The Art of Bilateral Engagement

By Jane Ahlstrand

 

When we talk about the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia, some of the usual suspects in our conversation include politics, security, trade and development.

Regrettably, these topics tend to be placed on a pedestal above all others and in doing so, we end up valorising government-to-government engagement (which I might add does not always occur on an equal playing field).

 

One very important area that is often overlooked in the pursuit of our neighbourly relationship is the Arts and the rich rewards that can be reaped through the people-to-people engagement taking place in this area now and into the future.

 

All encompassing

Let me first start by emphasising that the arts encompasses a very broad category of people, genres and traditions. It should not be either revered or reviled as an inaccessible world filled with pretentious people who spend their days creating deliberately incomprehensible and mystifying works for the pleasure of a select few.

On the contrary, artists are adaptable, experimental, and most of all, extremely humble people who view art as a vessel for communication.

 

I’d like to add that I apply this rather sweeping generalisation to both Indonesian and Australian artists. Through this shared purpose and natural flexibility, I strongly believe that Indonesian and Australian artists can together weave a far more colourful and collaborative relationship between our two countries.

 

 

Relationship-building

Being an enthusiastic participant in the arts myself, performing and teaching Balinese dance in Australia and Indonesia, I have found that my activities have become extremely fertile grounds for relationship-building.

 

As a dancer and teacher, I have taught and performed with a wide range of delightful people, many of whom are young Indonesians who find themselves unexpectedly rediscovering their roots in Australia. It brings me great joy to help facilitate this empowering process as we learn and perform together for diverse audiences at a broad range of settings including but not limited to, schools, shopping malls, universities, galleries, temples and churches.

 

The process of learning, developing and performing together provides us with a common ground through which we forge strong bonds. Performing is no easy feat and we rely on each other’s support to get through tough challenges both onstage and offstage. The rush of performing is also something that we can experience together. While many of my students return home after graduating from university, I am sure that the memories we create together will last well into the future.

 

Breaking barriers

Art not only builds friendships but also breaks down barriers. Allow me to speak from personal experience once again. When I perform, I try my best to convey to the audience the beauty of the dance as well as the passion I feel in my heart. After a successful performance, I feel a certain buzz from the crowd and enjoy stepping out and mingling with audience members. Children as well as adults approach me asking questions about the dance, the costume and the makeup. It brings me great pleasure to divulge these previously mysterious details and also tell my story of how I came to fall in love with Balinese dance.

 

Public figures are not immune to curiosity either and when I perform at major events, I often have the chance to meet and greet them. I must mention that wearing my costume and makeup becomes almost armour-like in these situations, instilling me with the extra confidence needed to engage with these people. With the fantastic benefits that flow on from creative community engagement, it often saddens me that this world filled with beauty and good-will remains under-funded and under-explored in terms of our bilateral relationship.

While bilateral agreements focus heavily on trade, investment and security, a relationship devoid of exquisite beauty and inclusive rapport, to me, seems quite sterile. In this regard, I have two major hopes. Firstly, I dream that we can cultivate a more inclusive and respectful attitude towards the arts and artists. This means continued commitment to valuing, and showcasing their contributions. Secondly, my hope lies with the artists themselves. Being humble and idealistic, artists sometimes shy away from the spotlight and are often reluctant to engage in self-promotion.

 

I sincerely hope that artists can be empowered to realise their own agency as perpetual participants in public and political life, rather as producers of objects fleeting public consumption. This means a strengthening the voice of artists in public and political discourse.

 

Jane Ahlstrand is a Balinese dancer who teaches dancing. She’s also a PHD candidate at the University of Queensland working on her thesis about women in politics in Indonesia. Jane is a 2016 CAUSINDY delegate.

 

Indonesia-Australia Marine Trash Diplomacy

Indonesia and Australia need to seriously start to take action to protect our environment together. One issue that needs to be critically addressed is the marine trash problem. Indonesia, with its massive population, produces 64 million tons of trash annually; 1,3 million tons of waste washes out to the ocean and some end up stranded in Australia’s coastline. This has the  potential to cause conflict and tension in the future. According to Mr Efansjah the Senior Advisor to the  Indonesian Minister of Environment, “the biggest threat after terrorism is garbage.” This is not such a surprise, especially after studying about how our ocean is filled with plastic trash debris, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patcha soupy collection of marine debris consisting mostly of plastics. The trash washed out into the ocean has gathered into the gyre – “a major spiral of ocean-circling currents” – forming an artificial ’island-vortex’. One is in the Indian Ocean Gyre, just South of Indonesia, and the other one is in the South Pacific Gyre, in the East of Australia. We must not neglect this.

