Report on ‘Indonesia Now’ – seminar organized by DutchCulture and the embassies of Indonesia and the Netherlands

25 Jun 2015


  • Ayu Utami, writer and journalist based in Jakarta
  • Fauzi Soelaiman, Ambassador/Alternate Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Indonesia to UNESCO
  • Bambang Purwanto, Professor of History at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta
  • David Henley, Professor of Contemporary Indonesia Studies at Leiden University
  • Mia Maria, international curator and artist based in Jakarta
  • Prio Sambodho, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research


Over 200 people were welcomed by Mr Cees de Graaff, Director of DutchCulture, Mr Peter Potman, Director of the Asia and Oceania Department at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mr Ibnu Wahyutomo, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in The Hague. Jointly, their three institutions programmed an inspiring afternoon on the latest developments in Indonesia in the areas of politics, society, art, culture and heritage.

‘Indonesia now is young, entrepreneurial and globally connected’

The close relations between Indonesia and the Netherlands and their interwoven history were the starting points for Mr Potman’s opening speech. He underlined the sense of connection felt by inhabitants of both countries and stressed the promising opportunities we have for a joint future in many sectors. This joint future should move towards a Dutch-Indonesian Relationship 2.0 and diplomats have the task of taking us there. He pointed out the many changes Indonesia has gone through since the Reformasi: the decrease in poverty, the increase of civil society movements, its improving democracy and its having turned into an economic powerhouse. These are the main developments in Indonesia that the Netherlands should relate to. Today’s Indonesia has a young population – 44% is under the age of 25 – that is cosmopolitan and globally connected, with an enormous feeling for entrepreneurship and creativity.

‘Indonesia now is a stable, open nation and an economic power’

Mr Wahyutomo agreed that Indonesia has changed since 1998. ‘In this day and age our protests no longer have be silent. Indonesia has changed into a stable and open nation. There has been a change in ideology and circumstances are different now. We now live in the age of technology. Since becoming independent, Indonesia has envisioned that it can be a world leader and great progress has been made in that direction. Indonesia is a member of the G20 and is continually developing economically. But Indonesia needs more than good numbers’. Mr Wahyutomo reflected on what it means to be an economically independent nation. ‘We need to change mentally as well. Norms, values and belief are important. To prepare the people of Indonesia to become a self-sufficient nation, a new way of thinking is required’.

‘Indonesia now is developing from ideological silence into a loudly arguing society’

After a beautiful music performance by Boi Akih, the writer and journalist Ms Ayu Utami delivered a keynote speech in which she argued in favour of critical spiritualism. ‘In Indonesia, we are always talking about ghosts. As Benedict Anderson said, a country is shaped by its imagination, and Indonesia now is a vision come true’. Instead of talking about ghosts, Utami suggests we talk about spirits. ‘Indonesia has spirit! A good spirit that enables us to fight against dark campaigns and a spirit that makes Indonesia into an autopilot state, in which a mature civil network stands up when government fails. Indonesia’s approach to democracy has matured as well. Now that it is no longer seen as a vehicle of corruption, Indonesia is starting to see the fruits of democracy’. Utami also shared her worries. ‘Indonesia is a country in which ‘unity in diversity’ has been the leading factor. Will this still work in an era of increasing monotheism, religious fanaticism and on-going modernisation? People are debating in 140 characters on social media and looking for answers in dogmas, but people value logic as well’. She argued for a critical spiritualism that includes spirits and traditions, all religions and all agnosticisms. Utami indicated that there has been an increase of intolerance since the Reformasi. ‘This intolerance is counterbalanced by growing protests and arguments. Indonesia now is developing from ideological silence into a loudly arguing society’.

‘Indonesia now has a major list of important heritage recognized by UNESCO’

Mr Fauzi Soelaiman, Alternate Permanent Delegate of Indonesia at UNESCO, introduced the audience to the extensive heritage inscribed on the various UNESCO lists. He revealed the strategy for new world heritage sites in Indonesia, including the inscription of the old towns of Jakarta and Semarang on the tentative list for World Heritage. Upcoming conventions for Indonesia to ratify and implement are the convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage and the convention against illicit traffic of cultural property.

The observations of the keynote speakers were discussed with a panel:

Prio Sambodho, PhD candidate at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research – ‘Indonesia now is high-tech and full of creative possibilities‘

David Henley, professor at Leiden University – ‘Indonesia now is more open, more tolerant and multicultural’

Mia Maria, international curator and artist based in Jakarta – ‘Indonesia now has to recognize the value of contemporary culture’

Bambang Purwanto, professor of History at Gadjah Mada University – ‘Indonesia now needs a revolution in history writing’


Parallel Sessions

Heritage 1: Rejuvenating Historical City Centres

Moderator: Jean Paul Corten / Speakers: Ben Verfürden, Hasti Tarekat, Cristian E. Nita, Fauzi Soelaiman.

