Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia

February 10, 2016

Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia



It has been 13 years since democracy icon and late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid restored to Chinese-Indonesians the right to openly express their ethnic identity, including the ancient tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year.

It was Gus Dur who lifted the New Order ban on anything related to Chinese identity in the aftermath of the September 1965 coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party. Indonesia severed ties with China after the aborted coup, but the two normalised relations in 1990, although discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians remained.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year, therefore, has always been a celebration of ethnic diversity in Indonesia, which was originally conceived as a pluralist nation. It is not simply about New Year feasting or the joy of giving and receiving angpao (gifts of cash in red envelopes) and basket cakes, but also the joy of sharing happiness with the other ethnicities that form Indonesia.

More than just New Year-themed entertainment with dragon and lion dances and red lanterns that decorate public spaces and shopping malls, the celebrations to mark the turn of the Chinese calendar underline Indonesia’s acceptance that cultural differences enrich rather than divide the nation.

After years of persecution and restrictions, Chinese-Indonesians now stand equal with other citizens, whose freedom of expression and fundamental rights are protected by the Constitution.

The case of Jakarta is also unique, in which the governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, belongs to the Chinese-Indonesian minority. Although his ascent to the gubernatorial post was thanks to former governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s catapult to the presidential post, Ahok has started to win the faith of many Jakartans. The real test of diversity for Jakarta looks to come in 2017 should Ahok seek another term of office.

Many do not like him, but very few of them dislike him for his ethnic or his religious backgrounds. His critics oppose his policies, which they deem as failing to help all the people, but the same people are quick to jump to his defence against intolerant groups, such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), who have attacked him simply for his ethnicity and religion.

Ahok himself has never been shy about his ethnic identity. He invites the public to call him Ahok, a Chinese “peranakan” pet name from his father. And many people also call him Pak Ahok with respect, not in some derogatory manner as some did in the past toward Chinese Indonesians.

Sixteen years of cultural recognition is probably not a very long time. Many Chinese Indonesians still remember the dark past, when they had to hide their ethnic identity and when their phenotypical features gave them away and increased the risk of being harassed on the streets.

But a lot of progress has been achieved. Not only do Chinese-Indonesians get to celebrate it publicly, but they can also share the happiness with all their fellow citizens.

Happy Chinese New Year, and may you be blessed with strength to outsmart the Fire Monkey. And may diversity turn Jakarta into a joyful, colourful and vibrant city for all to live in. — Jakarta Post

3 thoughts on “Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia

  1. My Indonesian friends and Fellow Malaysians,

    Happy Lunar New Year. Remember Gus Dur and Jusuf B. Habibie. I admire them because together they set Indonesia on the path of pluralist democracy. Honour them and make Indonesia into a beautiful, prosperous Land of Diversity and a model for ASEAN.

    My country, Malaysia, is a dismal failure because our Leaders are a bunch of bigots and racists. In my book, diversity is Unity and Strength is Unity. If you don’t believe me, try to break a bunch of bamboo. Tied together, that bunch can stand any pressure.–Din Merican

  2. I think diversity is not as durable an idea as affirming unalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Diversity is one of the end results of affirming unalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Once liberty is protected, any minorities with strong conviction to their respective cultures and values will have chances to demonstrate the goodness of the cultures and values in the “market”; Then the better ones will earn acceptance by others. This type of diversity is possible only under limited government, under which private citizens are free to form associations to promote what they want to promote.

    In contrast, an overbearing government which taxes the people to poverty or nationalizes national resources (such as oil) to fund itself cannot promote diversity in any meaningful way. At best, the overbearing government allocates “playtime” equally by ethnicity, such as 51% to Malays and 24% to Chinese, and maintains a superficial fairness. At worst, the overbearing government chooses winner and loser, and causes much anger among people. Both situations are a far cry from natural diversity born out of affirming unalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

    Therefore, diversity is an inferior idea.

  3. Celebration of diversity is the product of what we achieve after paras 1 and 2 of comments by Shiou. It is the icing on the cake. It is the end result and will never work if it comes, “cart before the horse’. We must have a clear understanding of how nationhood is created before we can even talk about diversity.

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