Monday, March 03, 2014

Indonesian 101

At the beginning of February, I posted about getting bored and took on learning about Indonesia as my project of the month.  As it turns out, I study really slowly.  But as luck would have it, March 3rd has brought a full-on snow day to Northern Virginia.  And with all of the girls playing happily together and Dave at home monitoring all, I was able to complete one of my readings on Indonesia.

And I thought y'all should know - Indonesia is a really interesting country!

Dave brought home a 35 page chapter on Indonesia excerpted from a textbook of some sort.  And yes, it took me nearly one month to read these 35 pages.  But here's the thing - I knew none of this.  I never learned Asian history in school.  Every bit of history I learned while we lived in China was a revelation and the same proved true when studying Indonesia.  This chapter is covered with my notes and my highlights, because every single concept and character was completely and amazingly new to me.

So, here's my fun breakdown of Indonesian history:

beginning of time to mid-1600s:
There were people living and thriving in Indonesia.  Some of the earliest fossilized evidence of human life has been found on the island of Java.  And in the decades (possibly centuries?) where China was trading across Asia in big ships to rival the European ships concurrently exploring America and Africa, Indonesian cities and islands played major roles as sophisticated ports and centers of trade.

The mid-1600s:
Indonesia became prey to the global movement of colonization, and what had once been a bunch of separate islands now became the Dutch East Indies.  The Dutch wanted control over the global spice trade, and gained it with surprisingly little trouble.  They held on to Indonesia for around 350 years.

World War II:
In Japan's quick and nasty power grabs, they took Indonesia from the Dutch.  What first seemed like independence from a long-time colonizer quickly became dangerous wartime occupation.

Post-World War II:
With the end of the war, the international community gave Indonesia back to the Dutch.  But having been separate from the Dutch, Indonesians had no desire to go back to colonial rule and fought back.  Indonesia gained their independence in 1950.

Their first leader as an independent nation was Sukarno, who led with charisma and brought about unity in this amazingly diverse country (Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world, with its inhabitants spread over more than 14,000 islands).  But as it turned out, Sukarno's main political strength was his personality rather than his political and economic savvy.  An attempted coup in 1965 did not succeed in immediately removing Sukarno from power, but it did precipitously decrease his popular support.  Mass killings documented in the current movie The Act of Killing followed, where half a million Indonesians were brutally murdered with government sanction.

A new leader moved into power as Sukarno was clearly losing control of his country and dropping popular support.  Suharto had no real goal of running a functioning liberal democracy, but he did have the goal of running a stable economy.  He took official control of the government in 1967 and stayed in power, watching huge jumps in literacy and economic power, until the economy crashed in 1997. 

1997 or 1998 economic crash
At this point it became clear that Suharto's popular support had become based upon his country's economic stability.  Without this, the well educated new generations became fully aware of the corruption and nepotism inherent in Suharto's government.  With the involvement of the IMF, Indonesia began moving toward democracy. Their first few elected leaders participated fully in the democratic process, accepting victory and loss from elections and allowing for peaceful transfers of power.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
President Yudhoyono took office only a few weeks before December 26, 2004 when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Sumatra coast caused the most deadly tsunami in recorded history.  As is so often the case in history, massive disaster lead to positive change in the country's history.  Indonesia accepted aid from the global community, which dramatically improved foreign relations with much of the globe.  President Yudhoyono has overseen improved economic growth and stability, calmed division and military political involvement, and decreased terrorism.  He is still in power, and although Indonesia has only recently been in great turmoil, they have been steadily following a path of economic strength and political and democratic stability since before he took office.

To be fair, I've only taken this history from two rather short sources.  I won't be submitting this to any historical journals or textbooks, but I found this new history wildly interesting and I'm looking forward to filling in the many blanks with my new pile of books on the country.  It should be a fun fe years!

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