Description of Session: Many Indonesian cities have a historical centre or neighbourhoods originating from the colonial era. These buildings are currently under constant threat from floods, urbanisation and poor maintenance. Organisations such as the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Heritage Hands, SHAU Rotterdam and many more are working with Indonesian partners to revitalise and rejuvenate historical city centres in Indonesia. This session highlights some of their approaches.


Ben Verfürden:
 Semarang has a quite intact historical district. There are frequent floods, and there are not a lot of investors in the city. Hylkema, the company that Ben Verfürden works for, developed a plan called Master Vision 2013. The core of this plan is flood prevention and city rejuvenation. The plan was renewed and expanded during the Semarang Kereta Api workshop in October 2014.
 ‘Heritage, culture and the nation combine very well together in Semarang. There is a good balance between various goals, although our interests can only be achieved if the different parties are prepared to work together’.

Cristian Nita: The Kota Tua Creative Festival is organized by SHAU Rotterdam to promote creative and artistic initiatives. ‘SHAU transformed unused public spaces into populated and lively places. Many actors were involved in the Kota Tua Creative Festival, and it had a large media impact’

Fauzi Soelaiman: UNESCO 
Inscription raises a city’s levels of tourism and income, and improves its development. The main issue for conservation/rejuvenation is money.

Hasti Tarekat
: P3KP (Management and Conservation of Heritage Cities Program) creates a cultural heritage base for city planning. Encouraging cities to become world heritage sites is a relevant focus for P3KP.  There are good examples in Indonesia but there is still a lot that has to be done. However, there is a constant need for money, and people do not follow up on actions.


Practical 1: Working with/in Indonesia

Moderator: Melchior Bussink / Speakers: Cor Passchier, Gerard Mosterd, Su Tomesen

Description of Session: Working internationally is a challenging job. You can come across cultural differences, experience language barriers and encounter new customs. Different working methods and expectations can cause stress for both partners. Three experts from various fields of the arts share their experiences of working with/in Indonesia


+ A key word for Indonesia is improvisation.

+ There is a very different approach to time.

+ Indonesians have an indirect way of communicating: the way you express yourself is crucial; it is not good be too direct and never criticise people in front of others.

+ There is no infrastructure and planning is a challenge, but there is great flexibility.

+ It is much easier to collaborate on a personal level than with institutions.

+ You have to invest in personal relations, become inspired and get involved.

+ Becoming involved, in combination with expertise and being willing to interact, are the keys to success in Indonesia.

+ Indonesia is still focusing on keeping traditions alive; therefore it is difficult to find (space for) contemporary art. Above all, our (Dutch) concept of ‘contemporary’ is very different.

+ Do not say no, but instead say ‘not yet‘ or ‘maybe’, even though you know straight away that you don’t want something.

+ Do talk about your dreams; Indonesians enjoy talking about them too.


Political 1: Speech Contest, organised by Indonesia Nederland Youth Society (INYS)

The special feature of the day was a speech contest organized by the Indonesia Nederland Youth Society (INYS). Four young Indonesians and Dutchmen participated in each other’s language, to reflect on issues related to the present-day connectedness between the Netherlands and Indonesia. One of the speakers mentioned the ways in which both countries can learn from each other, for example in the field of education. Indonesians could emphasize individual development more in order to improve their capacities, whereas the Dutch can learn from Indonesian solidarity. A common key word that appeared in almost all the speeches was berkerja sama, which means ‘working together’. As one of the speakers said, ‘Starting from today, let’s help each other by means of good cooperation, by contributing to a better cooperation between the Netherlands and Indonesia. And let all the generations who come after us inherit our good relations.’ This good relation between the Dutch and Indonesians cannot be taken for granted, however: ‘a continuous process of dialogue is needed to understand each other’.


Heritage 2:
 Claiming and Reclaiming Heritage

Moderator: Anouk Fienieg / Speakers: Arnold van Bruggen, Bambang Purwanto, PaulJac Verhoeven

Description of Session: The attitude of Indonesians towards their heritage from colonial times is changing. A new generation of Indonesians are reclaiming their history and making it their own. This panel tries to give insight in how they are doing it.


Bambang Purwanto:
 The distinction between the ‘colonizer narrative’ and the ‘colonized narrative’ needs to be clear nowadays. In order to do that, history needs to be further deconstructed. Eventually this process will add to the decolonization of historiography.

