a month according to the Statistics Agency. Fags are the second biggest household expense after rice.
There’s a price war currently underway with pack contents changing to suit all pockets.  A dozen for Rp 11,000 (an ash-flick above an Aussie dollar) from one brand, with a rival offering 16 for Rp 13,000.  You can’t buy a litre of milk for that money.
The wraps have small health warnings but not the plain packaging introduced in Australia and unsuccessfully challenged by Indonesia in the World Trade Organisation.
Excise on tobacco is just under half the base price though the WHO recommends more than two-thirds. The duties make up between ten and 12 per cent of the national budget.
The government is suffering a massive shortfall in revenue.  An amnesty to persuade citizens to declare money parked overseas scored US $365 billion. The target was five times higher.
 So ramping taxes on smokes could boost the health budget – currently three per cent of GDP and three times less than the OECD average.
But the manufacturers are a powerful lobby able to make reforms disappear in a puff of smoke. .
The big three are Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna (owned by the US company Philip Morris), Gudang Garam and the Djarum Group.  To sanitise their sickening trade the companies sponsor scholarships, sporting events and pop concerts. 
The ad guys they hire have refined ways to by-pass prohibitions on showing cigarettes by picturing stacks of white coffee cups with the top one frothing.  ‘Mild’ is banned, so they call one product MLD, with the vertical stroke on the second letter highlighted.  Health warnings on TV ads flash so fast they’re illegible.
Some NEVER QUIT signs feature a sweating body builder (the sort who’d never smoke) or master craftsman, so any other interpretations of the message must be malicious misreadings.
There’s no doubt the industry is full of smarties. I once lodged for a month in the Malang home of a fine family where dad was a senior staffer with Rothmans and a good provider.  He never smoked and cautioned his kids against starting. 
But I reckon he should still take a turn in the cancer ward observation room.

First published in On Line Opinion, 21 August 2017:  See

Monday, August 07, 2017


 Image result for ASEAN logo                                                
Defending a toothless talkfest       

ASEAN is a dog’s breakfast.  The weird grouping of ten Southeast Asian nations with little in common other than a loosely defined geographical location and a history of rule by foreigners is easy to mock.
There’s no one market, currency, defence force, local language or position on Chinese adventures in the region of around 650 million. ASEAN’s infrequent communiqués are bland wishlists, not firm demands.
Members include communist states, military dictatorships, emerging democracies and feudal regimes.  The tiniest is Brunei with only 420,000; the giant is Indonesia with a population 600 times greater.
Despite its size and strategic importance ASEAN has little clout when measured against NATO, the European Common Market, ANZUS and the other defence and trade pacts dominated by the US and European powers.
After half a century its achievements are hard to catalogue.

Though not for former Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Raden Mohammad Marty Muliana Natalegawa (far right with author); he sees the group as far more than an expensive chatathon for elite bureaucrats.
“ASEAN is indispensible,” he told Strategic Review.  “Without it divisions and distrust would still rock the region.  It has been resilient – I think indispensible.

“However it could become irrelevant if it doesn’t initiate policies and see these through.  Indonesia has the responsibility to lead and must do so. 

“If we go AWOL then ASEAN projects on human rights would stop.  There’s a need to prod. We can’t let things just drift, nor can we throw our weight around.  At the same time it’s not good enough for us to do all the heavy lifting.”

Before becoming emissary for the world’s third largest democracy (after the US and India) Natalegawa was the Ambassador to the United Kingdom and later Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, 

The career diplomat lost his job when President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office in 2014 and gave the position to little-known Retno Marsudi the former Ambassador to the Netherlands.

She’s also an ASEAN fan though warned against ‘failures to maintain unity and centrality’.  In a recent op-ed for The Jakarta Post she claimed this could lead to the group becoming ‘a proxy ground for major powers’ but didn’t back this with names and details.

Unlike his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi has shown little interest in foreign affairs, preferring to repair his nation’s crumbling and over-stressed infrastructure and its clumsy and often corrupt bureaucracy.

For five years Natalegawa was the voice of reason during the regular crises that bedevil foreign affairs everywhere, but particularly among nations with widely differing histories, and ambitions.

That includes ASEAN – but Natalegawa sees great potential where others observe inertia.  He likes to talk about ‘waging peace, prosperity and democracy’ without the phrase sounding trite.

