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, August 28, 2019


Never forget the past         


Adolf Heuken’s publishing experiences offer a droll comment on the interests of Indonesian and expat readers.

The prolific writer produced scores of books during his 55-year career which ended eight days after his 90th birthday late last month.

He spent most of his time in Jakarta where he built a reputation as the foremost historian of the nation’s capital and its cityscape.

In his book-filled Menteng study late last year I asked about his most popular title.  Was it Historical Sites of Jakarta, or Deutsch-Indonesisches Worterbuch - Kamus Jerman-Indonesia the German-Indonesia dictionary, first published in the 1980s and still in print?

Or perhaps even Mesjid-mesjid tua di Jakarta, a catalogue of old mosques in the capital compiled by a Catholic primarily for Muslims?

“None of these,” he replied, slowly shuffling his walking frame from a high desk; he worked in a semi-upright position after suffering back problems, though his mind stayed sharp 

‘It’s this - Ensiklopedi Orang Kudus (Encyclopedia of Saints) and its spin-offs,” gesturing to a row of small booklets, each one featuring a name.

For a serious scholar working in his adopted land these books were a sideshow.  Yet they are still popular and sought by expectant Catholic and Protestant parents seeking ideas for their offspring’s name, its origins and associations. 

They’re also purchased as presents by well-wishers for religious junctures in a child’s life, like Christening and first Communion.

But the German-born Jesuit who arrived in this country in 1963, and later became an Indonesian citizen, is most likely to be remembered by Indonphiles for his well-illustrated coffee-table books on the old buildings of the city once known as Batavia.

In many cases his records are the only ones easily accessible; rock drills and backhoes have smashed to rubble so many old and gracious buildings as developers with more money than taste compete to build higher and more garish apartment blocks and shopping malls.

When lost for ideas they have a line of galloping horses at the entrance to disguise the rows of stables at the rear masquerading as houses.

However a new generation of architects and landscape artists aware that the public hankers for buildings with character and sober standout qualities have Heuken’s work for inspiration.  This is his legacy and the future Jakarta will be richer as a result.

Heuken was born in Coesfeld in North Rhine-Westphalia, near the university city of Münster, where he planned to become a monk. Instead he studied to enter the Society of Jesus, the Catholic congregation mainly favored by intellectuals.  His interest was always history and this began to flower as Jakarta developed.

A skilled linguist he wrote in German, Indonesian and English.  He could also read and write in Dutch, which he said was essential for anyone trying to understand the history of the archipelago.

Following the 1965 coup Heuken, became concerned with the activities of a fellow Jesuit, Joop Beek (1917-1983). 

Heuken alleged the Amsterdam-born priest who came to Indonesia before the war and was imprisoned first by the Japanese and then by Javanese militia who thought him a colonialist, was straying far from his ministry.

Beek had moved from Yogyakarta where he was teaching to Jakarta; in the capital he became a militant Red-hater and advisor to second President Soeharto.

Beek trained student activists backing the Indonesian Army and doubled as a spy, telling Western intelligence operatives of events in Jakarta during the months after the 30 September 1965 coup when an estimated 500,000 real of imagined Communists were killed.

Heuken was so worried by his colleague’s partisanship that he wrote to the Vatican and for a while Beek was withdrawn from Indonesia.

Dr Grace Pamungkas who co-wrote  two books with Heuken before moving to New Zealand for her doctorate, said she was blessed that she’d met Heuken at a seminar in 1998 when studying architecture.  He offered her work as a researcher and she later became an author.

“I have learned to be super critical about the originality of references when they’ve been acknowledged and formally recognized in public, or even in scientific forums,” she said.

“In so many ways we have to check to make sure we are using the most original information about any historical event, or someone’s life, or a building before we publish.

“A favorite phrase which he used in English was ‘a city without old buildings is like a man without a memory’.  He also quoted first President Soekarno: ‘Jangan sekali-kali meninggalkan sejarah’ – never forget the past..

“I hope I’m not biased when I say he’s the only Indonesian historian readers can trust in presenting historical works based on the best available original sources.

“Sometimes he seemed like a senior doctor who’d know of something wrong in another doctor's report or a medical journal. He got angry when he found misinformed writing on Indonesian history – which was almost every day.  But through this frustration he maintained his principle of always producing high quality work.”

Heuken was disciplined, a habit enforced by his parents  when he was a child.  He started each day with Mass in a Menteng chapel at Jalan Prof Muh Yamin before opening his books at 8 am and working through till 1.30 in the afternoon.  He’d return to reading and writing later in the day and often stayed studying into the night.

His research included visiting sites, questioning occupiers and trying to find previous owners.

In 2008 Heuken received the Das Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande award (Star of the German Federal Republic) for his work in developing German-Indonesian relations.

It’s the highest German Government recognition for a lay person’s service to the State.

First published in Indonesian Expat, 28 August 2019


Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Farewelling friends, finding allies                                             

When Hugh White writes, governments read.  

That’s not a response necessarily enjoyed by other academic commentators on foreign policy, but the Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre has credibility established over time.

After graduating he worked as a journalist, advisor to ministers, intelligence analyst and a senior public servant. 