Arnold van Bruggen: 
In Indonesia’s present-day society, some groups are keeping the country’s colonial history alive by means of plesiran tempo dulu, or nostalgic re-enactment. The past used to be only about what was in the history books, but Indonesians are now rediscovering the past. With ‘The Past is a Foreign Country’, we wanted to zoom in on these groups of people. We discovered that for some, plesiran tempo dulu simply means strolling through the city in colonial dresses and suits. Other groups participate in this activity to rekindle the colonial narratives and traditions in order to keep the heritage and history alive.

During the panel discussion, it became clear that there seems to be more and more interest in the colonial history of Indonesia.


Practical 2: Gateway to Indonesia

Moderator: Melchior Bussink / Speakers: Ineke de Hoog, Bambang Hari Wibisono

Description of Session: The Dutch embassy in Jakarta and the Indonesian embassy in The Hague serve as gateways to both countries. They support cultural cooperation between the Netherlands and Indonesia in a number of ways. In this session, Ineke de Hoog, the Dutch cultural attaché in Jakarta, and Bambang Hari Wibisono, the Indonesian cultural attaché in The Hague, will gave a clear insight into what they can do for you to facilitate successful cooperation with your projects.


Ineke de Hoog: Stimulating a good image of the Netherlands is not always easy – that is why the embassy invests in projects that promote the Dutch abroad. For information and in order to check if the project can be funded, it is wise to first send an email to the Embassy and after that to fill in the application form online.

Bambang Hari Wibisono: There is a lot of collaboration between the embassies, probably there will be even more once the new cultural house is installed. Challenges for the Embassy: last minute requests for visas. The Indonesian Embassy would like to ask people to take into account the time that is needed for the administration and regulations that are involved with such requests.


Political 2: Decentralization and Governance in Indonesia’s Reform Era: Developments and Prospects

Moderator: Dr Ward Berenschot / Speakers: K. Kuswanto, Dr Ronald L. Holzhacker 


Since the Reformasi era, the period of transition since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has undergone serious governance reforms, among others in the areas of democratization and decentralization. Mr Kuswanto mentioned that there are various views on this. Some argue that the implementation of decentralization has been successful because local governments now have their own budgets. Direct local elections have seen people who do not belong to the traditional elites taking on the role of head of the local government. This has resulted in decreased tensions between the local and national governments. Some local governments have shown particularly remarkable improvements within public service in sectors like healthcare, education and public infrastructure.

During the seminar, Dr Ronald Holzhacker of the University of Groningen argued that the ‘decentralization process in Indonesia entails new fiscal and financial relationships, political responsibilities and policy making latitude’. However, some share the view that there are challenges related to the process of decentralization concerning the prevalence of low accountability, policy fragmentation and corruption: the fact that that these governance reforms also entail the emergence of yet new local elites, and that direct local elections demand a lot of resources while local governors too often are being accused of corruption.


Arts & Culture 2: Performing Arts Indonesia

Moderator: Katinka Baehr
 / Speakers: Arnaud Kokosky Deforchaux, Harijono Roebana, Monica Akihary, Niels Brouwer

Description of Session: From shadow puppet plays to Balinese dancers, Indonesia’s tradition of performing arts is very diverse. Nowadays these traditional arts are being combined with contemporary forms of art in order to find and connect with new audiences both in Indonesia and abroad. Our panel members have combined Indonesian and Dutch performing arts in various ways, resulting in interesting new works. In the panel, they will collate their experiences, reflect on trends and discuss the ways they have previously – and are currently – cooperating with their Indonesian colleagues.


People in the Netherlands are not familiar with the Indonesian perspective. Seventy years later, both countries have grown to maturity and now Indonesia is a fully-fledged, democratic nation. It may not be like the democracy in the Netherlands, but that does not mean it is any less good. The shared history of the two countries still conceals many emotions. Most of all we must concentrate on how to go further, and not look back with too much melancholy. The offers that Arnaud Kokosky has received for the Tong Tong Fair are highly variable in terms of quality. Moreover, it is difficult for him to judge how good they are from emails. A simple message like ‘I want to come’ without much more initial explanation can turn out to be better than an offer by someone who sends in professional videos or demos.

What is the meeting between East and West like? Musically, there is already a great deal of fusion occurs. This not only occurs because of foreign influences but also through influences within the country itself. You cannot make generalizations about music from Indonesia. Traditional Gamelan music is hardly listenable for Westerners. It is very lengthy; an average song is about one and a half hours long. People in Indonesia listen to music differently than people do in the Netherlands. They fear that the influence of Western music will have a negative effect on Gamelan, that it will lose part of its original character and have to adapt to Western conventions. They have the feeling that this will not happen the other way around.