Diversity and its Discontents: An Overview of Minority-Majority Relations in Indonesia

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    Indonesia has always perceived itself as being a tolerant, diverse and pluralist nation. As one of the most ethnically, religiously and culturally complex societies on earth, Indonesia has cast acceptance of difference and equality of rights and opportunities as a cornerstone of its existence. The nation's motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, an Old Javanese phrase typically translated as ‘Unity in Diversity’ but perhaps more accurately rendered as ‘Out of Many, One’. The motto implies that Indonesia not only embraces but also celebrates diversity. Founding president Sukarno set the tone in a speech in 1955 when he declared: ‘This country, the Republic of Indonesia, does not belong to any group, nor to any religion, nor to any ethnic group, nor to any group with particular customs and traditions, but is the property of all of us from Sabang to Merauke! [i.e., from the further-most northwestern to southeastern points of the archipelago]’ (quoted in Vatikiotis 2017: 157). In essence, he was claiming that all who lived within Indonesia's borders were owed the same rights and no single group had preference. More recently, presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004–14) and Joko Widodo (2014–) have made terms such as ‘moderation’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘multiculturalism’ central to their nation's international diplomacy. Yudhoyono, for example, declared at a Harvard address in 2009 that Indonesia was a ‘bastion of freedom, tolerance and harmony’ (Yudhoyono 2009) and stated at a high-level event in New York in 2013 that ‘[Indonesia] will always protect our minorities and ensure that no one suffers from discrimination’ (Parlina and Aritonang 2013). In addition, and reflecting a broad sentiment, public opinion surveys have repeatedly shown that an overwhelming majority of Indonesians believe their country to be tolerant and respectful of the rights of minorities (Fealy 2016: 120; Mietzner and Muhtadi in Chapter 9 of this volume). But is this self-perception justified? In recent years Indonesia's reputation for tolerance and inclusivity has come under growing scrutiny from domestic and overseas civil society and human rights groups, the international media and the diplomatic community. Much of this scrutiny relates to the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities and of the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. They have variously been subject to condemnation or denigration by other sections of society and political leaders, and in some cases have been the target of violent attack.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationContentious Belonging: The place of Minorities in Indonesia
    Editors Greg Fealy and Ronit Ricci
    Place of PublicationSingapore
    PublisherISEAS Publishing
    ISBN (Print)978-981-4843-46-1
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

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