With all its complexity, the West Papuan region in Indonesia seems never to stop attracting the attention of both home and abroad communities. Individuals and communities seem to race to gain public attention, promoting their views and actions on West Papua. Unfortunately, while several groups are endeavoring potential more significant cross-sectoral efforts, some tend to like to undermine people who have different ways of helping the West Papua region develop. This piece focuses on why several groups cannot cross-path and recommend a rare, but promising collaboration for the better of West Papua and Indonesia.
Diverge views after the Surabaya incident
After the Surabaya incident, Indonesian West Papua gained worldwide attention. During the incident, Indonesian students of West Papuan ethnicity were mocked and shouted at as ‘monkey’ after a misunderstanding broke out. A few groups accused the students of damaging the Red and White flag in front of their dormitory, but they denied the accusation. Disputing groups failed to hold any dialogs, and then came the derogatory statement.
After a few videos went viral regarding the incident, a massive number of Indonesians of other ethnicities sent out their empathies, apologizing for what happened. The main message was the derogatory actions were never valued in Indonesia, and those mockers would never represent all other Indonesians who have developed peaceful lives with the multicultural society.
Unfortunately, some people saw the incident quite differently. They posted the negative videos with comments propelling people to condemn and boycott the Indonesian government. Even worse, some used the video to go against Indonesian people in general, creating an atmosphere as if Indonesians were all evils, deliberately mistreating their fellow West Papuan Indonesians.
Discourses about West Papua then suddenly re-emerged, which ranged from human rights to development issues. Contesting ideas about West Papua all of a sudden become a hot issue on the media both home and abroad. Individuals and organizations across the globe talked about the region, covering aspects like history, the current development, etc. A few entities, both individuals and organizations like Veronica Koman, Benny Wenda, Amnesty International Indonesia, as well as the Indonesian security forces, faced such unprecedented exposure due to their ‘involvements’ in the West Papua’s issues.
Our website, though, eventually gained a little exposure, thanks to the report made by an Australian think tank named ASPI and the BBC accused us of spreading propaganda because we took a different tone of reporting from what they have.
For your information, though, we condemn the approaches VK and BW had taken during the sensitive situation because they were detrimental to West Papua. By posting choppy facts, people were left with deep-seated prejudices and could not gain a comprehensive picture of what was really happening in West Papua. We appreciate what they advocate, though, but we just did not agree with their approaches during the critical moments, especially after the Surabaya incident.
The complicated situation, we see, is caused by these several situations. Firstly, there is a lack of sectorial empathy from those who claim to care about West Papua. Secondly, some entities, unfortunately, are more eager to do a confrontation, rather than building collaborations and dialogs. This has something to do with the enforcement of the western way of thinking standards to the Indonesian Southeast-Asian-and-pacific contexts. Thirdly, there is this some mentality of Indonesians to rely on ‘neighbors’ perspective when taking care of their home dispute, instead of solving the problem internally.
First: The lack of empathy
Regarding the first aspect, those who claim to have developed attention to West Papua have yet to be willing to listen to what others feel, think and experience regarding the easternmost region in Indonesia. This applies to western media and organizations including ASPI and the BBC (once again, thanks for the report, though), who seem to lack understanding about the rich development happening in Indonesia and West Papua. They are right about the human rights violations both in the past and the recent days in West Papua, but the region is not all about that.
These people seem never to know that nowadays in West Papua, many aspects are burgeoning like art, education, voluntary work, and even human rights navigation. West Papuan vloggers are so many now. West Papua has many artists, dancers, writers, etc. People across the globe have come to West Papua, teaching, building schools, and providing healthcare, even voluntarily.
There was this ‘kind of strange’ moment when our brother Lewis Prai Wellip – A proud West Papuan living abroad, posted a protest on our fan page. We then showed him a picture telling that a few youths from foreign countries have come to teach West Papuan kids there. These foreign youths were proudly brought by an organization called Kitong Bisa, which is chaired by a young, bright West Papuan named Billy Mambrasar. Lewis Prai accused us of photoshopping the picture.
For once, we were startled, asking ourselves, why would we photoshop this? But after a while, we realized that some people are so detached to what is really happening in West Papua (whose beliefs are never based on first-hand looks and accounts) and like to think too far about the region.
For this first matter, we kind of can see your potential comment and critique, which may as well be related to the closure of West Papua from overseas people especially diplomats and the media. This comment leads us to the second aspect which is the lack of empathic understanding and dialogs.
Second: The lack of an empathic understanding
We know you all are not satisfied with how the Indonesian government governs Indonesian, especially in navigating issues related to West Papua, because we too are disappointed. Note that!
The government indeed still suffers from problems like overlapping policies, vested interests, political chaos, etc., which reports about those are so many.
However, noting and exposing those problems from the government is never, ever enough. People in the government works and speaks differently from people of, say, CSOs, and NGOs. They have an entirely different way of thinking compared to the latter groups.
This little proposition should provide us a little bit of a picture of the importance of establishing an understanding of how the government works, which we call it an ‘empathic understanding’.
