Indonesia Freedom Movement – 5

Indonesian Nationalism

If, as Lowenthal says, heritage preservation is about nationalism, does this work in a post-colonial state?  A project contemporary to the Dutch Historic Urban Center project offers a useful comparison.  Mrs. Suharto’s “Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park,” begun in 1971, was more overtly nationalistic.  The project was inspired by Disneyland, and would be a microcosm of the Indonesian archipelago, both a theme park and a museum, which Abidin Kusno likens to a colonial ethnography museum. The diverse cultures and regions of Indonesia were represented with a lake that reproduced the country’s islands, collections of Indonesian indigenous art, and a series of houses representing each province.  The park was meant to confer authenticity on the past and thus to the present nation.  All non-indigenous elements were excluded which, in a way, makes this project an opposite of the concurrent historic preservation project.  As Kusno describes, “…Beautiful Indonesia represents the insecurity of the New Order and the anxiety of the ruling regime that its authority is lacking “authenticity” in comparison with previous governments. “At the same time, the Dutch Historic Urban Center project, which was conferring legitimacy on the colonial past, named nationalism as one of its aims, by “contributing to a sense of national identity. “How do these opposing projects both support nationalism?  Indeed, elements of the Dutch Historic Urban Center project were antithetical to Indonesian nationalism, as in the example of nationalists objecting to Dutch street signs being posted.  The Dutch Historic Urban Center project thus cannot be seen as completely nationalistic or anti-nationalistic, as it had features of both.  It is interesting to note that the Miniature Indonesia project, though criticized from its inception, was completed, whereas the historic district preservation project remained unfinished.

Colonial Elements in Post-Colonial Indonesian Identity

Finally, let us consider the possibility that Indonesian national identity retains elements of the colonial, thus explaining why these historic preservation projects seem to straddle the colonial past and the post-colonial present.  As P. J. Marshall discusses, colonial elements remain in the colony after imperialism, so for example, English is a “virtually universal language” because of the British Empire. The post-colonial nation retains elements of its colonial past as part of its contemporary culture, such as the colonial buildings that remain in Jakarta, and they become part of Indonesian history and identity.  The role of the built environment in promoting this Indonesian identity is the subject of Abidin Kusno’s book, Behind the Postcolonial.  Kusno suggests that architecture and urban design form a collective identity.  In the post-colony, the postcolonial culture dialogues with the colonial past in the way in which they relate to the colony spatially.  The project to preserve the morphology of the colonial core of the city of Jakarta suggests a desire to shape the urban space colonially, retaining a semblance of colonial identity in the new nation.  This connection leaves us with ambiguities about the modern Indonesian identity.  Kusno goes further, suggesting that the colonial past made present is appropriate because of the nature of Suharto’s military regime, in which the governing elite had more in common with the colonial oppressors than seemed appropriate.  This suggests that indeed the colonial environment was relevant to modern Indonesia under Suharto, and that an Indonesian identity was forged that could remain mapped into the city’s colonial spaces, that still fit with Indonesian nationalism.

This exploration of two heritage restoration projects shows that Indonesia of the 1970s and 1990s had a distinct relationship with the colonial past.  Interest in preserving the remaining elements of that colonial past suggests both that there is a continuing Dutch semi-colonial presence which desires that its own monuments be preserved, and also that the colonial past remained relevant to modern Indonesian identity under Suharto’s regime.  The success of the award-winning project to renovate the Former National Archives suggests that the Dutch interest is strong and financially powerful, while the failure of the project to preserve the colonial morphology of downtown Jakarta suggests that the concept of a national identity incorporating colonial elements is less stable as the nation discovers its post-colonial identity.