 A favorite term is ‘transformative’ which is sufficiently ill-defined to be a handy tool in any diplomat’s word kit – but again it is use that matters. Natalegawa can even deliver clichés with enough conviction to smother cynicism.

The gist of his message is that ASEAN is a place where key ministers get to know their foreign counterparts – hopefully well enough to count back rather than count down when philistines start threatening. 

For taxpayers funding the junkets / seminars that all seems nebulous; but like British wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill said:  ‘Jaw-jaw is better than war-war’.

Although only 54 Natalegawa claims to be enjoying life in retirement with his Thai wife Sarnia Bamrungphong.  The couple have three children and a new grandchild. However he’s now an appointed member of the UN High-Level Panel on Global Response to Health Crises and has seats at other forums.

He doesn’t appear to suffer from the post-power syndrome that infects many high flyers and dismissed suggestions that he’s now an eminence grise doing the campus circuits.  He doesn’t tweet instant advice.

This interview was held during a lunch break at a closed-door session on Indonesia-Australia relations run by a local think-tank at the University of Western Australia.

Here Natalegawa has extra expertise.  He graduated from the Australia National University in 1994 with a doctorate and in 2016 an honorary degree from the same campus for his ‘visionary leadership.’

He dedicated the award to his children and journalist wife for their support during his career.  The couple met at the London School of Economics.

While a student in Canberra, the hot-house of Australian politics, he refined his understanding of the Anglosphere cultivated as a teen at the Anglican Ellesmere College in Britain. (Motto – ‘Striving for one’s country’). 

These insights have been valuable as he handled the regular tensions that trouble the neighbors, from terrorist outrages through animal welfare issues and even personal insults.

In 2013 Liberal Party strategist and pollster Mark Textor criticised Indonesia's outrage at reports Australian spies were bugging the phones of President Yudhoyono and his wife Ani.
Textor tweeted: ‘Apology demanded from Australia by a bloke who looks like a 1970's Pilipino [sic] porn star and has ethics to match’.
In reality the urbane Natalegawa comes across as the consummate diplomat too sophisticated so swat flies. Also absent is the aloofness donned by lesser lights in his old department.

“We have yet to find equilibrium, but we must keep trying,” he said.  “Both sides need to listen to each other more.  The era of Australian megaphone diplomacy identified by the late President Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid) no longer applies.

“All the Australian academics and public officials I meet seem committed to an honest and sterling effort to improve relationships. Most are polite to a fault; they have genuine empathy and are well informed on Indonesia and the questions from history. 

“That’s not always the case with Indonesians.  We have yet to find the equilibrium so there’s a need for us to know Australia better.  That means improved education so we can communicate and explore issues through two ways.

“We should not be afraid of policy failures; the new normal is uncertainty. We do need to recognize the importance of ideas with an open mind using creativity and integrity. That’s also an individual responsibility.”

First published in Strategic Review 7 August 2017.  See:


Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Go south, young scholar                                                                   
When Kristiarto Legowo stood to open an academic conference in the South Australian capital of Adelaide he must have wondered: Have I really moved out of my homeland to take this posting?
For most of the hundred faces that the Republic’s new Ambassador to Australia could see were clearly Indonesian and young.  The few Caucasians in the lecture theater were mainly middle aged and beyond, white shocks among dark mops.
Why had so many of his compatriots flown 4,600 kilometers south to the Indonesia Council’s Open Conference at Flinders University when the small cluster of Westerners could have travelled north to a similar event? With access to higher wages, paid leave, travel allowances, study grants and stipends their journey would have involved little hardship.
In his first official engagement in the Great South Land Legowo told attendees that Indonesia should reverse the outflow and run similar conferences in the Republic.  His suggestion found wide acceptance, though wish and action don’t always cohabit well.
Getting them to come to us was also an attractive idea for those who’d funded their travel, like Bintar Mupiza and his three colleagues from the Indonesian Islamic University (IIU) in Yogyakarta. Although there was no registration fee the students paid Rp 15 million (US $1,120) each just to attend the two-day forum.
Many presenters were seasoned scholars keyboarding final references for their doctorates or post-docs and keen to defend findings before critics. However the two women and two men from IIU were undergraduates courageous enough to open up about venturing into research.
Their topics were equally challenging: Australia-Indonesia Relations, the Role of the Media on Foreign Policy Decision Making, and Measuring West Papua Independence Activists’ Rights in Indonesia’s Democracy.
Although still works in progress, the Gen Z youngsters’ contributions and their seriousness by finding the funds to fly drew compliments from senior scholars like Indonesian specialist Associate Professor Anton Lucas who used to run the Asian Studies Course at Flinders.
Since his retirement leadership has passed to Indonesian political scientist Dr Priyambudi Sulistiyanto.  Overseas academics are commonly found in Australian campus classrooms because the infusion of foreign talent is believed to enrich learning.
That’s seldom the situation in Indonesia where outsiders in the staff room are often feared as threats. Overseas academics visit to conduct research, meet colleagues and learn the language, but apart from volunteer work few teach; visa restrictions and low pay also deter. (Indonesian academic salaries are about one tenth of those in Australia.)
Foreigners are also faced with the reality that the Republic’s education system has a poor international reputation. Although government funding has risen and the numbers of Indonesian tertiary institutions rocketed, quality has remained earthbound. 
In 1950 Indonesia had ten institutions of higher education, including IIU; now there are more than 3,000 – though not all support the principles of intellectual exploration and critical thinking.
A couple have squeezed into the Times Higher Education Index of the world’s top 800 - the University of Indonesia (UI) and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).
 In Australia six of the nation’s 35 universities feature in the world’s top 100.  Australia has 11 Nobel prizewinners in science, medicine and the arts while Indonesia, with a population ten times greater has none.
According to a University of Geneva study released this year links between Indonesian and foreign universities are ‘noticeably underdeveloped’ when compared to Malaysia and Singapore.
Disincentives include poverty and language barriers because courses are taught in Indonesian.  This is slowly changing as major universities start using English in some seminars. At Yogyakarta’s Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) the Center for Security and Peace Studies is run by Indonesians teaching in English.
Collaboration could help lift standards; Flinders has formal partnerships with eight Indonesian colleges, and other campuses have developed ties.  However the Swiss report noted ‘quite stringent regulations that foreign universities must adhere to should they wish to establish a presence in Indonesia’.
So young Indonesians have to leave their homeland to set the right coordinates for future careers; the best places to showcase their talents are conferences.
Though not just any talkfest; a gathering of sharp minds in a McDonald’s café may yield splendid results just as ideas for independence were conceived last century by the nationalist Budi Utomo (noble endeavour) students in medical school classrooms, but attitudes have changed.
Professor Michele Ford from Sydney University warned participants in a postgraduate publishing workshop at the conference that to build a good CV they need to be careful about the journals they approach and seminars they attend.
The host and event must have a record of scholarship and preferably star speakers.  To get into that firmament usually means travelling overseas. 
More than a thousand Indonesians have graduated from Flinders.  Top names include Dr Pratikno, the former rector of Yogyakarta’s UGM and now Minister of the State Secretariat, and Dr Daniel Sparringa, former Senior Adviser in Public and Political Communication to the last Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Flinders is not the only university attracting Indonesians.  According to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta more than 8,500 – a quarter of all Indonesian tertiary students abroad -head south.  More Indonesians are squirreling away in Australian libraries than in Europe.
While nascent scholars are turning to the west, their Australian counterparts are shying away from the neighbors’ language and culture.  Government statistics show that fewer Australian students are studying Indonesian language and culture in their final high school terms than 40 years ago.
Professor Tim Lindsey of Melbourne University has said that if the enrolment slump continues Germany may have more universities teaching Indonesian than Australia.
So even if Indonesian universities learn how to play in the big league, follow Ambassador Legowo’s advice and start inviting their neighbors to fly north, few lunchboxes will be needed for visitors from Down Under.

The Indonesia Council is a professional association promoting study of Indonesian in tertiary education in Australia.  The author presented a paper at the Flinders conference.

First published in The Jakarta Post 2 August 2017


Tuesday, August 01, 2017


From killer to savior

It was never going to end well for at least one party: Four young men, three rifles and a single monkey.
Or so the hunters thought.
After the animal had been hit by about 20 rounds it seemed dead but was stuck in the top branches. Syamsul was the sharpest shot and might have joined the army to kill other primates had he not worn glasses.
So the bravest of the gallant woodsmen shinned up the tree to retrieve the cadaver for a meal.  Then he made a discovery that was to change his life.
The monkey had been executed for the crime of being simian but her baby was still clinging to its mother’s breast and life.  Shots had grazed its leg and face but done no lasting harm.
Syamsul took the little creature home and discovered compassion. He nursed it back to health and eventually gave it to a friend whose son wanted a pet.  He started thinking about the way he was behaving and his relationship with the natural world.
Syamsul no longer prowls the dense bush which cascades from his three-level home in a kampung flanking Brantas River in Malang.  When he hears men scouring the undergrowth with dogs and weapons he whistles to distract the pursuit.
He used to rain stones from a catapult onto the stalkers till dissuaded by his wife Suli who said he was being too aggressive. Certainly not appropriate behavior for the Buddhist convert and animal protector he’s become since his monkey moment decades earlier.

