Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Friction within Harmony: Everyday Dynamics and the Negotiation of Diversity in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Friction within Harmony: Everyday Dynamics and the Negotiation of Diversity in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Article excerpt

The city of Yogyakarta, in Central Java, is one of the most ethnically

diverse conurbations in Indonesia. Today, the city has a population of about four hundred thousand and has become a melting pot of different religions, languages, cultures, and ethnic groups. Despite the great diversity, there have been hardly any violent conflicts, and Yogyakarta is often pictured as a community of harmony, multicultural tolerance and accommodation. In fact, this so-called 'EthniCity' (1) has become a focal point for understanding the conditions for and management of diversity in Indonesia. Yogyakarta's governor, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, has even received an award in 2014 from the Jaringan Antar Iman Indonesia (JAII; Inter-faith Network) for his success in maintaining the city's pluralism. (2)

However, since the shooting of four detainees from East Nusa Tenggara province in Cebongan Penitentiary on the outskirts of the city by the Indonesian Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) on 23 March 2013, Yogyakarta's reputation for tolerance and harmony has come under great pressure. The incident followed the death of one of the Special Force commanders during a fight four days earlier at Hugo's Cafe in the north of the city. The four suspects had been arrested and imprisoned in Yogyakarta's Police Area Headquarters. Purportedly because the detention room was being renovated, they were moved to the Penitentiary where they were killed shortly after their arrival by 11 Special Forces soldiers. (3)

The involvement of the Special Forces in the execution of the suspects was revealed 17 days later by the head of the investigation team, Sergeant General Unggul Yudho. The presentation of the findings led to an outbreak of unrest in Yogyakarta between opponents and supporters of this 'act of revenge'. The opponents emphasised the breaking of legal process and a breach of peace and human rights. The supporters pointed to the act as a way of eradicating gangsters from the Yogyakarta area. This idea was first promoted by an army official who portrayed the four detainees as a 'group of gangsters'. Shortly afterwards, supporters of the extra-judicial killings organised a demonstration in the main streets of Yogyakarta. The demonstrators held up banners and posters expressing support for the Special Forces and thanking them for eradicating gangsterism in the city, with statements such as: 'I love the Indonesian Armed Forces'; 'The People and the Indonesian Armed Forces are united to stop gangsters'; and 'Thanks to the Army Special Forces Commanders, Yogyakarta is safe and gangsters kept away'.

Most of the texts on the placards and banners put up in various public spaces of Yogyakarta emphasised the 'fact' that the four persons killed were gangsters from outside the city, or more specifically, from East Nusa Tenggara province. It was as if the murdered prisoners were public 'enemies' of the locals, and this somehow legitimised the killings. Following the commander's death, police and a 'group of people' investigating the murder also made frequent visits to the dormitory where East Nusa Tenggara students lived.

Various informants felt that this incident marked the beginning of several instances of ethnic and religious intolerance in Yogyakarta, which involved actors from all levels of Yogyakarta society and beyond, including from Jakarta. These incidents came to a head on 29 May 2014 when dozens of people dressed in garnis (long Arab-style robes) attacked a house where Catholics were worshipping and several people were seriously injured. The National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) cautioned that cases of intolerance in Yogyakarta were reaching worrying levels, and an article published in the Jakarta Post two days after the attack pointed out that 'increasing intolerance directed at religious minorities in recent months' was 'undermining the region's long-held pride as a champion of diversity'. (4)

So, what has been going on in this 'City of Tolerance'? …

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