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Preparations for Independence Day

Across the archipelago of Indonesia preparations are well underway in cities, towns and villages for Independence Day this Sunday. The Indonesian Declaration of Independence was officially proclaimed at 10.00 a.m. sharp on Friday, August 17, 1945. The declaration marked the start of the five year diplomatic and armed-resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution, fighting against the forces of the Netherlands until the latter officially acknowledged Indonesia’s independence in 1949. Wherever you are in Indonesia, this is a great day with heaps of celebrations.

I was reading this related and excellent article in the Jakarta Post today that I thought you would find interesting:

From independence for freedom: Bridging inequalities for all
Ignas Kleden, Jakarta

The Aug. 17 celebration of the proclamation of independence has become an annual ritual throughout Indonesia. If we look at the text of proclamation, two things come to the fore: The declaration of a nation’s independence and the statement about the transfer of power.
The text is pretty short. There is no mention of the birth of a new sate and a new government, and no mention of citizen status.

Notwithstanding the brevity of the text, it is clear the proclamation brings with it national independence and freedom for the country’s people.

Sukarno, the man who read the proclamation, compared national independence to a golden bridge. As we all know, a bridge allows people to travel from one side of the river to the other. In the same vein, national independence becomes a vehicle allowing people to travel from colonial rule to freedom.

According to Sukarno, one should not be prepared for independence. Rather, it is after the acquisition of independence that preparations can be made in terms of education, government system, economic reform and social adjustments.

However, Hatta and Sjahrir use different logic and look at national independence from another angle. According to Hatta and Sjahrir, some preparations are required before the proclamation of independence, so there are enough people with sufficient training to take over the modern political and economic bureaucracies. National independence, is not only a bridge, but precisely the other riverside one has to cross to.

This logic of treating something as a means or an end comes up time and again in Indonesian politics. Among the political activists of the 1990s, it was never clear. There was no consensus about whether the 1998 political reform was an end in itself or just a means. Was it just another golden bridge, or was it just the other riverbank one was heading for?

There was a debate during Soeharto’s regime as to whether economic growth was an end or just a means. Soeharto and his people at the time seemed to strongly believe that economic growth was a national end, and that political stability and democratic development should be engineered so as to spur economic growth.

This belief has lingered on in the minds of many people. Some months ago Vice President Jusuf Kalla gave birth to a heated controversy, stating that democracy was only a process and not a goal. It was not an end in itself but served as a means to get to the end, which was people’s standard of living.

However, if national independence is a golden bridge, it is expected to allow people to enjoy their freedom as both human beings and citizens of a free state. With regards to standard of living, democratic freedom provides people with equal opportunity to pursue a better life, even though it cannot promise equal results for everybody. A boss and his driver cannot obviously have an equal income.

There are always inequalities in a free society. However, there are always temptations in which inequality is turned into injustice, when the rights of those who are less lucky are violated.

If national independence is realized through the termination of a colonial power, the freedom of citizens is substantiated by the recognition and the defense of human rights, consisting of civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

Before the acquisition of national independence, people are requested and required to engage in the struggle for independence. National independence and the sovereignty of the modern state are gained at the cost of people’s happy lives. After independence, however, the state is supposed to work for the pursuit of happiness of its citizens.

A good test for the state’s performance in this regard is the extent to which it gives special attention (or no attention) to its citizens with the least opportunities to pursue happiness. There are still so many people living in absolute poverty, which is a condition not worthy for human life and human dignity.

There are different figures regarding the exact number of the most disadvantaged and marginalized people. According to Indonesian government, 19 percent of the total population lives in that worst condition. The World Bank, however, announced that the figure was 40 percent based on real purchasing power.

Regarding the national interest, poverty is much more than figures. It has to do with opportunity to have access to economic resources. Amartya Sen has another criterion regarding poverty, namely the inability of people to pursue their happiness.

National celebration is a good thing. We can make it better by strongly urging our state to give special attention to the most disadvantaged citizens so that they can enjoy freedom and pursue happiness.
This is a matter of principle. Otherwise we have only independence without freedom for the people
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The writer, sociologist, is chairman of Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID).