Ever since the overthrow of the late President Suharto, four different personalities have sat in the President’s chair and yet, in my humble opinion, the dusts of transition from Pak Habibie to Gus Dur to Ibu Mega and now Pak SBY has not settled.
When I was based, in the course of my duties, in Indonesia not so many years ago, I had a sopir (driver) assigned to me. A Muslim, he was a simple and humble man but a man proud of who he his, his religion and of his heritage as a Javanese and as an Indonesian. He was always meticulously dressed, well-mannered and soft-spoken.
But like many a soft-spoken man, push the wrong buttons and you would see another side of him, not so pleasant and seldom seen. After cultivating his confidence and engaging him in countless about-nothing conversations, he felt free to voice his opinion over many an issue and is not limited to the same worries that any man has ie to earn enough to house his family, feed them, clothe them and put his two children through school, but also affecting that of his country.
Then there was a Christian Batak, whom I got to know quite well, initially as part of an opposing team and later, as a colleague of mine. An engineer by training, he was a deeply pious man. Never would he touched his food without saying grace and as far as I can gather, a regular at his church on a Sunday. I liked him and we got on very well, well enough to mingle on social occasions, to know and respect each other’s likes and dislikes.
He had an entrepreneur’s mentality, he had. Eating stalls, a share in a sea food rearing project with his friends etc etc. He was better off working for himself, looking after his investments, as I often told him. Likeable as he was, he had one peculiarity ie a dislike for medicine that did not taste sweet.
‘Pak, there is no medicine in this world that is sweet. Afterall, that’s why they call it medicine.’, we would always tell him. Several months after his contract ended, I received a call from one of our colleagues. Our friend had gone missing, only to be told the following day that he had been found dead, slumped over the steering wheel of his car. He had apparently died from a heart attack. His passing left a deep impression on the rest of us, on how short and sudden life can be.
Then there’s a Catholic Javanese from Yogyakarta. He too was an engineer and one proud Javanese, I can tell you that. No topic was out-of-bounds, even religion. Well, he is still a Catholic and I am still a Muslim. But I could have sworn that he could have been a priest if that was his calling. But apparently, life has been good to him. He is now happily married, blessed with a child.
As fate would have it, the day Yogyakarta was hit by an earthquake, he was supposedly to have been in his hometown, on holiday. Luckily for us, he was not affected. Apparently, he was still in Jakarta and not yet returned to his hometown. However, out of compassion, he was given a few days leave to check on his parents and family members who were in Yogyakarta when the earthquake struck.
His constant companion was a Muslim Minang from Padang. A finance man, I would often catch them talking during ciggie breaks and would join in their conversations, just for the heck of it. After all, learning about history and culture has always been a big thing with me and you learn a lot of things and they are all not necessarily documented in any printed material.
It is often remarked that Indonesia is a land of contradictions. Spanning from Aceh at the northernmost tip of Sumatera in the west to Irian Jaya in the east, it is a country of considerable land mass and even more considerable natural resources and is home to people of different ethnic groups, each with its own culture and language. Even among the Javanese, who make up the main ethnic group in Indonesia.
It is also a land where the rich are filthy rich and the poor, dirt poor. Not much of a middle class, I was told, as they have been pretty much decimated, when the high costs of living practically restructured the Indonesian society into the haves and the have-nots. This was back in mid 2000s. I have not been back to Indonesia since I left but from what I gather, things are getting slightly better, if the economic indicators are anything to shout about.
After Pak Harto stepped down as President, as my Indonesian friends told me, there was a tendency for many a person to step forward and champion whatever causes they believed in. This tendency naturally got translated into the many political parties which suddenly mushroomed to challenge the supremacy of the then ruling Golkar party. All this in the name of democracy.
It would have been fine if that had meant more food on the table, but unfortunately, as my sopir would say, ‘bisa berbicara Pak tapi nga bisa makan’, meaning that although the people may have found their voices but there’s no food on the table. Well paying jobs befitting your qualifications were scarce, and were therefore much coveted. But even if there were jobs to be found, it was basically an employers market and it was not surprising to find people with two or more jobs. Hence, the talk of better times had during Pak Harto’s time as President was already heard then. At least, economically that is.
The upside, if ever there was one, was that the economic situation also created people who were creative and innovative. Some so creative and innovative, it could make you smile at the irony of it all. New businesses sprang up and one of them was rent-a-mob. It sounded strange when I was first told about it by my sopir and later on confirmed by the others. However, whatever doubts you may have, will disappear once you see advertisements offering rates for renting mobs to demonstrate (on your behalf) in whatever causes you may have. The bigger is your budget, the bigger is the crowd and therefore the bigger is the demonstration and should therefore attract more attention, so goes the logic.
When I was first told of this employment scheme, it suddenly made sense to me why demonstrations were held that frequently in Jakarta then. Mainly centring on the roundabout opposite Plaza Indonesia, there is always a demonstration staged every week, with most of the demonstrators merely there as extras, in support of the supporting actors/actresses and the main characters. If you ever witness one and unsure who are the main characters and who are the extras, look for the loudhailers. I guess that’s why you have different rates for different roles. But that was then.
