The Globalutionaries

The New York Times
24 July 1997
Jakarta, Indonesia – There is a fascinating revolution going on in Indonesia. It’s not always visible, but if succeeds it could save this country from the dead hand of the Suharto regime, which after 30 years in power is a spent force, without energy or ideas.

Wimar Witoelar, a popular Jakarta talk-show host, described the Indonesian revolutionaries to me as those 20- and 30-year-olds, most of them educated and working in the private sector, "who want to get rich without having to be corrupt and who want to have democracy but don’t want to go out in the streets and get killed for it".
What’s interesting is their strategy. The Suharto regime allows no space for a democratic opposition to emerge. So what the pro-democracy, pro-clean-government forces are relying on is not a revolution from below, not a revolution from above, but a revolution from beyond.

Their strategy is to do everything they can do to intregrate Indonesia into the global economy on the conviction that the more Indonesia is tied into the global system, the more its government will be exposed to the rules, standards, laws, pressure, security and regulations of global institutions, and the less arbitrary, corrupt and autocratic it will be able to be. Their strategy, in short, is to Gulliverize the Suharto regime by globalizing
Indonesian society.

As a military analyst, Juwono Sudarsono, put it: " The global market will force upon us business practices and disciplines that we cannot generate internally". Or as another reformer here remarked to me: " My son and I get our revenge on Suharto every day by eating at Mc Donald’s".

Indonesia’s "globalutionaries" include business school grads who want Indonesia in the World Trade Organization (W.T.O) and APEC and ASEAN:

Young Entrepreneurs who welcome foreign investment here so that any move the Suharto regime makes with the domestic economy, and any shenanigans it might try, will have international implications; and human rights activists who use the internet to get their stories out and whose hackers occasionally break into – and alter – government web sites. The Indonesian press can’t directly rebuke the Suharto regime for its rampant nepotism. So instead it reports with great relish on how the U.S and japan are taking Indonesia before a W.T.O court to protest the fact that Indonesia’s national car factory – controlled by the President’s son – is being protected by all sorts of tariffs out of line with W.T.O norms.

Many, of course, have made a similar argument about China – that the more it is intregrated into the global economy, the more open and pluralistic it will inevitably become. But what is interesting about Indonesia is that it isn’t outsiders making this argument to justify their business dealings here. It is Indonesian reformers making the argument as a self-conscious political strategy.

So globalization has many dark sides, from environmental degradation to widening the gap between rich and poor, but what you see in Indonesia is its most important upside – the ability to generate pressure on autocratic regimes when no domestic space is available.

While everyone is focusing on the question of whom President Suharto will appoint as his next vice president and lilkely successor, I would argue that it almost doesn’t matter. The really interesting succession in Indonesia is already happening, and it is the one being mounted in the private sector by the globalutionaries. They are plugging Indonesia into the world in ways that will, over time, redefine both politics here and the limits of what’s possible – no matter who succeeds Mr. Suharto.

In the meantime, if the U.S wants to promote this process of opening up and democratizing politics in Southeast Asia it needs a multifaceted strategy. It has to work with military officers who want to professionalize their ranks, give protection to the non governmental human rights organizations when they come under attack for reasonable activities and find every way possible to encourage countries like Indonesia to intregrate with the global economy and institutions, rather than cutting them off, which is idiotic.

It would be nice if every democracy movement could be led by a hero like Andrei Sakharov. But you have to work with what you’ve got, and around here the biggest agents of change are the globalutionaries.

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