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Filming Indonesia:

Between Mythical and Critical Multiculturalism

By Aryo Danusiri

This paper was written for the 2 nd Festival of Visual Culture, NAFA, Joensuu, Finland, 10-13 October 2002. Despite being written in 2002, we reproduce this paper, slightly revised, as a document in the DVD release of “3 Documentaries about Aceh by Aryo Danusiri”, because it represents the evolving views of the filmmaker at the time he was making these films. [David Hanan, Curator, Between Three Worlds Video and DVD]

On that unexpected Saturday, around February 2002, I met an old friend: Ai

Sarjev. I first met him in 1999, during the production of my film Village Goat Takes The

Beating 1 in Aceh. I borrowed Sarjev’s Acehnese tongue and ears to understand the

language. As before, he was unchanged: long haired, dark skin with his strong big eyes.

It was a revealing and yet a sad meeting. I was glad to hear him working on his

first documentary film about his land and his people, Aceh. But then I have to hold my

triumph, because Aceh is still the field of endless misery, hate, and suspicion. It even got

worse. The theme of Sarjev’s film is the destruction of the elementary school system in

Aceh after 1999, the year when the conflict in Aceh became large and open. At least 60

teachers have been killed in Aceh in the past four years 2 .

I was drowned in contemplation when hearing Sarjev’s story about the situation in

Aceh. Earlier a member of the audience at a screening of my films said that the films that

I made were a waste, since they would never manage to reveal who the real mastermind

was behind all the human rights violation cases whether in the province of Aceh or in

Indonesia as a whole. The films could only track the trace of this invisible person.

Neither more nor less: it could only capture the shadow.

1 The Village Goat Takes The Beating (“Kameng Gampoeng Nyang Keunong Geulawa”), directed by Aryo Danusiri, 45 min, Aceh – Indonesia, produced by CAV & ELSAM, 1999. This documentary is an account of the sorrow, loss, fear and anger of the Acehnese people towards the imposed Military Operation Region (DOM) on their land. It is presented through 3 traditional poems depicting the Acehnese’s feelings. This documentary is meant to provide a forum for the victims to voice their grievances and hopes. For more than a decade they have been silenced by state repression, and their stories have not appeared in the mass media.

2 This documentary, entitled Pena-Pena Patah (“Broken Pens”), was finally finished in April 2002. It was produced by a coalition of Human Rights NGOs with RAGAM (SET Foundation) in the Multicultural Community Video program. Sarjev directed this film along with Ahmad Fauzan, who is also Acehnese.

Is it really that way? It is now three years since Village Goat was made – as an effort to give a space to the survivors to give testimony of the human rights violations. Yet problems in Aceh remain endlessly existing. I question my contribution to this multicultural conflict. I ask , “What role can I play in helping to solve the multicultural conflicts in Indonesia at this present time?”

“Reformasi” Indonesia: Between Mythical and Critical Multiculturalism “Why do we have to integrate to Indonesia? Who is Indonesia? Is there any benefit that we can get by becoming a part of Indonesia?” These are the sorts of questions that highlight various conflicts of ethno- nationalism in Aceh (the western most part of Indonesia) and in Papua (the eastern most part of Indonesia). Indonesia is a country with a fantastic statistical profile: 228 million people, comprised of some 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited) scattered along the largest archipelago in the world, spanning 3,200 miles across the equator. Therefore, Indonesian society is very diverse, consisting of more than 300 ethnic groups and various races, religions and social classes. Right after proclaiming its independence from Dutch and Japanese colonialism in the year 1945, the most essential question occurred: how this diversity should be managed? How is it possible for this cultural diversity to be a unity that is bound by collective values of equality, justice and welfare? Symbolically, this goal is articulated in Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) which is stated in the national symbol, Garuda Indonesia. During the latter part of the rule of Sukarno this question was answered with Guided Democracy Politics (1959-1966), which was in turn based on Sukarno’s charisma as the great leader of the revolution. The problem with diversity was that the wealth taken from various resource rich places in Indonesia was monopolized by politicians, military officers and interest groups in Jakarta. The people of districts that were rich with natural resources (Aceh, Sulawesi, Maluku) felt that they only got the leftovers. This dissatisfaction with Jakarta-centricism was then discreetly mobilized by the military to become the first ethno-nationalistic “resistance” in the 50s. In turn, resistance elimination operations became a commodity for the military to increase their popularity and role in politics. Meanwhile, Sukarno was preoccupied with his grand idea to unify the diverse

