For many years in the past, the political role actively played by the repressive armed forces, the frequent outbreak of anti-Chinese riots and the struggle between Islamists and secular-liberal nationalists in Indonesia have defined the international as well as regional image of Indonesian politics.What are the realities inside Indonesia now? Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar attempts to present a balanced picture.

Q : Democratisation in Indonesia since 1998 seems to have produced mixed results so far. On one hand, people have regained their human rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly and intellectuals have also been freer to express their ideas, but the newly found freedom is also said to have created a space for religious extremism and terrorism as well as regional separatism that threaten not only Indonesia but also other parts of the region. What is your opinion on these two assessments of democratisation in Indonesia?

A : It is misleading to argue that regional separatism and religious extremism in Indonesia only emerged after 1998. Indonesian history clearly shows that throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, it was wracked by civil wars, such as the regional rebellions in Aceh, West Sumatra and North Sulawesi, and the armed struggle to establish an Islamic state in Aceh, West Java and South Sulawesi. Throughout the New Order period, Aceh countinued to be a troubled province, leading to a massive military occupation of the area from the late 1980s till the fall of Suharto. Two other provinces, Papua (Irian Jaya) and East Timor also had long-standing armed rebellions against the central government.

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