Thursday, May 20, 2004

Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (2 of 40)

Gong Xi Fa Chai
The Jakarta Post - Editorial (Wednesday, January 21, 2004)

Many Indonesians in the last few weeks, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, have shown strong interest in Imlek, the Chinese New Year of the monkey which will fall on Thursday. They want to know about the specific characteristics of the year and which characteristics of the monkey will be dominant.

According to Chinese tradition, the curiosity of the monkey will carry over into many areas of life. This is a good year for those who were born in 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980 and 1992. They are described as gifted, curious, quick-witted, manipulative and malicious.

There will be much festivity, or what one could call "a lot of monkeying around". It is mere coincidence that this year is elections year for Indonesia. It is hoped that there will be no monkey business among politicians.

Although the number of Indonesians who celebrate Imlek is relatively small due to the demographic composition of the country, the event pervades the atmosphere of the nation. This was the case even when the celebration of Imlek was forbidden during Soeharto's 32-year tenure. Business and economic activities are generally shut down on that day, which reflects the role of Chinese Indonesians in the economic sector.

Like last year's celebrations of Idul Fitri and Christmas, Imlek festivities are apparent throughout the country. Meanwhile, the observation of Nyepi, the Hindu Day of Silence is keenly felt across the predominantly Hindu Bali. Likewise, Buddhists observe Buddha's Day of Enlightenment.

In 2002, President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared the Chinese New Year an official national holiday. This was 35 years after then-president Soeharto banned the celebration of Imlek in 1967. It was Megawati's father, the country's first president Sukarno, who first declared Imlek a national public holiday and Konghuchu a national religion, only one year after Indonesia's independence in 1945.

However no one can deny that it was Abdurrahman Wahid, affectionately called "Gus Dur", who was a major architect in the restoration of the rights of Chinese Indonesians. Long before his election as the country's fourth president in October 1999, in his capacity as the leader of the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), he consistently fought for the abolishment of all discriminatory policies against ethnic Chinese.

During Soeharto's era, Chinese Indonesians commemorated Imlek quietly. Many said that Imlek did not mean anything to them, for fear of accusations that they were maintaining their Chinese culture. Soeharto also froze relations with China following allegations that the country was behind the abortive Indonesian Communist Party's coup attempt in 1965. Relations with China were restored in 1990.

There were about 60 discriminatory restrictions imposed upon this ethnic group, including the obligation to use Indonesian names and to obtain the SBKRI, the Republic of Indonesia's citizenship certificate. Their domination in economics often provoked anti-Chinese sentiment.

The worst anti-Chinese riot in Indonesian post-independence history occurred just days before Soeharto's fall in May 1998. Hundreds of Chinese women were reportedly raped, and thousands of Chinese Indonesians forced to flee from Indonesia. The government did little to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. However we must also remember that thousands of Indonesians from various ethnic groups were burned alive while allegedly looting goods from shopping centers. They are all victims who deserve equal justice, regardless of their backgrounds.

Despite commitments from the government, most of the discriminative regulations against Chinese people remain intact. There are various reasons cited for this discrimination, from economic profit to racist factors, although in public, government officials will deny racist tendencies.

This Chinese New Year is a time for reflection and to determine how to face the future. It is agreed that the government should abolish discrimination against citizens of any background. Indonesian people of Chinese origin have the same rights and obligations of people from other ethnic and religious groups. They are all Indonesians. It is the obligation of the state to provide them with equal treatment.

We must also be reminded that it is the responsibility of all citizens to fight discrimination of any form. A pluralistic society is a tangible asset for the state and not a burden.

In the end we want to say: Gong Xi Fa Cai to all. May this year of the monkey bring prosperity, justice and security to the nation and its citizens.

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