Indonesia: A Bridge between Two Worlds

by Laura Adiwasito on February 9, 2011


My father was born in Indonesia, and left in 1960 to study abroad, and after witnessing the damage that Suharto’s authoritarian regime was inflicting on his homeland, vowed not to go back until democracy was fully restored. In 2002, he was proud to return and introduce my mother, my brother and myself to a transformed and prospering country, a product of political reform under a democratically elected Government.

Little did I imagine how diverse and modern Indonesia was when I visited Jakarta, Jogjakarta, and Bali.  I was pleased to find myself in a modern, progressive, booming country that welcomed and understood me, my values, and my mixed background.

I found religious tolerance when my Muslim cousins took me to a Catholic church to celebrate Christmas mass; I found rich cultural diversity when I discovered that in my family alone, there are four different ethnicities and languages; and I witnessed the courage of Indonesians, when my father’s colleagues and old friends shared the hardships of living under Suharto’s dictatorship.

Indonesia is home to over two hundred and twenty ethnic and linguistic groups; and since its independence from the Netherlands in 1945, it has remained a secular nation. These elements have played no small role in the construction of a nation that is based on principles of inclusion, acceptance, and openness to difference, helping Indonesia’s democracy to thrive and its economy to grow

A Regional Leader and Valuable Partner

Indonesia’s progressive democracy, secular principles, and emerging economic growth as Southeast Asia’s largest economy, have made Indonesia a leader in Asia. Indonesia has played an important role in international organizations such as ASEAN, and alongside Colombia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa, it is one of the CIVETS countries (new generation of BRICs).

The Obama Administration has already recognized this potential and value.  In 2009, both countries signed the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, a bilateral plan to cooperate in multiple areas: from defense, to education, and climate change issues. One year later, during his first visit to Indonesia as head of state in November 2010, President Barack Obama alluded to the immense potential represented in shared core values between Indonesia and the United States. The two countries share similar national mottos that are founded on the power of diversity: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) and E pluribus unum (Out of many, one). Also, Indonesian state philosophy is anchored on five basic principles – the Pancasila –that are close to America’s heart: Indonesian nationalism and unity; internationalism or humanism; consent or democracy; social justice and prosperity, and respect of spiritual belief.  These commonalities are an important opportunity for the United States and the entire Western world.

Closing the cultural Gap

Having grown up in five western countries, and raised with many Indonesian values, I am convinced that Indonesia is a bridge between two worlds: it is a country that embraces diversity and tolerance and one that does not find contradiction in being true to tradition while welcoming progress. I believe that within Indonesia’s modernizing democracy, cultural openness, and enormous economic potential lays a vital opportunity for the US and other Western countries to build bridges and forge long lasting links that will help close the supposed gap between Western, Asian and Islamic cultures.

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Maria Jose Holba February 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm




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