If the logic remains the same, then the recent demonstration in Jakarta at the Malaysian embassy and at the Malaysia Hall located in the suburb of Menteng (despite Menteng having a large number of VVVIPs and their families having their private and official residences there with the tight security et al), have all the characteristics of a play staged for public consumption, funded by unknown parties (who most likely have something against Malaysia or just plain do not like Malaysia, for whatever reason they might have), directed by unseen hands well-versed in the direction of such staged plays . After all, directors are never seen but their instructions are always followed by the cast.
If it had been staged for public consumption, then it begs the question, who is or are the producers? Is there an agenda? Admittedly, there are still those that subscribed to Bung Karno’s ‘Ganyang Malaysia’ (or Crush Malaysia) policy of long ago, judging from the public statements made by some. If this is the case, then the recent attacks on a foreign diplomatic mission that is the Malaysian Embassy and a foreign-owned property would fit the bill.
It would have been so easy to blame these demonstrations on them. But with the trend in attacking or threatening to attack anything Malaysian, one cannot help but wonder who these perpetrators really are and what is their agenda? It is hard to imagine the man on the streets whose main concern is survival to have been behind them.
Impromptu demonstration? Doubtful, as the Indonesians are basically a peaceful lot, and as I mentioned earlier, their main concern is survival. A day away from work demonstrating is a day’s wages lost.
Is it because of the alleged bad treatment of Indonesian maids in Malaysia? A case of Indonesians blaming the Malaysian majority for the folly of the very few (yes, we do have them black sheeps, and yes really, they number but a very few). You get the same type of news from Singapore as well as the Middle East but hey, you don’t get a horde of Indonesians trying to ‘sweep Singaporeans and Arabs off their feet and off the streets of Jakarta’, now do you?
And in the name of fairness, we also have to address the not-so-often-brought-into-the-limelight issue of treatment of Malaysian employers by Indonesian maids, legally recruited or otherwise, absconding with their employers’ belongings, in some cases the employer’s child, or just plain, abscond. And once in a while, we do hear of Indonesian maids preparing ‘exotic’ dishes, only for the employers to forego these dishes once knowing the ingredients used. And it’s not the typical herb and spices that you’ll find a plentiful in Indonesia, mind you. But then again, these are cases in the minority. But as always, you’ll hear of the worst before you hear of the good ones.
Is it because of the treatment of Indonesians caught for breaking and entering, rape, murders etc? Malaysia has its own laws as do Indonesia, and if it is not yet known, the Malaysian legal system has its origins from the British legal system. Agreed that it is not perfect, but it is a functioning legal system and it works quite well, thank you very much. Malaysian laws are used for those who break the law, regardless of what nationality the alleged offender may be. That’s why the Lady with the Scales is blindfolded, even in Malaysia. And the Lady does not peek to see who is being judged. Strictly a no peeking policy, mind you. And under the Malaysian system, the alleged offender is deemed innocent until proven guilty. Fair, wouldn’t you think?
The number of Indonesians caught committing a crime? Well, they were criminals in Indonesia, who every so often go on a long working holiday in Malaysia, without permits or visas mind you. Once they ‘worked’ in Malaysia, they would then have a track record in Malaysia, after which the Malaysian police is duty bound to look for them and bring them to book. But once found, the reception given to the Malaysian police can get a bit too enthusiastic.
What, pray tell, is the poor Malaysian police supposed to do if they find themselves being charged at by parang-wielding drug-hazed criminals? Ask for their nationalities first? Greet them with open arms? And should a criminal open fire on you, I am very certain that every police manual, regardless of language and nationality, would say, shoot back. No questions asked. Police personnel are also allowed to protect themselves, you know. After all, they also have one life, like anybody else.
Mistreatment of Indonesian factory workers? It was once reported in the media, the case of Indonesian factory workers rioting in a workers’ hostel and in the process, burning it down and making the hostel area akin to that of a war zone? The transformation of a simple drug bust to that of alleged mistreatment of Indonesian workers just shows how creative these workers can be. To make matters worse, it almost sparked an international incident when the rioting Indonesian workers sang their national anthem, ‘Indonesia Raya’, as if they were at war and under siege.
Luckily, common sense prevailed on both the Malaysian and Indonesian sides. But as always, there are always parties trying to make the incident out to be more that what it actually was, ie a simple drug bust gone awry.
There will always be misunderstandings leading to blips in the relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia. For sure, it will not be smooth all the time. But any escalation of misunderstandings to something bigger can be avoided if and only if channels of communication between top leaders are always kept open, earnestly and honestly maintained to ensure continued peace and harmony between the two nations.
There are a lot of things that both nations have in common, much more than a dance or a drum or a set of drums. To ensure that peace and harmony reigns supreme in the bilateral relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia is not only the responsibility of the political leadership but also that of the mass and citizens media on both sides of the border, especially in this day and age.
With so much in common, is it not possible then that it is this shared and common heritage that is drawing the envy of an unseen party or parties, whose agenda only they would know? And wasn’t it that not so long ago that ASEAN was seen as a market with tremendous market and economic potential? If that’s the case, who’s next?
I guess, we’ll know soon enough.