dominant power players in Indonesian society: the nationalists, the religious leaders, the communists, and the military. Sukarno’s mission remained unaccomplished as his rule was taken over by Suharto in a bloody transition. Sukarno’s followers and millions of people who were regarded as members of the Indonesian Communist Party were eliminated. Suharto labelled the period of Sukarno’s regime as the Old Order and he named his own as the New Order, stating that under his rule Indonesia would be led to enlightenment and prosperity. Political stability and economic improvement were the main political objectives of Suharto. Through these two political visions, he then operated a centralized and militaristic political hegemony throughout Indonesia, by destroying local political practices and carrying out a homogenization of education and culture. The traditional culture and traditions were also redefined as merely artifacts and crafts, instead of objects of identity which contained indigenous rights. Documentary film during this period was developed only as a form of propaganda, and numbers of propaganda documentaries were made by government institutions, and were distributed even to the rural areas. In 1997 an economic crisis hit Indonesia and Asia. One year after this happened, precisely in May 1998, Suharto fell from power. Everyone expected that this would be a starting point for building a New Indonesia which would be based on multiculturalism and democracy. “This is our second independence!” said many political analysts in the media. The new spirit and the new agenda was reform in the form of decentralization and democratization in various areas from governance to economy. Everybody named this period the Reformation (Reformasi) era. In this new period it was revealed that during 1989-1998 Aceh was systematically turned into a Special Military Operations Area (Daerah Operasi Militer) by the Indonesian military. In August 1998 the Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces announced an apology for the human right violations by the military which had happened during this DOM period 3 . In Aceh and also in Indonesia generally, the people had already

3 Reports of investigations released by various human rights organizations indicate that during the DOM period at least 1,500 people were killed (some were executed and the rest “died” under military detention), about 3,500 people were tortured, at least 1,500 people were arbitrarily arrested, 1,900 people disappeared (whether under military or police detention), about 50 people received sentences through unfair trials, and at least 130 women were raped. This military operation also caused 300 women to be widowed and at least 1,500 children to become orphans. These human rights violations were concentrated in the areas of Aceh Pidie, North Aceh, and East Aceh.

had enough courage to state their hopes. Therefore the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM), which had been resisting underground since the 1970s for the reason of being treated unjustly by the government in Jakarta, surfaced to lead the aspiration for a referendum. Their public profile increased from the late 1990s onwards, with considerable attention from the Indonesian national media, and from the international media. The demands for independence increased, with students calling for a referendum throughout 1999, and holding a huge rally in Banda Aceh in November 1999, in support of a referendum. The violence continued even after the ending of the DOM period, with substantial numbers of troops of the Indonesian army returning to Aceh shortly after the DOM period ended when troops were withdrawn. Eventually, reacting to these demands for independence, and to the increased presence of GAM, in May 2003 the Indonesian Army went back to claim its power in Aceh, and Aceh then became a war zone. Millions of people took refuge since their villages became a battlefield of two opposing parties. During this time, in the second half of 1999, I came to the village of Tiro Pidie, to record the survivors’ testimony of the torture and the violence that they experienced. The intention was to give a space for them whose voices all that time had been unheard. The mass media was fixated on the conflict, but emphasized the violence and did not give much space for the views of victims. In my film they would be able to offer an alternative testimony about what actually happened in Aceh. The important question is what answer did the Jakarta Government give to Aceh? Or to address the wider question: what kinds of policies did Jakarta political leaders (all post-Suharto presidents whether Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, or Megawati Sukarnoputeri) formulate in order to manage the problem of diversity in Indonesia? The answer they gave was to develop what I call “mythical multiculturalism”, i.e. a practice of cultural politics that reproduces and even exploits the stereotypes and the differences of the characteristics of a socio-cultural group for the benefit of certain interest parties. This political practice tries to create stereotypes from the differences of the characteristics of a group which are intended to become a myth or a pre-given sacred narrative which cannot be reinterpreted. In the case of Aceh, that is what was happened. On March 15, 2002, the name of the province of Aceh was changed to Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD), and moreover,

Syariat Islam (Islamic Law) was taken to be the basic law for the province. Immediately there were many questions raised: who was there to legitimate the law? What would the application of the Syariat Law in Aceh do for gender issues? Why does every implementation of the Syariat take its first step by forcing women to cover their heads with the jilbab (veil)? Why did they have to include all 25,000 policies of the Syariat? To dig this issue more deeply, is it true that the issue of Islamic Law is the only core problem in Aceh? The real problem of the share of natural resources to provinces, and their management, whether they be oil, gas or coffee, seems to be neglected. And the Indonesian Army continues to use GAM as their reason to stay in Aceh NAD and to safeguard their various “goldmines” in Aceh, such as oil, gas and forests. The same thing also happened in West Papua. In the post Suharto Reformasi era, demands to reclaim independence in West Papua emerged, with the Free Papua

