Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Discrimination Still Rampant
Ethnic Chinese Indonesians are still having difficulties over citizenship and ancient beliefs. How are they dealing with it?
Household names like Alan Budikusuma and Susi Susanti apparently do not hold much sway at the immigration office. These first two Indonesians to win an Olympic gold medal (for badminton in Barcelona, 1992) still ran into problems when they tried to get a passport last month. This husband-and-wife couple was chosen by the International Olympic Confederation to carry the torch in the recently opened Olympics in Athens, Greece. This is the first time Indonesians have received such an honor. However, the honor of becoming national ambassadors at the world's largest sporting event did not mean very much at the North Jakarta Immigration Office. The two were still asked to attach Evidence of Indonesian Citizenship Certificates (SBKRI)-an old regulation which the government has already revoked. "I feel slighted. Why is discrimination still going on?" said Susi, the 34-year-old from Tasikmalaya. "I am an Indonesian, born in Indonesia. Why am I being asked about an SBKRI?" said Susi dejectedly.
Although asked to produce an SBKRI-an identity paper shaped almost exactly like a passport-they were finally able to settle the matter. Fortunately, neither of them was asked for any "grease" so that their passports would be issued in timely fashion. However, not all citizens of Chinese heritage have received such privileged treatment. According to Harry Tjan Silalahi, 70, people of Chinese descent are still extorted by the government. This Assistant Director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) says that he has received much information about this extortion. "Ethnic Chinese are still being milked like cows," said Harry.
The experience of Adong Wijaya, 37, is a prime example. This Indonesian of Chinese descent who lives in the Taman Lopang Indah Housing Complex in Serang, Banten, failed to take care of the birth certificate of her 2-month-old child. The problem is, even though she attached the SBKRI letters of her parents, Adong herself does not have an SBKRI. Adong had an argument with civil servants at the Serang Regency Civil Records Office, but to no avail. "Reformasi is worthless. I am still discriminated against," said Adong, who is currently in charge of her local neighborhood committee for Indonesian Independence Day celebrations on August 17.
This kind of discrimination is a leftover from the old political order. Law No. 3/1946 on Indonesian Citizenship clearly defines place of birth (ius soli) as a determining factor regarding Indonesian citizenship. However, in 1955, Chou En-lai, the president of mainland China, decreed that the People's Republic of China would use a citizenship system based on ancestry (ius sanguinis). Chou En-lai claimed all ethnic Chinese around the world as citizens of the People's Republic of China. He even persuaded President Sukarno to make a bilateral agreement regarding people of Chinese ancestry in Indonesia. During the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia and China made a Dual Citizenship agreement for people of Chinese ancestry in Indonesia.
After the fall of Sukarno's Old Order and the rise of the New Order, Suharto altered the direction of Indonesia's foreign policy. Through Law No. 4/1969, Indonesia cancelled the Dual Citizenship agreement with China, after which diplomatic relations came to a complete standstill. It was as if ethnic Chinese were being accorded second-class citizen status. All Indonesian citizens of Chinese ancestry had to make an SBKRI-an official document indicating their new identity as an Indonesian citizen of Chinese heritage.
Today, 35 years later, the SBKRI is still a specter which haunts ethnic Chinese. This is despite the fact that the government has officially removed the requirement for citizens of Chinese ancestry to produce an SBKRI for processing documents of any kind, including passports. Through Presidential Decree No. 56/1996, the government decreed that SBKRIs were no longer valid. In Article 4, clause 2 of the decision it is written, "Indonesian citizens who possess a National Identity Card (KTP), Family Card (KK), or Birth Certificate no longer need an SBKRI."
But some rules were made to be broken, if the reality in the field is any indication. Immigration officials, for instance, always ask for an SBKRI when citizens of Chinese ancestry process or renew their passports. They receive the same treatment over KTPs, birth certificates, and purchasing homes. What does Minister of Justice & Human Rights, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, have to say about these deviant practices? Although he confirmed that the SBKRI is no longer in use, Minister Yusril, who is also a professor of state law at the University of Indonesia, said that officials who ask for the SBKRI are not making a mistake. "They have to clarify their citizenship status," said Yusril.
