Nationalism at crossroads
The Jakarta Post, August 26, 2008
Many may think that being Indonesian is their fate. Being born in this tropical country has made us Indonesians. But, frankly speaking, to be Indonesian is not a good thing for some of us. We may want to protest to God why he did not create us to be a citizen of a wealthy country where life is much more convenient — less poverty, no fuel scarcity, and where it is easy to find a job and make money.
Even though the number is fewer than other countries, such as China and India, Indonesia also suffers from brain drain. Many young people tend to study and work in developed countries where wages are higher. They do not agree with these wise words: “Living at our own country is better although stony rain here and golden rain in somewhere else”.
But, it is not true these people are not nationalists. Some of them even love this country much more than people who are staying in the country. We can see that where there are Indonesians there will be an Independence Day ceremony. Many even feel more Indonesian after they have experienced life in other countries.
Sadly, here in Indonesia we see that the country’s nationalism is eroded. People are ready to fight each other just because of a different point of view. Conflicts are easy to flame. Religious conflicts are everywhere. If a candidate loses in a regional election, for example, the community may run amok which is sometimes encouraged through ethnic and religious issues.
What is happening is our national collective imagination is grinding down. The national sphere becomes narrower. Our national solidarity is decreasing. News that some local people were reluctant to accept new transmigrants is a very sad example; in fact some of them were victims of natural disasters.
After more than a half century of independence, it’s not considered important to have self-contemplation as a nation. Some may say only intellectuals or politicians campaigning need to contemplate nationalism. People do not think too much about their nation. What appears then is what Michael Billig (1995) called banal nationalism.
Nationalist sentiments only arise when the “sense of ontological security is put in jeopardy by the disruption of routines,” said Anthony Giddens (1985). No wonder territorial border disputes will attract nationalist reactions.
Even a triviality such as claims by a neighboring nation to one aspect of the country’s culture will bring forth a potential burst of nationalist sentiments. That is, however, only hot nationalist passion, noted Anthony Giddens.
On the other hand, this nation is challenged by globalization. Globalization is dangerous, said Michael Billig, not because it is creating homogeneous cultures, but because it is multiplying differences within nations. This is true in less developed countries. Because we are thirsty for development, we sometimes think that whatever comes from developed countries is good.
Popular cultures and lifestyles, mainly from the United States, are easily adopted. We may feel more civilized when we eat at McDonalds or KFC restaurants. In fact, that is not all bad. Globalization has created a very convenient world to live in.
However, since wealth is not distributed equally in this country, this convenient life can only be experienced by wealthy people. The poor can only watch that comfortable life in soap operas on the television. The gap between communities is then broadening. Many no longer imagine themselves as part of a national community.
Nationalism is “a phenomenon that is primarily psychological”, described Giddens. This psychological condition is created from the imagined togetherness. That is why Benedict Anderson (2000) described the nation as imagined communities. The growth of nationalism is then followed by a long journey to find or create national identities.
The problem is that it is not easy to define what our national identities are. For many, national identities have to be what the majority voices say they will be. Then, national identities tend to be political rather than cultural. The ruling power forces what they think the national identities are onto the nation. It then produces unbalanced interpretations to what is regarded as national identities.
Today, Indonesia has its biggest challenge in its history. On the one hand, globalization forces us to be more careful and smart in the world order. But, on the other hand, we are facing a narrowing and decreasing national solidarity. As a result, our national collective imagination not only fails to become reality, but it turns into a nightmare.
We are losing our national solidarity. We become more pragmatic. We all have to live and eat; hence, we just have to think about ourselves. “I’m important, not you”, has become the ruling principle of our society. We lack leaders who are willing to serve the nation; they want to be served. Everyone is in a race to be in power. More political parties are founded, but it is questionable if they really fight for the people.
The crisis experienced by this country these days has to be utilized to stoke our national solidarity. We have to work hard to produce a massive awareness of national togetherness. This is the time to generate an altruistic nation. The spirit of unselfishness and togetherness must be awakened to build a great future for Indonesia.
The writer is a lecturer at University of Bengkulu, and Australian Leadership Award Scholar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org