Crazy Bald Head


Fourteen days ago, twenty thousand indigenous Papuans - many in traditional dress - walked and danced their way through the streets from Kotaraja to the city centre in Jayapura. Shops shut in the busy student suburb of Abepura and in the downtown business centre, unwittingly turning the march into a strike. Thousands more converged on the provincial parliament building in the capital, occupying it overnight. Demonstrators completely overwhelmed police through sheer numbers. This is the largest civilian mobilisation since the Papuan Spring of 1998-2000.

After more than forty years of harsh occupation there is a new feeling amongst Papuans in Indonesia’s eastern Pacific periphery. Groups previously divided are now working together towards the same goal: a rejection of Special Autonomy. Commonly known as Otsus, it’s a package of finance, policy and legislation introduced by Jakarta in 2001 to quell Papuan demands for independence. The occupation of the parliament building has been brewing for years but the plan took shape over the last month.

On 9 & 10 June, the Papuan Peoples Assembly (Majelis Rakyat Papua or MRP), a kind of rubber stamp Papuan-only senate, held an open forum to evaluate Otsus. The conclusion was that it had failed. The reasons are clear. Otsus promised protection and prosperity. Instead torture and human rights violations by the security forces worsened, migrants continue to pour into the province, further marginalising indigenous Papuans, and the multinational oil, gas, mining, and timber companies (like BP and Freeport-Rio Tinto) continue to operate their businesses as usual, safe in the knowledge that the military is keeping a repressive lid on boiling Papuan anger.  As Benny Giay, a spokesperson for Forum Demokrasi Rakyat Papua Bersatu (the Democratic Forum of the United Papuan People or FORDEM) who organised the demonstration says, “Otsus threatens the existence of indigenous Papuans in the land of their ancestors. That is why we say Otsus has totally failed.”

On 18 June, 15,000 Papuans from seven districts coordinated by the FORDEM converged on the provincial parliament to officially deliver the decision reached at the open forum a week earlier. FORDEM leaders had demanded that parliamentarians sign an agreement to ‘hand back’ Otsus to Jakarta in no less than three weeks. On July 8 their time was up.

In the past, the Papuan movement has been targeting Jakarta and the international community, asking others to give them independence while their own political representatives waited on the next injection of cash from Jakarta. This time it was different. Papuans are targeting their own leaders. FORDEM is demanding that the provincial legislature convenes a special session to return Special Autonomy to Jakarta. They don’t want the law revised, they want it withdrawn for good. They also want Jakarta to hold a comprehensive dialogue with the Papuan people about their grievances and how to resolve them.

FORDEM’s immediate objective to force a special session of parliament won’t be easy. Papuan political parties are banned. All political parties represented in it are national Indonesian parties with their head offices in Jakarta. Papuan political interests are marginal to elites in Jakarta. At the grassroots, Jakarta may have lost its legitimacy years ago but Papua’s political representatives and civil servants are financially dependent on allocations from Jakarta and dance to the tune of its bureaucrats. If FORDEM can secure agreement from provincial parliamentarians to reject Otsus, Papuan noncooperation with Jakarta will be total.

Papuans understand the central government will do everything it can to derail and dilute Papuan demands, including by force, if they believe they can get away with it. The pretext for this will be to prevent a referendum on Papuan independence - Jakarta’s worst nightmare.

A number of Papuan leaders know this but are under intense pressure from grassroots constituents to accept nothing less. But to push for a referendum on independence now could risk losing more achievable objectives. It could also provoke a new wave of repression from Jakarta to stamp out ‘Papuan separatism’, the lens through which the police and army view Papuan dissent.

The challenge for Papuan strategists is to secure tangible victories in negotiations with Jakarta, but also ensure those concessions can be sold to the Papuan grassroots who came to Jayapura to stake a claim for kemerdekaan (independence). At least, that will include opening up Papua to international journalists, releasing political prisoners, and ensuring there is freedom of expression. But for a people who value dialogue, Papuans also want Jakarta to listen to them, to sit down and talk about their grievances. This includes the fraudulent transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch to the Indonesian government during the 1960s.

After thousands of protesters occupied parliament for two days, ringed in by armed police, water cannons and armoured personnel carriers, the Papuan provincial parliamentarians gave ground. On August 3 Papuan politicians, senior civil servants, Special Autonomy policy advisers, and civil society will meet in a public forum to debate the failure of Otsus. FORDEM is expecting this meeting will be a formality, preceding a special session of parliament to formally return Otsus to Jakarta. Once that happens, pressure will mount on Jakarta to agree to dialogue.  As one of the women protest leaders said to me after the July 8 occupation of parliament, “We occupy to get more room to achieve our targets. We have won two days. We are building the Papuan spirit to struggle.”

Whether the Papuan protesters win their immediate goal of a special parliamentary session is not yet clear. But for now Papuans have won valuable political space.

Jason MacLeod is a scholar at the University of Queensland in Brisbane Australia, specialising in nonviolent social movements.

Editor's Notes -

Jayapura: the capital of Papua province (known prior to 1999 as Irian Jaya). In 1999, the central Indonesian government decided to divide the province into three separate provinces. The creation of a 'central Papua' (Papua Tengah) was abandoned after violent protests led to a number of deaths. Another province known as 'West Irian Jaya' (and later as West Papua with its capital in Sorong) was operating since 1999. In 2001, when the Special Autonomy law was introduced, it applied only to Papua province, not West Papua province. The western provincial name is not to be confused with the Papuan nationalist term 'West Papua' (Papua Barat) whose symbol is the Morning Star flag first raised 1 December 1961.

Otsus = Otonomi Khusus (shorthand term for 'Special Autonomy' law)

Papuan People's Assembly (Majelis Rakyat Papua or MRP) is a consultative body of the Papua provincial parliament (People's Representative Council = Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Papua or DPRP). The MRP was created by the Special Autonomy law of 2001 but had no legal basis until 2003. Its Papuan-only membership was designed to represent the interests of indigenous Papuans.

Transfer of sovereignty: the Indonesian state claimed sovereignty over the former Dutch colonial territory - known as West Irian - in two stages. First, under President Sukarno, it conducted a successful military campaign against the remnants of Dutch rule in the early 1960s. After the Dutch left, the new president from 1966 - General Suharto - negotiated its formal incorporation into the Indonesian state through a United Nations supervised ballot in 1969 known as The Act of Free Choice. Papuan nationalists and others believe the process was fraudulent because the result was unanimous and in favour of incorporation. 1025 Papuans out of a population of over 800,000 participated in a vote in an environment of military intimidation.

Papuan Spring: a period of political openness (keterbukaan) immediately following the collapse of the New Order (Suharto) dictatorship. During this period, under President Wahid, the provincial name 'Irian Jaya' was changed to Papua. The raising of the Morning Star flag was permitted. The period was marked by a move by Papuan independence supporters away from armed insurgency towards political dialogue and a number of national congresses were held with the blessing of the national government. Those who were open to less than full independence developed a draft proposal for 'special autonomy' which formed the basis for what was enacted into law in 2001.

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