Articles

Balibo reflects new challenges for Indonesia’s foreign policy team

The Jakarta Post
16 September 2009

 

 By Wimar Witoelar
 
The announcement that the Australian police will open an investigation into the Balibo incident is the issue of the week now.  We remember the 1975 Balibo incident which began the East Timor horror.  As Suharto’s troops conducted a military operation in Balibo, five Australian reporters were killed in a battleground. The Indonesian Army said they were caught in crossfire, but reporters  saw it as murder.  Twenty-five years of human suffering followed with casualties from all sides, including  Indonesians.  Much later in 1998, the Indonesian people gained enough momentum to reject Suharto for state crimes, including human rights abuse. Successive governments in Indonesia made peace as we supported East Timor.
 Balibo  has just been made into a feature movie.  Asked for comment, President Ramos-Horta of Timor Leste said the movie reminded him of events that he thought he had forgotten about.  Horta said the film should not be seen  ‘as an indictment of today's Indonesia', which to his mind has changed dramatically since 1998 into 'one of the most inspiring democracies’.  He adds that it is up to the  Indonesian people  to address our past mistakes.
 The way most of us see it, the mistake was allowing the Suharto government to run a foreign policy which was not anchored to human rights and development. The foreign policy of the New Order was designed to maintain Suharto’s grip on his vision of order, mobilizing people who agreed with his vision. As Suharto was the master of patronage, it will never be clear just how much Indonesian people agreed with his vision and how much were driven by self-interest in the largesse that comes to Suharto loyalists.
 My feeling is that many Indonesians do not share the Suharto government’s penchant for excessive use of power.  It is just that not many are aware there is any other way to run a country. Now we have found a better way.  The Balibo affair is beyond doubt a tragedy. But Indonesia is trying to deal with these tragedies, not just five Australian journalists killed but dozens of activists kidnapped who are still missing, students murdered and hundreds of citizens raped and killed in the riots of May 1998.
President  Horta is spot on in saying that Balibo is our problem, and we have to deal with it. We need to make sure our state never commits heinous crimes again. Our attitudes on human rights are the opposite of the 1975 government responsible for Balibo. The call for investigation of the Balibo case would parallel a call for the investigation of the death of Indonesian fishermen in Darwin in 2002. They are both wounds which could reopen by lack of sensitivity. Australia needs to be more sensitive and knowledgeable of changes that have been achieved in Indonesia. We are our own harshest critics, because we are the people who rose against state violence. Balibo is one of many cases.   
As the public is either ignorant or confused about both Balibo and Darwin, the government has a role to play. The foreign policy team of the new SBY cabinet should turn defense into offense. They should enlighten the public on sensitive issues and show the world that Indonesia cares.  We should remind the world that we are on the same side of the issues on human rights. Every country has crimes against humanity in their histories. It is not how you failed but how you recover. If there is to be an investigation into Balibo, it should be done jointly. We have been very successful in Australian-Indonesian police cooperation. 
The prestigious international magazine ‘The Economist’ praised Indonesia in a headline: “ Despite the apocalyptic visions of a decade ago, Indonesia is a huge success. But it should aim higher.”  The most visible expression of government will in international eyes is foreign policy. Foreign policy should not always defend domestic policy. Foreign policy should certainly support  domestic policy; ideally they should be mutually supportive.  We should address misconceptions in our public dialogue. Witness the infantile outburst of emotion against Malaysia which is not justified by the facts. Witness the culpability of the public for political exploitation of the Century Bank case. At a broader but more serious level, witness the embarrassing  emotion during the recent campaign against foreign debt, “neoliberal” economics and a slew of issues that are not understood by the people who rail against them.
There is rampant xenophobia among our fellow citizens,  based on the notion that the world is against us. It is not. Often the world appreciates us more than we appreciate ourselves.  We should rise higher and adopt a receptive audience to world reaction.  We need to promote an open stance toward the world. A positive view of the world will give us a better economy, better education, better health, and most importantly the dignity Indonesia deserves.

 

 By Wimar Witoelar

 

The announcement that the Australian police will open an investigation into the Balibo incident is the issue of the week now.  We remember the 1975 Balibo incident which began the East Timor horror.  As Suharto’s troops conducted a military operation in Balibo, five Australian reporters were killed in a battleground. The Indonesian Army said they were caught in crossfire, but reporters  saw it as murder.  Twenty-five years of human suffering followed with casualties from all sides, including  Indonesians.  Much later in 1998, the Indonesian people gained enough momentum to reject Suharto for state crimes, including human rights abuse. Successive governments in Indonesia made peace as we supported East Timor.

 Balibo  has just been made into a feature movie.  Asked for comment, President Ramos-Horta of Timor Leste said the movie reminded him of events that he thought he had forgotten about.  Horta said the film should not be seen  ‘as an indictment of today's Indonesia', which to his mind has changed dramatically since 1998 into 'one of the most inspiring democracies’.  He adds that it is up to the  Indonesian people  to address our past mistakes.

