MUDIK – The Annual Indonesian Phenomena at the End of Ramadan

The presence of hundreds of thousands of dedicated Javanese workers – seasonal migrant laborers, skilled workers, right up to professionals – in Bali undoubtedly boosts the economy and keeps things running smoothly on this island of a thousand ceremonies.

So when Lebaran, the Indonesian term for Idul Fitri holidays at the end of Ramadan, looms close the island braces itself for a mass exodus of a large portion of the workforce. Construction and production come screeching to a halt. For the majority who cannot afford air travel (even if there were enough flights),  the main artery from Denpasar to the harbour at Gilimanuk becomes an asphalt gauntlet for the brave and desperate.

Once they get to Gilimanuk long lines await – the line of backed up cars and buses reaches 5-6 kilometers back. It can take up to ten long hours before cars even get to the ticket booth, let alone get on one of the 30 ferries that will log 450 trips across the straits daily  between them that have been provided this year.

Last year more than two hundred thousand passengers went across to Java. At the time this story is being filed around ninety thousand passengers have already left. These figures are conservative. And once they get to Java and head for their respective homes the trials are still not over. So far several hundred motorists have lost their lives during this annual exodus which Indonesians call “Mudik” or “heading back upstream”.

While the port authorities and the police have done their best to provide assistance to the scores of thousands of motorcyclists by erecting canopies, installing fans, putting in rows of portable toilets and other facilities, it is still a test of the travelers’ patience, particularly young children and infants, many of whom ride cramped with their parents on small motorscooters for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers. Even before getting on the ferry there are extensive checks on each individual vehicle run by squads of police and finance companies try to check every vehicles plates against a computerized list. Teams of contracted spotters ring through number plates to a temporary nerve center where it gets checked. When asked, one of the spotters admitted that some might get away, then added with a grin: “But not many..”

And of course with numbers like this there are bound to be some mishaps: at one point  an announcement come over the port’s PA system with an appeal from a distraught mother on the other side in Ketapang for help in locating her child who had managed to get left behind in Bali at the last moment. But despite the chaos, for most the rare opportunity to meet up with loved ones is too valuable to forgo.

A typical case is “N” who is travelling to Jember with her one year old daughter and her husband and a pile of luggage – tote bags, plastic bags, you name it –  on their 125cc automatic scooter. She and her husband work in Sanur, 6 days a week through the year. They take one holiday a year during Lebaran, 2 days plus of which are taken up with the road trip there and back. In all they will be lucky to spend 8 days with their family before making their way back: “But that’s just the way it is, Mas” she said with a smile.

see photo essay

Adat – Handling the Double Edged Sword

originally published in the Jakarta Post’s supplement, Bali Daily as part of a ‘conversation’ between Made Wijaya, Diana Darling, and myself under the title of “I Love Bali – Handling the DOuble Edged Sword of Adat”

Adat is a double edged sword. On the one hand if it is used in the service of the well being of members of the community it provides structure and strength; on the other hand if it becomes an ideal which dictates that it be served mindlessly, it becomes a tool for the wily to manipulate to their own benefit.

Let’s get it straight: Adat is a social convention, a community contract. Adat is no more sacred than constitutional law in a democratic process. It’s not the sacred utterance of a prophet, for example.

Yet adat has been used as an excuse to avoid adhering to a range of things from human rights to environmental responsibility. And worse, there have been many documented cases where adat was the premise for violence. Anyone who has lived closely enough to Balinese society know this. To put it into context: with few exceptions, outside of the traditional dictates of adat, the sense of civic responsibility in Bali now is at an all-time low. Community money is corrupted. Ceremonies regularly disrupt and reroute major traffic arteries “because they can”. People dump garbage wherever they want. One Desa Adat near Denpasar has even allowed part of their Pura Dalem’s land in the mangrove to be used for an illegal dump. Another Pura Dalem in Mengwi appears to be using garbage for landfill. In Ubud the community garbage trucks having been dumping the trash in an illegal site in a ravine in Pejeng. Forests and rivers are desecrated. People behave selfishly.

Drivers are inconsiderate on the roads. 99% of Balinese are not interested in helping unfortunate fellow Balinese who are not in their Banjar or Desa Pakraman or even clan. The Pecalang (adat “policemen”, no female pecalang so far) in Ubud chase off beggars from Muntigunung whenever they can. The only group helping this poverty stricken Balinese region is driven by Swiss citizens – not by any wealthy Balinese communities looking to give their less fortunate bretheren a leg up. And let’s not start on universal human rights.