Movement (

strategically changed the name “Irian Jaya” to Papua, which was also one of the demands of the Papuan people, for Irian Jaya was a made-up name given by Sukarno. However the change stopped there. The government even tried to divide the province of Papua into two provinces, which would effectively mean changing the imagined community of the Papuan people. Afterwards the government neglected the many cases of human right violations, and forgot to reconsider the status of the Freeport Company (an American mining company licensed by Suharto) that had been taking all the profit of the goldmines in the Central Papua mountains without sharing any of its wealth with the Papuan people. Even mythical multiculturalism itself can motivate a demand for independence since it affirms the myth that “we” are different from “them”, that “Papua” is different from “Indonesia”. But independence itself is not just an issue of legal status, rather it is about the freedom of a people to be themselves and to live according to their own cultural values. Therefore, Benny Gjay, a West Papuan intellectual, said, “It does not matter whether Papua belongs to the State of the Indonesian Republic (NKRI) or not. Because what is important is how the Papuans can be free to determine their own future, that a Papuan-Indonesian is different from a Javanese-Indonesian or a Batak-Indonesian”. This mythical multiculturalism, which tries to build an illusory diversity based on cultural stereotypes, without addressing issues of justice and of genuine decentralization

Organisasi Papua Merdeka) as one of the main initiators. The government

of justice and of genuine decentralization Organisasi Papua Merdeka) as one of the main initiators. The

of economic and political power, just as was done by the New Order, is still in the air in Indonesia today. It appears as if everyone can speak out their mind, that the media can reveal many things and everyone can talk about each of their own cultural identity and difference, but actually all of this is still playing around within frameworks set by the logic of the New Order, a logic that reproduces and legitimates stereotypes. It is a logic which is not liberating human beings, but instead merely changes the face of the exploitation of the minority groups by power elites into another form. It is a logic that exploits the diversity of the Indonesian people instead of exploring this diversity for the sake of collective welfare.

Deconstructing stereotypes: resolving conflicts or advocating human rights? The crisis in Indonesia in this Reformation era actually came up as an effect of the multidimensional conflicts of: (1) Religion (2) Natural resources (3) Power relations between the central and district government (4) Alternative history (5) Economy. The most serious religious conflict occurred between Muslims and Christians in Maluku (Ambon or Northern Maluku). This has been going on since 1999. In the same way, this kind of conservative-liberal conflict also often happens in big cities where there are attempts to control—or even destroy—religious sites, or the emergence of Muslim fundamentalist groups which claimed their own interpretation of Islam as the true one. All these conflicts are playing around on top of the “sacred stories” about identity and difference—playing around myths that Islam is different from Christianity, and that there are people who know “better” about the “rights and wrongs” in interpreting Islam. The next question is: what role does the audio visual media play in these conflicts? The media industries deploy powerful signifying systems, and have the potential to perform a deconstruction of the stereotypes which ground these conflicts. On the other hand, if we are talking in the context of multiculturalism, a primary role of the audiovisual media is to give a space to the public to critically do interpretations and reinterpretations, creating and re-creating various definitions of identity and cultural differences in Indonesia, in particular the relationship between the dominant and the minority cultures. This is the basic position of critical multiculturalism, which does not exploit the meaning of culture but explores it within its full social context, so that ideas of

culture becomes relevant to the values of equality and justice. Media in the framework of critical multiculturalism is the media that transcends boundaries and negotiates diversity. It is interesting to look back at the case of an Indonesian television Public Service Announcement (PSA) that was produced by the cooperation of the Liberal Islamic Network (Islib), the Asia Foundation and SET Foundation (the place where I was working at the time). Screened in August 2002, the PSA’s concept was actually very simple, illustrating a mass circumcision occasion which involved the participation of various Islamic groups in Indonesia. At the end of this 60 second duration advertisement,

a tagline “Colorful Islam” was shown. After being shown twice on two private TV

stations in Indonesia, suddenly a lawsuit was brought up by Fauzan from the Mujahiddin Board to stop running the ad, for they did not agree with the “Colorful Islam” concept. For Fauzan there is just “one Islam” or one interpretation of Islam, and that is his Islam. Instantly, the commercial TV stations ceased to run this Public Service Announcement. This is not a new story, since it had happened several times that certain private TV shows were banned due to some protests by some Muslim groups, who regarded the TV programs as incompatible with true Islamic values. The question is, whose Islamic values? Islib is actually an Islamic NGO that intends to transform the perspective of Islam from exclusive to inclusive, more open to different interpretations, or, to borrow their own terms, to “become a part of the religious interpretation bazaar”. They are inspired by Michael Kurzman’s book, Liberal Islam. This is what Islib meant by “Colorful Islam”, doing a deconstruction that Islam is not one, Islam itself is diverse, therefore there are many groups in Islam who can live through their own interpretations of Islam. This diversity does not mean to live in segregation but to live side by side in harmony, and religious living is an individual responsibility instead of communal. In the case of documentary film making, it is a different story. I made Village Goat to deconstruct the perception of ordinary Indonesians that the independence claim that was stated by the Acehnese was based on arrogance rather than on desperation.

