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Regionalism in Indonesia

Anna Maria Stępień
University of Warsaw

Marianna Lis
Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw

MA Marianna Lis
Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw


Indonesia is the biggest archipelago country in the world with a great regional diversity. Indonesian regions and their communities have their own cultures, form their own local identities and in the same time are under strong influence of central and local politics as well as economic pressure.

Negotiation of the role that regions should play in a newly created Indonesian nationhood, since beginning did not proceed without problems. Competing with unitary ideas, federalistic conceptions were especially popular in eastern parts of Indonesia. During New Order, main focus was put on creation of common Indonesian identity and loyalty which would unite all Indonesians. Perception of loyalties based on so called “regional” or “ethnic sentiments” treated as a threat for nation’s stabilization, occurred not only during New Order regime, but was a serious setback for implementation of decentralization laws during Megawati Soekarnoputri presidency.

Aim of this panel is to make Indonesian regions center of analysis and study processes influencing their communities – from analyzing state policy towards all of the regions to describing different case studies from particular communities. We apply interdisciplinary approach and different methodologies embracing political, economic, social and cultural aspects of regional diversity in Indonesia to reflect on relations between Indonesian central government and its regions.


Paper 1: Between firm grip of state and local autonomy – conditions for the development of Indonesian provinces

Michał Sęk
Res Publica Foundation, City DNA

Gaining independence in 1945 Indonesia extended its territory to the area of the Dutch East Indies. In this sense, the state emerged without its nation and only later organized inhabitants of the former colony to create a nation-state. Hence, struggle over control of the state is logically prior to the struggle to root that state in a nation. This struggle for power also concerns relations between the central government and the regions and forms conditions for their development.

Since gaining independence Indonesia tightly controlled its provinces; for state authorities losing that control meant losing independence. For some regions, that control was indeed a continuation of Dutch colonization. The tipping point of this process was the collapse of Orde Baru in 1998; since then Indonesia began to head towards a federal state system. This was followed by the decentralization policy, which enhances regional autonomy and strengthens local ethnic identities. In detail this process is much more ambiguous.

This paper aims to circumscribe transitions of state policy towards Indonesian provinces and thus dynamic conditions of their economic development. Firstly, it will present diversity in the development of Indonesian regions, based on extended UNDP methodology used in Human Development Reports. Secondly, the paper will describe the decentralization policy aimed at provinces, as well as list factors that influence economic development.
regional development, regionalism, decentralization, regional policy, Indonesia, Southeast Asia


Paper 2: (Re-)constructing Local Identity: Case Study of Cultural Revival Movements in Minahasa
Anna Maria Stępień
University of Warsaw

During New Order state was a main “cultural” and “identity broker”. Based on a colonial concept of ethnicity, regime created an essentialist and primordial understanding of culture and identity. Cultural expressions were accepted in a folclorized forms as long as they did not undermine unifying concept of kewarganegaraan. Reformation of state’s policy after 1998 and current decentralization attempts created a space for discussion on collective identities, group rights, as well as relationships between central government and regions. Concept of identity became opened for reinterpretations and has been used in a political and social negotiations, while at the same time decentralization imposes ethnic interpretations of regions.

Flourishing with the spirit of desentralisasi, cultural revival organizations became one of the contemporary local “cultural” and “past brokers”. Paper is based on a fieldwork among cultural revival organizations of Minahasa, the biggest ethnic group in the North Sulawesi region. Radical changes that group has undergone in the XIXth century resulted in a common image of Minhasans as the most westernized group and vision of their culture as being the least “traditional” and “authentic”, comparing to other ethnic groups in Indonesia. However current ethnic studies emphasize that there is no one-to-one relationship between ethnicity and culture, ethnicity can be performed in certain conditions by the systematic communication of cultural differences. By analyzing practices and discourses of current cultural movements in Minahasa the aim of this paper is to describe how this communication occurs and why it becomes relevant in current social context.
Paper 3: The role of performance in expressing the Jogyanese identity
Marianna Lis
Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw

The Special Region of Yogyakarta (Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta) is today the only region in Indonesia which is ruled by pre-colonial monarchy, the Sultan of Yogyakarta, who is also the governor of the region. Sultan Palace (kraton) was the place, where in colonial times, arts and the old traditions were cultivated and developed. In time, it became one of the most important cultural centers in Java. Performances have become one of the most important in life of Indonesian societies, confirming social relations and celebrating shared values. They were also place for social and political critique.

Paper will be devoted to present how today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the role of performances in shaping the life of local communities looks like. The author, basing on field researches led in the Special Region of Yogyakarta, will describe the influence of regime change that occurred with the fall of the regime of President Suharto in 1998 on social and political role of performances. The artists of young generation, creating today in Yogyakarta, deconstruct centralized image of the history and tradition imposed on Indonesians in times of Orde Baru, they concentrate on local audience and problems constructing new or strengthen existing communities, thereby expressing the identities of specific social groups. Expressing local Jogyanese identity is now seen as a source of pride and artists, cooperating with kraton, have a major contribution to the defense of the special status of the region.