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Max Lane - Indonesia, an unfinished revolution

Suara Pembaruan Daily - May 23, 2007

The national liberation of the people of Latin America, which has been inspired by the people's struggle in Venezuela led by President Hugo Chavez, should be able to inspire similar methods and ideologies in the Indonesian national struggle.

Millions of Latin American people have been inspired by the developments in Venezuela when the people there succeeded in winning back their wealth and culture from the grip of the United States.

"I can imagine a struggle such as this could become the backbone of a political culture in Indonesia, that is one based on a populist ideology", said Australian author Max Lane during the launch of his new book "An Unfinished Nation: Indonesia, Before and After Suharto". Published by the Reform Institute, Lane's book together with the journal Reform Review was launched at the Grand Melia Hotel in Kuningan, South Jakarta, on Tuesday May 22.

Lane is absolutely convinced that by taking up these two weapons, that is the method of mass struggle along with an ideology of national revolutionary struggle, the struggle to liberate the people of Indonesia will find the answers to move forward.

"If this happened, Indonesia will become the Venezuela of the Asia region, and would provide an inspiration for the Asian people", said Lane in a discussion that also included speakers Benyamin F. Intan (executive director of the Reformed Center for Religion and Society), Yudi Latief (executive director of the Reform Institute) and political analyst Daniel Dhakidae.

Lane is of the view that almost all nations are born out of revolutions that involve the ordinary people. This can be seen from the experiences in Britain, France and the US.

If studied closely, the birth of the Indonesian nation was also the result of revolution. Kartini, who came to the fore through her modern revolutionary and feminist thinking, early nationalist figures such as Tirto Adhisuryo, and Indonesia's founding President Sukarno, were all figures that were involved in the Indonesian revolution.

But according to Lane, the national revolution as a process that gave birth to Indonesia as a nation was not in fact completed. "The process froze", said Lane in conclusion. It was only after the Kedung Ombo [land dispute] case in Java sprang up in 1989 that the struggle being carried out by students, farmers and the urban poor was restarted. "The Kedung Ombo case became one fragment of a major process that proceed until the fall of Suharto and his New Order regime", said Lane.

The result of this process was that the people took up the very weapon that was used to win independence, that is the method of mass struggle. "By taking up mass actions again, the Indonesian people became strong and ready to voluntarily take to the streets to demand their rights and [fight for] their interests. This is one of the rich lessons of the national revolution that needs to be taken up again", he asserted.

There are still many rich revolutionary lessons that need to be resurrected including the ideology of populism that is contained in the writings and works of Kartini, Tirto Adhisuryo, Sukarno, and others in the political as well as literary world.

Unfortunately, great works such as Sukarno's "Nationalism, Islam and Marxism", or the works of nationalist figures such as Sutan Sjahrir, Muhammad Natsir and HOS Cokroaminoto, have never been read by Indonesian school children. "How can Indonesia confront the threat of the West if the rich lessons of its own national revolution are unknown by the nation?", he asked.

Daniel Dhakidae added that in Indonesia, the words revolution and nationalism have become forgotten. This short-term collective memory has made us soon forget all kinds of events. The reformasi movement of 1998 has been forgotten, as if it took place centuries ago. The violence that took place in the month of May that year has just been passed by without any resolution, whereas reformasi only took place nine years ago.

Likewise also in addressing globalisation, we have forgotten the aspect of nationalism. By way of example, Dhakidae said that schools in Jakarta require communication in English, but do not allow their students to speak Indonesia. "We have overlooked the fact that globalisation must be accompanied with values or national dignity that is born though its language", he said. [SP/Elly Burhaini Faizal]

[Translated by James Balowski.]