The Hardliners on Either Side Need Each Other

I just read an enlightened article from Contradiction Blog with title Who supports what? I should congratulate the way the writer put the objective situation in Papua Indonesia.

It seems to me that the writer is a field researcher or activist who really understand that to distinct between different positions in Papua is often obscured. This may be too simple when we talk about the complexity of Papua’s picture. This may be the situation is really that simple and we can ignore the complexity which has been made for 40 years.

I would like to share the article in this blog so all elements of Papuan Leaders can see the problem from a new angle; imparsial and in the name of Papuan people, not to take side and struggle in the name of personal intention.

Here is the article….

I went up to the conference on ‘Paths to Justice and Prosperity in Papua’ last week, and it was insightful, confirming some ideas, and demolishing others.
My experience of activism has been a somewhat frustrating one. While groups I’ve been involved with have often had very worthwhile aims, the methods and strategy used have often been less than they could have been. So it was interesting to attend a conference that was equally pitched at activist and academic contexts, and to be a somewhat impartial observer – that’s not to say I came without ideas, or that I don’t support certain concepts, but rather that I wasn’t perceived as belonging to any particular group.

It seems to me at this stage that the distinction between different positions in Papua is often obscured or put aside. This may be to create a simpler picture, or because acknowledging other positions would recognise the challenge these pose.

The most significant of the questions facing Papuans (and thus those internationally who advocate for or with Papuans), is whether to support special autonomy (Otonomi Khusus, Otsus). The Special Autonomy package gives the region a much greater share of the national budget than it would otherwise receive, and in theory, greater political autonomy and special decision making powers. However, since it was made law in 2001, conditions have not changed significantly, and in some cases have got worse. This is not however, a problem entirely caused by the Republic of Indonesia (RI) [I use the terminology RI to separate the government from the people – I’ve seen racism slip in where the distinction is obscured], rather, the distribution of funds to various levels of government in Papua (now overwhelmingly run by Papuans) has caused greater inefficiency, and exacerbated high levels of corruption. It’s failure is also in part due to the presence of the Indonesian military (TNI).

And is it the ‘only game in town’? There are those who think that the RI is unlikely to make greater political concessions in the near future, so making the best of Otsus is the best move at this point. And there are others who believe that Otsus stands in the way of eventual independence, and was offered by the RI as a compromise position. As someone who sees the RI as being in a position of strength, the former position seems more real, but I acknowledge that others see things in a different way.

One question that stood out at me was ‘Is the international activist movement making things worse for the people of West Papua?’In a conversation with another attendee, I had to agree that the TNI needed the continued violence, or perception of violence generated by the OPM (Free Papua Movement) and vocal separatists in order to justify its heavy presence. In the world that the TNI inhabits, defending the unitary Republic of Indonesia trumps human rights. In turn, the human rights abuses and injustice caused by the TNI are fuel for those opposing the presence of the RI in any form. Quite simply, the hardliners on either side need each other. There also seems to be a degree of naivety among some activists, who give prominence to factors that would seem to bolster the possibility of West Papua gaining full political independence, and underplay factors that challenge this. This isn’t to excuse the activities of the Indonesian military and police in West Papua, nor to undermine efforts to challenge this behaviour, but rather to acknowledge the situation as it presently exists.

Another question that arose was whether the international solidarity movement was in fact giving false hope to West Papuans, by interpreting the international situation so as to present a picture where independence was still a possibility. As I asked in a question to a panel member, while a solution was reached in East Timor (and to a lesser extent Aceh), that came through a quite unique set of political circumstances, and these have in some cases have been reversed in the case of Papua. While a movement is not possible without at least a glimmer of hope, acting on a false hope means that you end up with much less than you might otherwise. This was highlighted near the end, where Clinton Fernandes challenged John Ondawame over the eventuality of a Papuan state. In conversation afterwards an activist remarked to me that they thought that his challenge was quite inappropriate. I remarked that I thought otherwise, and that a movement with unrealistic perceptions would only do itself and Papuans damage. We didn’t really get the opportunity to discuss this in greater detail, which I would have liked, as it isn’t my aim to criticise without offering alternatives!

In this conflict, the rights of ordinary Papuans are squeezed, not only through military and police oppression, but in limiting the space available for those delivering essential services such as health and education. It’s hard to describe the feeling I have towards all of this – but I do worry that the issues that will most effect Papuans in the next 20 years, independent of the political status of West Papua, are being pushed to the side. Some of these, such as the very rapid increase in HIV infections, are worrying indeed.

The above contains a number of (necessary?) (over)simplifications, and this is still very much thinking out loud. Forgive me if it seems overly critical, but I feel like I need to give the above as context for later thinking I have planned.

3 Responses to The Hardliners on Either Side Need Each Other

  1. […] have lost their lives, property and future. The absence of constructive peace initiatives, the persisting conflictual relationship between Jakarta and separatist group and within Papuan society are contributing to renewed violence. Although the seriousness of […]

  2. McCormick says:

    Absolutely agree with your article ! nice argument.

  3. Robertson says:

    Nice article, it opens my eyes.

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