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Indonesian History
Indonesia History - TravelPuppy.com
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 by Suharto.

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 policies.

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 population).