Syamsul is now an active member of an animal rescue and release field camp in East Java. (See breakout)
Syamsul (left) dedicates his work to his late mother Sutrisnowati who died of cancer in her early 50s.
“I was very close to my Mom,” he said.  “She was a wise person steeped in Javanese lore who taught me how to appreciate and honor our culture and people.  I’d dropped out of high school and just wandered around.  When she died and left me the house I set out to repair the damage I’d done.”
Syamsul is now helping rehabilitate langurs, which are often caged as pets, and so ease their suffering. He wants to encourage more care for the natural world but knows changing social behavior takes time and effort.  The Soeharto-era days of meek communities obeying government orders have gone. Instead he’s trying to alter by example.
This means using his talents as a musician and dalang (puppet master) to promote conservation under the stage name Kardjo.  He’s also mastered the art of wayang suket using dried mendong sedge (Fimbristylis globulosa) to weave the tiny figures.
He uses this skill while storytelling to emphasize the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, and by telling his animal adventure stories.
These include his first job relocating a crocodile and learning how to be wary of wildlife.  A colleague was badly kicked by a supposedly tame cassowary brought from West Papua by a returning soldier who found the bird too big to handle in suburbia.
It seemed docile – until the rescuers arrived; their intentions were good but not their planning.
“Returning animals to the wild has to be handled carefully,” said Syamsul watching field camp workers feed fresh-cut branches of acacia to the langurs living in a cluster of tall wire cages.
“Those born in captivity or captured young have lost foraging and survival skills. This is why we keep visitors away.  The langurs need to discover distrust.  They look ferocious when they make threatening faces but flee when that tactic fails.”
The field camp’s facilities include incubators, scales and a medicine cabinet.  The buildings are basic – dirt floors and bamboo walls but include a small library.

The workshop lists details of the seven males and 14 females going through the stages of acclimatisation. Rinda and Mira, Moses and Oat feature on a whiteboard but the volunteers, rostered to camp overnight as observers and security, try to avoid using names in their daily dealings.
“It makes the task so much harder if we develop emotional attachments,” said Syamsul.  “Our job is to ensure they can survive without our help. We wear masks and gloves and clean cages twice daily to avoid disease transmission.”
Langurs live in groups of five or six lorded by a dominant male; those who’ve spent years behind bars alone don’t know how to relate to others.  Watching how individuals interact with other langurs is critical prior to release which may come months after the animal is brought to the center.
So far more than 50, plus other creatures like the nocturnal loris have been released.  Although the center has access to only four hectares of forest leased from the government the langurs should be safe in the 100 hectare park where indigenous creatures are protected.
Apart from their attraction as pets, monkeys and langurs have been hunted because their meat is supposedly an aphrodisiac and cures skin diseases.  Although not grounded on fact the beliefs persist. East Javan langurs are now an endangered species with probably less than 3,000 in the wild.  As numbers fall values rise.
The illegal wildlife trade in Indonesia is now worth Rp13 trillion (US $975 million) a year according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Opening the cages
Despite being in a heavily used holiday area in Central East Java, only the curious will discover the Javan Langur Center.  It’s tucked away from the foodstalls and sports grounds at the Coban Talun recreational park set 1,350 meters up in the cool and lumpy mountains around Batu.
Known locally as a field station it’s funded by the Aspinall Foundation, an international conservation charity ‘working in some of the world’s most fragile environments to save endangered animals and return them to the wild’.

It was founded in 1984 by John Aspinall, an eccentric British zoo owner and entrepreneur who made (and lost) fortunes though gambling.  He died in 2000.
The foundation has a center in West Bandung and two in East Java.  Last year 15 langurs were imported from zoos in Britain and France for return to the wild in East Java.
Leaf-eating langurs, frequently mistaken for monkeys, have long tails, often close to a meter and twice their body length.   Most have black fur but a few of the East Java variety are orange colored.

First published in The Jakarta Post 1 August 2017