Gus Dur: Pluralism is root of our democracy

Perspektif Online
28 December 2008

by Janeman Latul and Didiet Adiputro

Former president Abdurrahman Wahid (also known as Gus Dur)  has been known to befuddle his audience, but on the occasion of his End-of-year Address at the Santika Hotel in Jakarta on January 28, 2008 he was lucid and incisive.  The 68 year old religious leader, who is one of the most influential figures  in  Indonesian political history, spoke softly but clearly and inspired an audience of around 300 about what was at risk in our search for democracy in 2008.  Catholic philosopher Frans Magnis, former state secretary Bondan Gunawan, former presidential speaker Wimar Witoelar and communication expert Effendi Ghazali were called on as co-speakers with Wahyu Muryadi, former presidential protocol officer, as moderator.


Wahyu Muryadi, Frans Magnis, Bondan Gunawan, Abdurrahman Wahid, Wimar Witoelar, Effendy Gazali

The year of 2008 was marked by a loss of direction and national purpose. It almost seems as if we had lost our sense of national identity, the first elected president said.  In this time of crisis we must look at our history, in how centuries ago we have learned to find strength in ethnic pluralism and religious tolerance.  "We must remember that we have always possessed roots of pluralism, which was not imported," Gus Dur said."I hope that next year our politicians pay more attention to issues that threaten our pluralism heritage." The year of 2008 will be remembered as one of the years that challenged the threads of pluralism, while tolerance was put to the test.
The anti pornography law signed by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this year was clearly a threat to the rights of citizens,  especially women. It was an initiative that many people believed was merely a political move by the incumbent rather than a necessary act to combat pornography.

The year also recorded a tragedy at the National Monument in  which an ultra-radical Islamic movement attacked and hurt a peaceful demonstration to support  Ahmadiyah, an Islamic sect. It showed that some small groups of people are  trying to challenge the ideas of pluralism. Interestingly, the mastermind  of the attack got away with a  soft sentence from the court.

"Over the past hundreds of years our people lived in peace amid their differences," the former president said, citing the example of Raden Wijaya, the founder of Majapahit, a Hindu  empire while he himself was a Moslem of  Chinese descent.

The prominent leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Islamic organization, said that we should talk straight about anything, including politics and pluralism.  "We have the freedom to talk,  although we have to be responsible," Gus Dur said, adding that talk must also be implemented. "We should defend every word that we say," the Baghdad University graduate said.

Bondan Gunawan, former state secretary minister,  supported Gus Dur’s  statements.  "There are no politicians in Indonesia who understand our democratic roots better than  Gus Dur," Bondan said."One cannot lead and enhance our society without a broad understanding of our history and democratic methods.”

Wimar Witoelar of Perspektif Online said that the revelation of pluralism as the main feature of our democracy is a main issue that we should fight for in next year's election. "We don't  have to question democracy although it has not given what we are hoping for," Wimar said. "We just have to make it work.” Like a new water pump, democracy needs time and repeated use to produce clean water and not just mud and dirt.
Wimar said that two big issues of 2008 were the world crisis of capitalism and the Indonesian crisis of democratic belief.  It is ironic that America which has worked on capitalism for more than 300 years has to reinvent the system, while Indonesia which thrives on the idea of nationalism has to revitalize the nation’s soul.

He said that there were  many  issues in the public discourse of 2008 which was marked by dissatisfaction. While Wimar does not favor public discord, he does see potential in the increasing discontent.  "The more the issues, the better,  but we need to connect the  issues with the  political candidates," he said, adding that If the issues are addressed effectively by politicians, they will benefit from it, but if  they are out of tune the candidates should be brought  down. " Remember that Barack Obama  won because of his stand on the issues, not because of race, gender, or religion,"  the media personality said.

Communications advocate Effendi Ghazali  is happy that 2008 produced some historical surprises which will make our democracy more mature, pointing to the ruling of the Constitutional Court which abolishes the priority list of candidates set by the political parties, going instead to number of votes as the only base for parliamentary seat allocation. The individual candidate becomes more important than the political party, which will lead to better democratic choice.

Indeed, our future generations need action that will change the course of our nation's path. They will not remember us for passing an anti-pornography law,  but they will honor and thank us if  we present them a  flourishing pluralism as our country's most important legacy.

Print article only


  1. From Christian Sjioen on 29 December 2008 12:02:38 WIB
    Focus on economic development : for next President from now until end of campaign will explain Short term : economic development a realistic / applicable long term Suitainable economic, by Full Team Economic All Candidate .The sprit of Preamble UUD 45 Fatsal 33 UUD 45 come true on the long term economic its happen begin general Election people will vote again incumbent President because People of INDONESIA Involve The economic development by Growth Domestic Product indeed there were number of Fund having people of INDONESIA ( WORKERS ). Democratic more mature but forget and forgive anarchy violence face democratic been MATURE

    For President individual candidate hope a regulation by PP exp. ( Twice Riddled )

    Thank\'s So Much Down turn 2009 full fill: 1.explain / 2.Debate on TV the Candidates which the first for schedule
  2. From sonny retor on 29 December 2008 12:56:55 WIB
    May all of Indonesian understand that pluralism is not merely diversity and tolerance. It is a welcome, endeavor, and achievement in diversity. It is a dialogue, understanding, and commitment in tolerance.