In his latest book How to Defend Australia White, now 66, writes that ‘since the 1970s, Australia’s defence forces have been planned primarily to defend the continent independently against a local adversary — in effect, Indonesia’.

Yet for many years China has been aggressively enlarging its influence and worrying both countries, while Indonesia has shown no appetite for foreign adventurism.

Canberra’s response to White has stressed that Australia promotes peace and friendship towards Indonesia and bears no ill-will.  Jakarta sends the same message. However both sides remain unsure, their citizens sometimes paranoid.

There are many factors in play; foremost are shallow media reporting, ignorance and distrust built over generations.

In the 2019 Lowy Institute survey of Australian public attitudes, 59 per cent disagreed with the statement that ‘Indonesia is a democracy’ – which it has been for almost two decades.

Despite more than a million antipodeans hitting Bali beaches every year, the Institute says its long-term polling ‘has demonstrated the wariness with which Australians and Indonesians regard each other.’

Why so when both nations sweat over how to manage tensions caused by Chinese ambitions beyond its borders, while relying on the People’s Republic for trade and investment?

Logic suggests Indonesia and Australia should be working together, but suspicion about ties with America linger; in 2003 US President George W Bush called Prime Minister John Howard Washington’s ‘deputy sheriff’ in Southeast Asia.  

Jakarta hawks haven’t forgotten the arrogance and see it reinforced by the increasing presence of US troops in Darwin, the Australian city closest to the Archipelago. 

Since 2012 almost 7,000 US Marines have been rotated through a training base ‘to build trust and relationships with each other and across the region to preserve stability’, according to an official statement.

Then there’s this year’s partnership with the US to develop the deep-water Lombrum naval facility.

This is on the 2,100 square kilometer Manus Island in the Admiralty Archipelago, part of Papua New Guinea.  It’s also being used to detain around 400 asylum seekers caught by Australian naval patrols while trying to reach the continent in boats launched from Indonesia.

Now labeled the Lombrum Joint Initiative, the so-far publicly uncosted plan is to make the port a joint US-Australian military forward-defence post, allegedly to counter Chinese expansion.   Manus is less than 700 kilometers from Jayapura, the capital of Indonesia’s Papua province.

Australia’s foreign policy has been underpinned by ANZUS (the Australia, New Zealand and US Treaty) for so long many thought it set in stone. President Donald Trump’s international relations inconsistencies have taken a hammer to that rock.

ANZUS was signed in 1951 when Australia had a population one third of its present 25 million, and feared the rapid spread of Communism,

In those Cold War days Indonesia’s President Soekarno’s scorching anti-colonial speeches, and his leaning towards Russia and China, frightened Australians to get under the US umbrella. 

They remembered that the Japanese warplanes which attacked north coast ports and towns more than 200 times during the Second World War had taken off from airfields in the captured Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia.

If lumbering prop-powered planes loaded with munitions in West Timor could hit northern Australia, what might long-range modern jets do to the southern cities?  Which is why Australia bought 24 F111 high-tech fighter bombers from the US in 1963; these were capable of reaching Jakarta, dumping payloads and returning to Darwin.

The perceived need to attack a neighbor’s capital vanished in 1966 when the West-friendly General Soeharto ousted President Soekarno and closed down Konfrontasi.  The undeclared war against the new federation of Malaysia was defended by British, Australian and NZ troops.

Relative calm settled till 1999 when Australia supported the East Timor referendum where citizens of the former Portuguese colony voted four-to-one to go it alone following 24 years of Indonesian rule.

Australia led the international peacemaking taskforce after pro-Jakarta militia, allegedly backed by the military, initiated widespread violence.  Conspiracy theorists claimed Australia’s motives were to fracture and weaken the Republic.

This was one of the reasons advanced by the Bali nightclub bombers for the deaths of 202 people, including 88 Australians, in October 2002.  Two years later a car bomb outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta killed nine.

Further relationship damage came in 2015 when Indonesia executed two Australian drug runners after ten years on death row, ignoring all pleas for compassion.

In this year’s Lowy Institute poll measuring ‘best friend in the world’, NZ topped the list ahead of the US and UK.  Four per cent of respondents said ‘China’, just one per cent ‘Indonesia’.

Australia is more advanced and richer than Indonesia, but the population ratio is 11 to one; a frightening fact for the nervous.

Atheist one-party China is far bigger with 1.4 billion people; the government has imprisoned Australian citizens, persecuted the religious, acted belligerently, stoked trade wars and threatened Hong Kong dissidents. 

But apart from the 1989 Tiananmen Square slaughter of democracy activists, so far China has not been involved in the up-close and personal incidents which have upset Australia’s dealings with the world’s most populous Islamic country.
Aside from the joint ventures in Darwin and Manus, White claims the US can no longer be seen as Big Brother in the ANZUS family.  He writes that the American response to the growth of Chinese power has been ‘feeble and faltering … and there is now a very real chance that the US will not remain the primary strategic power in Asia.
 ‘That means Australia must consider whether it needs forces capable of doing much more — defending Australia independently from a major Asian power. Australia has never really explored this question, because it has always assumed that it was both unaffordable and, thanks to great and powerful friends, unnecessary.’
 Researchers at Sydney University’s US Studies Centre agree.  Their report Averting Crisis released in mid-August reasons that as US military clout weakens Australia should look locally for friends.
The analysis suggests ‘robust diplomatic, political and military consultations with near neighbors, particularly Indonesia, should be conducted before Canberra embarks on establishing a long-range land-based offensive strike capability’.
So instead of those on either shore of the Arafura Sea squinting at each other and seeing potential enemies, they might consider being allies.  That’s going to need a major rethink in the electorates of both democracies.

