Simmering anger in Indonesia over Malaysia’s “theft” of a traditional
dance is spurring unlikely calls for war in the latest spat between the
two traditionally testy neighbors.
The dispute started in
Indonesia in August after word spread Malaysia had screened tourism
advertisements featuring the traditional “pendet” dance of Indonesia’s
Hindu-majority Bali island.
The ad quickly turned out to have
been a botched promotion for a Discovery Channel program on Malaysia,
with no role played whatsoever by Malaysia’s government, but that has
done little to dampen feelings here.
Protesters vowing to “crush
Malaysia” have burned Malaysian flags and thrown rotten eggs at the
country’s embassy, while local media have for weeks run a steady stream
of reports of Malaysian outrages, most of them recycled.
Many media have also studiously ignored an admission of guilt and apology from Discovery.
– as they do in nearly every one of the two countries’ frequent
disputes — have already opened registration for volunteers willing to
go to war with Malaysia, but admit this is largely a symbolic gesture.
has, in so many ways, robbed, stolen from and insulted Indonesia…
we’re offended as a people. We’re angry, we’re disappointed, we’re
upset,” Mustar Bonaventura, the coordinator of a Jakarta recruitment
drive by nationalist youth group Bendera told AFP.
“We have 486
volunteers who have signed up and they are ready for any
consequences… All that’s left for us with Malaysia is war,” he said.
conceded war was very unlikely, but said the group had stockpiled food,
medicine and weapons including samurai swords and ninja throwing stars,
just in case.
Indonesian politicians have also voiced their
displeasure to Malaysia over the controversy, and received apologies in
return, but the issue has refused to die down.
and others, the pendet dance controversy is only the latest in a string
of perceived insults by Indonesia’s wealthier and more developed
Stories of horrific mistreatment of Indonesian
migrant workers by their Malaysian bosses have for years raised public
anger, as have territorial disputes over islands and the two nations’
shared maritime boundaries.
Indonesian nationalists have also
claimed in recent weeks that Malaysia’s national anthem plagiarised an
Indonesian song, but have been dealt a blow by musicologists who say
both borrow from a 19th-century French tune.
A 2007 dispute over
the use of “Rasa Sayange”, a folk song that originated in Indonesia’s
Maluku islands, in a Malaysian tourism ad also has more than a whiff of
familiarity with the current dispute.
According to political
analyst Wimar Witoelar, the current spat draws on a long history of
resentment that has built up between Indonesia and Malaysia despite
largely similar languages and cultures.
Witoelar said the roots
lie mainly in the early 1960s, when charismatic former President
Sukarno whipped Indonesia into a fervour in a campaign of
“konfrontasi”, or armed confrontation aimed at destabilising the newly
created Federation of Malaysia.
“The basic resentment that
Sukarno encouraged did not go away easily. It was just submerged, so it
become significant when it turned out Malaysia became more successful,
especially economically,” he said.
Spats over culture and tourism are part of this built-up resentment, Witoelar said.
17,000 tropical islands, beaches, reefs and a rich cultural heritage,
just over six million foreign tourists visited Indonesia last year,
compared with around 22 million visitors to Malaysia.
by a sensationalist media, this is just another issue of hurt pride
that can incite people “deprived of common sense, deprived of
intelligence, deprived of understanding,” he said.