In answer to Diana’s statement that expressing an opinion on adat is like judging another person’s mother, sure. But what would you do if you saw your neighbor’s mother stabbing her child with a knitting needle? Am I, as an Indonesian citizen living in my own country, not allowed to state any opinions on the culture of an island on which I have resided for more than three and a half decades? Should I succumb to a romanticized view?

If I live here and am committed to being here, pay my taxes, penanjung batu etc, I do feel that I am part of the situation. Obviously it is not my place to lead any charge on the establishment of adat if indeed any frontal approach would lead to any positive result. However I feel I certainly should have the right to express my views – that’s how it works in the Petri dish of culture – even if no Balinese heeds it.

It’s all well and good not to judge another’s mother, but it so happens that the “other’s mother” spends a lot of time judging ‘us’. In quite a few Desa Pakraman ‘outsiders’ living in their boundaries are subject to very high tithes which really amount to shakedowns. Outsiders are never rarely accepted completely as equals within the community though of course those who have married in are accepted by their families. To be sure it is a two way street with many expats just wanting to “Ibiza-nize” Bali with no sense of context at all. It’s a strange dance.

In truth there are Balinese who are forward looking, caring and engaged in projects focused on bettering the minds and welfare of their brethren. For example the late AA Made Jelantik, the late Ibu Gedong Oka, architect Popo Danes, poet Ketut Yuliarsa to name just a few. But these are largely Bainese who have been well educated and have been exposed to the outside world in deeper ways. It boils down to a higher standard of education and more universal values. And none of their activities were directly supported by adat.

Adat is obviously something which is important – a system by which the community is held together for acitivities for the common good. But it has to adapt and change in this century just as it has throughout the centuries past. Adat was never static: it is a myth to think that Balinese adat has been the same all this time. Its implementation requires more transparency, checks and balances. Yes change has to come from within, but it will come as a result of interaction with new ideas, fresh views. Adat has many things going for it but it must evolve simply because the environment in which it is is no longer – and will never again be – the same.

Rio Helmi, aka I Belog, has been stuck in Bali for decades and doesn’t seem to have any other place to go to.

China: The Writing on the Great Wall

(originally posted on the Huffington Post site )

On Wednesday the 22nd of February, Tibetans would have normally celebrated Losar or Tibetan New Year. This year, unlike the years before, Tibetans in exile called for a solemn day of reflection and prayer to acknowledge those who have sacrificed their lives for the Tibetan cause.

The self-immolations of Tibetans under Chinese occupation that have shocked, saddened, and renewed the anger of Tibetan society have sent the Chinese government into an overdrive of denial. Not for an instant has there been a moment of visible remorse, introspection, or any admission of the absurdity of their knee jerk reaction:  “self-immolators are criminals”.  This is of course standard PRC policy, any admission of imperfection being tantamount to weakness.

For Tibetan Buddhists who hold life sacred, taking one’s own life is normally considered to be a negative action with serious spiritual consequences. Yet these were ordained people, one of them even a reincarnated lama, all normally revered in Tibetan society,  who set themselves on fire. Tibetans of all walks of life are not condemning these acts;  many are seeing the self-immolations as a supreme sacrifice.

The ongoing, brutal rigidity of the Chinese government has manifested in at least three major waves of violence over three generations in the Kirti region: the Long March of the 1930s during which Kirti suffered perhaps more than any other Tibetan region; the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s; and the Patriotic Education in the 1990s. More recently, ever since the troubled lead up to the 2008 Olympics, the PRC has been twisting the thumbscrews ever tighter.

Perhaps the only vague hint of acknowledgment of transgression was Chinese VP Xi Jing’s recent statement during a lunch hosted by US VP Joe Biden, tacked onto his defense of China’s human rights record, that “there is always room for improvement on human rights”. It is difficult to assess what Xi’s comment, made only months before he is expected to take the reins, could actually purport, if anything at all, for future PRC policy in occupied Tibet.

Clearly the man was focused on making his US ‘Valentine’ visit a success in foreign relations partly in order to ensure positive press back home for his future leadership. He understood that something that sounded like a concession to mollify Biden and the US public was the most expedient way to move into the issues which China considers much more pressing: China’s market economy status, anti-dumping sanctions on exports to US, restrictions on Chinese investments in the US, and ongoing sensitivity about US high tech exports to the Chinese mainland.

