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We are celebrating the 67th anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence with the usual pomp and circumstance. There are at least two things evident from the events and ceremonies: First, there is gratitude for all that we have achieved; second, there is a need to revive our fearless drive for justice and unity in quest of our national objectives.
We have a great deal to be thankful for, especially if we focus only upon the tangibles: Magnificent structures of glass and steel reaching to the sky, luxurious cars that would put the residents of Beverly Hills to shame and teeming hordes at the nation’s malls all expressing a single intent — Shop ‘till you drop! It comes as no surprise that many conclude that Indonesia is independent. But is this really the case?
Let’s look at the reasons behind the formation of the nation as expressed in the Proclamation and as specified in the Preamble of the 1945 Constitution.
“Further, to constitute an Indonsian State that protects the People and territory of Indonesia and to promote public welfare, to enhance the intelligence of the nation, and to participate in a world order based on independence, eternal peace and the welfare of every Indonesian.”
The founders chose those particular phrases to capture a spirit of defiance against all forms of
Nature has given Indonesia an amazing string of islands, unrivalled in their splendor. Long before the arrival of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and colonialism, our ancestors harbored dreams of a peaceful and prosperous life in this heavenly land.
However, with the advent of the Dutch colonial era and the imposition of cultuurstelsel, or imperialism, the quality of life of Indonesians began to deteriorate. A peaceful and prosperous way of life was forcibly taken away, and Indonesians toiled under injustice, poverty, backwardness, disparity and dependence for decades.
Such heartrending conditions were the main reason why people rose against the colonialists, beginning with the National Development movement in 1908, the Youth Pledge in 1928 and the Proclamation of Independence on Aug. 17, 1945, which marked the establishment of the independent Republic of Indonesia.
However, once again, what does “independent” mean? According to Sukarno, independent meant political independence: “Independence is a ‘golden bridge’. On the other side of the bridge we will build the livelihoods of our people. In an independent Indonesia, we will free our people. Under an independent Indonesia, we will free their souls. The basic principle is that no one shall be poor in an independent Indonesia.”
The founders formulated Article 33 of the Constitution to dedicate the nation’s natural resources to producing the greatest benefit for the people. To realize the Constitution, it was deemed necessary to “destroy and rebuild” all extractive institutions, as specified in the objectives of the 1960 Sharecropping Law, the 1960 Basic Agrarian Law and the 1960 Law on Land Reform.
This set of strategic laws were intended to break concentrated land holding from the colonialial era and put in place a system of fair land distribution upon which could be founded a strong, independent
For Sukarno never took unification for granted. He kept the fight for justice and equality alive and repeatedly emphasized the need for nation and character building.
To avoid misinterpretations, Sukarno encapsulated the objectives of independence into what he called the three powers, or trisakti: political sovereignty, economic self-reliance and a national cultural identity.
However, a paradigm of economic growth at all costs relegated Bung Karno’s vision to the backburner. And today, it looks as if corruption is a congenital defect of our budgeting system.
Almost 70 percent of the national budget is used to finance bureaucracy, which currently operates in much the same way as the beambtenstaat of the Dutch, who administered the East Indies for their own interests. Decentralization was intended to bring decision-making closer to local residents to ensure fairness. Instead, it has sown the seeds of “collegial corruption”, involving local leaders in every region. Rather than discharge their legislative obligations, politicians who profess to represent the people’s interests have instead been busy engineering corruption on a mega scale.
Our sovereignty has been corroded by internal and external forces. Our neglected borders have been transgressed by neighbors, due to our diminishing military with its declining technology and the rights of citizens to practice their religious faith have been hijacked by local politicians who play upon our inherent differences to rend the nation apart.
Our dependence on wheat and flour imports shows that we cannot adequately feed the people. Poverty and hunger can easily be found lurking in the shadows of the bright lights of every big city. Violent conflict among local residents, and between local residents and the security apparatus, continue to flare. The suffocating presence of foreign cultural artifacts further erodes our national cultural identity. The players who currently strut and fret upon the stage of Nusantara are merely plastic men and women from the West, the East and the Middle East.
Are there any authentic Indonesians left?
Regardless of whatever progress we have achieved, this is no time to rest on our laurels. What we construe as independence has only become a reality for some. We are far from bringing peace and prosperity to the people, and we are a long way from freeing their souls. The nation that was proclaimed in 1945 remains in the making.
To fulfill the visions of the Proclamation, every citizen of Indonesia must work hand in hand to develop a national cultural identity, beginning in our immediate environment. Everyone must know that character is at the core of national development. Character empowers people to transcend their own personal interests and affiliations with relatives, clans, political parties and religions to identify with the greater interests of the nation. Character should inspire leaders throughout the nation to end the extractive processed that they have helped to manifest.
The original text of the Preamble of the 1945 Constitution said that “those at the helm of the Nation must adhere to the highest ethics, and promote the moral desires of the people.”
Only when our leaders serve as paragons of an authentic Indonesian character will we be able to march forward and realize real independence.
The writer is a presidential special envoy for poverty alleviation.