And so it goes in the field. Immigration officials continue to ask for SBKRI letters from ethnic Chinese citizens. This happens not only to ordinary Chinese citizens, but also to prominent figures such as Harry Tjan Silalahi (former member of the Supreme Advisory Council), Tan Joe Hok (badminton maestro), Hendrawan (badminton player), and Lin Che Wei (financial analyst), all of whom have run afoul of the SBKRI. Two years ago, President Megawati was left speechless after receiving Hendrawan's complaint that he had not yet received an SBKRI. Of course, his case received immediate attention. In a matter of days, this hero from the 2000 Thomas Cup obtained the SBKRI which he had sought for years.
There is another point of controversy besides the SBKRI. After the reformasi movement began in 1998, ethnic Chinese tried to revive Konghucu, or ancestral Chinese beliefs. During the New Order, Indonesian citizens of Chinese ancestry who adhered to Konghucu teachings were forced to select another religion. The government only recognized five official religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism. What about the Konghucu? "We were forced to become hypocrites," said Budi S. Tanuwibowo, General Chairman of the Indonesian High Council of Konghucu Beliefs (Matakin).
This era of "hypocrisy" has been in effect since 1974. Through Marriage Law No. 1/1974, the state "overlooks" this belief system, as it only recognizes marriages of adherents of the "five official religions." Aside from these five, there is little hope of being able to get married. If couples of other religions insist on holding a wedding, the state will not recognize it. Children from such marriages will not be issued birth certificates, because they are considered illegitimate offspring.
Other government regulations issued afterwards have made things even more difficult for Konghucu adherents. The identity of the Konghucu and other minority faiths has continued to fade. Through the Letter of the Home Minister 477 dated November 18, 1978 regarding the matter of filling in the "religion" slot on KTPs, Konghucu is not listed as an official religion. The letter explicitly mentions the "five official religions" which may appear on a KTP. As a result, ethnic Chinese who adhere to the Konghucu faith are forced to select a religion which is recognized by the state in order to obtain a KTP. In general, the Konghucu community selects Buddhism or Catholicism as the religion on their KTPs.
Matakin is presently endeavoring so that Indonesia officially recognizes the Konghucu faith. They have solid reasoning behind their argument: worldwide, the United Nations has already recognized 14 religions-including Bahai, Sikh, Judaism, and Konghucu. Actually, in Indonesia, President Abdurrahman Wahid issued Presidential Decree No. 6/2000, which recognizes religious minorities.
However, it seems that the Indonesian principle of "if you can make things difficult, why make them easier?" is in effect here. Until now, Konghucu adherents are still unable to declare their religion on their KTPs. The matter of marriage has not been settled either. If two Konghucu adherents marry, most civil records offices are unwilling to process the paperwork. In other words, said Budi S. Tanuwibowo, "The state seems happier if its people live in sin."
There was a glimmer of hope when Abdurrahman Wahid was elected president. In addition to allowing Chinese New Year to be celebrated openly, President Wahid stated that Konghucu could become an official state religion. Recall that this president, known better by the name "Gus Dur," is a world figure who actively works to strengthen interfaith tolerance. Unfortunately, before Konghucu became an official religion, Wahid was taken out of power. Until now, the Megawati Soekarnoputri administration has not followed up on the initiative pioneered by him. Therefore, the Konghucu faith is still not recognized in Indonesia. "Now we have to start the fight all over again," said Budi S. Tanuwibowo.
This Konghucu problem remains on the list of discriminative practices against ethnic Chinese-a list which ought to be getting shorter in this new era.
How Much has Changed?
Although ethnic Chinese Indonesians have begun to play an active role in politics, many still claim that they face discrimination.
The reform era has brought about many changes for Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity. Newspapers are now legally printed in Mandarin script, television programs are broadcast in Mandarin, and traditional Chinese cultural displays are frequently performed, such as the barongsai (lion) dance. During the New Order regime, all of these expressions of Chinese culture were strictly prohibited. Now, lion dances are displayed at Chinese New Year, at mall openings, at exhibitions and even during Indonesian Independence Day celebrations.
After 32 years of repression, Indonesia's Chinese people are welcoming this new atmosphere of tolerance and openness. TEMPO conducted a survey over 500 Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta, Medan, Makassar, Solo and Surabaya. The survey results show that although many respondents still believe that this newfound freedom is limited, the majority of respondents (67 percent) are pleased with these developments.