There is an ocean of difference between the Tibetan ‘acts of self-sacrifice’ and the desperate suicides for example of factory workers in the Han dominant areas in the last weeks. The Tibetan refusal to completely submit to the 62 year old occupation is epic. Yet there was arguably as much buzz on the internet regarding depression suicides at Apple suppliers’ manufacturing plants in China as there has been for this deeply saddening trend of self sacrifice, that over the last 3 years has seen more than 15 people in the region of Kirti die of flames lit by their own hands.

International consumers of one of the most popular brands on the planet are now exposed to an appeal to their conscience. It resonates in a much more concrete, personal manner than a relatively abstract appeal to their humanity regarding a people who they have most likely never met.

The relationship between the international world and China has changed dramatically. In the past China used its potential market and manufacturing edge as a blunt carrot-and-stick approach to getting its own way, ignoring any call for modification on its Tibet policy. Today China’s dependence on foreign raw materials and markets to keep its economy growing should in fact be the very reason for it not to ignore hot political issues.

Let’s be clear: this is not about hoping for the world to suddenly come to its senses and realize that it actually now has the reverse economic leverage to push for human rights improvements in China. Few would entertain the thought of rocking this boat even if the odds for success were pretty good. As an official in the Tibetan government-in-exile said to me over the phone: “It’s election year in various countries. Xi himself has to make sure he enters the stage smoothly. The basic issue will always be economy.”

Within China itself, real-life communism hardly needed capitalism to become corrupt.

But there is another factor that is creating the insecurity that drives the PRC to mask its paranoia with iron-fisted repression. When people feel they have nothing left to lose, it pushes them beyond their habitual inhibitions and fears. As Thomas Friedman so succinctly put it in his essay ‘The Politics of Dignity’ : “Humiliation is the most underestimated force in politics”. As the PRC keeps ratcheting up the pressure, its own insecurity increases as people instead respond ever more boldly. The draconian internet crackdown on the phantom, post Arab Spring, “Jasmine Revolution” can only be seen as a reflection of this.

It really is up to the PRC to save itself by moving beyond blowing off human rights issues with denial or casual trivialization. It needs to read the writing on the wall, and acknowledge that the happiness and freedom of its citizens who live both within and outside that wall are the best security for the future. What’s more, the international community needs to move beyond simply expressing moral outrage, and pro-actively engage with China to help resolve these issues.

Anna Hazare, Savior or Destroyer of Democracy

My article in the Huffington Post


Several months ago the world looked on in dismay and horror as their tv and computer screens filled with images of self-styled ‘true’ Muslim villagers and students from nearby pesantrens in Cikeusik attacking members of the controversial Ahmadiyah sect, eventually beating and hacking three of them to death. Once again Indonesia was in the limelight for all the wrong reasons, and once again the Ahmadis had little recourse to justice or the constitutional religious freedom that they are entitled to as citizens of the Republic of Indonesia, despite the fact that their organization here has been recognized as a legal body since 1953.

What was especially chilling at the time was that although at first glance seemingly a spontaneous mob lynching, strong indications of premeditation and complicity came to light soon thereafter. For example all the attackers wore blue ribbons on their arms to distinguish them from from their victims. Ahmadis also reported that two truckloads and a minivan full of police not only did hardly anything to stop the mayhem, but they actually left the scene when things got out of hand (though local police denied this, nonetheless the Banten police chief was relieved of his duty over his handling of the massacre).

Despite these and many other facts, including a video recording that it is so damning that the cameraman who shot and uploaded it received death threats, district prosecutors only demanded seven month prison sentences. To put this into perspective: according to Indonesian law the crime they were accused of, inciting hatred and mob violence, is punishable by a maximum sentence of seven years. Yet here was a case not only of inciting hatred and mob violence but a barbaric lynching to boot. Once again Banten province was showing off its bigotry.

True to form, the subsequent district court proceedings in the capital of Banten, Serang, were a cruel travesty. Defendants openly joked with supporters during the trial, contrition far from their hearts. Then came the verdicts. The accused were merely found guilty of ‘participation in a violent attack that resulted in casualties’. One 17 year old, caught on camera bashing one the victims on the head with a large rock, got three months. The heaviest sentence was six months. The court glossed the evidence of premeditation and the horrific deaths. Once again the world watched in disbelief.

Once again the Indonesian judiciary system representatives in Banten have sent a clear message to the mob: “if you kill the ‘right people’, we will find a way to get you off the hook, no matter how outrageous the case, as long as it is in the name of Islam”. If this ruling is not reviewed, the message will spread across the country, and the constitution will be even less relevant than it is now. In plain talk, we will become completely lawless.

