Indonesia: Lies, Non-Truths and the Path to Peace

ASIA--PACIFIC, 26 Apr 2010

ANU News – TRANSCEND Media Service

Lies, non-truths and a corrupt military have all played key roles in Indonesia’s transition from an unstable, violent state to a relatively peaceful democracy. This contradicts the idea that truth and transparency are always vital ingredients in fostering peace.

That’s the argument made in the first of a series of books from a 20-year study of global peacebuilding efforts that is being undertaken at The Australian National University.

Professor John Braitwaite from the Regulatory Institutions Network at ANU is leader of the Peacebuilding Compared project, and lead author on the study Anomie and Violence: Non-truth and reconciliation in Indonesian peacebuilding, published this month.

“Indonesia suffered an explosion of religious violence, ethnic violence, separatist violence, terrorism, and violence by criminal gangs, the security forces and militias in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By 2002 it had the worst terrorism problem of any nation,” Professor Braithwaite says. “All these forms of violence have now fallen dramatically. How was this accomplished? What drove the rise and the fall of violence?”

Anomie and Violence draws on numerous interviews with key players in Indonesian government and security. The researchers argue that sudden change at the time of the Asian financial crisis and the fall of President Suharto meant that the rules of the power game in Indonesia were up for grabs. They argue that the military became a central player, meddling in civilian government and muddying power relations, but in the process helping to quell entrenched conflicts between various groups.

“Ultimately, resistance to Suharto laid a foundation for commitment to a revised, more democratic, institutional order,” Professor Braithwaite says. “Yet the peacebuilding that occurred was not based on things like truth seeking and reconciliation efforts, as would be widely expected. Rather, it was based on non-truth, sometimes lies, and yet substantial reconciliation.

“This poses a real challenge to restorative justice theories of peacebuilding, and also ‘commonsense’ understandings of how conflicts are resolved and peace fostered.”

Professor Valerie Braitwaite, Dr Michael Cookson and Ms Leah Dunn are co-authors on the Indonesia study. Over the next two decades, the Peacebuilding Compared research team aim to look at the nature of peacebuilding after all major armed conflicts in the world since 1990. The project is funded by the Australian Research Council.

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