    Selamat Natal, Selamat Tahun Baru Hijriah, dan Selamat Menyongsong tahun 2009.
  3. From satria kinayungan on 29 December 2008 16:01:23 WIB
    There are several different usage of pluralism, see:

    I hope that what Gus Dur meant was "cultural pluralism":

    and not "religious pluralism":
  4. From dmitri on 29 December 2008 18:48:23 WIB
    i would feel better should Indonesia remain a democracy, and become better at it. that's fantastic. but we've also seen that many countries have had better, prosperous society without the necessary democratic freedom, which we may consider as pre-requisite to achieve our goals. sometimes we aim so high that the method becomes the goal. that is no better than stalin's communism, or capitalism ala west, which is now failing awefully.

    that also does not mean that a totalitarian regime such as Indonesia's Orba (and somewhat Orla to an extent) is ideal. because in such systems, friendship (with Soeharto) and groupies (Bu Tien & co) becomes the goal, while leadership of the country is only made effective for a short period of time. can you imagine what would happen to a grandkids of an old crony? remember what happens to 3rd generation businesses in egalitarian societies? Indonesia is yet to become such society, but that 3rd generation are about to turn yellow, then red, if SBY-JK keep working at their prefered pace... prepare for another era of Jakarta drug induced wild parties, nose jobs ahoy!...

    lets not get away from the right track, which is not necesarily the fast track, and that is (let me quote the article): "... the issues are addressed effectively by politicians, ..."

    i suggest the KPU let voters tick on a box that says "I do not agree with any of the above." such ticks would show that the voter did attend the voting (participation %), but did not feel his issues were addressed. or, it can also indicate bad communication skills for the contestants. no better place to start, IMHO.
  5. From janeman on 29 December 2008 23:11:22 WIB
    Satria: pluralism in this article of what we've given from Gus Dur is a very broad pluralism concept. It covers politics, philosophy, cultural, and even religious.

    It means that we, as an individual must not arbitrate to other poeple belief coz every thought and religious are unique even for atheists.

    For instance, a socialist could still live with a liberalist (in political sphere).

    And it is also should occur in relegious sphere. A christian could live co-exist with his moslem brother without hurting each other, even within sects inside a religion.

    We have that kind of pluralism already and therefore we should revitalize it every moment to maintain our democracy... Right?
  6. From janeman on 29 December 2008 23:15:36 WIB
    Hi dimitri, like the idea on election sheet! Cool man!
  7. From Ludjana on 30 December 2008 05:14:03 WIB
    Yang terjadi sekarang adalah TERROR BY THE MINORITY.
    Dan ini akan terus berlangsung kalau golongan pluralitas, yang merupakan mayoritas (seperti saya ini) masih takut bicara terbuka.
    Apalagi pemerintah dengan MUI nya paling takut dari semua dan makin tunduk kepada minoritas itu.

  8. From TOHIR on 31 December 2008 09:25:28 WIB
    suatu hal yang pasti adanya suatu perbedaan sehingga bisa menguatkan suatu golongan.
  9. From MSanthom on 08 January 2009 21:09:22 WIB
    I think in case of Indonesia we have to blame television news including infotainment which promote racism and religious hatred to our life everyday
  10. From Abraham Ganda M on 09 January 2009 09:00:45 WIB
    pertahankan pluralitas dalam kebangsaan indonesia, karena merupakan aset bangsa untuk maju.....
  11. From Tisna on 10 January 2009 12:58:55 WIB
    Despite his occasional controversial and seemingly inconsiderate statements (jokes), Gus Dur always fascinates me with his wit, wisdom, and high values. The values that he holds and defends, IMHO, are firmly ground on reality, humanity, and of high spiritual ones. Something we rarely see in other public figures (even from those who claim to be spiritual/religious leaders).

    Pluralism is a fact of life. How can we deny it? It is the devil inside us who constantly try to look for something that differentiate "me" from others. It is an inferior way of defining who I am by loudly saying what I am not. Even in an imaginary world that consists of people of same race, same religion, same culture, same political view, I guess there will be some of us who look at bits of differences ...

    Kudos to Gus Dur cs.

  12. From Arie on 09 February 2009 06:50:21 WIB
    My question is how to govern our pluralism, would everyone in this forum still have faith in Pancasila and our national law? If not what is the control ground, how do we measure that everyone chews the right context of pluralism and benefit from them. This is important - Pluralism has to be in context where it helps clarifying the right from wrong! Not only in context to make everyone happy by accepting their unique attributes, we are not in the zoo to just adore and be happy with every unique animal we see.

    I cannot agree if pluralism contains the suspension to reliable context of what is right and wrong, because than it will be a fake. In my opinion, everyone should promote and continue voicing what is right to one another, from politic, culture to belief, no limit! The risk is obvious -tension- but this should be controlled with a solid law that will protect us from parasites, otherwise we are on our way to -democrazy-, as happened in Ambon or recently in North Sumatera, a mass protest that resulted in a killing.

    If we care with one another we should not stop reminding each other about what is right and wrong, tension in relationship -when managed- will help strengthen understanding.

« Home