It is for good reason that many academic studies of Indonesia centre on the nation-state. Historically, as Benedict Anderson (1990:41-5) explains, in the Indonesia/Malay world the term negari designates both a capital city and a kingdom, reflecting centuries of empires and statehood in the region. Since World War II and the period of decolonisation, arguably the first major phase of the Indonesian state ran from Independence through Guided Democracy, the downfall of Soekarno and the horrendous killings of suspected communists. The second phase was the 32 year reign (1966-1998) of President Soeharto and his New Order government, in which the state party Golkar exercised control over the state, and in its development drive implemented repressive measures over the wider society. Appeals to national culture were both widespread and diverse in their sources and aims during this period.
By 1997 the Reformasi movement had begun to gain momentum, signalling the beginnings of a third phase in the history of modern Indonesia. Following the toppling of Soeharto as President in 1998, the legitimacy of the Indonesian nation-state was challenged on many fronts. Economic collapses that preceded and were not resolved by Soeharto's downfall further exacerbated intergroup and interpersonal sensitivities, not least in Javanese cities hit heavily by unemployment. Concerns over the integrity of the nation-state were also acute, with East Timor gaining independence from Indonesia, and powerful groups in numerous provinces seeking autonomy or independence. Added to these were long-term issues concerning roles of Islam and the Military in state affairs. When I was conducting fieldwork, the brilliant and worldly yet administratively challenged President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) underwent a protracted impeachment process. Major shifts were underway in local government, and protests over labour issues and fuel oil prices were commonplace.
Despite these major political and economic crises and heightened inter-group sensitivities, as well as growing links with international terrorism, Indonesia had a great deal of success in adjusting to a new era, notably in areas of regional autonomy, press freedoms, legal reforms, and the democratic election process more broadly.
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