Sunday, May 12, 2002

Black May 1998: 4th Commemoration (2 of 17)

Chinese-Indonesians continue to suffer from discrimination
By Viva Goldner, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post (February 18, 2002)

Despite official freedom to celebrate their culture, Indonesians of Chinese descent continue to experience discrimination in political, business and social spheres.

From the time their birth certificate is issued with a mandatory stamp denoting their ethnicity, Chinese-Indonesians are forced to prove their citizenship at many stages throughout their lives.

"Chinese-Indonesians must provide additional certification, and pay higher fees, for identification cards, passports and other legal documents," says human rights activist Ester Jusuf of Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa.

According to Ester, the private affairs of Chinese-Indonesians are also subject to intervention by the Army's Coordinating Council for Ethnic Chinese Affairs (BKMC).

She said BKMC monitors any political dissidence among the ethnic Chinese community, with evidence of opposition to the government would be met with riot threats similar to the May 1998 mayhem, when Chinese-Indonesians were targeted in riots preceding the downfall of former dictator Soeharto.

Anton, a Jakarta movie importer, said he also faced discrimination in business dealings with government officials, who imposed additional import taxes and other levies.

"If I have to censor a movie, usually it costs Rp 15,000, but I have to pay Rp 150,000. But, I have to pay or there's a long delay, and I'm a businessman, so time is money," he said.

Faced with exclusion from mainstream society, Chinese-Indonesians of past generations worked hard to prove their worth, according to Anton.

However, the resulting disparate wealth of the ethnic Chinese community, who comprise 3 percent of the population, caused lingering resentment among indigenous Indonesians.

"It is true that many Chinese people are very rich, and very good at running a business, so it is then assumed Chinese people are very greedy and don't want to share -- it's still part of the Indonesian culture to hate the Chinese," Anton said.

Runi, a Jakarta communications consultant (not his real name), said he feared for his family's safety following the political upheaval of 1998.

"I was so disappointed when the riots happened, because I was not living exclusively, but rather among indigenous Indonesians. In fact, there were only two Chinese families in our neighborhood -- the other family owned a local store," Runi said.

"Before the riots, we had been very assimilated, we were all friends, but then our neighbors looted the store of the other Chinese family."

Anton said young Chinese-Indonesians avoided being out alone late at night or catching public transportation for fear of attack.

"It happened to my younger brother," Anton said, "he was driving in his car when eight indigenous Indonesians surrounded the car with a sword and cracked his windshield. My brother managed to escape but he was so shocked this had happened to him, apparently for no reason other than that he was Chinese."

Runi said he hoped his young son would be spared the feelings of dispossession that had caused Runi himself such despair.

"The most painful experience for me was when I tried to get a passport, and they asked me for a special certificate stating that I am an Indonesian citizen," he said.

"We were forced to become assimilated, forced to have an Indonesian name -- but still I feel rejected, that I'm an unwanted entity. I am treated as a foreigner, although I speak Indonesian and Javanese very well, and was born here -- even my grandparents were born here," he said.

Chinese-Indonesians were banned from holding public positions during the New Order era, and those recently migrated were denied citizenship.

Chinese culture and religion were outlawed in 1967 when Beijing was accused of involvement in a coup attempt blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

While former president Abdurrahman Wahid granted freedom to observe Imlek (Chinese New Year) and other traditions in 1999, President Megawati Soekarnoputri's administration has failed to revoke 50 regulations deemed discriminatory toward ethnic and religious minorities.

Chinese-Indonesians face discrimination obtaining
Certificate of citizenship: Indonesians of Chinese descent are required to have a certificate of citizenship (SBKRI) which they have to produce when applying for official documents

Birth certificate: Unlike for other Indonesians, the ethnicity of Chinese-Indonesians is denoted on their birth certificate.

ID card: A certificate of citizenship is required before this card can be issued to Indonesians of Chinese descent. Chinese-Indonesians must also pay a higher fee for this document.

Passport: A certificate of citizenship is required before this card can be issued to Indonesians of Chinese descent. Chinese-Indonesians must also pay a higher fee for this document.

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