Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (1 of 24)

Five years after May 1998 tragedy in Indonesia. We will keep on fighting for justice for the victims of May 1998 tragedy and the abolishment of discriminatory regulations in Indonesia. Following is compilation of articles around the above mentioned issues during 2003. In chronological order and the highlights are mine.


Indonesia to mark first official Chinese New Year quietly
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (January 30, 2003)

Jakarta - For the first time in Indonesian history the Chinese lunar New Year starting this Saturday will be officially celebrated as a public holiday, although no fireworks displays or parades are planned.

"Lucky for the government it falls on a Saturday this New Year," joked Eddie Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Tionghoa (Chinese) Association.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is expected to preside over an official Chinese New Year ceremony on February 6, declared the lunar New Year a national holiday last year.

The New Year's gesture has received a mixed response from the country's heterogeneous ethnic Chinese population, numbering around 8 million, or 4 per cent of Indonesia's 215 million people.

"It's just a political ploy," said Chinese-Indonesian lawyer Frans Hendra Winarta. "Megawati needs the Chinese vote in the 2004 election."

Others have welcomed the gesture as long-overdue recognition of Chinese religious beliefs in a country where the Chinese comprise the largest ethnic minority and a powerful economic force, albeit a rarely appreciated one.

"We are grateful for the president's decision to make the lunar New Year a public holiday as long as it is considered a religious holiday, because all religions should be treated equally," said Lembong.

Confucianism, in fact, is not recognised as a religion under Indonesian regulations which demand every citizen chose one of five religions on their citizen ID cards, providing a choice between Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism.

The requirement dates back to the bad-old days of former President Suharto who came to power in 1965-66 with a military coup aimed at putting an end to the growing political influence of communism in Indonesia, and by association the Chinese-Indonesian nationalists who were once close to Sukarno, the country's first president.

Suharto, who ruled Indonesia between 1966 to 1998, during his first years in power pushed through a handful of blatantly discriminatory regulations such as presidential decree No. 240/66 requiring ethnic Chinese to assume Indonesian names, decree 37/67 that limits the economic opportunities of Chinese-Indonesian and No. 455/68 that prohibits the building of Chinese temples and other public displays of Chinese culture.

Other laws discriminating against the ethnic Chinese and other minorities of foreign origin such as Indians and Arabs, predate even Suharto.

For instance, the Indonesian constitution of 1945 states that only an "indigenous Indonesian" may become president, while birth registration regulations inherited from the Dutch colonialists still classify newborns into three categories - Dutch and European, Orientals of foreign origin and Indigenous Indonesians.

Perhaps the most discriminatory regulation is the so-called SBKRI identification card, which every Chinese-Indonesian must get after turning 18 if they wish to receive an Indonesian passport, enter a public university or apply for a business permit.

Many ethnic Chinese complain that the SBKRI requirement is an open invitation to the notoriously corrupt Indonesian bureaucracy to milk them for money and an easy means of discrimination in education and public sector employment.

"In Indonesia there is an unofficial quota for Indonesian-Chinese to be accepted in state colleges of about 2 to 3 per cent," said Benny Subanto, a researcher for Indonesia's Centre for Chinese Studies. "And they can impose it because of the SPKRI requirement."

While the Chinese-Indonesian community is generally pleased with the friendlier attitude towards them displayed by Megawati and her predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid (president from 1999 to 2001), there is disappointment that the "reform era" has resulted in so little progress in ridding the country of its discriminatory legislation.

None of the blatantly discriminatory decrees were repealed by either Wahid and thus far Megawati's main move has been to declare Chinese New Year another public holiday, of which there are already plenty in Indonesia.

"Why haven't they repealed these decrees?" asked lawyer Winarta, who has long campaigned for equal rights for the ethnic minority groups in Indonesia.

"It's very easy for the president to repeal decrees, not even requiring an agreement from Parliament, said Winarta. "What's lacking is the political will," he said, answering his own question.

Lembong does not expect changes in Indonesia's discriminatory laws in his lifetime.

"First there is negative economic motivation, because these regulations mean the bureaucracy can make a lot of money from this discrimination," said the chairman of the Indonesian Chinese Association. "And second, some people in the government or public still feel the Chinese-Indonesians are not fully legitimate components of this nation." (dpa/pj/js)

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