Rio Helmi, 29th July, 2011


Rio Helmi – May 3, 2011

As the flagwavers outside the White House cheered the triumph of the “free world” over evil, they resembled nothing so much as adrenalin-fueled Roman crowds roaring jubilantly at the sight of the spilled blood of a gladiator. How far have we come since Rome? Or more to the point, how far have we come since 9/11?

In the pivotal week after that massive tragedy, ill-advised decisions were made that were to plunge the whole world into a seemingly unending escalation of vile terrorism and draconian security. In the days that immediately followed the attack, sympathy and support for the United States came pouring into the White House from the world over, including many predominantly Muslim countries. It was an opportunity to create a united front, to share resources in an intelligent, long term and effective effort to undermine any support for fundamentalism as a whole across the East/West, North/South, and intra-Abramic religious divides.

Instead George W. Bush, prompted and prodded by his advisors, opted for a “crusade”-like war on the sources of terror in Afghanistan. Though the “crusade” epithet was quickly dropped, the damage was done. The neo-con association with the Christian right, the USA’s on-going blanket support for Israel’s aggressive intrusions into the West Bank and the Gaza, has reinforced a massive line of confrontation between the “West” and an ever-more radicalized, neo-pan-Islamic movement.

In simple terms the result has only been escalation, there has been no “triumph of the free world”. Rather the contrary: as commentator Neil Macdonald points out, many underpinnings of American democracy went out the window: habeas corpus was swept under the carpet, torture sanctioned, Guantanamo became infamous. Even the name of the outrageously undemocratic Patriot Act was symbolic of this loss “free world” reason. On the other side of the fence, radicalization became an everyday occurrence.

With the election of Obama there was hope, light at the end of the tunnel some said. His speech at Al Azhar university in Cairo was deemed historic, though many Arab commentators at the time adopted a “wait and see” stance. Whether this was simply cynicism or an awareness of the immense pressure an American president experiences in office, there does seem to be some indication that they were partially right.

Obama remains likeable as a figure, and for us Indonesians there is something of an emotional investment in his attempt to change the world order, but right now the odds for his success in bringing about change don’t look so good. Whether out of personal conviction or under incredible pressure, Obama’s bid for change is perceived to have been seriously compromised. Obama has pledged to pull the US out of Iraq, but he continues to try and win a military victory in Afghanistan. There is little to indicate that this will succeed, nor will it do much to bring about peace, so it begs the question why a man as intelligent as Obama would take this route which so clearly will lead into a quagmire? Is it political expediency? We expected better from Barrack Obama.

Whatever the case, the impression the world gets is that Obama has let himself be swayed by hawkish elements, and there are poltical gains to be made. It is clear is that this mission to take out Osama was, from the word go, a mission to kill, not to detain. The speed and the manner in which his body was dispatched at sea smacks of conspiracy and insult, and is arousing anger amongst Muslims the world over. Indonesia will not be an exception.

What happened to the ideals spoken of in Cairo? Osama committed heinous crimes, but is an eye for an eye really the way forward? In a macabre scene again reminiscent of Roman emperors at the arena, Obama followed the whole mission live from A-Z, right up to the moment when a bullet entered Bin Laden’s left eye. When Obama made his speech he emphatically and repeatedly used the word “I” regarding the authorization of the mission. It is clear that Mr President is now fully endorsing military solutions to a problem which he once talked of as one of misperceptions between cultures and creeds.

How this brutal and bloody “success” is supposed to bring peace is a mystery. Even the CIA is predicting more violence, and the rhetoric from the Arab world supports this. Those who stood outside the white house and cheered are surely fools. Americans the world over will be reviled anew, senseless violence will continue to escalate. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “An eye for an eye will make the world blind”.


Rio Helmi

The democratic election of Lobsang Sangay by the Tibetan people-in-exile as their prime minister and political leader, whose temporal authority now replaces that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is a major step forward not just for the Tibetan people but for democracy worldwide.

Throughout the 30 odd years of my association with the Tibetan people and His Holiness, I have always been made aware that the institution of true democracy has been an urgent ongoing project, much frustrated and  delayed more by the reluctance of the Tibetan people and differences of perceptions within their own community rather than anything else. HH the Dalai Lama had the vision to see that democracy is the only way forward for the Tibetans, yet had to work a very sensitive balance in nurturing this political development.

This is indeed refreshing and inspirational at this point in global political history. We see scenes of despots desperately trying to stave off the Arab spring, while a superpower flounders as it panders to the latest occupant of the oil fields of northern Africa and the shorelines of the Gulf. We see one Arab leader prancing about in a myriad outlandish costumes pronouncing the love of his people for his own glorious self (in between shelling the living daylights out of them); or another, backed by his giant neighbour, sending killer squads into hospitals to take out doctors and patients – whilst above mentioned superpower frets more about naval access to the region than the murders of entire families downtown. Yes, it is refreshing to see someone – who truly is worshipped by his people – so intent on divesting his power to them.