First published in Strategic Review, 27 August 2019.  See

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Want to sleep well?  Become a teacher                                        

It’s a curse that’s dogged educators since 1903: ‘He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.’

Just one pithy line from the prolific Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman – a drama / comedy now rarely performed.

It was delivered in 1903 so should have been eclipsed by reason long ago.  It’s also objectionable for the gender-specific assumption.  Yet it persists as an age-authenticated quote for parents who put status before service, fearing their children might opt for a chalkface career.

Though not Dr Anita Lie.  The professor doesn’t pause to reload when targeting the GBS cynicism:  “Teaching is the noble profession.

“The image hasn’t always been good.  It started deteriorating under (second president) Soeharto when the focus was on economic development, but now it’s getting better.  

“People in general still treat teachers and the profession with respect, though we have to attract more entrants from the middle classes and above.

“As a teacher you can go to bed with a clear conscience every night.  You sometimes encounter emotionally troubled kids, but you are doing good things.  Teachers help other human beings become better – that’s like being a doctor.”

For the Professor at Surabaya’s Widya Mandala University these are gospel truths.  They are not glib marketing lines to dissuade ditherers from enrolling in the ubiquitous management studies.

Yet she’s no Pollyanna.  The Graduate School Director knows the profession is in deep strife despite rivers of rupiah; the Constitution mandates 20 per cent of the national budget flows to education. 

At first glance a splendid scene.  Last year more went into education than any other sector of government.

Pause the applause.   The World Bank soberly reminds that the national budget is 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.  That means the Republic’s education expenditure is only three percent of GDP.  That’s one of the lowest in Southeast Asia.

Lie believes decentralization following the fall of Soeharto in 1998 was too fast, leaving provinces unable to cope with the cascade of cash and weight of power tipped out of Jakarta.

“The issue has not been about the amount, but how it’s used,” she said. “Expenditure has relied on the goodwill of regional heads.  Corruption is still a concern.”

One of the more brutal analyses of the state of Indonesian schooling came last year from a report by Andrew Rosser, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Melbourne. 

On the plus side he found most had access to desks.   Indonesian kids are starting school earlier and staying longer which is all commendable.

The minus is lousy teaching – a factor which could thwart President Joko Widodo’s plans to develop a ‘world-class’ education system by 2025. That’s shortly after his term expires.   Lie backs his vision but reckons it will take at least 15 years.

The need for English isn’t an indulgence.  It’s linked to productivity and the export-based economy sought by the government.  Workers in high-tech industries will flounder without the international language of trade in their toolkit. 

Overseas investors will head elsewhere if communication is difficult. Although Vietnam’s 12-year Project 2020 language boost has reportedly fallen short, the country has overtaken Indonesia and Thailand in English proficiency.
Rosser wrote: ‘…, numerous assessments of the country’s education performance suggest that it has a long way to go before it will achieve that (world class) goal.

‘Many Indonesian teachers and lecturers lack the required subject knowledge and pedagogical skills to be effective educators; learning outcomes for students are poor; and there is a disparity between the skills of graduates and the needs of employers.’

Lie agrees:  “The problems have been going on for so long.  Every administration realizes this but gets overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start.”  There are 50 million students and close to four million teachers working in 300,000 schools spread across the nation.

 Lie’s doctorate was earned at Baylor University in Texas where she studied English literature.   Now she focuses on teaching methods.

Along with other academics one of her current jobs is evaluating English language teachers under the national government’s plan to improve classroom expertise.  Here she’s seeing teachers perform face-to-face as they seek certification.

“Some are alright, but most are not, though they have good hearts and many are creative,” she said.

She recorded one playing the role of a dahlang (puppet master) before the whiteboard, using a broom as a prop with the characters talking English.  Despite this imaginative approach his language was judged inadequate.  He’s been sent back to lift his game.

“It’s not always the teachers’ fault,” said Lie.  “Some principals fail to supervise well so allow staff to continue bad practices.  Others don’t know how to improve.

“I asked one whether he used English to explain the points he was making in class.  He replied: ‘If I taught in English they wouldn’t understand what I was saying.’

“I’m surprised such people can be teachers.  No, that’s the wrong word – I’m frustrated.  Yet overall I’m also cautiously optimistic.”

No Australian teacher of Indonesian could hold her or his job if they hadn’t spent time studying in the archipelago.  They’d also need to be regular visitors to upgrade their competence and cultural knowledge. Yet thousands of Indonesians teaching English have never visited the Anglosphere.

Lie has some solutions: “I’d like to see major exchange programs where Indonesian teachers can go to Australia and Australians come here.

