Among my duties at the Foreign Ministry, spokesperson happens to be one of them. As a result, I am responsible for the many inquiries of the media – inquiries that lately have touched on support for our nationals abroad and the many challenges faced by Indonesian diplomacy amidst this pandemic.
In my endeavor to provide clarity, a recent question has compelled a more thorough response. I was perplexed when asked about efforts made to equate the movement for equality, Black Lives Matters (BLM), with cases of ill-treatment toward Indonesians of Papuan origin.
This attempt to conflate the two has been driven under the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter. My initial response to the query is that a fair comparison cannot be made – where BLM stems from an expansive history of discrimination and structured racism, the main foundation of Indonesia is equality.
As a multi-ethnic country, equality is a condition of survival for us as a nation. The unity of our nation will crumble if any ethnic group attempts to claim supremacy over another.
The question then arises: Is a sense of structured racism prevalent across the seven clusters of cultural identities in Papua? While a thorough analysis is required, I believe it would be fitting to reflect on the issue at hand through a historical lens.
Arguably, the root cause of BLM is subjugation and dehumanization under colonialization. By way of occupation, the colonial power imposed self-proclaimed supremacy against the natives.
Beginning around the 1500s, nearly every corner of the world has been, at one point, under foreign occupation. For the colonial power, these territories were called terra incognita (unknown territory) and were therefore subjected to occupation, disregarding the existence of the first nations or the aborigine; the original people of the land.
There are too many accounts of horrifying circumstances and actions that degrade the natives, as brought about by colonization. My late father once told me that during the colonial era in Aceh, there was a signboard in a swimming pool: “Not allowed for dogs and natives”.
As a consequence, campaigns to eradicate the resulting discrimination and subjugation have been prevalent for centuries. In just our time alone, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have become household names.
The collapse of apartheid in South Africa in 1994 marked the capitulation of the premise that whites were superior to Africans, Coloreds and Indians; a premise that was once codified in the law of the land and brought to the mainstream through apartheid government policies.
And yet, structural racism has not met its demise. We continue to bear witness to cases of violence confounded with elements of racism. Martin Luther King’s call for equality continues to resonate in the hearts of many in their campaign for BLM because the foundation of his message remains relevant.
Given the historical context that drives this movement, a clear distinction presents itself with the case of interethnic relations and equality in Indonesia. It is important to highlight that in both Papua and West Papua provinces, the special autonomy law gives locals the privilege to administer their provinces.
In other words, a structured effort is being made to promote development centered among Indonesians of Papuan origin. This contradicts the so-called structural racism behind the #PapuanLivesMatter campaign.
The continuous provocation by individuals, including those overseas, to incite discord among our people is unacceptable, and hijacking the BLM movement with a clear endgame to separate West Papua and Papua provinces from Indonesia is indeed offensive.
Talks of separatism itself have no basis within the confines of international law. Ironically, a legacy of colonialism introduced the principle uti possidetis juris, which stipulates that any newly formed country inherits the borders of their former colonizer.
It is important to mention, the newborn African countries continue to rule over the territories carved out by their former colonial powers during the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. This conference, known as the formalization of the “Scramble for Africa”, gave little cognizant to the sociocultural realities of these regions.
Based on this uti possidetis juris principle, Indonesia – as a former colony of the Netherlands – is a successor state to a territory stretching from Aceh in the West to Papua in the East.
In the context of Africa, Indonesia, and other former colonies, to challenge this international law would result in open conflict – one more centered on the issues of state survival than on notions of racism.
Although further studies are needed, I sense there are some similarities in the root cause between the once restive province of Aceh and that of Papua – namely a sense of injustice.
While as Acehnese I can empathize with their sense of economic and social injustices, a call for separation is not the answer. If there is a sense of injustice concerning the pending resolution of past cases of human rights violations, a call for separation is also not the answer.
I am convinced that we as a nation can make amends to any harm caused to our Papuans brothers and sisters, and start afresh a strong bond for being Indonesian.
Finally, if I had a chance to confer with colleagues from the media on the narrative of structured racism, I would ask them to come to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to witness a miniature scale of Indonesia – a mosaic of ethnicities. Here, they would meet the new cadre of young Indonesian diplomats of all ethnicities working together to win Indonesian national interests.
Advisor to Indonesian foreign minister for political and security affairs and former Indonesian ambassador to Canada
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.