The previous Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, tried valiantly to bring his people forward into the 20th Century, realising early on that Tibet would be a pawn to be sacrificed in the great game that soon was to involve the clash of global political ideologies – rampant feudalism, capitalism, communism all posed threats to the survival of a people and their culture. Clearly old Tibet was not idyllic, it had its fair share of issues. It had to reform. Yet the Thirteenth was to be disappointed by the apathy of the ruling class, the reluctance of Tibetans to open their eyes and see the new world. For all intents and purposes, his current successor, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, politically tempered at an early age by dire circumstance, was better positioned to shift these perceptions, albeit at the bitter cost of losing sovereignity in his own land.

It is undoubtedly this loss, and the fragile balance of life for the Tibetan nation-in-exile, that has contributed greatly to this shift. But it has taken patience and perseverance to introduce direct elections into the community. Powerful leadership can be a double edged sword: on the one hand it can provide decisive action when needed, on the other it can easily lead to dependence and the inability of the populace to develop a clear sense of responsibility, civic and otherwise. With today’s record population numbers and cultural clashes, the development of strong, trans-cultural civic societies is more urgent than ever. Without transparent democracy’s checks and balances this is impossible to achieve.

This year the People’s Republic of China celebrates 60 years of the “liberation of Tibet”. But we all know that the PRC is haunted by fears of a homegrown “Jasmine Revolution” even back in the pre-dominantly Han populated provinces, let alone Tibet proper. Its insecurity is reflected in an unwritten disposition that no overseas Tibetans, especially Lamas, are allowed to visit Tibet for the next several months. That kind of fear is a clear indication of political dysfunction.

Ironically there is much more liberation going on in exile than within the borders of one of the world’s superpowers. Whilst the Chinese Nobel peace laureate languishes in jail, and the Arab spring continues to be bloody, Lobsang Sangay’s peaceful election indicates a blossoming of new hope for  the younger generation.


Senja di persimpangan bundaran jalan arterial kawasan Kuta itu sedemikian ruwet sehingga mudah memahami kenapa julukan “Simpang-Siur” sudah lengket dari tahun ke tahun. Disini hampir setiap saat rame, dan sinar lampu stop-an merah berarti ‘jalan’ bagi anak-anak yg berbaju lusuh. Mereka menyusuri mobil-mobil mewah dengan tangan terulur, menunggu uluran kembali dari penumpang-penumpang yang berdiam diri dibelakang kaca jendela. Anak yang lahir di desa tandus di balik gunung nun jauh ke timur, bumi yang tidak punya kasih, dipaksa bercekeran di aspal. Mereka  memahami kota dari perspektif yang tak ternyana oleh para perencana tata kota.

Bandar yang turun tengah malam untuk mengumpul duit mereka pun tidak terlalu repot berkasih sayang. Jujur kata, dari sekian ribu pengemudi dan penumpang pun yang berhenti di lampu stop-an itu, sedikit  yang benar-benar memperhatikan anak-anak itu, apalagi memikirkan nasib mereka, dan mungkin lebih sedikit lagi yang bertanya “Bagaimana ini bisa terjadi?”. Toh anak-anak itu adalah rang terendah pada tangga urban baru di Bali yang semakin sesak diinjak-injak, perkotaan yang semakin mendesak manusianya untuk membela kepentingannya masing-masing.

Memang selama tiga dasawarsa terakhir Bali menjadi rebutan, antara orang Bali, antara pendatang dari pulau lainnya di Nusantara, antara para expat yang menikmati “Paradise”. Ironisnya lama-lama bukan “paradise” yang menonjol tapi “parasite”. Saya yakin bahwa pernyataan ini akan tidak enak didengar, terutama oleh penduduk yang mencintai pulau ini. Namun kalau kita telaah kata ‘parasit’ ia adalah bentuk kehidupan yang tidak mengenal “co-dependency” tapi hanya “dependency”. Bentuk kehidupan ini akan hinggap dimana ia bisa menghisap  zat-zat yang dibutuhkannya, tapi tidak membalas budi alam bentuk signifikan. Dalam bentuk ekstrimnya, ‘tuan rumah’nya sang parasit bahkan bisa terhisap kering habis, mati tercekik.