“At the end of the day the government is responsible for education, but there’s no way it can do so on its own in this huge country. 

“Businesses, philanthropists, non-government organisations and citizens must be involved.   Education has to be a concern for the whole of society.”

That includes pushing the next generation to drop the myths and take up teaching.

First published in The Jakarta Post 24 August 2019

Friday, August 23, 2019


Flagging racism

The ironies were stark and troubling.  On 17 August most Indonesians joyfully celebrated their nation’s proclamation of independence from the Netherlands 74 years ago.

A few weren’t having fun. Next afternoon young Papuans studying in East Java and who are suspected of wanting self rule, were brutally bashed and teargassed on the pretext they’d ‘slandered’ the Republic’s flag.

The bloody clash came three days after the national release of a much trumpeted film recounting the struggles of Javanese against colonial oppression.

Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind), is based on the novel of the same title by the once-banned writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925 – 2006).  In the film the fictional indigenous student hero Minke is regularly taunted by the dominant Dutch as a ‘monkey’.

This was the same smear allegedly hurled by provocateurs and police who raided the students’ dormitory in Surabaya, where a flagpole is supposed to have been bent letting the cloth touch the ground.

Possibly a furphy, as circulation of the insult was made by ultra-nationalist vigilantes who’d besieged the building, cut power and flung stones.  Either way the response seems to have been over the top.

Also in Surabaya, the nation’s second biggest city after Jakarta, is the fine old Majapahit Hotel named after a pre-colonial Javanese empire.  

A painting in the foyer shows a youth climbing on the roof in late 1945 and ripping away the bottom blue strip of the Dutch tricolor.  This left the flag red and white, now the national symbol. 

The incident, which may be apocryphal, is embedded in Indonesia’s history of achieving freedom, and the lad who did the deed a hero.

Today Papuans who raise their own Morning Star flag risk 20 years behind bars.

After the raid local newspapers frontpaged photos showing gore-streaked faces and limbs of students who swore they were unarmed when clobbered by the cops.  At least six were injured and 43 arrested.  The prisoners were questioned for nine hours, then let go without charge.
Videos circulating on social media appear to have right-wing demonstrators shouting ‘get rid of the Papuans’ and ‘monkeys, get out’.

There are around 300 ethnic groups in the Archipelago. The Javanese dominate and some are prone to think themselves superior.

The violence, and in particular the ‘monkey’ slur, infuriated crowds in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province, 2,800 kilometers to the northeast.   They torched tyres in the streets and a local government building.

Another protest of about 10,000 took place in Jayapura, the capital of Papua Indonesia’s easternmost province.

Posts implying Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has ordered an investigation into the Surabaya incident have not been confirmed.  The East Java Governor  Khofifah Indar Parawansa did apologise, telling journalists the incident didn’t reflect the views of most residents.

The ABC had East Java police spokesperson Frans Barung, saying the dorm was stormed to stabilize the situation because of the students' ‘provocative actions on allegedly committing slander on the national flag’.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the ‘referendum’ to decide who would run the former Dutch territory of Nieuw Guinea.  This involved 1,025 ‘leaders’ hand-picked by Indonesia.  Unsurprisingly they decided against independence.

Indonesia called it an ‘Act of Free Choice’; Western observers labeled it an ‘Act Free of Choice.’
Earlier this year a 1.8 million signature petition demanding an independence referendum was handed to UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet.  Jakarta labeled the event a stunt.

There’s little chance of a referendum or any serious investigation of the human rights abuses frequently recounted by separatists.  A slight majority of the 3.6 million residents are indigenous Melanesians and nominal Christians.  That ration won’t last as increasing numbers of settlers from Muslim Java will tip the balance. 

Like the First Australians, the indigenes will then be a minority in their own resource-rich land.
Grasberg – also known as Freeport - in the Papua highlands is the world’s largest gold mine and the second biggest copper mine, its royalties essential for the national economy.  In 2017  the government earned US $756 million.

The Indonesian military has a heavy presence in Papua where there are irregular skirmishes with the lightly-armed West Papua Liberation Army guerillas.

Last December road workers were reportedly ambushed and shot  The facts can’t be verified as foreign journalists are banned, but 19 may have died.
Bobby Anderson, a research associate at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, has been studying violence in the province.  He concluded:

‘Despite the wealth Indonesia earns through Papua’s abundant natural resources, a dearth of government services results in ordinary Papuans having the lowest incomes, the lowest educational levels, and the highest mortality rates in the country.

‘Papua’s deaths, both spectacular and mundane, hint that, while Indonesia has coherent policies toward Papua’s natural resources, it has no coherent policy toward Papuans.’

Some delegates at this month’s Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu attended by PM Scott Morrison raised concerns about the situation in Papua, only to be told by Indonesia to butt out.

Volumes of laws are supposed to protect Indonesians’ civil rights but the only ones jolting action  concern blasphemy rather than racism.  

The government has set up Inter-Religious Harmony Forums to counter extremism.  These usually get involved only after conflict erupts.

The new generation of Papuans is now more aware of their land’s history and like Minke in Bumi Manusia, starting to kick against what they see as injustices and subjection.  Minke’s goal was freedom from Amsterdam’s authority; Papuans want release from Jakarta’s grip.

