Gus Dur and peace for Papua

Kompas – January 4, 2010
 Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid
Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid

Wisdom cannot be measured by how long one has lived...

B Josie Susilo Hardianto – Anton Sumer sat stunned in front of the television. The news reports about the death of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid grabbed his entire attention. “Ai, Aduh. It is fitting, that we, the Papuan people feel sad. He was our father, the father of the Papuan people. He also returned the name Papua [to us] again”, said Anton holding his head in his hands.

In the past, during the New Order regime of former President Suharto, it was taboo for the Papuan people to refer to themselves as Papuans. Gus Dur however broke down that wall of fear. Prior to this Papua was referred to as Irian, and similarly its people as Irians.

In those days, although they were politically reluctant to refer to themselves as Papuans because they were afraid of being identified with the Free Papua Organisation (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM), deep down in their hearts they were still Papuans. “Because of Gus Dur, we were no longer afraid to refer to ourselves as Papuans, and we were proud of that,” said Yehezkiel Belaw, a young Papuan from Paniai regency.

As president, in 2000 Gus Dur also consented to and even provided financial assistance for the Papuan people to hold the 2nd Papuan People’s Congress. This consent was not just highly valued. For the Papuan people, democratic space had massive impact, particularly in terms of their self-identity as Papuans.

At the meeting, which was attended by around 5,000 participants from all corners of Papua, they again openly discussed the need to resolve Papua’s historical distortions. They discussed the importance of resolving human rights violations in Papua and the neglect of basic rights, particularly in the economic and social and cultural fields.

They saw that dialogue and negotiations were an important step in resolving these three problems. During the congress held in the provincial capital of Jayapura, it was also agreed to establish the Papuan Presidium Council (Presidium Dewan Papua) that was chaired by Theys Hiyo Eluay.

In political terms, Gus Dur’s wishes in the lead up to the 2001 New Year expressed through the words, “I want Papua to see the sun rise from the east,” had an extraordinary impact on the Papuan people.

Papuan identity

Gus Dur also openly re-acknowledged the Papuan people as a nation. “He not only opened up and cultivated democratic space, created a sense of peace and security, but also acknowledged our dignity and status as Papuan people,” said Papuan Traditional Council (DAP) General Chairperson Forkorus Yaboisembut.

Although according to Yaboisembut, in constitutional terms the acknowledgement of the Morning Star Flag and the son Hai Tanahku Papua (Hey Papua My Land) as symbols of Papuan identity were extremely controversial, Gus Dur still gave it his blessing.

The acknowledgement of cultural expression, freedom of expression and political identity was no just important for Papuan society, but also asserted the existence of the Papuan people and that they should be treated as equally.

“Through his spiritual and intellectual courage, he liberated the Papuan people from the bridle of the authoritarian and militaristic New Order,” said Yaboisembut.

Unfortunately, according to a researcher from the Institute for Public Research and Advocacy (Elsam), Amiruddin al Rahab, the moves pioneered by Gus Dur have not been continued. Nevertheless, he does not dismiss the important meaning of the things pioneered by Gus Dur in Papua.

For the head of the Fajar Timur Higher Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, Neles Tebay, it was this openness and democracy, supported by his spiritual and intellectual courage, that placed Gus Dur in the position of peace maker. “A Man of Peace,” said Tebay.

It is not surprising therefore that Gus Dur’s departure is a huge loss for the Papuan people. In fact they were actually in the middle of preparing a commemoration of the designation of the name Papua and were planning to invite Gus Dur to attend.

According to Yaboisembut, Gus Dur inspired them to struggle in and for the sake of peace. Although his administration was very short, what he did for the Papuan people was extremely important.

“Although physically, it was difficult for Gus Dur to see, he had a heart that could see much further then the physical eye,” said Sumer.

Amidst the silence of a mass to welcome in the New Year at a small church in the boarder area of Keerom regency, rose a prayer for Gus Dur. “Thank you Gus”, whispered one member of the church community.

[Translated by James Balowski.]