Mega urged to do more to end discrimination
The Jakarta Post (February 19, 2002)
President Megawati Soekarnoputri's decision on Sunday to declare the Lunar New Year or Imlek a national holiday beginning 2003 is a step toward bridging the divide between the ethnic Chinese and indigenous Indonesian communities, Chinese Indonesians say.
They, however, call on the Megawati administration to follow the ruling with legislative reform to address remaining inequalities.
"The significance of Imlek being declared a national holiday is that it is an act of political recognition of Chinese Indonesian citizens," National Mandate Party (PAN) legislator Alvin Lie told The Jakarta Post yesterday.
Alvin said past exclusionary policies had left the legacy of a social divide between ethnic Chinese and other Indonesians.
"The problems we have now date back to the Soeharto government, when the separation of ethnic groups was defined by the government. We must remove these barriers in order to improve relations between the different ethnic groups in Indonesia," he said.
"Ethnic Chinese now have to free their minds from past trauma and exercise their rights and duties as Indonesian citizens, and contribute to society in the same walks of life as indigenous Indonesians; in business, politics and as civil servants."
However, Indonesian National Unity Faction (FKKI) legislator Astrid S. Susanto said the declaration of Imlek as a national holiday would entrench ethnic separatism rather than promote unity.
"I don't think there is a need to create more national holidays. I wonder if there are tribal groups who want to have their own holiday -- should we make more national holidays for them?" Astrid asked.
Harry Tjan Silalahi, a researcher from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), disagreed, stating the move to make Imlek a national holiday would ease resentment among the ethnic Chinese community and facilitate a more inclusive society.
"Chinese Indonesians feel humanized by the government decision. The decision will raise the sense of belonging of Chinese Indonesians toward this country," he said.
Harry said the right to express aspects of Chinese culture and traditions was an essential step in reconciliation between the ethnic Chinese and indigenous Indonesian communities.
"The government should give Chinese Indonesians freedom of religion, and room to perform Chinese cultural activities such as the barongsay in the public sphere," he said.
Notwithstanding the symbolic importance of declaring Imlek a national holiday, Alvin said reform had stalled since former President Abdurrahman Wahid overturned Decree No. 14/1967 banning activities related to Chinese culture and Confucianism in 1999.
Alvin called on Megawati to adopt a firm approach to ensure the democratic rights of all citizens regardless of ethnicity.
"The main issue is not related to whether there is a holiday or not. Our main concern is that the government abolish all regulations and policies that are discriminatory toward Chinese Indonesians," he said.
There are currently 50 laws and ordinances deemed discriminatory on the grounds of ethnicity, including the requirement for Chinese Indonesians to produce certificates of citizenship (SKBRI) every time they apply for official documents such as identification cards and passports.
"The Megawati government must phase out the requirement for Chinese Indonesians to have a certificate of citizenship, which they have to produce when applying for official documents," said Lieus Sungkarisma, chairman of the Chinese Descent Reform Party of Indonesia.
According to Paulus Widiyanto of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the government is currently assessing those laws in need of revision in order to eliminate discrimination.
Former President Soeharto banned public display of Chinese culture and denied citizenship to recent migrants after Beijing was accused of involvement in an attempted coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965.
Although the ethnic Chinese community comprise less than 3 percent of Indonesia's 215 million population, their dominance in many areas of the country's economy has bred hostility among some of the less affluent Indonesian citizens.
Discriminatory Laws and Regulations
- Presidium Cabinet Instruction No. 37/1967 about Main Government Policies on People of Chinese Descent.