Obituary of Gus Dur

31 Dec 2009
Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL
I pay tribute to Gus Dur in particular for being the only Indonesian president to show understanding for and sympathy with the people of West Papua.
I well remember attending a meeting of solidarity with West Papuans being held in Germany. It was at the time of the Habibie presidency and the West Papuans were agog with excitement at the prospect that Gus Dur would become the next president. Although at the time I had little understanding of their feelings, it soon became evident that they were right.
It was during his presidency from October 1999 until July 2001, taking over from President Habibie following his success in the election of that year, that he granted the Papuans the right to call their territory Papua, instead of the much-hated Irian Jaya, the name that had been foisted upon them by Suharto, who knew only too well that Indonesia would benefit greatly from the abundant natural resources with which Papua was endowed and was ready to grant a concession to Freeport for the exploitation of Papua's copper and gold.
Gus Dur also acknowledged the right of Papuans to use their own symbols including their flag, the Morning Star/Kejora. He also decided to welcome the new millennium , the 21st century, with the West Papuan people and made a substantial financial contribution to the Second Papuan Conference which was held in May-June 2000, thus making it possible for many thousands of Papuans to attend this crucially important meeting. Gus Dur also often spoke up in favour of dialogue between the Papuan people and the Indonesian government.
This is not to say that Gus Dur supported the Papuans' right to independence. But what he did recognise was that sympathy and understanding for Papuan cultural rights and their right to freedom of expression would make it possible for Papuan people to more easily accept their incorporation into the Republic.
However, Gus Dur's presidency was at all short-lived. It was certainly because of his sympathy for the Papuan people that moves were set afoot by the military for his impeachment for alleged corruption and he was replaced in July 2001 by Megawati Sukarnoputri whose antipathy for the Papuan struggle is all too well known.
I am certain that his passing will be mourned above all throughout West Papua and I join with them in mourning his passing.

Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL

31 December 2009