When Indonesia’s founding fathers proclaimed independence from the Netherlands on Aug. 17, 1945, they envisioned a strong, united state, where the diverse population would be the pillar of the new nation.
This idea was crystallized by Mohammad Hatta, who recalled being visited on Proclamation Day by two men, an officer from the Japanese Navy and the assistant to Rear Adm. Tadashi Maeda. They raised concerns about the people of eastern Indonesia, many of whom were Protestants and Catholics.
The main concern was that the new country might start on the wrong foot by putting in the idea of Islamic law in the preamble to the Constitution. Realizing the danger of creeping sectarianism, Hatta met with Ki Bagus Hadikusumo, Wahid Hasjim, Kasman Singodimedjo and Teuku Hasan, all influential representatives of the Muslim community. All agreed to simply use the phrase “Unity in One God” in the preamble.
It is clear that for Indonesia’s founding fathers, the interests of the nation as a whole were far more important than their personal interests, and they did not sacrifice the idea of a united, independent Indonesian nation on the altar of their egoism.
President Sukarno embraced a diverse nation as something to be celebrated, rather than something to be used to break the nation apart.
As he argued in his speech at the Eighth Conference of the Consultative Body for Indonesian Citizenship (Baperki), a Chinese-Indonesian association: “Why should I demand an Indonesian of Chinese descent who wants to become an Indonesian citizen to change his name? … No! That’s a private affair. Religion is also a private affair, and I don’t interfere in that. What I want is for us to be truly Indonesians.”
It is saddening today to see that the issue of sectarianism has not diminished. Our founding fathers would shed tears, seeing decades of their work wasted.
The 67th anniversary of Indonesian independence should be a time of reflection. In the spirit of our founders, let’s try to get back to putting national interests above narrow self-interest.
Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University.