Pola pemikiran parasit tidak melihat langkah lebih jauh dari sekedar kebutuhan hari ini. Ketidakmampuan memandang ke depan serta tidak memahami kepentingan bersama berakibat fatal, dan sesungguhnya adalah pola biadab. Anak-anak yang dikorbankan demi keuntungan orang tua adalah gejala infeksi parasit yang paling parah. Ada juga perilaku kita yang tidak senyata itu tapi tetap juga tindakan yang saling merugikan – contoh sederhana menyerobot antre, tidak bisa mengalah sejenak di perempatan lalulintas, dan sebagainya yang akhirnya membuat kesemrawutan. Daerah urban seolah menjadi tambang emas liar.

Saya ragu mengatakan bahwa ini adalah sifat hakiki manusia Indonesia moderen, saya lebih cenderung berpikir ini terjadi karena kita telah mengabaikan langkah penting dalam perkembangan urban dan masih bisa dikoreksi. Dalam desakan luar biasa yang terjadi kini di Bali (menurut sensus 2010, ada wilayah di Denpasar yang kepadatan penduduknya melebihi sembilan ribu lima ratus jiwa per kilometer persegi) banyak yang tidak sengaja bahkan tidak sadar menjadi parasit. Pola-pola kemasyarakatan lama terbengkelai, pola baru tidak terbentuk. Inilah keluhan yang terdengar saat diskusi tentang urbanisasi Bali baru-baru ini yang diselenggarakan sehari setelah pembukaan pameran foto ‘Urbanities’ .

Dalam diskusi tersebut dua tokoh ‘opinion-maker’ Bali, yaitu wartawan kawakan Bali Wayan Juniartha (“Jun”) dan penulis kolom Obrolan Bale Banjar di harian Bali Post, Made Sudira (“Aridus”), menunjuk hilangnya tokoh-tokoh panutan lama, baik Hindu Bali, Muslim maupun yang lainnya, sebagai faktor yang turut memperparah ketegangan antar kelompok masyarakat yang kini terjadi.

Menurut Jun, dengan adanya perubahan tatanan sosial (kelas menengah baru dsb) serta masuknya elemen jurus agama  didikan luar (bagi Hindu dari India, bagi Muslim dari Pakistan dst) generasi muda telah melupakan kode-kode interaksi antar golongan, antar etnis, antar agama. Terlupakan sudah bagaimana kerajaan-kerajaan Bali mempunyai hubungan khusus dengan kaum pendatang. Di Karangasem, misalnya, kampung-kampung Muslim justru membentengi puri. Mereka bahkan ikut mengamankan dan menjaga kebersihan lingkungan pura tempat sembahyang orang Bali. Sebaliknya ongkos naik haji mereka ditanggung oleh raja. Di Denpasar kaum Bugis pun dulu punya perjanjian khusus dengan Puri Pemecutan.

Sudira menekankan kurangnya komunikasi dan pengertian tentang kepentingan antar masing-masing kelompok. Dulu pada zaman ORLA dia turut membentuk organisasi informal terdiri dari pemuda-pemuda dari berbagai golongan etnis maupun agama untuk membentengi ekses-ekses kekerasan yang terjadi pada pertengahan tahun 60an.

Sudira menunjuk bahwa kini situasi sudah beda, identitas orang Bali yang masih sangat  berakar pada pelaksanaan adat yang sangat memakan waktu hingga parameter kegiatan mereka sulit dicocokan dengan kondisi moderen. Kepentingan bersama semakin sulit ditemukan – namun ironisnya kebanyakan pihak pendatang baru berada di Bali justru karena bagi mereka kebudayaan setempat melahirkan suasana ekonomis yang menjadi ‘gula’ untuk ‘semut’.

Senada dengan itu seorang Ibu asli Bali yang lama merantau ke Jakarta, mengaku shock saat kembali bermukim disini, “semua sudah demikian garang, perilaku bahkan menjadi lebih keras ketimbang Jakarta, dan Bali seolah tinggal komoditas untuk dijual”. Bahkan Pino Confessa, seorang seniman teater kelahiran Itali  yang sudah puluhan tahun bermukim di Bali dan sekarang menjabat sebagai konsul Itali disini, berpendapat bahwa ini semua akibat mitos-mitos komersil dan TV yang telah menggantikan mitos-mitos lama “Masyarakat sekarang bengong dengan sinetron..”.