 First published in Pearls and Irritations, 23 August 2019:

Monday, August 19, 2019


Ledalero: Exporting indigenized religion and priests          

The Bible was brought to Indonesia by thousands of European missionaries across the centuries. While there are restrictions today on how and where foreigners can preach in Indonesia, there aren’t too many who are keen to come.

By contrast, Indonesia's Catholic graduates are now taking their version of the word of God to the West.

The top Catholic institute in Indonesia is the Ledalero Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Katolik (STFK Ledalero), a college of Catholic philosophy that is run by the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) – the Society of the Divine Word. The college is located just outside Maumere in East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara.

“We’re now the largest provider of SVD apostles (also called Verbites) to the world,” said counselor Bill Burt, an Australian.

“We have about 300 young men studying. This year’s graduates will be going to Russia, Latvia, South American countries, Norway, Poland and Ukraine and Australia.”

Burt will soon retire to Melbourne; then there will be only two non-Indonesian priests in Sikka regency, including the capital Maumere.

Ledalero's staff canteen has a wall displaying the portraits of the college's leaders, past and present. The early rows show bearded sages with stares severe; however the most recent photos are of dark-skinned and clean-shaven men – just like the diners. The church is becoming indigenized, and not just in Indonesia.

“As foreign priests retire or die, Indonesians have been filling their places and adapting the teachings,” said Burt. “In Australia there are now only two native-born SVD priests across the whole continent. The rest are mainly from Vietnam and India. 

“Few young men want to join the church in the secular West, but in Flores, having a son take holy orders is a matter of family pride.” 

Burt’s road to religion started when he was a teenager working for Australian Immigration in Sydney. His job included processing recipients of the prestigious Colombo Plan scholarship. The students were smart and determined and often returned to senior government jobs in their home countries. Many were from Indonesia, and Burt developed friendships.

“Like most Australians, I didn’t know much about Indonesia but the students helped open my eyes,” he recalled.

He then joined the Australia-Indonesia Association [AIA]. “We talked about language, culture, literature and cuisine. It was totally non-political," said Burt. 

“Then one day in 1965 after work, I was confronted by a man who said he was from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.  He told me that the AIA was a Communist front. 

“He asked me to inform on the members and report their activities.  This was before the Sept. 30 coup.” 

Founded in 1947 and still in operation today, the AIA's requests for a response to the past charge that it was a Red redoubt have been ignored.

Burt never took up the mantle of government spy because he quit public service and instead started training with the SVD.  In 1969 he was sent to Flores.

Since its founding in 1875 in the Netherlands by exiled German priests, the SVD had set up missions overseas, including the Dutch East Indies.

Men in cassocks had already entered the archipelago in the early 16th century when the Portuguese came sniffing for spices. Dutch Jesuits followed and the SVD three centuries later.

It now claims to be the world’s biggest Catholic missionary congregation with more than 6,000 religious members, of which 4,000 are ordained priests. Last year, Father Paulus Budi Kleden, a 54-year-old Flores native, was appointed the order's Superior General in Rome.

The faith Ledalero exports is not the original, imported European variety but Asian, filtered through Indonesian culture. East Flores has a major cult of worshipping Mary. One priest quietly noted: “She’s even more popular than Jesus.”

“The SVD has evolved and is more concerned with educating the poor and human rights issues,” said Burt. “Three years ago, we sponsored a seminar on the killings of real or imagined communists after the 1965 coup [that] brought [former president] Soeharto to power.”

Indonesia’s most famous Jesuit priest and philosopher, Franz Magnis-Suseno, wrote that Ledalero was the first education institution in the nation “courageous enough” to talk publicly and critically about the genocide.

Despite its remote location, Ledalero runs a press that produces theological theses, an international journal and books on the mass killings, a topic mainstream publishers still tremble to touch.

The SVD men aren’t navel gazers. Some are helping to expose the plight of returning Indonesian migrant workers (TKI) who have been infected with HIV, which they then pass on to their wives and through them, their children.

New drugs can stop the virus developing into the often fatal condition, AIDS. Originally recruited to spread the Gospel, SVD members have found themselves working to stop the virus spread by ensuring that patients take their medicines.

Next year Ledalero hopes to achieve university status. One problem in upgrading is recruiting native English lecturers, particularly since missionaries will be working overseas where English is the first or second language. The other issue is that its well of money is running dry, partly caused by the criminal behavior of clergy around the globe.

“We used to get most funding from Germany through public contributions. That’s collapsed during the past five years. Scandals involving pederast priests in countries like the US, Canada and Australia have had an impact," said Burt.

“Now we’re learning self-sufficiency by developing a farm and businesses to maintain funding.”

Fortunately Ledalero's buildings are relatively new. An earthquake in 1992 destroyed everything on the 11-hectare site, so the Church of St. Paul, lecture rooms, administrative facilities and dormitories were all rebuilt.

To stop its graduates from thinking they’re above the masses they’re supposed to serve – or "up themselves", as Australians say – the STFK offers a quote by the German Jesuit, Karl Rahner (1904-1984) for contemplation: 

“The number-one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim him (Jesus) with their mouths and deny him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.” 

