Indonesia's Year of Living Normally
If, as Christopher Koch famously observed, 1964 was Indonesia's year of living dangerously, 2007 might well be described as Indonesia's year of living normally. This would scarcely warrant remarking on if Indonesia had previously experienced significant periods of normalcy. But it has not, and we cannot properly understand Indonesia today without seeing its current position in context.
Every nation experiences constant change but most achieve a degree of equilibrium and satisfaction with the order of things such that they are not defined by the need for comprehensive reform. Other, less fortunate nations, many of them recently born out of the collapse of Western colonialism in the middle of the twentieth century, have endured cycles of war, conflict and social upheaval for much of their history. Happy are those nations that have enjoyed long periods of good governance and peaceful growth. In Southeast Asia Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei have been a good deal more fortunate than Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. Indonesia has fared better than many of the nations of the developing world and its history is by no means an entirely unhappy one. It has, however, long been, “a nation in waiting”, as Adam Schwarz so acutely observed.
By 2007 many of the things that have been so long awaited — democracy, stable and accountable government, the ending of large-scale conflict, greater autonomy and a fairer share of resources for the regions, freedom of the press, legislative reform, and the withdrawal of the military from politics — had finally come. At the same time Indonesia had finally moved beyond its decade-long, multi- dimensional crisis. Economic growth, public expenditure and public investment are back to being at or near pre-crisis levels. Indonesia is now safely past its crisis in political stability. At the same time the threat represented by separatist movements to Indonesia's national integrity — a threat that was never as large in reality as it was in the imaginations of many — could finally be regarded as having past.