Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Local Conflict in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Understanding Variations in Violence Levels and Forms through Local Newspapers

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Local Conflict in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Understanding Variations in Violence Levels and Forms through Local Newspapers

Article excerpt

Responding to conflict, in Indonesia and elsewhere, requires an understanding of its distribution, forms, and impacts. In this article, we outline an attempt to use local newspaper monitoring to measure the levels and impacts of violent conflict during the period 2001-2003 in two Indonesian provinces (East Java and NTT). We also assess variation in incidence, impact, and form across and within areas. The study data suggest first that previous research has vastly underestimated the impacts of violent conflict in Indonesia. Comparing our data with those of the previous attempt to use newspapers to map conflict in Indonesia (by the UN Support Facility for Indonesian Recovery [UNSFIR]), we find three times as many deaths from collective violence. These differences are a function of the level of news sources used, with provincial papers picking up only a small proportion of deaths in our research areas. Further, we argue that the impacts of certain types of violence between individuals should be included, leading to even higher figures. Second, our data call into question the dictum that violence in Indonesia is concentrated in a small number of regions. While there is variation between districts, we record large impacts from collective violence in areas not previously considered conflict-prone. Third, substantial variations in conflict form are found across regions, and these result in different kinds of impacts. This underlines the importance of consideration of the role of local factors in driving conflicts and suggests that approaches must be tailored to local conditions. Finally, we demonstrate that using local newspapers to measure and analyze conflicts presents a useful tool for understanding conflict in Indonesia. The use of subprovincial news sources captures more accurate estimates of conflict incidence than other methods, such as provincial newspaper mapping or surveying, it can also provide a basis for a deeper understanding of variations in patterns of conflict across areas and provide insights into how we might respond.

KEYWORDS: Conflict, violence, Indonesia, ethnic violence, World Bank, development, culture, local conflict

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Responding to conflict in Indonesia requires an understanding of its distribution, forms, and impacts. The fall of Suharto's New Order government in 1998 was accompanied by an upsurge in violent unrest, including interethnic and interreligious communal conflict, violent local conflict, and a reenergizing of old center-periphery struggles. A rich literature on Indonesian conflict has developed, with case studies and cross-case volumes (Bertrand 2004; Sidel 2006; van Klinken 2007) being joined recently by a small number of large-n quantitative studies. Yet limitations to the comparability of data across time and space, and limitations to the definitions of violence used, have meant that key questions on the levels, forms, impacts, and causes of the various forms of violence, and the ways such forms are related, remain unanswered.

This article is part of an emerging literature that seeks to understand conflict through the compilation and analysis of datasets that record conflict incidents reported in newspapers (see also Varshney, Tadjoeddin, and Panggabean, and Welsh in this issue). The Varshney study, which was commissioned by the United Nations Support Facility for Indonesian Recovery (UNSFIR), tracks communal conflicts in fourteen provinces over the 1990-2003 period and offers the most accurate empirical picture of conflict's impacts in Indonesia to date. However, the extent to which the data can be used to understand variations in conflict forms is restricted by its use of national- and provincial-level newspapers that are several steps removed from the localities where conflicts have actually taken place, and by its almost exclusive focus on larger-scale, group-based violence. Welsh's study focuses on vigilante violence between 1995 and 2004 in four provinces. …

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