What is Indonesia?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 18 08:54:36 MDT 2002

The Economist, April 17, 1993

The long march

by Gideon Rachman

INDONESIA'S long march from poverty is nearly over. By 2000 the country,
once a pauper among nations, should have joined the emergent middle
class. The rise of a richer Indonesia will be more than just another
Asian economic success story. With 184m citizens, Indonesia is now the
world's fourth most populous nation. During the 1960s western
strategists fretted about the possibility of Indonesia going communist.
During the 1980s, after the Iranian revolution, they worried that
Indonesia, which has a larger Muslim population than any other country
in the world, might see a rise in Islamic fundamentalism. In the 1900s
the rest of the world should be able to concentrate on opportunities
rather than threats, as Indonesia becomes an ever-larger cog in the
global economy. The scale of Indonesia's economic achievements is
remarkable. In 1967, when the president, Suharto, first took that job,
Indonesia's GNP of $ 70 per person meant that it was twice as poor as
India or Bangladesh. Since then Indonesia's economy has grown at a rate
of almost 7% a year in real terms. In 1970 almost 60% of the population
lived in poverty. By 1990 that figure was down to around 15%. It is
still not hard to find poor Indonesians, whether living by a fetid canal
in Jakarta, the capital, or eking out a living from the land in the
remote eastern provinces. With a GNP per person of around $ 600 -- about
the same as Egypt's -- Indonesia is still a poor country. But unlike
Egypt, Indonesia is making steady progress towards prosperity. As the
World Bank puts it: "If the momentum of development can be maintained,
Indonesia can realistically expect to be a solid middle-income country
with a per-capita income of $ 1,000 by the end of the decade."


NY Times, Aug. 18, 2002

For Some Indonesians, Echoes of 'Coolie' Nation

NUNUKAN, Indonesia, Aug. 15 -- Bent with the strain of balancing 12
years' of belongings, Zainal, a migrant worker who had just been
expelled from Malaysia, struggled to board a navy boat that would take
him back to his village. His long run of work abroad had abruptly come
to an end.

Two of his three children tottered along with him, clutching at his
arms, their faces tight with fear. Born in neighboring Malaysia, they
had never seen their parents' home country.

"I had to leave my job at the watermelon plantation and I have no money
for a new passport and a work permit," said Mr. Zainal, who like many
Indonesians uses only one name, as he headed for the gangplank.

Day after day, thousands of Indonesian migrant workers have been sailing
to their home provinces from this equatorial port, fleeing new laws in
Malaysia that took effect on Aug. 1. The laws call for the imprisonment
and caning of illegal workers and heavy penalties for their employers.

Thousands more expelled workers linger in the rickety town here,
waiting, they say, for documents that will allow them to return legally
to Malaysia, where the money is good and their heavy labor on
construction sites and plantations is in demand.

They are sleeping on the streets, on verandas and, if they are lucky, in
packed tents or halls, where they find a roof over their head and
minuscule packets of rice for sustenance. At least 21 workers have died
here in the last two weeks. At the sole medical clinic, several migrant
workers lay on the floor, the cause of their illnesses unknown because
there was no doctor to offer a diagnosis, and virtually no medical

As many as 400,000 Indonesian migrant workers have returned to Indonesia
through various entry points, according to government estimates, with
the biggest surge in the last several weeks. Their unexpected appearance
in Indonesia is likely to add to the nation's 40 million unemployed, out
of a population of 228 million.

More deeply, the images of the young men, elderly women and distraught
families being pushed out of a neighboring country where people speak a
similar language, look the same and share the Muslim religion has
reawakened an old debate: What is Indonesia?

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/18/international/asia/18INDO.html


Louis Proyect

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