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Forever Young October 28, 2009

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Forever young

The Jakarta Post |  Wed, 10/28/2009 8:54 AM  |  Opinion

As a young generation of a colonized territory, a group of youth activists put their ethnic, religious and regional identities behind them as they gathered in Jakarta 81 years ago for a landmark congress that laid the foundation of a nation state called Indonesia.

It was the burning nationalism that eclipsed their fear of the watchful eyes of security authorities and the risk of being sent into exile as political prisoners. It was the confession of the need to unite to break the shackles of colonization and gain independence that guided them to the Youth Congress.

Most importantly, however, it was their decision to tie the knot as one nation sharing one homeland and speaking one (national) language that turned out to be their most precious legacy. The Youth Pledge not only sounds like an evergreen song that people of all ages will sing, but also a magic spell that makes anything possible.

Few would argue that Indonesia is not indeed a miracle, as it has survived 64 years of ups and downs as an independent nation state and displayed resilience when it came to global crises, while managing relations among diverse ethnic, religious and cultural groups. It comes as no surprise if the international community has acclaimed Indonesia one of the most successful plural societies in the world in keeping the harmony intact.

But the danger of segregation has always lingered and perhaps divulged the fractured face of the nation over time, without us ever being aware of it. Or we perhaps just played it down.

Nationalist bonds were absent when local politicians in many regencies and some provinces unanimously endorsed ordinances that defied the multi-religious state of Indonesia. From Aceh to Papua, regional administrations and legislative councils have encouraged religion-based bylaws only to win votes at the expense of the voices of the minority.

That was exactly what happened when the House of Representatives passed last year the controversial porn bill, through which the politicians exploited religious sentiment to gain popularity. It turned out later that the party that opposed the bill lost a significant number of votes in the April legislative elections and those that supported the draft law gained more votes, although many other factors might have contributed to the parties’ performance in the polls.

The formation of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Cabinet further proves the existence of ethnic, cultural, regional and religious segregation. Why should he take into account those sectarian factors in order to form an “ideal composition” of the Cabinet in the first place if he believes that all Indonesian citizens would not bother with such divisive issues?

Something has gone wrong with our journey as a nation state that our founding fathers’ greatest legacy of being Indonesian has lost its relevance today. There was a time that might last for decades that national unity was degraded into uniformity and national character building was guided from the top. Indonesia has experienced two extreme regimes that actually had much in common in promoting the sanctity of unity to justify oppression against freedom.

Now that democracy has been reborn here in Indonesia, there is a need to always revisit the Youth Pledge to renew our commitment to the fight against the evil of sectarian lusts. We are no longer a young nation, but we need the youth spirit of our visionary founding fathers to keep their and our dreams alive.

We are never too old to try to make a dream come true.

 

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