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Chinese new year: Celebrating diversity

Publication Date : 09-02-2013


The Indonesian government’s decision to declare Chinese New Year a national holiday in 1999 was probably the sweetest fruit of reformation because it showed a national will to completely break from the past.

History shows a national commitment to justice for all resulting in the landmark Law No. 40/2008 on the elimination of racial and ethnic discrimination, which despite some flaws, constituted the state’s recognition of diversity and the equal rights of citizens in social, cultural, economic and political fields regardless of their ethnicity or race.

The latest and most profound evidence of this nation’s determination to remove ethnic and racial segregation once and for all is undoubtedly the election of Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama as the deputy governor of Jakarta. Ahok, contested the Jakarta election as the running mate of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, having proven his acceptability to the majority of East Belitung people in Sumatra who he briefly led in 2005-2006, despite his minority status.

It is true that, ever since Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945, ethnic and racial discrimination, particularly against the ethnic Chinese, has drawn strength from the need to protect the economic fortunes of “indigenous” people.

During the era of founding president Sukarno, the government enacted a policy banning ethnic Chinese businesspeople from operating in rural areas and small towns, only to spark an exodus of those individuals to China, as well as diplomatic tension between the two countries. But discrimination was practically absent as could be seen in the appointment of three Chinese-Indonesians as ministers.

The anti-ethnic Chinese politics of the New Order might have rivalled China’s Cultural Revolution in the way the Soeharto regime prohibited anything related to Chinese culture, including Confucianism. Discrimination in the form of legislation and regulation was maintained.

Even though Indonesia and China restored diplomatic ties in 1990, a severe Sino-phobia remained among the former’s leaders.

Discriminatory practices are no longer relevant now that Indonesia is marching toward a fully-fledged democracy. Constitutional amendments in the early years of reform laid the foundation for the promotion and protection of various antidiscriminatory values in the country, which should be manifested in day-to-day interracial relations.


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