Indonesian Dream – Elwin Tobing

Recalibrating the Indonesian Dream

Endy M. Bayuni ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 09/13/2009 11:47 AM  |  Bookmark

What is the Indonesian dream, and was there ever such a concept in the first place?

When Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s independence on Aug. 17, 1945, they set out a vision of where the new nation should be heading. The 177-word Preamble to the 1945 Constitution that they wrote is essentially the Indonesian vision, or the Indonesian dream. From then on and until today, this dream has been simplified into two words: justice and prosperous.

Both Sukarno and Hatta, and others like them during their time, have written extensively articulating their visions for the new nation. While there was much consensus on the goal, there has been disparities and heated debate over how we should get there. Each came up with roadmaps to achieving the goal of a just and prosperous nation.

Fast-forward 64 years and five presidents later, the dream has yet to be translated into reality. As a nation, we are more just and more prosperous (at least materially), but no one could say that today Indonesia is either just or prosperous. And perhaps it is just as well, because once we achieve that dream, we will need to come up with something new to strive for.

The Indonesian Dream – The Pursuit of a Winning Nation is essentially an attempt to recalibrate the original vision of Indonesia, taking into account the 64 years of nationhood experience, and fixing things where the author believes we have gone wrong.

An Indonesian living and teaching economics at a California university, Elwin Tobing, drew his inspiration, at least as far as the title of the book is concerned, from the American dream. This is widely understood today as the opportunity for any American citizen to tap into the freedom and democracy guaranteed by the state to further one’s own advancement in society, including (but not exclusively in) material prosperity.

While we can find many similarities between Indonesia and the United States – both have large populations and both are racially, ethnically and religiously diverse – there is one huge difference on how they have approached their respective dreams.

The American Dream places an emphasis on individual citizens being able to do what they see fit in the “land of opportunities”, in pursuing happiness. US President Barack Obama, elected in 2008 as the first black US president, is testimony that the dream is still very much alive and relevant today.

In contrast, the Indonesian dream, if we go by the Constitution, emphasizes our collective approach to achieving the goal of a just and prosperous nation. This notion of togetherness – whereby we as a nation rise and fall together – is important, given the diversity of our racial, ethnic and religious makeup. No group should rise far above the rest, as this could upset the state of harmony and probably undermine the unity of the nation.

The importance of individual rights and freedoms were only given recognition once we had amended the Constitution in 2002. Tobing’s book is thus a timely reminder for the nation to recalibrate the Indonesian dream in view of the amendment, by reconciling individual freedoms and rights, without harming the collective interests of the nation.

Where Tobing departs from Sukarno and Hatta is in his inclusion of freedom as the third pillar of the Indonesian dream, in addition to justice and prosperity. For Sukarno and Hatta, freedom was something they assumed had been achieved the moment Indonesia proclaimed independence and became a sovereign state in 1945.

The history of Indonesia over the last 60 years has been partly about the struggle to reconcile the interests of different groups in society that have often come into conflict, including races, ethnic groups and religious communities. On many occasions the freedoms of individuals or groups have been suppressed in the name of conformity and national unity. That is why the freedom agenda remains as important today as it was during the struggle for independence before 1945.

Tobing is boldly critical of Indonesia, given that the state motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” – the Sanskrit words that have been officially translated as “unity in diversity”.

Tobing argues, rightly and convincingly, that diversity should be the main element that makes this nation united and that no one should fear it as a divisive factor. The state should recognize the richness of Indonesia’s diversity and see this as a strength that not only glues the collection of peoples in this archipelago together, but also helps advance the cause of a confident and globally competitive nation.

The second part of the book dwells on the need for the nation to pursue its dream to have democratic principles. The third and last part provides a kind of road map to achieving that dream, and Tobing singles out the need for Indonesia to invest more in education and the establishment of a knowledgeable society.

This book was written by an Indonesian who spent a good number of years in the United States. While Tobing still has an Indonesian perspective, his book uses many American and Western references, including popular quotations from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and even the fictitious figure Forrest Gump. Many of these may be unfamiliar to Indonesians, but would go down well with foreign readers. Perhaps it was Tobing’s intention to reach out to non-Indonesian readers. One only wishes he could have included at least one Indonesian quote among the others found at the start of each chapter.

Interestingly, the book was launched in Jakarta last week after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono laid out his Vision 2025 for Indonesia in his state of the nation address on Aug. 14. Fresh from winning a new five-year mandate from the people, the Yudhoyono added three new dimensions to the original vision of a just and prosperous nation: greater self-reliance, globally competitive and civilized.

One could not help noticing the similarities in his “vision” and Tobing’s “dream”. For what it is worth, the book and the President’s speech have kick-started a new national debate on where we as a nation really ought to be going. We should join Tobing in trying to recalibrate a new dream for Indonesia.

The Indonesian Dream -The Pursuit of a Winning Nation

Elwin Tobing, 2009
The Indonesian Institute and
Primamedia Press
257 pages

~ by hannysetiawan on September 19, 2009.

4 Responses to “Indonesian Dream – Elwin Tobing”

  1. I read an article about this book on today’s Kompas. I went to look for it right away. I checked at Gramedia, TGA, and times bookstore, but I couldn’t find a single copy. They said the book is not yet listed on their database. Could you please tell me where you buy it? thank you.

  2. Hi anita, unfortunately I don’t anything about the sale of Elwin’s book. I just come to be Elwin’s friend, so I will email him regarding your inquiry. Thank you.

  3. here is the reply from Elwin:

    Elwin Tobing: Sejauh ini ada di toko-toko buku Aksara. Lokasinya Pacific Place, Plaza Indonesia, Citos Kemang, dan Kemang Raya. Semuanya masih di Jakarta. Gramedia dan toko buku lainnya to follow asap.

  4. Thank you very much for your help. I will try to look for it at aksara. Thanks again

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