Opinion July 06, 2005
News & Views
Weekly Roundup
Past Editions
Indonesian Cabinet
Indonesian History
State of the Nation Address
Indonesia Outlook
Indonesia Review
President's Inauguration Speech
Tsunami Declaration
IMF Reforms
Anniversary Edition
2004 Elections
Where to go
Members Area
Who's Who
About Us
Company Info
Online Media Kit
Print Media Kit
When international politics and humanity clash

Dewi Anggraeni, Melbourne

Living in today's world we see, witness, experience, at least hear of, violence in varying degrees, every day. Consequently we also frequently see, witness, experience grief and trauma around us. Regardless of how hardened we have become, it still warms our hearts when we are able to help lighten a burden, or help heal a trauma or grief.

We have indeed, knowingly for many, and unknowingly for others, done just that, for the Vietnamese refugees who, in the 1970s, having left their war-torn homeland, were waiting to be resettled in other countries, on the islands of Galang and Bidong. Many Indonesians who went to work with the refugees on Galang Island, some as official workers, others as volunteers, developed deep and lasting friendships with them, and have kept in touch with them until today. However last month we also have, knowingly or unknowingly, undone a great deal of that good deed.

The refugees who lived for years in Galang and Bidong feel that their lives have been made a lot more pleasant that they might have been, by the people who work with them in the refugee camps. Not only had they been wrenched away by circumstances from their home and comfort network, they were also nursing a deep trauma and grief as many of their compatriots, who had been somebody's parents, siblings, relatives and close friends, had not made it.

Together they had also gone through harrowing experiences on the way to Galang and Bidong, because when they made it, they arrived there on dilapidated and most often than not, leaky, boats. And as a former refugee recounted, "We had to leave all our possessions behind. We got to Galang and Bidong with nothing but the rags on our backs, starving and barely alive, yet aware than we were luckier than many of our loved ones who had perished on the way."

"That is why we can never forget the kindness of our hosts in Galang and Bidong who received us and looked after us. Without them we would not be here," said Hung Tran, another former Galang sojourner.

These were not empty words. During the post-tsunami telephone fund-raising event conducted by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Radio, the largest and most generous donations, by far, came from the Vietnamese community. Within two hours, the Vietnamese program collected over A$600 000, and even the number of Vietnamese callers to the Indonesian program outnumbered others. And most of the donors specifically asked that their money be sent to Indonesia.

When asked to explain this extraordinary generosity, the Vietnamese community unhesitatingly confessed that they still remembered the kindness of the Indonesian people during their time in Galang.

Like people all over the world who have suffered, the former refugees, now Vietnamese communities in a number of countries where they have resettled, also want to work toward healing. And one important gesture is recognition of this suffering. So they built a memorial plague on Galang Island, and on 24 March this year, organized a large reunion of former refugees now living in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Switzerland and France, where the plaque was unveiled, attended by officials from Batam Industrial Development Authority (BIDA) as well as from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It was an extremely emotional event for those present. We were honoring those who perished, and thanking the Indonesian people for helping us, and the Indonesian authorities for allowing us to erect the plaque on this historical island for us, said many members of the Vietnamese community.

Imagine the dismay of these people when they learned that last month, the 3 meter by 1 meter plaque had been dismantled. When they inquired, they were told that it had been carried out at the request of the Vietnamese president to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, because it was offensive to Vietnam.

Nobody is under any illusion that it is a clear-cut matter, or that it is an easy decision to make for our president. We know very well that it is weighted with political implications for Indonesia in its foreign policy context. However in this era where the significance of human lives are continuously dismissed unless they are filled with political gains, it will not hurt to stop and ponder. We have built very strong moral and emotional ties with communities who now live in different parts of the world, and we also know that these ties last, as we have seen their responses to the tsunami appeal, thirty years after what they remember as Indonesia's kindness.

What politics can last more than a few years?

Can we not, for once, push politics aside, and build on what, however little, we have begun for humanity, thirty years ago?

printer friendly

National   City   Opinion   World   Business   Features   Supplement   Sports
Gallery   Weekly Roundup   Your Column   Past Editions
Acronyms   Addresses   Indonesian Cabinet  
Indonesian History   Links   Where to go
Archives   Who's Who  
Company Info   Online Media Kit   Print Media Kit   Home

  Muhammadiyah's new ideology: Basis of reform  
  Graft in KPU Jakarta: More corruption or just rumor?  
Your Letter
  On competency-based curriculum  
  Apply punishment fairly!  
  Strong anchor for banks  

This Website is designed for The Jakarta Post by CNRG ITB.
All contents copyright of The Jakarta Post.