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18 Agustus 2008

Weighing Our Nationalism

Much. Khoiri
Recently I have got several e-mails from my overseas friends—precisely fellow writers—such as the States, the UK, Hungary, Egypt, Sweden, and Colombia. After sharing their recent activities, including their creative process, they asked me about economic and political conditions, and even about corruption, in this country.
It’s indeed hard for me to fulfill their request. I felt quite ashamed just to tell them frankly about such a sensitive issue. Were I frank, I thought, they would probably put a worse label to our country and people, although they might have known themselves that Indonesia is just a poor country with high-ranked corruption cases.
So, what came to my mind is that I should show them a bit about what nationalism means to me. Hence, in my reply e-mails, carefully written, I should be diplomatic to cover up those disgusting taboos. I would rather let them know something good to hear; otherwise, they would put a pity on me.
I had given the same response when I participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (USA) in 1993. Then my friend, a Kenyan playwright, Okoiti Omtatah, asked me how much was my income as a university member, and I answered it was sufficient to support my family needs. In fact, I just felt ashamed to confess how low our currency is compared to the US dollar (i.e. that year USD 1 is equal to IDR 2,100.)
In 1996 I also joined the Summer Institute in American Studies situated in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. On several occasions I felt obliged to defend my country when negative labels were addressed by other participants. Fortunately, my Asian friends have not written me recently and asked about the same requests.
Actually, deep in heart, I was ashamed and sad. And so am I nowadays. We are now really poor; our national debt of more than USD 160 billion, and every year we are busy with paying its annual interests. And yet the government has pretended being so wealthy to support several bankrupt banks. Thus, we have been drowned in the deep ocean bottom of debts.
How can I share this unbearable grief with my friends? What sort of person am I to let other people consume such an ironical condition? If I do so, I will perhaps blame myself forever, to what extent I would weigh my nationalism.
They might not realize that I am so sad, and that our big country has so far been regarded a small one, in almost all arenas. When we investigate IT sites, for instance, and we must log-in by choosing a country name, oh God, the name of our country is hardly available as an option. What a real pity.
So, in my reply e-mails, for sure, I did not describe the minimum wage of unskilled manpower which equals to USD 90 per month—a sum an American restaurant waiter can earn in 9 hours, and which is only enough him to dine for two days.
I did not tell my friends about our crisis of energy, nor about the decline of food stuff production, social depression, and most important, the black destiny of the alienated grassroots. I keep all these secrets—although they are exposed every time in mass media and discussed everywhere throughout the country.
Moreover, I did not make a story about the vicious circle of corruption that involve the Legislative members and authorities, nor about power exercises between political parties and societal organizations which go more uncontrollable and chauvinistic. Rather, I wrote we’re just alright, because “…we’re still learning democracy.”
I realize now that I am probably a hypocrite, but I think it is better not to tell them the fact that many of the country are arrogant in our poor country. They are so vulnerable to bribery and extortion, two basic forms of corruption.
Many of our bureaucrats and leaders have robbed, mischievously, the country’s property. They just want to gain more money and power, cosmopolitan life-style, more facilities, although their works are unsatisfactory at all.
Perhaps this is the reason why we have fallen poor, without knowing when to awaken. Our future is still and will be dark, I would say. They have violated the moral and formal laws. Indeed, it is an absurd nation
It is true that, as part of Indonesian people, I really want to criticize and blame all mismanagements occurring in almost all dimensions of life. Thousands of questions need to be addressed to those who have made this country sick.
However, when positioned in “stranger’s perspective”—say, my overseas friends—or when I stay abroad for some time, I do not have a heart to “commodify” our weaknesses just to satisfy them and let them stigmatize us altogether.
Nearing the celebration of the 63rd independence day anniversary, I weigh my own nationalism in that way. I still hold fast the motto “Right or wrong is my country.” I must defend her at any cost, hoping that we all still have a dream to awaken and stand independent in the future.
Should other Indonesians have different views, I would respect them. What is obvious is that selling our weaknesses to other countries is not a solution to our complicated problems. We must struggle hard for the better, and we can ask ourselves what we can give to the country—not asking what the country will provide us.
At least, in the meantime, I feel relieved to have responded my friends, though in a camouflage. And yet I do not know what next words I must write if in the near future they re-e-mail me and come to doubt about my current diplomatic replies.***
Surabaya, 15 August 2008

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