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

Wednesday, April 04, 2018


 Catatan Satu                      Notes from a Sister State

We woke this week to find the Merah Putih (red and white) dangling from every household’s flagpole. The 80 sheets should have been billowing with pride like all symbols of nationalism do when reported by cliché-driven journalists.   However these, were hanging limp, sodden with overnight rain.

Clearly the satpam (security guard) had been busy overnight – but why? There’s another five months before the big Proklamasi show on 17 August when we race to be the first to show our colours.

Neighbours were also scratching their jilbab till someone remembered it was Malang’s 104th birthday.  A curious way to celebrate:  The city was declared a municipality in 1914 during the Dutch colonial era, 31 years ahead of the flag.

Old inscriptions show folks were settled by the Brantas River at least 13 centuries ago. Malang now translates as ‘unfortunate’ but the name comes from Malangkuçeçwara. This is supposed to mean that ‘God has destroyed evil so justice triumphs’.

Maybe an appropriate slogan for events over Easter in East Java’s second largest city. We also discovered these at dawn as the local rag was tossed over the gate.

A picture tells a thousand lies

This big beamer on the front page of the Jawa Pos is the mayor of Malang, H Mochamad Anton. If you don’t understand the headlines you might assume his abundant joy shows he’s won either another five-year term in office or a lottery, which in Indonesia can be much the same.
In fact Anton along with 18 others in the Town Hall had just been charged with bribery by the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission).  His orange vest is the fashion statement for those under arrest.

Polls rate the KPK as the most trusted authority in the nation with a 100 per cent conviction rate; its bag has included ministers, regional governors and scores of lesser officials.

Further proof of its effectiveness have been castration attempts by politicians, and an acid assault outside a Jakarta mosque.  The target was investigator Novel Baswedan who is now partly blind.  The police, who have no love for the KPK, say they are still seeking the attackers who struck a year ago.

The garb he preferred
If the charges hold, Mayor Anton (right) – whose honorific H means he’s a pious fellow who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca – faces years in jail.  Perhaps he’s beaming because he reckons he can dodge the bullets by claiming it’s a political stitch-up.  Or maybe he thinks his candidature in this year’s Pilkada (election of regional heads) will still go ahead. Other aspiring politicians have been elected while in prison.  Anton's VOTE ME banners remain on the streets.

Students of culture should consider contrasting the Jawa Pos pic with those in the Australian press of wet-eyed Dave Warner.  These show a portrait of shame though there’s no risk the cricket cheat will end up behind bars.

Turning fantasy into fact

Prabowo Subianto, the failed candidate in the 2014 presidential election but a likely contender against popular incumbent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo in next year’s bout, is not like many Indonesians:  He loves fiction.  His chosen genre is sci-fi and a favourite is Ghost Fleet by US writers August Cole and Peter Singer.

The 2015 techno-thriller, sub-titled ‘a novel of the next World War’, has had modest reviews and sales to match.   Nonetheless the former general, despised by human rights activists for alleged atrocities in East Timor and the 1998 Jakarta riots, is particularly enamored with a throwaway line in the book. This claims Indonesia will be eliminated by 2030 in a US v China conflagration.

Indonesians love prophecies.  The Surabaya bemo (minibus) terminal is named after the most famous fortune-teller, the 12th century King Joyoboyo. 

He supposedly predicted that the Javanese ‘would be ruled by whites (the Dutch) for three centuries and by yellow dwarfs (the Japanese) for the life span of a maize plant before the return of the Ratu Adil (the just king).’

So Prabowo has turned seer.  Using the fertile imaginations of two American yarn spinners he’s campaigning to save the nation from its plunge into the pit of eternal darkness.  He’ll be the saviour; he’ll return the motherland to the glory days of his late father-in-law, President Soeharto.

Appearing on TV One, a station owned by the Bakrie Group led by Aburizal Bakrie, another one-time presidential hopeful, Prabowo has been given unchallenged air time to develop his Armageddon theme.

This is the station which proclaimed Prabowo winner in 2014 when he was millions of votes behind Jokowi. A Bakrie company was involved in the still gushing Lapindo mud volcano outside Surabaya.  It started in 2006 during a gas drilling operation.

If all this sounds weird – it is.  Ghost Fleet’s bemused authors have stressed ‘it’s a work of fiction, not prediction’. 

The superstitious may see the plump Prabowo, 66, as he does himself – the next Ratu Adil; those who don’t know their mythology say he could be Indonesia’s Donald Trump, but to the less gullible he resembles an ageing version of a North Korean dictator forever surrounded by acolytes.

Forget these lesser omens for the Chinese curse is already swirling across the archipelago:  ‘May you live in interesting times.’


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