First published in The Jakarta Post 19 August 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Soccer diplomacy                                      

If Indonesia and Australia are to ever play well together, they need a kick.  If not up the backside, then into the arena of international relationships.

Here’s a man for the job -  former soccer star Robbie Gaspar, 38, the first Australian to play professionally in Indonesia.   Although now retired his favorite word is “passion” for the game and getting young Indonesians involved.

Politicians advocate transnational trade while bureaucrats urge security to dampen distrust, but Gaspar offers a readymade solution:  Football fun.  He argues that soccer’s global appeal brings all levels together where they can revel in sharing the things which unite.

Soccer thrives in the Republic in quantity of raucous support, though not always quality of facilities and play. Indonesia is 160 in the men’s world rankings.  The game is currently dominated by European and South American nations.  Australia is 43rd.
Gaspar’s concerns are not desultory.  Back in his hometown Perth this decade he joined other retired professionals in Pro Football Training, an enterprise to lift the game – and the health of those who play and watch.
A spin-off is the Soccer Super Heroes (SSH) for children which Gaspar wants to export to Indonesia. The company claims to be training more than 1,600 youngsters a week through school and club based programs.
Gaspar has been exhorting action by State and Federal governments, big business and sports administrators in both countries.  So far the handshakes have been warm but wallets have yet to be opened. 
His cheer-leaders are hoping the kick-off of an Indonesian version of SSH can coincide with next year’s 30th anniversary of the Sister State relationship between East Java and Western Australia.
At the 25-year benchmark in 2015 WA gave one billion rupiah to support disabled kids.  Backers of Gaspar’s plan reckon far less is needed to get SSH going, starting in Surabaya.
The indoors program uses places like badminton and futsal courts. It’s designed to bring pre-schoolers into the game so they grow up enjoying sport and staying fit; parents are encouraged to get involved.
“We need to wean the next generation off their cellphones and get them outdoors,” Gaspar said. “Constantly stuck to a screen isn’t healthy.  Exercise and participation are important for physical and mental health.  So is self esteem and confidence. All this starts at home.”

Gaspar  runs the talk.  His family migrated from Croatia where soccer is king, so after getting honored as a teen champion in Perth, the midfielder joined a club in his parents’ homeland. 

Not a happy time as the former Yugoslav state was still torn from its war of independence.  So Gaspar headed to clubs in Brunei (QAF) and Malaysia (Sabah) before being recruited to play in Indonesia. 

Like most Australians he knew little of the country.  An early jolt: Although English might be understood in the boardrooms, it was alien in the changerooms.  So he rapidly learnt the language and is now fluent.

He also found the differences with his previous teams striking.

“Indonesians were disciplined,” he said. “In other places we’d have to drag players out of the carpark for training, but here they were already jogging on the grounds before the scheduled start time. Indonesia has more football potential than anywhere else in Asia.”

That was in 2005.  Gaspar stayed for seven years and at various times wore the colors of Persib Bandung, Persita Tangerang,  Persiba Balikpapan and Persema Malang.

Although he says it was a great experience working with fine athletes and performing before sellout crowds, it wasn’t always win-win.  But the faults were not with the players,
First the politics.  Disputes over who ran the game climaxed in  2014 after Kemenpora  (the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs)  and the football association couldn’t settle on who was running the game.
So the world governing body FIFA showed Indonesia the red card,
The suspension, which has since been lifted, ruled the national team out of the joint 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifying campaigns, a mighty blow to fans, players and Gaspar. 
Next were business attitudes.

“Many club owners are frustrated footballers who think they know best,” Gaspar said.  “They reckon the players are hobbyists when in fact they are professionals land and should be treated with respect

“These are the top sportsmen from 260 million people.  They need to be appreciated, paid properly, rested after long trips and fed well.”
When Gaspar found his colleagues weren’t getting a fair deal he became an advisor to the players’ union, FIFPro Asia.  Now he’s working part time as Player Development Manager with the national Professional Footballers Australia organization.
Then there’s the pros’ dread – their 30 plus use-by date:  A new generation of nimble ball benders is invading the pitch.  Where to go when the knees creak and the final whistle blows?
“It’s another problem for Indonesian athletes,” said Gaspar who’s studying accountancy so his money stays in play when the muscles won’t.  “They need care when their career  is over.”
Like many Indonphiles he’s vexed by his fellow Ozzies’ indifference to their neighbor.  At first his disquiet is muted – “relationships could be better,” he says politely.  But when elbowed lets rip:
“Too many Australians are superior - they think they’re better than Indonesians. That’s partly the media’s fault because they frequently report on crises rather than explain more about the country.
“Governments are fine with handshakes all round, but little happens later.  This has to change; we can make it change.”
Gaspar’s  playing code runs into his life values: “Be humble, stay positive, work hard, never stop learning, keep fit, listen to your parents and enjoy your sport.”
Jingoists  paranoid about Western ideas corrupting their culture would find the list hard to contest.
“Indonesians and Australians have so much in common,” said Gaspar. “We both love our families and sport. Let’s build on the positives by playing together.”

