Nationalism is based on democracy, not the barrel of a gun

Unpublished Paper – August 14, 2003
Popor Chairperson Dita Indah Sari (Medan Bisnis Daily)
Popor Chairperson Dita Indah Sari (Medan Bisnis Daily)

[The following is a translation of discussion paper presented by Indonesian labour leader and general chairperson of the People’s United Opposition Party (Popor), Dita Indah Sari, at a public meeting titled “An evaluation of three months of the military emergency in Aceh” which was held in Jakarta on August 14. The meeting was organised the People’s Lawyers Union which recently launched a class-action against President Megawati Sukarnoputri over the government’s current policy in Aceh.]

The objective reality of what has occurred in Aceh following the release of Presidential Decree Number 28/2003 on the integrated operation, which in particular designates Aceh as being under a state of military emergency (marshal law) and which has reference to the stipulations in Law Number 23/1959, is a bitter reality being experienced by the Acehnese people. Basically, the prolonged political conflict has its source in economic and social injustice created by the Indonesian government, beginning with the New Order regime [of former President Suharto] up until the current regime of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, which has resulted in the death of many Acehnese civilians.

The application of this political policy has altered the political direction of Indonesian politics from a period of democratic political transition -- following the overthrow of Suharto or reformasi -- in the direction of a return of the traditional politics of the era of the New Order dictatorship. Following reformasi, in political and moral terms, the position of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) was extremely week, as a result of the crimes they perpetrated together with the New Order. These conditions diminished the prestige of the TNI in the eyes of the public and forced the TNI to work hard to effect an internal consolidation and restore of its good name before the public.

The Aceh conflict became the most effective means for this, by exploiting the spirit of Indonesian nationalism, although in order for this [to be successful] the Acehnese people had to again become the victims of militarism. Under the mantra of saving the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (KNRI) therefore, the TNI took the position that they needed to carry out a military operation in Aceh, to make the TNI the “heroes” who are saving the nation.

The idea of the military emergency was a political decision which was achieved as a result of a compromise between three groups: the People’s Representative Assembly (DPR), the government and the military. This compromise had to reflect the principles of “transparency” and “legality” in accordance with prevailing laws. Under the Indonesian Defense Act, an emergency situation, stipulations on the technical aspects of an emergency, handling emergencies and the evaluation of an emergency, must be carried out under the control of the “political authorities” (the People’s Consultative Assembly/DPR). The government and the military meanwhile, are only the executors who implement the “memorandum” of understanding which is covered in the DPR under the “rules of engagement” in a “military emergency”. In the case of the military emergency in Aceh, the DPR, the military and the government have never sat down and comprehensively discussed what the military emergency is, and how the rules are to be played. This has advantages for the government, military and the DPR. They can “wash their hands” of the issue if the military emergency fails to be implemented effectively, if the forces of GAM (Free Aceh Movement), who have become the “common enemy” of the military emergency, are unable to be destroyed, and if excessive human right violations occur.

For example, the consultation meetings between the government and the military to evaluate the military emergency in Aceh, have only produced “lies” about the reality of civilian casualties in Aceh. Meanwhile, the DPR as the authority which should be in control of and be responsible for the success of the “tactics” and “strategy” [being applied in Aceh] did not even discuss the Aceh question during the annual, session early this month.

What about public control? The Aceh military command, is the “spear head” of the military emergency in Aceh. As well has having a huge amount of authority, they are also supported by the national military command though a packet of regulations which limit the space for public control, such as Presidential Decree Number 43/2003 which prohibits visits to Aceh by foreign non-government organisations and the foreign press. Prohibitions of this kind, whether they flow from regulations at the level of a presidential decree or “requests” to the mass media [that they limit their reporting, in particular reporting statements from GAM], further open up opportunities for the military command and military personnel (50,000 personnel, strengthened by 13 scorpion tanks, 23 amphibious tanks, 12 regular tanks, two F-16 jet fighters, four Hawk 200 jet fighters, six transport planes and Hercules paratroop carriers, five Twinpatc Helicopters, one Superpuma helicopter, six OV-10 light bombers) in Aceh to freely prosecute the security operation without control.

This “lack of control” over the military emergency has continued for three months and given rise to an extraordinary dehumanization of the Acehnese people. This can be seen from the statistical figures: 603 schools burnt down, 677 GAM members killed, 494 GAM members arrested, 43 TNI officers killed, 87 TNI officers wounded, 12 police officers killed, 58 police officers killed, 299 weapons seized from GAM, 19,652 refugees or 4321 families. Meanwhile another version says that in the two months of the military emergency in Aceh it has consumed as many as 215 civilian casualties. Meanwhile refugees numbers which have been recorded include 16,664 people in Bireun, 4099 people in East Aceh, 10,000 people in South Aceh, 4000 people in West Aceh, 2000 people in Aceh Tamiang, 1100 people in Pidie. The total number of schools burnt down include four kindergartens, 361 primary schools, 60 Madrasah Ibtidaiyah [Islamic private schools], 52 junior high schools, 14 Madrasah Tsanawiyah schools, 12 high schools, five Madrasah Aliyah schools and one SKB building.

