Monday, April 15, 2019

Indonesia, a country created by colonialism

Indonesia, made up of 17,000 islands, will hold the biggest, most complex one-day elections in the world on 17 April. 809,500 polling stations, Indonesian voters will be choosing from more than 250,000 candidates for 20,538 legislative seats at five levels of government over a period of just six hours. A total of 192.8 million Indonesians are registered to vote in what is the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the US.

The name Indonesia derives from the Greek meaning "Indian islands" and dates to the 18th century when it was employed by an English naturalist to classify the ethnic and geographic area. "Indonesia" was seized upon by nationalists as a word to imagine a unity of people. The first native scholar to use the name was Ki Hajar Dewantara, when in 1913 he established a press bureau in the Netherlands, Indonesisch Pers-bureau. 

In the pursuit of profits and administrative control, the Dutch imposed an authority of the Dutch East Indies on an array of peoples who had not previously shared any unified political identity. By the start of the 20th century, the Dutch had formed the territorial boundaries of a colonial state that became the precursor to modern Indonesia. 

During the 1920s and 30s, a small elite began to articulate a rising anti-colonialism and a national consciousness. During this period the first Indonesian political parties began to emerge. Some had not nationalist agenda and often more anti-Chinese than anti-Dutch. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), formed in 1920, was a fully-fledged independence party inspired by European politics.  On 28 October 1928, the All-Indonesian Youth Congress proclaimed the Youth Pledge (Sumpah Pemuda), establishing the nationalist goals of: "one country — Indonesia, one people — Indonesian, and one language — Indonesian"

Indonesia is a very ethnically diverse country, with around 300 distinct native ethnic groups and 700 local languages. The country's official language is Indonesian, a variant of Malay was promoted by nationalists in the 1920s, and declared the official language in 1945.

Indonesia soon embarked upon wars of expansion. The invasion and annexation of Papua in 1961-1962. Some 30 000 Papuans were killed in the period from Operation Mandala through to 1969. 

Then there was the invasion and occupation of East Timor with an estimated 102,000 conflict-related deaths through the entire period 1974 to 1999, including 18,600 violent killings and 84,200 deaths from disease and starvation. Indonesian forces and their auxiliaries were held responsible for 70% of the killings.

Indonesia could very well be described as an invented nation-state that having been subject to imperialism became itself imperialist.

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