Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thieves Like Us

Passing through my friendly neighbourhood shopping mall on my way to buy a few kilos of tempeh and some party hats from the cavernous hypermarket in the basement last week, I chanced upon a rather unusual stand. In amongst the rather twee tables full of ethnic requisites and aromatherapy burners, I came across a girl standing behind a small counter that had a banner over it saying ICW.

ICW stands for Indonesian Corruption Watch, an organisation that aims to publicise the dastardly sleaze and kleptomaniacal cant that goes on in this great nation. Upon enquiring, I was shown a brochure and given some car stickers. ICW were soliciting donations of course and I gave the young lady my e-mail address so that I could be sent whatever information or donation forms that she had (although as I write this, I’ve still received diddly squat).

Hopefully of course, the ICW don't rip their donations off, that would really take the biscuit. Nothing, however, would surprise me about this country any more. This is the kind of place in which you need an Indonesian Corruption Watch Watch to keep an eye on the ICW. And then of course you'd need an Indonesian Corruption Watch Watch Watch to watch them and so on and so on ad absurdum, until you reach the final link in the chain, the jailed editor of Playboy Indonesia, sitting behind a computer spreadsheet program.

ICW however, as their name suggests, can merely watch as the country gets robbed blind and defendants are given lenient sentences for being, "Polite and helpful," in court. However keeping these issues in the media is vital work in our information driven age.

The Indonesian economy is apparently booming but socially and politically, the skies are as full of clouds as black as those that scudded over Jakarta in recent weeks. This week, we learned that a bill was passed in the house allowing police to use live ammunition on the streets. As someone who was here during the Trisakti shootings and riots over a decade ago, this sent a chill down my spine. And wouldn't you know it, the current candidate for police chief, Comr. Gen. Timur Pradopo, has been intimately linked with these very shootings.

The new armed police law reminds me of a previous glorious leader from my own country, Margaret "Milk Snatcher" Thatcher who, before embarking on a programme of union smashing an unfettered laissez-faire capitalism, first made sure to increase police salaries and invest in new skull cracking equipment. She knew exactly what was coming of course, and perhaps there are now similar portents here. Will the violence currently simmering under the surface here boil over in the future?

This is still a pretty authoritarian society. Nothing changed hugely when Suharto pushed off. Gus Dur was a danger and was thus dispensed with quite quickly (and of course, it's okay to crown him a national hero now that he's dead and can't cause any more bother for those in the gravy). Then, after a moderately courageous start, SBY devolved into an invertebrate. So here we are, guns on the streets facing down protests. James Madison, one of the framers of the American Constitution, described modern democracy as a system that, "Protects the minority of the opulent from the majority," and this is perhaps truer of Indonesia than it is of many countries in the world.

Indonesia is still largely ruled by the Javanese of course, and the Javanese mindset and culture, with its class deference and politeness is perhaps not conducive to popular struggles that challenge the legitimacy of power. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's greatest ever author, talked of, "Javanism," which he perceived as a kind of, "Javanese fascism," that , "keeps the country enslaved." For Pram, Indonesia was just a pseudonym for, "Java Bangsa," (Javanese Nation); a place without, "Rule of law, justice or truth."

It's fascism with a smiling face of course, which only makes it even more insidiously chilling. Java Bangsa? Well, we have regional autonomy now, and the new regional Suhartos have learned well from their Javanese masters perhaps. As for the little people though, the only thing that really unites this country is its language.

A bit serious this week! Dear dear dear. I really need to get out of town. Oh well, at least those miners managed to get out alive. Although I was hoping that the media at the top would dress up like Planet of the Apes when they came out. That would have been a great prank.

So let's look on the bright side, Christmas will soon be here and Santa will be merrily shoehorning his corpulent frame through our air conditioning vent to the accompaniment of the early morning call to prayer. Hopefully he’ll be bearing a sack full of Tera Patrick DVDs and a few bottles of duty-free booze. And then next year, God will rain down gifts of subway systems, flood alleviation, poverty relief and inter-sectarian harmony upon us and steer us away from the socio-cultural landfill site that we are all heading towards with gathering speed. The future is ours!