Rethinking Indonesia: Postcolonial Theory, Authoritarianism, and Identity

Rethinking Indonesia: Postcolonial Theory, Authoritarianism, and Identity

Rethinking Indonesia: Postcolonial Theory, Authoritarianism, and Identity

Rethinking Indonesia: Postcolonial Theory, Authoritarianism, and Identity

Synopsis

This book employs alternative approaches to authoritarianism, power, domination and political identity in contemporary Indonesia. It seeks to clarify the relationship between knowledge and 'real' politics. Drawing upon the thought of Edward Said and Michel Foucault, the text argues that understandings of Indonesian political life are profoundly shaped by particular approaches to culture, tradition, ethnicity, Cold War politics and modernity. Power, domination and the effects of authoritarianism on identity are key areas of discussion in this innovative and topical analysis of Indonesia and the study of its politics.

Excerpt

When Indonesia's Suharto read the short prepared speech announcing his decision to stand down as President at a press conference just after 9am on 21 May 1998, many gathered around Jakarta's tv sets watching it were caught by surprise (Forrester, 1998, p. 46). of course, the vast majority of Indonesians were delighted by the demise of a man whose achievements were finally overshadowed by greed and economic and political chaos. As Geoff Forrester notes in his Jakarta Diary, 'It could have been so different' (Forrester, 1998, p. 45). For Suharto perhaps, but could it have been any different for Indonesian politics watchers? Suharto had been unanimously re-elected as President by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) just a couple of months earlier, albeit in the context of discontent on the streets of Indonesian cities and among erstwhile elite supporters of Suharto. But few Western observers of Indonesian politics foresaw that Suharto's end would come quite so quickly. On the one hand, it is in the nature of modern authoritarian regimes that when the centre cannot hold, things fall apart (and quickly). But on the other hand, earlier in the 1990s, the Soviet Union spectacularly unravelled without these events being foreseen by long‐ term observers of Soviet politics. Curiously, in both cases, the opposition that finally brought down these regimes came not from within the political elite, but from mass public discontent. What is curious is not the opposition itself, but that for decades Western democratic governments predicted that the absence of basic freedoms would finally lead to the downfall of authoritarian governments of the right and left, but when the moments arrived, policy makers and academics alike seemed unprepared. For example, Forrester's diary entry for 17 May notes:

The toughest opposition to Soeharto will come from neither government nor opposition elites. It is brewing right now among a new generation of young political unknowns in the capital and other cities of Java. They are largely uncoordinated but the increasingly huge crowds they can mobilize do pose a serious threat to Soeharto. They have maintained and nurtured the student unrest from its modest beginnings in February until it has become a nationwide movement . . .

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