Di pihak lain, seorang pelukis pendatang dari Jawa yang tinggal di Kuta, Pandji, merasa bahwa sah-sah saja kalau pendatang yang sudah punya ‘watak urban’ dapat meraih kesempatan-kesempatan yang dilalailkan oleh penduduk setempat. Ia malah bertanya, kenapa para pendatang kelas ekonomi rendah yang bekerja keras mendukung ekonomi harus selalu dihasut, contohnya penggerebekan tengah malam yang dilakukan oleh pecalang dan sebagainya. Dengan membagi pengalaman-pengalaman langsung, masing-masing kelompok sempat saling membuka mata akan kegentingan situasi masing-masing.

Tentunya saat diskusi ada pertanyaan mengenai pembangunan fisik – seorang mahasiswi planologi berkomentar tentang daerah yang menjadi langganan banjir setelah pembangunan, ada juga yang menunjuk kurangnya lahan sebagai pemicu – observasi yang valid, namun tetap terjadi suatu konsensus bahwa interaksi sosial berbagai unsur masyarakat tak bisa diabaikan sebagai faktor penentu dalam perencanaan kota,  dan interaksi inilah yang paling menentukan masa depan daerah urban Bali. Keadaan Bali tidak bisa disamakan dengan perkembangan daerah atau negara lain dimana kesepakatan lebih mudah tercapai. Di Bali revolusi agragris, industrial, ekonomis dan teknologi terjadi serempak – tidak heran kalau terjadi pergesekan yg merugikan. Konsensus dari diskusi itu juga mempertegas bahwa tidak bisa mengharapkan pemecahan dari pemerintah, dari aturan baru, dari lembaga-lembaga.

Yang dapat saya simpulkan dari acara tukar-pikiran ini adalah bahwa masyarakat madani sekarang harus lahir dari diri kita sendiri, melihat bahwa tokoh-tokoh panutan yang kuat kini absen. Kini kita yang harus bisa mengolah jiwa dan raga menjadi jaringan komunikatif yang saling mendukung, yang saling membantu mencari jalan menghindari pola parasit – membentuk pola masyarakat madani bersama yang lintas etnis, agama, dan kelompok lainnya  tanpa mengancam identitas masing-masing.

Kini pola demikian tidak semata harapan abstrak. Kita memiliki berbagai kondisi yang mendukung, solusi yang positif semakin mudah di akses dan dibagi dengan bahasa yang lebih universal, apalagi dengan media internet. Sebagai contoh, baru-baru ini di India masyarakat madani berhasil memaksa reformasi pemerintah terhadap korupsi dalam tempo 4 hari. Bagi penduduk Bali, menjadi masyarakat madani adalah sesuatu yang dapat tercapai. Tinggal kemauan dan kecerdasan yang lahir dari ‘sharing’.

Rio Helmi / Bali 19 April 2011

When People Turn a Blind Eye and Leaders Go Deaf

Rio Helmi, 10 February 2011

Democracy is a term whose precise meaning is elusive, especially so in developing nations. For leaders more worried about superficial legitimacy than actually taking on the task of improving the lot of their people, ‘democracy’ revolves around elections and how to get through them intact. It has become something of an industry standard; when others dispute results and methods, one can always refute these protests simply with “Hey, we held free elections”. Somehow human rights end up secondary on the display shelf.

Naturally, not only do elections supposedly legitimize regimes in their own countries, but they also legitimize other more powerful democracies (the “West”) dealing with these regimes towards their own ends. These are marriages of convenience between parties that come to an understanding mostly without really understanding the other party, something of an agreement between thieves. Human rights issues are just minor thorns, burrs caught on the trousers of powerful men striding across new fields to be plowed.

One may claim that 20th and 21st Century intelligence gathering serves to properly brief their respective governments, but intel blunders amongst super powers are legendary, whether as a result of compromise or incompetence (Think “weapons of mass destruction” farce). It is rare that actual members of foreign administrations venture deep into the psyche’s of their counterparts, it’s an area left to academics and eccentric expats from whom only sound bites are heard.

It is politically incorrect for well educated people to have biases against race and religion, but many still carry the coding of centuries of such bias in their cultural DNA. There is scarcely a ‘modern’ western nation now where one does not find sizeable and growing neo-fascist movements, and concern about migrants..

On the other side of the moat things are hardly better. The first encounters between most countries with western powers were filled with attitudes of vast superiority, suspicion, miscommunication, betrayal, and often widespread blood shed. So no matter how absurd it might seem to us, it is not too difficult to stir up suspicion and hatred again – terms like Great Satan sounds ridiculously tinny to many of us, but to embittered, disempowered people it resonates.

