Tuesday, February 07, 2023

And we are back. If Indonesia is Canada, is Bali PEI? Or Alberta?

Do all Canadian take Canadian history with them when they travel, or is it just me? There was a moment there when Bali had me thinking about ... Canadian federalism.

I was reading a pretty good history of Bali while we were there: A Brief History of Bali by Willard A. Hanna

Actually, it's a history by William Hanna and Tim Hannigan. Hanna was an American scholar of Asia and a Foreign Service diplomat who spent a long time in Indonesia and died in 1993.  Tim Hannigan, a journalist and travel writer, assembled the Brief History for publication in 2004 by adapting various (impressively readable) reports on Bali history written by Hanna and adding his own opening chapter to set the context and closing chapters to carry the narrative from 1965 to the present.

The ex-diplomat Hanna, who may not have been CIA but was surely CIA-adjacent, took a very dim view of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno -- a left-leaning figure and a founder of the "non-aligned group of nations during the Cold War, whom the CIA several times tried to have deposed.  

Hannigan is much more balanced in his view.  He credits Sukarno with the strategy that held Indonesia together.

Indonesia's hundreds of millions of people are scattered across 17,000 islands and divided into scores of ethnicities with different religions, cultures and languages. Sukarno, as a prime mover of Indonesia independence after World War Two, was determined that the country would only survive if there was tolerance and respect for all the languages, religions, and cultural traditions. He also concluded that such tolerance had to go hand in hand with a very strong central government:  any hint of federalism was sure to encourage separatism, independence movements, violence, and disunion.  There would also be a very indirect form of democratic representation: In the Indonesian parliamentary democracy, local representatives and leaders, rather than the voters at large, would choose the members of parliament.

Sukarno's successor, Suharto (a lot of Indonesians use only one name), was effectively a military dictator until the economic crisis of 1997-98 forced him from office. (Hanna much preferred him to Sukarno.) Part of the response to Suharto's heavy-handed rule was more representative democracy after his fall from power -- and also a shift to more local autonomy throughout Indonesia.  Local governors and assemblies acquired new powers, and so did local councils. Suddenly Indonesia began to look more like Canada, at least constitutionally, with provincial governments that pursue policies that may be at odds with the national governments, and local governments that strive to get out from under the provincial thumb.

After twenty-five years of semi-federalism, Indonesia has not fallen apart. There is still lots of tolerance for the country's various religions . Militant Islam looms on the horizon, but there is a lot of moderation even in heavily Muslim areas. Local communities speak local languages, with Bahasa Indonesia a common second language, taught alongside the local language in schools throughout the country.  The decentralization-centralization dynamic looks set to go on permanently, as in Canada.

If Bali's history interests you, there is much more than federalism in A Brief History of Bali. And Hannigan has also written a companion volume all his own, A Brief History of Indonesia


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