 First published in The Jakarta Post 13 August 2019


                                        All hail, Queen Mega

This week Indonesian streets are bursting with red and white bunting, celebrating the late leader Soekarno’s proclamation of independence from the Netherlands on 17 August 1945.   

Then followed a four- year protracted guerilla war against the stubborn Dutch who couldn’t sniff the stench of post-war rotting colonialism.  After an estimated 150,000 deaths, the majority civilians, the United States of Indonesia was internationally recognized.  Australian unions were active supporters of the revolutionaries.

Queen Juliana abandoned her Asian possessions and for decades the new nation was a republican patriarchy.  Now the people next door have a de-facto monarch – Megawati Soekarnoputri.

At her party’s fifth congress in Bali this month the 72-year old Grandma stamped her feet and authority on the politics of a nation where the median age is 30.

Although Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, 58, is the elected president, Megawati is she who must be obeyed.  Nepotism thrives in the nation’s most popular party with ‘democratic’ redundant in its title.

In 1965 Soekarno was deposed after a coup allegedly engineered by the Communist Party.  The late General Soeharto (1921-2008) grabbed the Presidency till he was felled in 1998 when the economy crashed.

During his authoritarian rule bids by Soekarno’s family to squeeze back into politics were crushed.  When the first president died in 1970 his body was whisked to the distant East Java town of Blitar so his grave wouldn’t become a shrine for Jakarta subversives.  (It’s now a mausoleum and draws huge crowds of pilgrims daily.)

Soekarno had nine wives and 11 kids.  Megawati was his second child and first daughter.  Her patronym is supposed to mean ‘cloud goddess’.

Mega, as she’s widely known, had little public life till the mid 1980s when she joined the Soeharto-sanctioned Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (PDI).  She was considered a harmless Mum so to honour her Dad (now titled Proklamator) she was allowed a seat in the House of Representatives (DPR).

This was a puppet parliament in the steel grip of Soeharto and the military, but it gave Mega a platform to promote paterfamilias’ secular nationalism, though now much diluted by political Islam.

Soeharto got nervous so organised a split of PDI members and thugs to break up a meeting. In the following riots five died and 23 went ‘missing’.

By then the long-oppressed press was getting braver in reporting dirty tricks so Mega became a focal point for dissenters. The PDI was renamed PDI-P, the last initial standing for Perjuangan, meaning ‘Struggle’.  Soeharto’s Golkar Party, which always won elections, began to crumble.

With the shunt to democracy this century Mega became fifth president by accident.  She was vice president appointed by the legislature to the reformist but erratic Abdurrahman (Gus Dur) Wahid.  In 2001 he quit after being threatened with impeachment so she got bumped into the top job. 

Little happened during her dull reign, with commentators quipping she left the Army to run the show while she went on manoeuvres in shopping malls.  Madam has the magic name but not Soekarno’s charisma and oratorical skills which terrified Australia when he condemned the West at huge rallies during the Cold War.

The voters could see behind the image and wanted reform.  In 2004 Mega lost to one of her ministers Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in the first direct election by the people.   She stood again in 2009 and was heavily trounced by the same man, becoming a splendid hater.

In the 2014 presidential election she belatedly ordered the PDI-P to endorse Widodo, then Governor of Jakarta. Even after he won Mega called him a ‘functionary’ in public.  For her the former furniture salesman who’d been elected by popular vote owed his success to her regal recognition.

Most political observers thought otherwise and attributed Widodo’s win to his humility and ability to connect with the wong cilik, the wee folk who make up the bulk of the electorate.

In this year’s elections Widodo garnered a second five-year term; the PDI-P collected the top position overall with almost 20 per cent of the votes.  Twenty parties contested, but only nine won seats.

Now Mega is scheming to get either Puan Maharani, 45, to take over the party so she can contest the presidency in 2024, or her half-brother Prananda Prabowo, 49. 

(He’s no relation to Prabowo Subianto, the bitter losing contestant in this year’s presidential contest, who also attended the PDI-P congress.  That’s like Bill Shorten getting VIP treatment at a Liberal victory knees-up where Scott Morrison’s offspring are offered a clearway to future power.)

Red-jacketed PDI-P Congress delegates endorsed Mega as chairwoman without the messy business of voting. Any policies on the agenda were swamped by personalities.

She told Widodo publicly to include many PDI-P members in the Cabinet he’s forming ahead of his October swearing in.

Under the Indonesian system ministers can be appointed from outside politics.  Widodo is known to favour technocrats and promotion on merit, but is fettered by Mega’s chains and those of minor parties coalescing with PDI-P.

When Widodo first took office Mega reportedly pumped up the pressure to slip her friends into key positions, including the military. He had to make her daughter Puan Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs; the lady has yet to display any notable qualities that warrant high office other than  bloodline.

The Constitution prevents Widodo from standing again, so he no longer needs the sovereign’s patronage.

As a mild-mannered Javanese in a culture which respects the elderly, regicide is not an option.  But with five years’ experience of running the world’s third largest democracy, Widodo has built a stand-alone reputation so may quietly find ways to step around the throne.

First published in Pearls and Irritataions, 13 August 2019

Monday, August 05, 2019


Bewitched, bothered and bewildered                                

Readers know they’re in for a rollicking time when a supposedly serious-minded academic starts with a blunt admission about his former profession.

