It was surely one of the great moments in history when Soekarno and Hatta declared independence from the Dutch in 1945. To be free to govern themselves after kowtowing to the colonial government of some far-off European nation was a magical feeling which spread from end to end of this vast archipelago.
But with that freedom came power, power to change the political and geographic landscape, to direct the economic and financial future of the country, to give back to the people what they had lost over 350 years: their pride and a stake in the future of their own country.
Has this been achieved in the 70 years under the presidencies of Soekarno, Soeharto, B.J. Habibie, Megawati Soekarno Putri, Abdulrahman Wahid, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and now Joko Widodo?
That is a question only the man in the street can answer, or perhaps the woman in the field, but certainly people are better off today than they were 50 years ago, censorship of the press has ceased and many things have improved out of sight.
But for me questions remain:
• Was there corruption under Dutch rule? I don’t think so, so this corrosive and crippling disease is entirely the making of the independent Indonesians.
• What was the justice system like under the Dutch? Certainly the laws didn’t favour the local population but the system was probably as solid as it is today in the Netherlands. So again the much criticized judicial system is a post independence product.
• Was there city planning in colonial times? Judging by the legacy of beautiful buildings, broad boulevards, art-deco and canals, there was a serious attempt to order lives. This seems to have slipped away in the last twenty years especially.
This month Singapore turns 50, achieving their independence 20 years after Indonesia, but in their 50 years they have transformed their island state into a modern city, one of the best in the world with an incredible economy built on hard work, discipline, total honesty and a rigid legal system. Their citizens enjoy a GDP per capita of USD68,000, against Indonesia’s USD3,300 and now even that is forced to become Rp43,000,000. Which means nothing to the world.
Celebrate independence, absolutely, but then think very carefully where you can go in the next 70 years. Happy Birthday Indonesia.
Written By Alistairs G Speirs