I’m sure this all sounds simplistic, but it is a 1-100,000 scale map of the heart of an old world that is gradually dying: a product of centuries of violence and invasions (e.g. Alexander the Great, Jingghis Khan, Chinese imperial despotism, the Turks beating on the gateways of Bavaria, the Inquisition, the persecution of Jews and Moors in Europe, European colonialism, slavery, the two World Wars, Stalin, Vietnam – in no way an exhaustive list).

Some how the anachronistic zeitgeist of the first seven decades of the 20th Century is still lurking in the hallways of power of even the most ‘advanced’ nations, despite decades of political evolution since the 70s when Kissinger embarked on his détente with the USSR and Nixon landed in Peking. It took decades before the world media could even bring itself to write the name properly as Beijing. Some even created a myth that the PRC had changed the name in the 80s, when all they were doing was correcting the Latin script spelling. A small but telling example. But look at it from the other end: imagine if Egyptians or Indonesians would refer to Obama’s birthplace as the “Isles of Sandwich”?

To segue Obama into all this, his current stilted position on Mubarak, his VP’s dealing with Egyptian VP Suleiman, a known military iron fist, the US administrations reiterated praise for the “restraint of the Egyptian military” whilst Egyptian military police continue to ‘disappear’ protestors – all of this is a sign that traces of this outdated, poisonous zeitgeist is still flowing through the ventilation shafts of Washington DC.

Even the fact that that the verb ‘to disappear’ has become transitive in colloquial language is a sad indication of language reflecting the non evolution of US power policy, arrested by 9/11. Somehow the increased mobility and tech connectivity we have seen in the last decades hasn’t led to more understanding, it is simply translated as  more opportunity for the materially and politically ambitious. Obama, I was happy when you were elected, and the speech in Cairo was great. But you are seriously losing traction on ‘change’ here.

What we are seeing in Tunisia and Egypt is beginning of a movement that may still be brutally suppressed but not stopped. It is the new world that is coming. Islamic fundamentalism grew out of colonial meddling. But now many Islamists are getting a sense of something new in the offing. The Muslim Brotherhood is not Hezbollah, far from it. The Tunisian Islamists want to work with others, they are not the Somali fanatics that Ayaan Hisri Ali ran from. And the intellectuals are cautiously engaging with them. They all know that they could be rewriting the ground rules.

This is a civil movement started by a new, younger generation: intellectuals, professionals, and now older workers. They are inspiring others to join. And many of the older generation are galvanized by them. This was especially the case when an emotional TV interview with an Egyptian Google executive, Wael Ghonim whose was released after 12 days of captivity, was broadcast, blindsiding Mubarak’s administration.

In Indonesia a similar thing happened 13 years ago – it was the students who took the initiative, we all followed. But the reform on the government’s side has stagnated. Yet the civil movement is evolving as we speak, perhaps not in an organized formal manner, but people are more informed and engaged. If the older leaders can’t open their hearts then they shouldn’t lead. To lead is to inspire, to inspire your people to work their hearts out for their country and for the world. Leaders that think of their people as cattle to use an electric prod on belong in Gulags.

In relation to Egypt, here in Indonesia we have something of a different but related situation. The anachronistic zeitgeist here is the wisps of a mindset that has its roots back in the first decades days of the Republic, during which several attempts to create Islamic states failed – but it has been cunningly reinfused as movement against immorality.

This is what fuels the fundamentalist mobs  such as FPI who have brutally harassed bars, attacked “non-believers”, burned churches, even killed Ahmadis on camera. And of course there are the more infamous bombers, whose spiritual leader, linked to Al Qaeda, is set for trial next week – Abu Bakar Ba’asyir calmly told reporters Thursday that “The Prophet was like me”. If he wasn’t such an old fox one would suspect he was delusional. But he is definitely holding on firmly to another world vision for which it is clear that there is detailed game plan. A clear and present plan.

Our President has dragged his heels for years. It is clear that these mobs have transgressed the constitution. He has finally decided to be more firm with the mobs (so far mostly in  words). Their answer: “We will ‘Ben Ali’ you SBY”. Yet these thugs, who dote on all things Arabic, have no clue that Tunisia was not an Islamist movement, nor that things are changing drastically. They too are stuck in a defunct time zone. Many of us have turned a blind eye to the outrages they have perpetrated. And our leaders have become so deaf, engrossed in their own political survival that it has taken a long-growing clamor for them to finally hear. But whether they will respond adequately is not yet clear. If they don’t, we will all suffer.

What we all, whether super-power or just a power in our own backyard, need to remember is that the world situation is constantly evolving, we are constantly creating it. Others react to what we do, as a result opinions and attitudes are formed much, much faster now. Time to be brave: embrace the future.