 The way most of us see it, the mistake was allowing the Suharto government to run a foreign policy which was not anchored to human rights and development. The foreign policy of the New Order was designed to maintain Suharto’s grip on his vision of order, mobilizing people who agreed with his vision. As Suharto was the master of patronage, it will never be clear just how much Indonesian people agreed with his vision and how much were driven by self-interest in the largesse that comes to Suharto loyalists.

 My feeling is that many Indonesians do not share the Suharto government’s penchant for excessive use of power.  It is just that not many are aware there is any other way to run a country. Now we have found a better way.  The Balibo affair is beyond doubt a tragedy. But Indonesia is trying to deal with these tragedies, not just five Australian journalists killed but dozens of activists kidnapped who are still missing, students murdered and hundreds of citizens raped and killed in the riots of May 1998.

President  Horta is spot on in saying that Balibo is our problem, and we have to deal with it. We need to make sure our state never commits heinous crimes again. Our attitudes on human rights are the opposite of the 1975 government responsible for Balibo. The call for investigation of the Balibo case would parallel a call for the investigation of the death of Indonesian fishermen in Darwin in 2002. They are both wounds which could reopen by lack of sensitivity. Australia needs to be more sensitive and knowledgeable of changes that have been achieved in Indonesia. We are our own harshest critics, because we are the people who rose against state violence. Balibo is one of many cases.   

As the public is either ignorant or confused about both Balibo and Darwin, the government has a role to play. The foreign policy team of the new SBY cabinet should turn defense into offense. They should enlighten the public on sensitive issues and show the world that Indonesia cares.  We should remind the world that we are on the same side of the issues on human rights. Every country has crimes against humanity in their histories. It is not how you failed but how you recover. If there is to be an investigation into Balibo, it should be done jointly. We have been very successful in Australian-Indonesian police cooperation. 

The prestigious international magazine ‘The Economist’ praised Indonesia in a headline: “ Despite the apocalyptic visions of a decade ago, Indonesia is a huge success. But it should aim higher.”  The most visible expression of government will in international eyes is foreign policy. Foreign policy should not always defend domestic policy. Foreign policy should certainly support  domestic policy; ideally they should be mutually supportive.  We should address misconceptions in our public dialogue. Witness the infantile outburst of emotion against Malaysia which is not justified by the facts. Witness the culpability of the public for political exploitation of the Century Bank case. At a broader but more serious level, witness the embarrassing  emotion during the recent campaign against foreign debt, “neoliberal” economics and a slew of issues that are not understood by the people who rail against them.

There is rampant xenophobia among our fellow citizens,  based on the notion that the world is against us. It is not. Often the world appreciates us more than we appreciate ourselves.  We should rise higher and adopt a receptive audience to world reaction.  We need to promote an open stance toward the world. A positive view of the world will give us a better economy, better education, better health, and most importantly the dignity Indonesia deserves.

 

 

 

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5 Comments:

  1. From Albert on 16 September 2009 19:54:45 WIB
    I hope our government will also cooperate and using this chance to clear the whole matter up, instead of signaling annoyance and asking for the matter to be "buried" for the sake of relationships. To delay and "bury", inconvenient problems, are not wise, as it will just keep on haunting future generations.

    Let the truth come to light, if we are in the wrong, let it be known and recorded, apologize if needed, and move on with life for a better future.
  2. From Chandra on 17 September 2009 21:52:12 WIB
    QUOTE Every country has crimes against humanity in their histories. It is not how you failed but how you recover UNQUOTE. That is the kind of expression I've been feeling in my mind but don't know how to put it in words. Crime is crime, but Balibo is dwarfed by Gitmo, waterboarding,or Renditions that international community turn blind eye.( sengaja dicuekin). And, tell you what, Howard's OZ has a share.
  3. From Steve on 22 September 2009 19:31:26 WIB
    Will the people who murdered those journalists in Balibo, fishermen in Darwin, ordinary citizens in Jakarta, Indonesian students in many places, please stand up? Either you face trial now, or a more severe one in the afterlife, because you cannot escape justice.
  4. From bung tobing on 29 September 2009 08:10:24 WIB
    Australians should really learn that Indonesia has been showing tremendous improvement in regards to appreciation of human rights and actively encouraging its neighbors to do the same. Looking back to past mistake like this will threaten any effort to rebuild good relationship between Indonesia and Australia, as Kevin Rudd had been trying so far. Oh, how I miss Paul Keating, LOL.

    I am looking forward to see how Indonesian government and President-elect SBY officially responding to this issue.
  5. From Bibeh on 30 September 2009 20:45:27 WIB
    Let by gone be by gone. Anggap kita in a war state. Darurat Perang. Anggap siapapun yang meninggal adalah martir dan pahlawan bagi masing-masing pihak.

    Indonesia melepaskan TimTim dengan korban para Laskar Seroja.
    Australia kehilangan sedikit dengan kompensasi Blok Timor.
    TimTim sebagai playing field, kita liat apakah Haorta, Alkatiri dan tentunya Gusmao, juga Belo merasa bahagia atas apa yang mereka capai saat ini.

    Wish the best untuk rakyat TimTim. Semoga mereka sejahtera dalam kemerdekaan mereka seperti halnya kita dulu meraih kemerdekaan.

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