The irony is that this dehumanization has resulted in losses which will impact on the very future of Acehnese civilization. This has material benefits for the TNI however. Of the 603 schools burnt down, the military operational command has re-built 469. There is something interesting behind the phenomena of schools being burnt down (we are not saying here that TNI was the perpetrator) -- many of the schools which were burnt down were located near TNI/police posts within a radius of only a few hundred metres. The source of the funds for the reconstruction of these 469 school buildings which were rebuilt by the TNI is unclear -- whether it is from the state budget (APBN), from the defense budget, from the regional administrative budget (APBD) or perhaps from budget allocations for subsidies for the Indonesian people -- but what is clear is that these projects “aroused the interest” of high-ranking military officer in Aceh. Meanwhile from the aspect of the benefits of “stabilizing local government”, the TNI has also reaped benefits. The inability of governments to function at the sub-district and village level was the justification to place active officers in the structure of civilian government. Of the 223 sub-district administrations, 140 are functioning normally while 83 are not functioning properly. From a total of 5862 village administrative bodies, 972 are not functioning and 1662 are not functioning properly. Village heads and sub-district heads in all of the village and sub-district administrations which are not functioning or are not functioning properly have been replaced by active military personnel.

The description of dehumanization above is not complete without also spelling out the magnitude of the costs which must be paid by the Indonesian people to pay for the military emergency in Aceh. Of the 1.7 quintillion rupiah, this breaks down into 1.2 billion for the TNI and 500 billion for the police. Over six months it is planned that these funds will be allocated to cover the cost of mobilising personnel, logistics for personnel, ammunition, war equipment, police and intelligence operations and operational costs in the field outside of logistics such as inspections by the army chief of staff. Financing has been obtained from state reserves which are put aside for emergency programs such as natural disasters, social conflicts and used as funds to guard against a sudden drop in income from the sale of oil.

This costly war was authorised though “Mother Megawati’s” presidential decree number 28/2003 which declares a hazardous situation at the level of a military emergency in Aceh. Through this decree the entire administration in Aceh is now run by the military. The civil administration along with the upholders of the law in Aceh must submit to the authority of the regional military commander.


Resolving the Aceh problem though a military emergency has brought significant economic and political losses to the people of Indonesia. Moreover in the lead-up to the 2004 elections, levels of social stability will greatly influence the successfulness of the “Megawati” government and the elite national bourgeois. Meanwhile in terms of the quality of life of the Indonesian people, which is of growing concern, where there is neoliberal threats and the low levels of subsidies for the people, in particular workers and the poor, opens up an “opportunity” for a new social collapse.

Unity is certainly a key task for Third World nations in order that they are able to confront the attacks of imperialism and their agents in the Third World countries themselves. The attacks and threats from imperialism, either in the form of the offensive of neoliberal policies and active military aggression can only be confronted with unity. Unity in this sense is clearly needed by the Indonesian people, not excluding the people of Aceh. However the unity to confront these objective demands cannot be created by the gun. This kind of unity can only be created and strengthened though democratic spirit and methods. This was the strong message from the founders of this nation. The historical uniqueness of the formation of the nation state of Indonesia, where the nation state of Indonesia was build though the spirit of voluntarism -- perhaps the only example the world -- is something we must hold in the highest esteem.

The military emergency in Aceh represents a systematic process of restoring the old forces of the “New Order” and strengthening the political power of the military in Indonesia. This represents a threat to democracy in Indonesia. Therefore in the lead-up to the 2004 general elections all elements of the opposition must unite under the umbrella of a political party which has a strong democratic platform. In the short term “the opposition” must stand shoulder to shoulder in bring forward an agenda calling for an end to the military operation in Aceh and a democratic resolution to the Aceh problem, in giving the [Acehnese people] the right to self determination (a two stage referendum) and the withdrawal of non-organic troops along with combat weaponry, and the dissolution of the Iskandar Muda [Aceh] territorial command. Because democratic space in Aceh has truly been restricted by the military, the task of the democratic opposition in Jakarta specifically, and the opposition outside of Aceh in general, is to immediately join in taking responsibility for the destiny of the Acehnese people by building a movement, pressure and political mobilisations to end the military operation in Aceh.

The grief of the Acehnese people as a result of the military emergency is a red light for democracy in Indonesia.

Jakarta August 14, 2003
Dita Indah Sari
General Chairperson
Central Leadership Council of the People’s United Opposition Party (DPP-POPOR)

[Translated by James Balowski.]