This way of understanding means that you do not have to agree with others’ opinions, but you can understand the background of those opinions and still appreciate them. And, recognizing the views will not stop you from criticizing them. However, you always want to come up with useful recommendations because you understand how to stand up for your points but still appreciate others.
To this end, instead of merely criticizing the government of Indonesia and accusing those who do not agree with you of spreading propaganda, people can start understanding how and why the governments and people you don’t agree with think and act. And from there, we start communicating with one another and then possibly establish a plan from collaborative actions.
For example, in the issue of West Papua, human rights and media activists should be willing to knock the doors of pertinent government departments, including the security forces, and initiate a friendly dialog with government and security officials. Listen to how they perceive social issues like the West Papua ones.
Would that make you feel silly and uncomfortable? Heck yeah! Who in the world is feeling comfortable when talking with the government?
Would you feel like you are too smart to talk to the government? Hell yeah! But that is where the real problem lies!
The different context of Indonesia
Human rights, freedom of the press, and life values like equality, appreciating others etc. have yet to be a significant concern by developing countries like Indonesia, let alone by their security forces. In many instances, whenever necessary, they would even deliberately forget those values because top priorities could still be about figuring out the best shares of power and determining national identity. In the case of Indonesia, the very thick bureaucratic atmosphere makes its officials think about how they can secure their positions, let alone pursuing their best work or contribution, and let alone thinking about human rights.
For the security forces to be specific, for decades, both low, middle, and top-ranked officers have yet to gain significant exposure to human rights and freedom of the press values and knowledge. In this sense, you can imagine how they would totally care less to any human right consideration when undertaking a mission because they have not known about that stuff.
You may want to shout out like, “Well, they should know because that what the government should know!” Well, there you go, arrogant human right fighters!
What you are trying to do in applying these days’ western world standards in human rights navigation and freedom of the press to Indonesia which has a completely different context.
This reminds us to a global speaker Dan Lok when asked if young people in Asia should follow their passion to succeed. His answer was to forget about the passion! And start doing things that can make you survive. Once you have a much better life, then you can start thinking about your passions.
Those propositions can be interpreted that in Asia, most of the countries are still struggling to gain prosperity. So, thinking about well-established values like human rights and freedom of the press will often be overridden by the urgency of survival struggles. We never think that human right values are not necessary, but in the case of Indonesia, for example, the public must be realistic that the people are still trying to make sense of what human rights mean, let alone applying the values.
We all must come to an understanding that Indonesia is a developing country, and the government is still figuring out their best performance. In that pursuit of best performance, a lot of stakeholders will need to jump into the endeavor, whether asked officially by the government or not. This proposition should lead to an understanding that those who already understand well the values of human rights or equality, or the freedom of the press etc. should work hard on introducing the values, especially to government and security officials.
One would ask, why would those human rights fighters bother approaching the government? Well, you think you know better than it is your moral obligation to educate others about the matters you know well. You cannot expect a good dialog if your dialog partner or opponent does not understand the way your thoughts or perspectives work.
Third: Listen more to others mentality
Finally, which is the third point of this piece, which is to avoid opinions of neighbors when taking care of our home affairs and start establishing collaborative actions with local stakeholders. There are several reports on the media and blogs that cry for international attention, say, from Australia, America, and China for the issues related to West Papua. For a moment, this perspective sounds making some sense as their attention would bring the issues to be a global hit. But one should ask, why should we ask other countries’ opinions for our home affairs?
Here is the thing. West Papua is now led by local leaders who are native West Papuans. The region has two security leaders who are also indigenous West Papuans. Local media are so many where some have fed the international media with sufficient info. Local organizations are emerging, mainly initiated by West Papuan youths like the Kitong Bisa. The region has its authority to spend its budget which some confirm it is a significant amount of money. Local human rights organizations like Amnesty International Indonesia and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission have full access to the regions.
Given those social infrastructures, why one should still seek overseas help? What you need is, instead, indeed, to establish collaborative work with those existing various stakeholders to allow the government to plan and implement a better development.
If one still cries for international attention even though knowing those significant aspects of the West Papua region, we doubt that that effort is either ignorant and undermining the potential of local leaders to solve the issues related to West Papua, or is deliberately undertaken for some interests that are detrimental to West Papua.
An Australian scholar, Rodd McGibbon (2006) has mentioned that the way West Papua’s issues are perceived and acted upon by a particular constituency in Australia “promises to create more problems than it solves.” From what Mr. McGibbon explains, it can be understood that involving overseas perspectives incorrectly can cause serious problems instead of bringing solutions to local issues in Indonesia, including the West Papua’s problems.
Of the Australian perspective, Mr. McGibbon mentions, the failure to better West Papua stems from aspects like “the lack of a serious appreciation of the forces driving contemporary Indonesian politics; and the promotion of a one-sided account of the Papua conflict that takes for granted Papuan ethnic claims.”
Listening to others’ opinions for our home affairs, to some extent, could be necessary. But that should never, ever spare us from engaging with local stakeholders and figuring out problem-solving perspectives based on our own local contexts. (*)