Being a part of Indonesia meant letting many wives become widows, since their husbands were abducted or went missing. For instance, when I was about to go there for the shoot,

a friend of mine told me of his bewilderment at seeing me going to a conflict area to

make something useless. He said, “Why do you want to go to Aceh? Just leave Aceh alone. Such a snobbish small district it is!” After he watched the film, he immediately said that he could now understand why the Acehnese wanted to be free. “Well, alright then…I can accept that they want to be free, the military was indeed very cruel”, he commented. In the case of the film The Poet of Linge Homeland (2000) I am attempting something else. This film intends to deconstruct two things at one time. Firstly, it aims to illustrate a different reality to the Aceh conflict, that this conflict has spread out not only around the northern part, but also to the central area, the territory of the Gayo people, who actually are not involved in the conflict directly. The Didong performance in this documentary was the last one made in Takengon, Central Aceh, up until today, because Didong has always been performed from late evening until the next dawn. And at this present time, the conflict has been spreading out throughout the whole area of Aceh and the police have implemented security restrictions such as curfews in many regions. Secondly, it aims to deconstruct the stereotype of ethnic art performances that was built up by the New Order, as a dead form of arts only suitable for museums and as an object of tourism. Ethnic performances in Aceh are not a dead form: the Ceh in Didong art are the poets who dynamically capture and express the restlessness of their society. Ibrahim Kadir, for instance, does not only recite the same poems over and over again, but continuously creates new ones based on the socio-cultural changes that are happening in Gayo society. There is also Tino Sarunggalo who has just re-released his documentary film, Indonesian Student Movement 1998 in 35mm format for commercial theater screening 4 . It is interesting to point out here that there is a similarity between my film and Tino’s i.e. their strategy is to do a demonization of the government and the military, making them as the demons who are responsible for the cruelty. Both of our documentary films depict

4 In the context of the development of documentaries in Indonesia, this documentary has been “validated” as the first documentary in Indonesia that managed to enter the commercial territory (mainstream theaters). In the case of television, presently there are only a few documentary programs that the TV stations have screened. And in so far as there are such programs, they are mainly children programs—which are regarded as more attractive for commercial television stations—such as the serial program Pustaka Anak Nusantara (“Heritage of the Children of the Archipelago”) which can be seen as an early example of multicultural education for children.

and bear witness to a collective trauma. Curiously, we both have the same experience of many people asking us, “Why didn’t you interview the Military? The government? Why only the victims?” And my answer is the same as Tino’s, that these films are dedicated to the minority, the powerless people. If the government and the military want to have their voices heard, let them go and make their own films! As it is, they are well catered for by the Indonesian mass media, but the victims are not. This is the position that is still taken by many Indonesian documentary film makers who deal with conflicts: their aim is to be a human rights advocate. So these documentaries are part of investigations and campaigns. So far there has not been any documentary film maker in the post-Suharto era who has been arrested or seized for being regarded subversive by the military and the government. Nevertheless, a restlessness occurs, also inside myself, to make films about violence without producing the violence itself, or even a restlesness to change from my role as that of a human right advocate to that of a conflict “resolver” 5 . Conflict resolvers are more focused on the effort to build a dialogical condition among interested parties so that a peaceful resolution can be created. This role is different from that of human right advocates who attempt to make sure that there is a guarantee of the protection of human rights and who attempt to find justice for those whose rights have been violated. Now would this conflict resolution be possible via film? As if to try to leave this ambiguous position for a while, one of the methods I use is to try to develop a video community in conflict areas. It is expected that all disputing parties would be able to use this audio-visual media to transform a situation in conflict. Through the development of this community media—which I have recently attempted to build at the first stage in West Papua—the effort is actually to return the right to communicate, and the right to be understood, to minority groups. It is hoped to breed other “Sarjevs”, who will bring out “multi-voices”, thus beginning to develop a multicultural public sphere in Indonesia.

5 See the issue about this dual position in the writing of Vanessa Johanson, “Is Reconciliation sleeping with the devil? Inside Indonesia April-June 2002