‘Ethnography’, says Dr Will Buckingham when introducing Stealing with the Eyes, is ‘that curious brand of high-minded intrusiveness amongst peoples too polite, or too powerless, to tell you to go f*** yourself.’

Subtitled Imaginings and Incantations in Indonesia, on one level it’s about a young British graduate’s adventures in Tanimbar late last century.  Ostensibly he went in search of three carvers and to learn more of adat, a word with more definitions than dictionaries.

It can be culture, magic, ritual, wisdom, tradition, a reason for doing unreasonable things, an excuse for avoiding people and places, and a jumbled mixture of the lot. Adat is ever-present in rural Indonesia but in Tanimbar it’s most fertile for here the dead walk, women give birth to octopuses and witches are the root of all wrongs.

The island is isolated, 570 kilometers southeast of Ambon in the Banda Sea, though not so distant it couldn’t be reached by Europeans brandishing Bibles, guns and empty barrels to fill with exotic foods for shipment and profit.

After the Second World War it became a center for ‘primitive’ art, drawing collectors and a few tourists. A booklet for craftsmen by a normally prurient government suggests ‘differences in the sexes of sculptures should be made explicit. The sexual organs should not be seen as shameful or pornographic.’

A weird place, and a fine location for a thinker to learn more about himself, his purpose and Western values, not always well scrutinized by its practitioners: 

Books based on academic theses usually include sparkling tributes to the kind folk encountered during research. These glowing acknowledgements lead outsiders to think they’ve missed a perfect world where none are bitchy and bastardly, grasping and lying; mistakes are seldom made and rapidly forgiven. Generosity is unqualified.

Apart from setting tone through observation, the best about Buckingham’s prose is its apparent honesty.  Written more than two decades after working on a project with Ambon’s Pattimura University, this memoir squints at self and society from afar:

‘Curi mata: stealing with the eyes. The accusation was inescapable. What else did Westerners do, the whole world over, if not this? They roved here and there, taking other people’s lives and homes as things to be photographed, consumed, ferried back home.

‘Wasn’t anthropology itself no more than a vast enterprise of stealing with the eyes? Wasn’t the entire world, under the guise of knowledge and science, a cabinet of curiosity for the West?’

Buckingham finds the required ‘informants’ but anthropology isn’t run in a sterile laboratory.  By showing interest the newcomer warps reality, just as a TV news crew’s presence can encourage thugs to change a demo to a riot.

He does meet helpful people, but also gets snared by petty feuds; he’s misinformed, manipulated and exploited. A statue promised as a gift because the artist was being guided by his ancestors turns into a demand for money and a most discomforting episode where Western understandings collide with local expectations.

Such events rarely appear in scholarly works unless buried under obfuscating jargon, which Buckingham avoids.  He gets seriously sick and is treated with a range of traditional cures from pills, to massage, to group therapy.  None work; the fever eventually extinguishes, though later returns.

Buckingham heads to Ambon to sort out visa hassles: ‘The bureaucratic demands of the Indonesian state were no less binding and complex than the adat demands of the ancestors.’

But should he return to Tanimbar?  He’d made friends, garnered information, improved his Indonesian but was running out of money. His inquiries had been led off the textbook track; oral history gets embellished according to the moods of the myth’s custodians. Are there any certainties?  Time for a rethink:

‘What sicknesses and discontents, I wondered, had I brought to Tanimbar? And now that I had left, drifting away with wind and tide, what greater discontents would I bring by returning? What do you here in this poor land? These were questions to which I could find no good answers.’

But he does go back, this time to the village of Tumbur where he’s visited by the self proclaimed ‘best sculptor in the village’.  And indeed Damianus Masele doesn’t exaggerate.

Buckingham’s tape-recorder, the anthropologist’s equivalent of a doctor’s stethoscope proving qualifications, spooks informants so he discards the device – only to find the artist demanding to be recorded.

He’s asked to sign a document absolving Masele of blame should the Englishman be struck by disaster after seeing a sacred object, but instead chooses not to view; had adat taken hold?.

The villagers think of Westerners as men with guns and women in bikinis. Both frighten: ‘Sex and death. Death and sex. Tanimbarese dreams of the West, and Western dreams of Tanimbar. The two were almost-perfect mirror images.’

Back in Britain Buckingham gets seriously sick again, leading him to abandon higher study and turn to writing – which seems to bring release.  Then he discovers his old notes:

‘Tanimbar carved me. It refashioned and remade me in ways that eventually put paid to my relationship with anthropology, this queasy enterprise at the tag end of colonialism.

‘It is thanks to my time in Tanimbar that I found myself eventually heading down new paths, as a sculptor of sorts myself, but one who worked in words rather than in wood and stone, fashioning stories and tales from fragmented dreams, recollections and imaginings.’

And it’s thanks to this book that we can also ponder the world’s ways, learn and discover without having to be tested by Tanimbar and bewitched by adat.

Stealing with the Eyes by Will Buckingham
Haus Publishing, London, 2019
231 pages

First published in The Jakarta Post 5 August 2019