| Modern Indonesia
is an integration of more than 13,000 islands featuring a wide variety
of cultural and religious traditions.
For about 1,000 years, Indonesia has been involved in maritime trade
bringing a wide range of cultural, religious and ethnic influences.
The Chinese were among the 1st to trade, followed
in the 8th century AD by Hindu and Buddhist
merchants from India who built up 2 empires, known as Majapahit
and Srivijaya. These were suppressed in the 13th century
by Islamic influences brought by Malay and Arab
mariners. The English and Portuguese
were the 1st Europeans to arrive in the area in the 16th century.
In 1595 the Dutch East India Company took control
of trade of the region. From 1814 until the invasion by the Japanese
during World War II, Indonesia’s people and resources were
subjected to Dutch rule.
The major independence movement, the Indonesian
Nationalist Party (PNI), was born in the 1920's under the
leadership of Ahmed Sukarno. It was constantly
suppressed by the Dutch and remained principally underground until
the Dutch East Indies were overrun by the Japanese during World
War II. The Japanese positioned a puppet like PNI government for
the duration of their occupation. Following their defeat in 1945,
the PNI declared independence. This was challenged by the Dutch
who dispatched a military force to Indonesia and arrested Sukarno.
By 1949, under international pressure, the Dutch were forced to
concede the country’s sovereignty.
The colonial powers used up much of Indonesia’s
wealth while contributing little to its development. The Sukarno
government had a major development task ahead of it. It also had
to bring together a national consciousness among dozens of equally
suspicious tribes and ethnic groups. The leaders chose as their
national motto Bhineka Tunggalika, meaning
‘unity in diversity’.
The newly formed Government designed a federal structure for the
country, but in 1950 reverted to a unitary state. This intensified
political and economic power in Java produced resentment elsewhere.
Sukarno’s growing authoritarianism
was accompanied by an activist foreign policy which attracted the
enmity of the United States of America and its allies, who were
suspicious of Sukarno’s Cold-War neutrality.
Economic difficulties fueled the growth
of the opposition, particularly the powerful Indonesian
Communist Party (PKI). In September 1965, a coup was commenced
by members of the army with full PKI support. The political struggle,
which the Government eventually won, was 1 of the closest in recent
history. With diplomatic backing from the Western powers, the army
Chief of Staff, General Suharto,
backed Sukarno, and saved the regime. Between 400,000 and 1 million
people were massacred by the army in the consequences of the coup.
Sukarno was politically destroyed and in March 1967, was replaced
Suharto continued as President
until his forced resignation during May of 1998. The army always
held political power under the Suharto government, while a technocrat
class was left to run Indonesia day-to-day. The Golkar
(Partai Golongan Karya) party was born as the regime’s
official political vehicle. Until the fall of Suharto, Golkar and
its candidates won every election.
The regime style government brought Indonesia comparative peace,
stability and steady economic growth. Manifestations of Muslim
fundamentalism were strictly controlled by the Government
(Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country). Both Sukarno
and Suharto adhered to a policy of permiting religious diversity
as a guarantor of social stability and peace, although attempts
to preserve this formally in an official doctrine of Pancasila were
dropped and the Government initiated various stop-gap pro-Islamic
Sukarno’s foreign policy was firmly neutralist. Indonesia
was a founding and active member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Suharto progressively drove his country towards the West and joined
the pro-Western ASEAN bloc (Association of South
East Asian Nations). From the mid 1980's, he made efforts to improve
relations with the Soviet Union and China.
The trigger for the fall of Suharto was the Asian
economic crisis of 1997. Indonesia
suffered roughly, as the structural flaws in the economy
were laid bare. 1000's were thrown out of work and months of rioting
and protest followed. The army, which was already struggling with
numerous insurgencies on Indonesia’s outlying territories,
began to dissent. In May 1998, the once influential Muslim
leader Amien Rais and a range of senior military figures
lent their voices to the clamour already demanding Suharto’s
departure, and the President was left with little choice but to
resign. Years of bitterness at the extended Suharto clan’s
general freeloading and wholesale corruption also played a role
in this scenario.
Suharto’s deputy, Jusuf Habibie, stepped
in until presidential elections were held under new rules in November
of 1999. The national assembly elections were held 5 months earlier,
in June 1999. These elections saw Golkar pushed
into 2nd place by the principal opposition party, the Partai
Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDIP), the Indonesian
Democratic Party of Struggle) headed by the daughter of
the ex-President Sukarno, Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Sukarnoputri was predicted to win the November
presidential poll. However, she lacked the support in crucial parts
of the new electoral college which now selects the president. Her
opponents chose the veteran cleric Abdurrahman Wahid,
leader of the 3rd-largest party in the assembly, the Partai
Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party). He
gathered sufficient support to defeat Sukarnoputri in the electoral
college. Sukarnoputri became the vice-president.
In his 1st 12 months in office, Wahid seemingly stricken by indecisiveness,
proved incapable of tackling the mess left behind by Suharto. In
April 2001, Wahid was prosecuted for alleged corruption for a few
million dollars, and by July was forced out of office as Vice
President, Sukarnoputri took over.
Sukarnoputri faced major struggles. Indonesia’s economic recovery
has been stalled by an hostile confrontation with parliament which
had delayed the implementation of key policies, as well as disagreements
over the IMF recovery package and international
concern about the Wahid government’s policies or lack of them.
The corruption that characterized the Suharto regime
continued much as before, despite the implication and arraignment
of a number of leading political figures.
Indonesia’s economic difficulties were also undermining the
Government’s efforts to hold the fractious nation together.
Militant Islam is making its existence felt throughout
the archipelago. However, the main regional problem, East
Timor, has been solved. Formerly a Portuguese colony, East
Timor was occupied by the Indonesian military between 1974 and 1999.
It is now the world’s newest independent state
(see East Timor section).
Aceh, in northern
Sumatra, Muslim guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement
have been fighting for independence for over ten years. There are
indications that they may accept limited autonomy, and negotiations
with the Government continue today. There is also an active move
for independence in Irina Jaya,
the Indonesian province that shares an island with the independent
state of Papua New Guinea.
The Moluccan Islands (also called ‘Spice
Islands’) are 1 of the few parts of Indonesia with
a majority Christian population. Since 1999, they
have been engaged in an progressively violent struggle with Muslim
militants which has so far claimed over 5,000 lives. Violent confrontations
between Christians and Muslims have also taken place in central
Sulawesi. An ethnic conflict took
place in late 1999 between the indigenous Dayak people
of Kalimantan province (in central Borneo) and
migrants from Madura (near Java). The Madurans
had been dispatched to Kalimantan to increase the population. A
part of an occasional Suharto government policy of ‘demographic
engineering’ designed to homogenise the disparate Indonesian