in dreams ...
We’ve been having Easter Monday chit-chat today, a half-dozen of us, by the fire, in lieu of beating olives out of the tree, an annual ritual, washed out by the rain this year. We talked religion and politics, those subjects we’ve been aye cautioned to avoid. Of course they’re my life’s blood.
I found myself getting quite emotional about the behaviour of Howard regarding the recent Papuan refugees. I’ve not been following this story too closely, though I was quite intrigued the other day while reading Anthony Trollope’s ‘Framley Parsonage’ to find that the mission to Christianise the Papuans was something of a minor theme in the book. These fictional characters succeeded in their mission – the Christian faith of the Papuans, like that of the East Timorese, being a major reason for their rejection of Indonesian suzerainty.
However, I do know a bit about the situation in Papua, or Irian Jaya. Before I’d heard of blogging I used to send political emails to a group of friends under my alter-ego, Luigi, and here’s a little piece I sent out in February 2003:
Reading Heat Treatment, a travel book, by English writer Justin Wintle, published back in 1988, has brought the plight of the Melanesians of Irian Jaya to my attention.
Before the Dutch arrived, Irian Jaya, which covers the western half of New Guinea and which is now under the control of Indonesia, had an estimated population of a little over 1 million people living in small isolated villages. The Dutch had little impact at first, but when deposits of oil, copper and other valuable minerals began to be discovered from the 1930s, the Dutch increased their personnel, and brought in other interested parties, from Indonesia and from the USA, in the form of Standard Oil.
In 1942 the Japanese invaded and treated the indigenes with great brutality, introducing labour camps, torture and execution. The allies under MacArthur took possession in 1944, geological surveys were taken, and it was realised that the mineral wealth of the region was far greater than previously thought. By this time the Indonesia independence movement was gathering steam, and in general Washington chose to support independence against the Dutch colonial power. Irian Jaya, however, because of its highly tribalised, 'rudimentary' society, was seen as an exception, and it remained Dutch under an agreement of 1949.
Indonesia began to exert pressure for control of Irian Jaya, arguing that the new republic should contain all parts of the former Dutch East Indies, though in fact the Melanesians had little in common with the rest of Indonesia apart from having been a colony of the Dutch. The USA was inclined to promote Indonesian aspirations, however, to keep Sukarno onside, concerned as they were with his communist and Russian sympathies.
Under heavy pressure from the USA, the United Nations ratified the 'New York agreement' in 1962, under which the Dutch were to withdraw from the region, and a referendum was to be held within seven years on independence for the people of Irian Jaya. In the interim, the region would be managed by Indonesia.
Though a small UN peace-keeping force was stationed to oversee the transfer of power, the reign of terror began with this decision. Sukarno's concern was that the Papuan inhabitants would not, having no reason to, vote for permanent Indonesian control, so he tried to terrorise them into submission. He also tried to resettle large numbers of Javanese into the region. Finally in 1964 he declared there would be no referendum.
Suharto continued Sukarno's policy in Irian Jaya, with the tacit approval of the USA, whose interests were thus protected. However, he was forced to bow to international pressure on the referendum, which took place at the very last moment, in 1969. The rigged vote, called 'The Act of Free Choice', brought a 'unanimous victory' for Jakarta. This was assisted by the slaughter of an estimated 30,000 Melanesians between 1962 and 1969, and by the appearance of one General Murtopo at an assembly of those Melanesian representatives permitted by the Indonesian authorities to cast a vote. Murtopo suggested that anyone present still seeking independence should 'find another island'. He also assured them that he'd personally shoot anyone who voted not to join Indonesia. Irian Jaya was incorporated into the republic by 1025 votes to nil. Clearly this result suited everyone who wasn't an indigenous inhabitant of Irian Jaya.
The OPM (Organisi Papua Merdeka) or Free Papua Movement was formed in 1965, which gave Indonesia further excuses to pursue its repression. It's estimated that a further 100,000 Melanesians have been killed from 1969 to the late eighties, and this brutality has continued at least into the nineties (see this site for all the gory details. Unfortunately it seems not to have been updated since the fall of Suharto).
My emotion was brought on by recalling that Howard, a few weeks ago, in a doorstep interview, pointed out that the Papuans voted to be part of Indonesia. This remark struck me as a new low in the mealy-mouthed hypocrisy of this disgusting little man. He knew, as everyone on both sides of Federal Parliament who has had dealings with Indonesia knows, that the 1969 vote he was referring to was obtained through gross intimidation, murder and torture. While both sides of Parliament have acted with wanton cowardice in their treatment of the Papuan tragedy, I’ve never heard anyone act with such insensitivity to the suffering Papuans as to refer to that vote as if it was legitimate. It takes a special kind of person to betray the rights of a people so glibly. Such a person is our Prime Minister. And politicians wonder why they’re not respected.