Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (2 of 24)

Chinese Indonesians can holiday but still face discrimination
By Ian Timberlake
Agence France Presse (January 31, 2003)

Jakarta - Indonesia's small ethnic Chinese community takes another small step toward equality Saturday when they celebrate the Lunar New Year for the first time as a national public holiday.

But the red lanterns and dragons displayed in many shopping centres across the country ahead of the celebrations cannot mask the fact that discriminative laws and practices remain, ethnic Chinese say.

"The discrimination is widespread in many forms toward the Chinese Indonesians," Eddie Lembong, general chairman of the Chinese Indonesian Association (INTI), told AFP Friday in comments echoed by others.

"There are still a lot of discriminative laws and practices that we need to abolish," said Alvin Lie, a House of Representatives legislator.

Lie, 41, a third-generation Indonesian and one of the country's few ethnic Chinese politicians, told AFP the mistreatment was a legacy of former president Suharto's repressive 32-year rule.

However Lie said progress in restoring the rights of ethnic Chinese had been made since Suharto stepped down almost five years ago.

Suharto's successor, B.J. Habibie, reversed a ban on the public display of Chinese culture as part of the equality measures.

Chinese-language newspapers and television programs also became more widely available and the "barongsai" lion dance began to be seen in public.

In 2001 President Abdurrahman Wahid then declared Imlek, as Lunar New Year is known here, an optional holiday.

And last year President Megawati Sukarnoputri said Imlek would in 2003 become an official national holiday for the first time.

"I believe we should be grateful for the political acknowledgment that we gain our official existence in Indonesia, " said Lie, of the opposition National Mandate Party.

However there is a strong sentiment that the measures have not changed long-held feelings.

"Recognition it may be, but it is only a token gesture," The Jakarta Post newspaper wrote in a Friday editorial.

Lembong, 67, also said there was still a long way to go to achieve equality for Indonesia's ethnic Chinese.

"There are still about 60 different regulations which are discriminating against the Chinese Indonesians," Lembong said.

Among these is the "mother law", a requirement that began in Dutch colonial times for ethnic Chinese to be identified on their birth certificates, he said.

Ethnic Chinese are also banmed from becoming civil servants and there is a limit on their placement in medical schools.

In a nation where corruption is rife, ethnic Chinese also say they are frequently targetted for higher bribes than their non-Chinese countrymen seeking services like identity cards or passports.

A small group of extremely wealthy ethnic Chinese cronies backed the Suharto regime and contributed to a perception that all Chinese are extremely wealthy, which Lie says is false.

"The fact is that many Chinese descendants are not living wealthy lives, especially in Kalimantan they live as poor fishermen and farmers," said Lie.

Lie urged his fellow ethnic Chinese, who number just three to four percent of
Indonesia's more than 210 million people, to participate more fully in society despite the discrimination.

And Lembong said that while he hoped discriminatory laws could be revoked, it was more important to build a society of equality, mutual acceptance and understanding.

"We do not ask for special treatment, other than equality," he said. (it/tn/kma/rl)

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