Sunday, March 8, 2015


National maps can be very complicated, but few are more complicated than Indonesia, partly because it is comprised of thousands of islands, mostly because, with some of those islands, only a part is Indonesia, while the rest belong to someone else.

Take the island of Borneo for example, the northern part of which is Malaysian, though in fact Malaysia is properly thirteen hundred miles to the west, and the Sabah and Sarawak portions of its Borneo enclave are separated by Brunei, which is neither Malaysian nor Indonesian; while the remaining parts of Borneo, which are Indonesian, are not called Borneo, but Kalimantan, though in Indonesian Kalimantan refers to the entire island, including those parts which are not part of Indonesia. I trust that this is desperately confusingly unclear.

Or take the island of New Guinea, the eastern part of which is an independent country, Papua New Guinea, the western part of which is known as Papua, and is Indonesian, which is confusing, because we then have Papua New Guinea, and Papua, New Guinea. To simplify this the Indonesians sometimes call Papua, New Guinea Irian Jaya, but they also sometimes call it Papua province, and distinguish east Papua province from west Papua province, which is also, but only sometimes, known as west Irian Jaya, and sometimes again as West Papua.

The same again on the island of Timor, where the eastern part is sometimes called East Timor and sometimes Timor Leste, and includes a tiny enclave named Oecusse in the western part; none of this is Indonesian,but  all the rest of the island is.

Indonesia extends beyond these islands however, and includes islands which at some point of history were independent countries in their own right. The island of Sumatra for example, which is the fifth largest island on the planet; the island of Java, where Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, which used to be known as Batavia when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies, is located, and which is the world's most populous, though by no means the world's most popular city. The island of Bali, which includes the extraordinary Ulun Danu Temple on the shores of Beratan Lake. And seventeen thousand five hundred other islands, of which about one-third are inhabited.

Indonesia also has the distinction of hosting the world's largest Moslem-majority population. It became independent from the Dutch during the Second World War, a one-sided declaration about which, in the circumstances, the Dutch could do very little, though they carried on the good fight to defend their national sovereignty for half a decade and often in the most brutal manner - who would have thought it of the Dutch? The first President, Sukarno, or Soekarno if you prefer, or Bung Karno, or even Pak Karno, having led the independence struggle, quickly recognised that his people did not have the capacity to manage democracy on their own, that it was necessary to guide them, and introduced "Guided Democracy" formally in 1957; "Guided Democracy" is a system by which martial law is enforced, elections are open, free and fair but there is only one party and half of the members of Parliament are personally appointed by the President, while newspapers critical of the government are closed down. A similar system operates in Russia and North Korea, inter alia, today.

A failed communist coup in 1965 led to loss of faith in Comrade Karno, and by 1967 he was out of power, replaced by President Suharto, whose "New Order" government kept the "Guided" but discarded the pretence of "Democracy", running one of the world's most brutal and corrupt regimes for the next thirty-one years. It took riots in 1998 to overthrow him, after which the country tried a reverse tack, dropping the word "Guided" this time and seeing what it could make of "Democracy" - the first actually free and fair elections took place in 1999, and a government was elected by the people, and of the people, though it has done remarkably little for the people; to name but a few, poverty is endemic, education alas is not; terrorism is more present than absent, economic and financial reforms are more absent than present; corruption is simply how things appear to be, the criminal justice system is an example of how things should not appear to be; the military and police would be held to account for human rights violations if anybody bothered to address the matter; the diseases that typically accompany poor housing, low education and poverty are available for research by any journalist or academic looking for a model; and armed separatists in Aceh are still fighting for a Free Papua. Having a hundred and fifty active volcanoes doesn't help much either - the most famous of these is Krakatoa, which gains the country a few marks for having generated the most colourful firework photography in the history of the world.

Marks For: 2

Marks Against: 22 (Sukarno) + 31 (Suharto) + 16 (failed democracy) + 150 (volcanoes) = 17,508 (islands) [this is how votes get counted!]

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