The Jakarta Post
At 72, Indonesia is behaving more like a restless 17-year-old in search of an identity than an old grandpa. And so it should. As a nation, Indonesia should never become like a feeble septuagenarian.
We have come a long way since that morning of Aug. 17, 1945, when Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence. Yet, like a budding teenager, this nation still has so many things to look forward to in life.
This year sees the nation engaging once more in a debate, at times fiercely, about our identity. Some people may insist that the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) and state ideology Pancasila have long defined Indonesia’s identity, and that they are final and binding. But our founding fathers, who came up with these parameters, never intended them to be static concepts. They are, and always will be, open to discussion, certainly for constant reinterpretation and refinement in ever-changing times.
The nation went through tumultuous times in the 1950s fighting over the format of the republic, with a series of bloody armed rebellions launched by those fighting against Jakarta’s over-centralization of the government. Constant ideological battles culminated with the 1965 double-tragedy: the nation may have been spared from communism, but it also marked the beginning of a dark period when all discussion about the state’s format was virtually banned for more than three decades.
Today, as Indonesia becomes a more open and democratic nation, the same concepts regarding the state are once again being scrutinized. Some of these discussions are reenactments of what our founding fathers went through. But we are not beating a dead horse by having the same arguments about issues that our political elite settled 72 years ago.
These debates are not necessarily more advanced — for no one can match those visionary leaders who bravely decided to proclaim independence, fought tooth-and-nail to defend it and began the nation-building process.
The debate today takes place in a completely different context with far greater participation. The progress Indonesia has made in terms of education and economic prosperity and now the internet has brought more people into the conversation. What we lack in terms of intellectualism, we make up for in numbers that no one back then could ever have envisaged.
Those who argue that Indonesia is squandering time and resources by debating these old issues are showing their age. Move aside and let the young discuss and determine what they want to do with this nation. This is their time.
The duty of the government is to keep the conversation going, ensuring democracy, free speech and credible law enforcement, and to stop any one side from imposing its will on the rest. Our post-independence history shows that trouble begins when people give up conversing and resort to the use of power, oppression and violence.
Pray that this conversation never ends. We have come a long way since 1945 and we still have some ways to go. May Indonesia as a nation stay forever young.