The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2017 – held in Bali last February – revealed the troubling truth about how our unhealthy living habits on earth are causing catastrophic harm to the ocean. Attended by high-level stakeholders in the global economy, appointed government representatives from across the globe, and – unfortunately – some unprecedented NGO and environment activist,  issues about the health of our ocean and the financing of it (read Blue Economy) were the core discussions throughout the summit.

The United Nation also expressed their concern via their website from their News Center site saying, ”there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic bottles” – Yes, plastic trash, was one of main courses served on the table of Ocean World Summit 2017.  It was the most-talked about issue of the Summit, of which Indonesia has agreed to critically address.

The outcome of this summit was ’another’ hashtag campaign #CleanSeas – which urged the government to pass plastic reduction policies, targets industries to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products, and urges people to change their own habit. Despite the summit itself being held in a luxurious resort in Nusa Dua, Bali, on a private beach that is free from marine trash – Indonesia has pledged to allocate $1bn to mitigate marine trash issue, and yet serious implementation or proof of action seems to be non-existent.

I have been helping IDEP Foundation to develop a fundraising campaign and proposal to gain support on implementing pilot project of smart waste management program in small islands in Indonesia since last year. We believe that there is a critical need to address the issue about marine trash in the marine area between Indonesia and Australia. We have been collaborating with the Boomerang Alliance – an Australian  umbrella organization of collective community groups around the nation that actively discusses about marine trash issue impacting the Australian coastline. The organization has shared their concern about the amount of trash being stranded  on the Australian coastline, such as Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentaria. According to the data they have shared, 90% of the trash came from Indonesia’s plastic products!

Essentially, trash issue is critically threatening, and data has recorded that Indonesian trash and littering habit may cause bilateral environmental disputes with Australia.  Actions and direct waste management projects need to happen.

While Jokowi mentioned on his visit to Australia that there will be 10 new ’Bali’ as the future tourism destination, we need to carefully think of how to prevent this initiative from replicating the depleting environmental condition in Bali itself – water crisis by overconsumption, huge trash and waste management issues, unsustainable agricultural practices to cater food supply, critically neglecting domestic food justice.

Trash diplomacy between two countries should be a part of the bilateral relationship development plan in the near future, aside from counter-terrorism, foreign investment, and cultural exchange.  The marine trash issue needs to have a better collaborative plans. Both countries need to work together to mitigate this problem for the sake of cleaner and healthier seas, islands and coral reefs in both Australia and Indonesia.

Doni Marmer is a junior facilitator for permaculture and resource development for IDEP Foundation, a local NGO working on inclusive conservation and disaster risk reduction in Indonesia. He was a delegate to CAUSINDY 2016 and is now campaigning to kickstart a pilot project on smart waste management system in small islands across Indonesia #CleanIslandsHealtySeas and urgently need your support. Find out more at the IDEP website.

Photo: Marine Trash Celebs join a workshop session of #CleanSeas in The Economist’s World Ocean Summit 2017 Nusa Dua, Bali – February 2017 (source)

,

Announcing CAUSINDY Grants

CAUSINDY is excited to announce a new program to help CAUSINDY delegates to make even more of an impact in the bilateral relations and get their ideas into action: CAUSINDY Alumni Grants. CAUSINDY provides funding and support to incubate ideas led by delegates and alumni, to help get delegates’ ideas of the ground.

 “By providing the grants and supporting their initiatives from incubation to launch we will see collaboration and impact beyond the conference”.

— Karina Akib, co-founder and advisor

Recently, three delegates gathered for a half day telkomtelstra workshop with experienced mentors from the digital space to work on initiatives from CAUSINDY 2016. Jane Ahlstrand, who dialed in from Brisbane, and John Cheong-Holdaway joined to expand jembARTan, a platform to connect Australia and Indonesia through arts. While, Celia Finch represented Kantin, an initiative led by Rey Sihotang and Stephanie Arrowsmith.

“I left the workshop filled with so much hope and motivation. The input we recieved from professionals across a range of fields helped us work towards not only getting our project off the ground but also ensuring its sustainability. The JembARTan  project just got very real!” — Jane Ahlstrand, 2016 delegate.

