Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Papuan Self-determination – Epilogue

By arie brand
Created 19/05/2006 - 13:57

This is the final instalment of Arie Brand's excellent, often first-hand historical introduction to the West Papuan self-determination movement. A birdie told me that we are going to see this issue repeatedly in the media in the coming years, and this exclusive review of the background will serve Webdiarists well in making sense of new developments as they arise. Here is the complete contents:

Part I Economically "worthless"? [0]
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland' [0]
Part III Strategic Considerations [0]
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement [0]
Part V The Round Table Conference [0]
Part VI 1950 -The first year test [0]
Part VII Dutch-Indonesian relations - From bad to worse [0]
Part VIII Gradual Evolution [0]
Part IX A poorly briefed US Ambassador [0]
Part X The 'Bunker-Agreement' [0]
Part XI Untea 1 [0]
Part XII Untea 2 [0]
Epilogue - Indonesian myths and the birth of West Papua

by Arie Brand 

Indonesian myths and the birth of West Papua

What amazed me most during the UNTEA period was that the Indonesians, after a dozen years of listening to Sukarno's rhetoric about the burning Indonesian desire to liberate their Papuan brothers from their largely imaginary colonial yoke, seemed on nothing so intent as to subject these brothers to a real one. Instead of treating the people with tolerance and understanding, declarations of loyalty (through manifestoes, processions and flag raisings) were forced out of them through intimidation that was from time tot time reinforced by violence - or, in the case of some key figures, by blandishments such as the red carpet treatment in a free trip to Jakarta.

I often wondered whom they wished to fool with all of this and why they thought they could do so? Of the foreign observers then present in the region probably nobody was fooled - including the Administrator, Dr.Abdoh, who then however did not state openly not to believe in these charades. He showed himself to be far more sceptical in his correspondence with the UN Undersecretary Narasimhan. Saltford (op.cit.) refers to a report by Abdoh to this UN official, dating from January 1963, in which he stated to believe that Indonesia was intent on crushing all opposition and that it was behind the organised demonstrations and the attacks on anti-Indonesian Papuas. Saltford also refers to a report from approximately the same date by James Plimsoll, then Australia’s Permanent Representative at the UN, on a conversation between the UN Secretary General U Thant, Narasimhan and himself. Narasimhan allegedly said that 'it was quite clear from the information they had that in West New Guinea the Indonesians could turn demonstrations off and on like a tap.'  The Secretary General was no less sceptical. He said to have 'no doubt at all that demonstrations or representations by Papuans were Indonesian inspired and were not spontaneous'.

Though I saw from time to time traces of what seemed to me a somewhat childish belief on the part of Indonesians that no outsider could see through their obvious schemes, in retrospect I have come to the conclusion that the people they wanted to fool most of all were they themselves and their fellow Indonesians. The 'inspired' demonstrations, these fictional proofs of loyalty, were part of their fictional claim to West Papua. One fiction had to support the other.

Another part of these interlocking myths was construed by the Indonesian military that apparently fooled themselves into believing that they had conquered the territory hand in hand with their Papuan brethren. Saltford quotes a report by another Australian official, R.J.Percival, who wrote that he had met Dutch people and Papuans who had had to deal with Indonesian infiltrators in the Sorong area 'and all expressed incredulity.at the apparent Indonesian belief that the Papuan populace would rise up in revolt against the Dutch once the infiltrators had established a base in New Guinea ... The Papuans had regarded the rounding up of the infiltrators as a sort of sport.'

Benedict Anderson wrote once that the ‘subsequent painful relations between the populations of West New Guinea and the emissaries of the independent Indonesian state can be attributed to the fact that Indonesians more or less sincerely regard these populations as ‘brothers and sisters’ while the populations themselves, for the most part, see things very differently’.

I believe that this statement can only be accepted if it is heavily qualified. The ‘brothers and sisters’ theme remained alive as long as West Papua was only a fiction in the prolonged ‘revolutionary struggle’ in the Sukarno-era against the Dutch, it was very soon dropped by the Indonesians who actually came to occupy the area and after that it had only a precarious existence in the officially sanctioned myth about the ‘liberation’ of the territory.

It is possible that the obvious disinclination of many Papuans to see the occupying force of Indonesians as 'brothers' that had come to liberate them has ultimately contributed somewhat to a similar lack of brotherly enthusiasm on the side of the Indonesians - though I believe that a sort of provincial cultural arrogance about their assumed superiority above all these 'naked people', mixed with the callousness that comes from greed, had far more to do with this.

Indonesian myths about the territory are endless. There is the idea that the proclamation of independence of 1945 also held for the (uninvolved) Papuans. There is the view that, though it is a patent fact that Papuans had virtually nothing to do with the struggles of 1945 – 49 against the Dutch, the Indonesian ‘freedom fighters’ also fought on their behalf. There is finally the colossal lie that the occupation that has robbed Papuans of their lands, terrorised and enslaved them was an act of ‘pembebasan’, of liberation.

Indonesians have, however, hold of one indubitable fact -  West Papua was once, however marginal, at least administratively part of the Netherlands East Indies. This map based fact now constitutes their strongest claim to the territory – however much they may, in other contexts, object against the violence with which this map was cobbled together in colonial times. Lately we have seen this Indonesian claim dressed up with the Latin formula 'uti possidetis juris'. This allegedly refers to a principle of international law implying, in this case, that successor states of colonial territories should have the borders of those territories. Well, the principle has often been ignored (to wit the partition of British India and French Indochina) but also, principle for principle, it should yield to the much stronger one of 'self determination', a principle enshrined in the very Charter of the United Nations. It is presumably because of this that Constantin Stavropoulos, the UN legal counsel advising Secretary General U Thant, wrote in 1962 that 'there appears to emerge a strong presumption in favour of self-determination in situations such as that of West New-Guinea on the basis of the wishes of the peoples of the territory concerned, irrespective of the legal stands or interests of other parties to the question.'

Also, Indonesia seems to have forgotten that it recognised itself the superiority of this principle with the Agreement between it and the Netherlands of 15th August 1962, however opportunistic it might have been in signing this. That the Papuans have since then enjoyed the right of self determination is yet another Indonesian myth that the country finds harder and harder to sell internationally. The recent joint letter by 36 members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus to U.N.Secretary General Kofi Annan, in which these Congressmen joined around 170 other parliamentarians and 80 NGOs from around the world in urging a review of this fraudulent act, forms a case in point.

The Indonesian ‘imagined nation’, to use Anderson’s term, that stretched from Sabang to Merauke, is unravelling. The years of occupation and the suffering it has caused have seen another nation emerge, this one from Sorong to Merauke, West Papua. Thus far, to be sure, only ‘imagined’ as well but, imagination for imagination, I have an inkling that the historical odds are on the latter one.

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