There is now a greater tolerance and expression of Chinese culture in Indonesia. In fact, Chinese Indonesians have even begun to play an active role in politics. Formerly restricted to the business sector, Chinese Indonesians are now becoming actively involved in the nation's political future. The majority of respondents surveyed admitted to voting in both the legislative and presidential elections held this year.
Not only are Chinese Indonesians actively taking part in the political process, some have begun to express open criticism against parties which do not serve their political interests. This was both impossible and unthinkable under the New Order regime.
Survey respondents still felt it unnecessary to form a political party to represent the political goals and ideology of Chinese Indonesian people as a whole. But according to Christianto Wibisono, this merely proves that Chinese Indonesian people are not purely homogenous, so it would be impossible to merge their ideologies into a homogenous party.
Nevertheless, the majority of survey respondents said that the reformation era has not succeeded in eliminating discrimination against Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity, particularly bureaucratic discrimination. Most respondents said that they were still asked to pay more than other people for administrative procedures. And many said that they were still asked to show their nationality cards (which specifically distinguish Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity) when applying for passports and handling other administrative procedures, although this practice was officially revoked by the Director General of Immigration on April 14, 2004. Even national badminton champions, Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma, who represented Indonesia at international tournaments, confessed to having trouble applying for passports.
Many respondents said that the cause of discrimination was economic jealousy and limited interaction between Chinese Indonesians and non-Chinese Indonesians.
What is your opinion of the political situation and security in Indonesia after five years of reform? (Only one answer permitted)
The same: 57%
Did you vote in the elections? (Only one answer permitted)
Yes (in one of the elections-legislative or presidential): 21%
Yes (in both the legislative and presidential elections): 69%
Do the existing political parties represent your interests? (Only one answer permitted)
Yes, they represent my interests: 36%
No, they don't represent my interests: 35%
A fraction of my interests are represented: 30%
Do you think that a special political party should be formed to represent Chinese Indonesians? (Only one answer permitted)
Do you think that incidents like the 1998 May riots can occur again? (Only one answer permitted)
What would you do if similar riots occurred? (open-ended)
Migrate abroad: 8%
Temporarily move abroad: 11%
Move to another region of Indonesia: 11%
Migrate to another region of Indonesia: 19%
Stay at home: 59%
As an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity, in what way do you feel discriminated against, compared to other non-Chinese Indonesians? (open-ended)
We are asked to pay more money for administrative procedures: 72%
We are bullied into giving money to gang members (preman): 12%
We are extorted by military officers: 10%
We are targeted by government institutions: 9%
It is easier for us to find work in certain sectors: 20%
We face discrimination in terms of social circles: 1%
Our administrative procedures are delayed and postponed: 2%
Our educational costs are unsure: 9%
Are there still restrictions for Chinese Indonesians in the following matters? (Only one answer permitted)
Becoming a public servant
Enrolling in a state university
Becoming a police officer or military officer
Becoming a minister
In your opinion, what are the causes of discrimination against Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity? (open-ended)
Socio-economic jealousy: 73%
Limited interaction between Chinese Indonesians and 'native Indonesians': 46%
Illegal acts carried out by Chinese conglomerates: 10%
News broadcasts and media portrayals which obstruct social interaction and mixing: 16%
To what extent do you interact with other Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity? (open-ended)
Many of my close friends are also Chinese Indonesian: 78%
I live in an area which is predominately Chinese Indonesian: 41%
I speak a Chinese dialect at home: 42%
My work colleagues are predominantly Chinese Indonesian: 41%
I have merged with 'native Indonesians': 1%
Since the reform era, Mandarin text is now openly displayed, traditional Chinese cultural displays (such as the barongsai dance) are now frequently performed. Are these developments sufficient? (one answer)
Things are still developing, there needs to be more freedom: 29%
These developments are sufficient: 67%
Too much: 3%
Must be restrained: 2%
This survey was carried out by TEMPO in cooperation with Insight covering over 500 respondents in Jakarta, Medan, Makassar, Solo and Surabaya. The selection process for respondents was conducted using a Kish Grid. The interviews took place in person at the homes of survey respondents.