Are you a current delegate or alumnus? The CAUSINDY team is open to hearing about your idea and helping to get it ready to apply for a grant, please contact the key point of contact for this program, Karina Akib at karina.akib@causindy.org

Jakarta election campaign tests Indonesia-Australia relations

By David Willis

One year ago, my local newspaper in Adelaide published an op-ed by Chris Kenny titled ‘Australian politicians could learn a lesson or two from Indonesian Governor Ahok about avoiding spin and red tape to get things done.’

Today the once-popular incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, is facing a likely loss at being elected in his own right on 19 April, after a divisive election campaign that portends further challenges for Indonesia-Australia relations in the future.

Ahok’s popularity plummeted in the months following the accusation in September last year that he had criticised the Koran, specifically the al-Maidah 51 verse which is often interpreted to mean that Muslims cannot be led by a non-Muslim. Recovering somewhat as the case played out, Ahok was still able to take a plurality of the votes, but not enough to win outright, in the gubernatorial election’s first round in February.

Ahok will now face off against former Education Minister Anies Baswedan in the second round, who has been all the willing to stoke the flames of division in the city. Anies campaigned at the headquarters of the once-fringe Islamist vigilante group FPI (Islamic Defenders Front) in January and has refused to repudiate the FPI’s assertion that Muslims cannot be led by a non-Muslim; stating only “as a Muslim, obviously I obey al-Maidah verse 51.”

Currently polling suggests that Anies is more likely than not to win on 19 April. His win will be widely read as the success of divisive tactics in Indonesian politics, with repercussions for the 2019 presidential election and Indonesia’s image in Australia.

When President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo won Indonesia’s presidency in 2014, he did so despite charges that he himself was in fact both a secret Christian and of Chinese descent. Jokowi now finds himself in a position where he has to publicly accommodate Islamist organisations like the FPI.

His ally Ahok has been charged with blasphemy and Jokowi felt it necessary in December to join the FPI and others for prayers during the December mass rally; like Anies, normalising the once fringe group.

Jokowi is now in a position where he will likely need to either further accommodate these voices or risk facing an opponent willing to employ the tactics of division in 2019.

Speculation has already risen over the future ambitions of Indonesian National Armed Forces commander Gatot Nurmantyo, the architect of the most recent Australia-Indonesia spat and a proponent of conspiratorial thinking about foreign powers, including Australia, launching proxy wars on Indonesia.

As a double-minority, both ethnic-Chinese and Christian, Ahok has faced a constant level of discrimination since assuming the leadership of Indonesia’s capital city province in 2014.

During the 2012 election Ahok and his running mate, now-President Jokowi, both were subject to attacks on their ethnic and religious identity, falsely in the case of the Javanese Muslim Jokowi.

Upon taking office after Jokowi’s election to the presidency FPI rejected the non-Muslim Ahok as illegitimate and declared one of their own governor. However, they were generally dismissed as being merely on the fringe of Indonesia’s democracy.

By the middle of 2016, Ahok looked well placed to win re-election and a full term in his own right. Despite criticism over his unrefined style of communication, the governor was broadly popular amongst Jakarta residents for his programs to improve the city.

However, as an independent politician with an active reform agenda, Ahok represented an existential threat to entrenched political and business interests.

Ahok’s campaign for re-election was turned upside down in September last year, when addressing constituents in the Thousand Islands district, he criticised his opponents’ use of al-Maidah 51.

An edited video of the governor’s address, implying that Ahok had criticised the Koran itself was shared widely on social media by his political opponents.

Political pressure quickly mounted with a series of mass demonstrations lead by Islamist organisations, including FPI which used the controversy to catapult themselves into the political mainstream, calling for Ahok’s gaoling on grounds of insulting the Koran. The pressure resulted in Ahok being charged for blasphemy in an ongoing trial.

The campaign took a particularly ugly turn last month, when banners appeared across a number of the capital’s mosques exclaiming that “This Mosque Refuses Islamic Burial for Defenders of Blasphemers.” These however were in turn pulled down by the provincial government and banners proclaiming “This Mosque is Prepared for Islamic Burial for All Muslims” came up in a number of places.

No matter the outcome of the gubernatorial election result on the 19th, Indonesia’s elites have shown themselves more than willing to exploit social divisions, while the electorate have proven themselves susceptible to such tactics.

The image this has portrayed of Indonesia in the Australian media has been largely negative, compared with a year ago. Indonesia is already perceived in Australia to be very religious, but not very inclusive. The Jakarta elections have only deepened these perceptions and will make it even harder to develop stronger bilateral ties.

 

David Willis is a PhD Candidate in International Relations at Flinders University and a CAUSINDY 2016 delegate.

This piece has been written exclusively for CAUSINDY.