Xanana’s Capture and The Future of Indonesia Nationalism

As the one who has been leading the resistance struggle, it is not up to me to say that the majority of the people desire integration (Xanana, 1992)

You can take anything, even if it should be my own life, but you will not be able to take the freedom of East Timorese. Perhaps, that what was Xanana trying to tell to Try Sutrisno, the then Indonesian Army general, during his capture in Dili, on November 1992. The general “wisely” pursuaded Xanana to admit East Timor integration. But the general heard nothing more than Xanana diplomatically answer, “as the one who has been leading the resistance struggle, it is not up to me to say that the majority of the (East Timorese) people desire integration.” Xanana was a prominent guerrilla leader fighting against what he called as,” Indonesia’s illegal occupation on East Timor.” His answer was a shock to most of Indonesian people who seek for a peaceful integration in East Timor.

At that time, I was still in the high school, and as most of Indonesian would have done, I cheered for his capture. As an apolitical teenager, I considered Indonesia, including East Timor, as a final form of a country as well as a nation. Any rebel from any part of Indonesia that seek for an independence was not acceptable. As a product of new order’s ideological uniformity under Soehart regime, I was an obedience citizen, with black or white minded.

Today, almost 22 years after the capture, I watched the footage of Xanana’s capture in a very different angle. Even though I am an Indonesian, who is still proud of my nationality, the capture footage has triggered me with some intriguing questions. What is Indonesian nationalism? Is it bound by the boundaries of teritory in which has been colonialised by the Dutch? Is it according to pre colonial boundaries, in which nusantara kingdoms, such as Majapahit or Sriwijaya, have conquered? Or perhaps, is it according to what Benedict Andersen coined as “imagined communities.”

Those questions are important, since in the next few months we will have to elect the new Indonesian president. The future Indonesian president is the person that we have to rely in bringing the revival of Indonesia nationalism. I personally choose the candidate who can embrace the diversity while at the same time deepening the sense of Indonesian nationalism. Whoever the next president of Indonesia is, he has to deal with the current threat on nationalism.

Xanana is a perfect example on how “Indonesia” can not fit to what East Timorese imagine as a nation. Perhaps, mainly because East Timor did not have the same historical connection as Indonesia in term of colonialism. But, that is not the main reason, as we can see some people in other regions are still trying to seperate from Indonesia, for example, the Mollucans and the West Papuans. I am not sure about Acehnese, but let assume Acehnese do believe that they are part of Indonesia after the Helsinki Agreement. For particular people in those regions, despite of their hesitance to be an Indonesian, they have experienced the same colonial legacy as any other people in Indonesia. Thus, there must be something that hinder them to be a proud Indonesian.

Xanana’s capture remind me to the unfinished Indonesia’s nationalism project. The Indonesian nationalism project that embrace every individuals right, ethnicity, religion, and expression. Perhaps, nationalism project that has been started since Indonesian independence by Soekarno. The project that should not replicate Soeharto’s New Order approaches, which concentrate in military might, depoliticised, and uniformity. Nationalism that according to Jacques Bertrand should provide space for anyone to, “regularly renegotiate, contest, or reaffirm their representation in the state.” Furthermore, on his book tittled, “nationalism and ethnics conflict in Indonesia, Jacques Bertrand propose that strong nationalism should be based on continous accommodation of interest from different ethnicities and religious group. If we fail to recognise these interest, especially from marginal groups, someday we may not be able to maintain Indonesia teritory as we are now living on it. If Indonesian majority, that consist of Javanese by ethnic and Moslem by religion, are unable to accommodate the interest of other ethnicities and religions, someday we may hear some group of people say, similar to what Xanana has stated fourteen years ago, that they are fighting for their right to have their own imagined community.

1. Footage is taken from SBS Dateline youtube channel
2. Featured image is taken from Damn I love Indonesia website.
3. Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. verso.
4. Bertrand, J. (2004). Nationalism and ethnic conflict in Indonesia. Cambridge University Press.

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