Subject: RI brutality helps to produce Nobel Peace prize winners

The Jakarta Post

Monday, October 13, 2008

Commentary: RI brutality helps to produce Nobel Peace prize winners

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia played a crucial role in the awarding of two Nobel Peace Prizes: the 1996 prize for East Timor Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta and this year's prize for former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari.

We even came close to helping internationally acclaimed author the late Pramoedya Ananta Toer secure the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And we will probably assist even more people to claim a Nobel prize in coming years -- in the peace category at least -- if we continue to behave in the ways that helped Bishop Belo, Ramos-Horta and Ahtisaari win the world's most prestigious award. The recipe is very simple.

I don't know whether we should be proud, or whether we should condemn ourselves as a nation, over our part in these men winning this very prestigious prize. If we really listen to our conscience, then we have to admit that these awards are a nasty slap in our national face. After all, it was thanks to our Military's systematically oppressive approach and our nation's uncivilized lack of respect for human dignity that the opportunity arose for these men to make this achievement.

On Friday, Ahtisaari was declared winner of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize for his concerted efforts in solving various international conflicts, especially the one in Aceh. With the help of Ahtisaari, Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) reached a peace accord in 2005, which ended decades of war in the rebellious province of Aceh.

The two sides agreed to end the war after the tsunami killed about 210,000 people in the province in December 2004 -- but the number of innocents who lost their lives during the war was much higher. The Indonesian Military and the rebels were both responsible for the tragedy.

The devout Aceh Muslims are a proud people who felt betrayed by the central government's systematic gross violations of human rights and overexploitation of their abundant natural resources.

And we as a nation for a very long period pretended not to know about the miseries of the Acehnese people because, for many of us, the existence of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia was something to be preserved at all costs and by all means.

Only three years after the present Timor Leste President Ramos-Horta and then East Timor (the territory's name under Indonesia's 20-year occupation) bishop Belo were jointly awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, Indonesia held a referendum where the East Timorese people overwhelmingly voted for independence.

But Ahtisaari is luckier than Belo and especially Ramos-Horta: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla congratulated Ahtisaari shortly after the announcement on Friday.

President Yudhoyono was ridiculed by many Indonesians in 2006 -- reportedly Vice President Jusuf Kalla was one of them -- who thought he felt geer (slang for a deflated sense of self-importance) because he believed he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. He could not hide his desire for the prize in 2006, even though it was Kalla who was responsible for the peace process.

The then foreign minister Ali Alatas said of Ramos-Horta's win in 1996, "What has been his contribution to East Timor? Other than being a tool of the Portuguese colonial government, who for a long time caused the East Timorese people to suffer." Perhaps Alatas would laugh now were he to reread his own comment.

Indonesian brutality is also to thank for great literature. Every year for about two decades, author Pramoedya was tipped as a likely winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature until his death in April 2006. Those who have read his books will easily understand how Indonesia contributed to launching his name onto the world literature list.

Since the fall of Soeharto in May 1998, Indonesians have successfully transformed their nation into the world's third largest democracy, populated mostly by peaceful and moderate Muslims.

But we need to remember that even after Soeharto's fall, military operations continued in Aceh and only after the devastating tsunami did the government -- and GAM -- realize there was no choice but to restore peace in the province.

The government allowed the East Timorese to determine their future in 1999, but when the majority of them voted for independence, the military took revenge. And the result?

If Indonesia -- not just the government but also we the people -- continues to oppress its citizens who revolt against the country because they can no longer submit to gross human rights violations, we will likely produce yet another Nobel winner, perhaps from Papua or another region.

When the majority -- or more precisely, those who believe God has sent them to represent the majority -- thinks it can do anything it likes against the rest of the nation, we just cannot help producing more international heroes. Just look at the fatal poisoning of human rights activist Munir in 2004.

The writer can be reached at

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