Monday, August 27, 2007

Red, White and Feeling Blue

Another year, another Independence Day in the People's Republic of Indonesia. We are now up to 62 and counting. I suppose you would be expecting me, on past form and least, to be launching a massive broadside assault on the achievements of post-World War II Indonesia up until the present day. Well, we'll see, I'm not sure I've got the stamina for doing another hatchet job on Indonesian politics this week.

People have asked me at various times over the couple of years that I've been writing this occasionally quite cantankerous and no doubt libelous column, if I have ever had any negative feedback or trouble with any authority figure over my Alzheimer fuelled ramblings. I have always replied in the negative and pointed out that I'm not really saying anything that can't be read in Jakarta Post editorials every day (which are, incidentally, written by Indonesian journalists). I may possibly employ a touch more sarcasm than is strictly necessary but I would have to be going it some to top the Post's Independence Day editorial of a couple of years back which was headlined 60 Wasted Years.

Anyway, I decided to give freedom day a fair go and headed up to the National Monument, Monas, to see what festivities were going down. Unfortunately, I never seem to be able to get up early enough in the morning to enjoy the various races and pole climbing competitions that are the Independence Day staple. If there were pole dancing competitions then maybe I'd make the effort.

The Monument's park was packed when I arrived though. Family groups were everywhere, strolling around the recently rejuvenated gardens or camped out on the grass flying kites that frequently came close to garroting me as I wandered past. It was as idyllic a scene as you’re ever likely to see in this concrete, urban Hades and I wondered why the National Monument’s grounds aren't this crowded every weekend.

Parents really should make more of an effort to shoehorn their offspring away from their Playstations and take them somewhere for a runaround. I mean, in classes that I teach I've noticed that the number of kids who look as if they've been inflated with an air hose has been skyrocketing in recent years. They really should be out on their bikes, burning off those chicken drumsticks, getting run over by articulated lorries and being taken to see nonexistent puppies by complete strangers.

The huge number of national holiday families relaxing at Monas generally seemed to be as happy as Larry though, I must say. The culture here is very communal and few things make your average Indonesian happier than chilling out in the company of a million other Indonesians.

I slowly waded through the reclining families up towards the northern perimeter of the Monument Park where the presidential palace lies. SBY's VIP Independence Day bash appeared to be in full pomp and circumstance flow as I neared the top end of the park. I noticed an awful lot of military personnel camped out, securing proceedings. There were also more Indonesian policeman than I've ever seen gathered together in one place before. Aside from the massed security forces, I spied a TV reporter, wearing a traditional Indonesian three-piece Armani business suit, being filmed on a raised platform .

Over the road up the Palace, the brass bands were playing, the rank-and-file soldiery were marching and people were waiting expectantly for the President's Independence Day address. I had seen enough by this point though and hotfooted it down the road to Jl. Jaksa for a (not so) cool Bintang before the amplified platitudes could start.

Nationalism ay? It's a curious beast. Personally I have no time whatsoever for nationalist ideology or patriotism. To me they are just two of the levers that those in power manipulate to control populations and prevent them from seeing the truth of their lives clearly. It was a round world the last time I checked.

The, "My country right or wrong," mentality seems a little strange in light of the fact that one has no choice whatsoever into which country one is ultimately born. What does being English or American or Indonesian ultimately boil down to? It means your parents had sex there. Great. A favorite comedian of mine once mused that instead of putting colored stripes and stars and moons on our flags, we should paste up pictures of our parents making love. Let's see what boot rally mentality can circle around that unpleasant little image. "Is that your mum up there on that flag?"..." Hey, shut up!"

Oscar Wilde once said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and this aphorism could certainly be said to ring true in this country. Corrupters and human rights violators here so often seem to start waving the old red and white as a diversionary tactic when their backs are against the wall.

Perhaps though, a fractious country such as this needs the glue of nationalist sentiment to stick it together. India, for example, was a very fractious country and Gandhi scored a lot of success in uniting it under a banner of peaceful secular nationalism. This country's brand of nationalism however, is still depressingly militaristic. The monolithic (and still pretty unaccountable) Armed Forces loom over everything with their military and business muscle and divide and conquer tactics. Not very Gandhi-esque at all in fact.

Let's finish positively though. I'll admit that nationalism does have a place in sport, because in sport, who wins or loses is of no consequence whatsoever. So let us be true red-and-white patriots then and congratulate the Indonesian shuttlers at the Badminton World Championships who have just won gold medals in the men's doubles and mixed doubles events. Let us also congratulate local boxing hero Chris John for successfully defending his world featherweight title in Japan this week. May they return to cheering tickertape parades, universal acclaim and lucrative Extra Joss endorsement contracts. Hip, hip, hooray.