Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Upcoming interview: Roeslan Abdulgani's daughter talks about her father's legacy and the Indonesian State Philosophy

Our intrepid correspondent Wati is more than a source of on-the-ground political insight and juicy Indonesian gossip, although she’s too modest to admit it.  She’s recently been interviewed by the Jakarta Bureau of the Xinhua News Agency regarding the 60th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, a concept raised by China and India in 1954, and based in part on the Indonesian principles of Pancasila first developed in 1945 by a group of then-president Sukarno’s advisors, including Wati’s father Roeslan Abdulgani, who was at that time the Indonesian Ambassador to the UN for the Sukarno government.

Pak Roeslan was secretary general to the 1955 historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, at which the five principles of Pancasila were modified and incorporated into a statement of ten principles. The Bandung Conference “did more than any other meeting to form the idea that post-colonial states had something special to offer the world.”

Pak Roeslan died in June 2005.  “He was one of the last survivors of Indonesia's war for independence.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called him "a leader who never said bad things about others." Former President Suharto called him "a great man and leader who has given so much for the country he loves."

I’m going to post the interview as soon as it’s published but first I wanted to present a little primer on Pancasila and its cousin the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence so that you’ll have an idea of the historic magnitude of Pak Ruslan’s contributions. 

Wati has written a biography of her father called A Fading Dream: The Story of Roeslan Abdulgani and Indonesia (2003). (available on Amazon at

Liner Notes: This is the biography of Dr H Roeslan Abdulgani, who rose through Indonesia's political ranks to become one of the country's most important policy-makers, and a trusted aide to President Sukarno. It takes readers from the birth of Dr Roeslan in Surabaya in 1914 and his high school political days, through his appointments as Secretary General and then Minister of Foreign Affairs, to his tenure as Deputy Prime Minister of Information, where he was instrumental in helping President Sukarno develop and propagate the ideas of "Guided Democracy" - and beyond.

The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, were signed in Peking in 1954 and enunciated in the preamble to the "Agreement on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India. This agreement stated the five principles as:
  1. Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  2. Mutual non-aggression.
  3. Mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
  4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit.
  5. Peaceful co-existence.
An underlying assumption of the Five Principles was that newly independent states after decolonization would be able to develop a new and more principled approach to international relations. Indian Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru said of them, "If these principles were recognized in the mutual relations of all countries, then indeed there would hardly be any conflict and certainly no war."

It has been suggested that the five principles had partly originated as the Indonesian state philosophy, or Pancasila-- literally translated as “Five Principles. ”

In 1945, future President Sukarno presented a fusion of socialism, nationalism and monotheism to Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia, BPUPKI  (the Investigating Committee for the Preparation of Independence). In their original form and order, with Pak Roeslan as one of the developers, the five principles were:
  1. nationalism
  2. justice and humanity
  3. representative democracy with an equal vote for each individual regardless of ethnicity
  4. Social Welfare
  5. monotheism and religiosity

 These five principles were eventually rearranged in the following order:
1.     the belief in the divinity of God
2.     justice and humanity
3.     the unity of Indonesia
4.     Representative Democracy
5.     Social justice

“Sukarno thus helped solve the conflict between Muslims, nationalists and Christians.”

With a lot of help from his advisors.

The 1945 Indonesian Constitution set forth Pancasila as “the embodiment of basic principles of an independent Indonesian state,” although the principle of the belief in the “all-oneness of God” did promote the ratifiers to change some language that promoted religious freedom, and that gives the incoming President the right to swear-in to office via a “promise,” not mentioning God at all.  Pak Roeslan was one of Sukarno’s advisors during this alteration and development process.

Indonesia's second president, Suharto, was a strong supporter of Pancasila. However, “after initially being careful not to offend sensitivities of Muslim scholars who feared Pancasila might develop into a quasi-religious cult, Suharto secured a parliamentary resolution in 1983 which obliged all organisations in Indonesia to adhere to Pancasila as a basic principle. He also instituted a Pancasila indoctrination program (Penataran P4) that all Indonesians, from primary school students to office workers, had to regularly attend. In practice, however, the vagueness of Pancasila was exploited by Suharto's government to justify their actions and to condemn their opponents as "anti-Pancasila". [emphasis added.]

Sigh. And so it began.

But now you are prepared for Wati’s interview, which promises to be as interesting and informative as she is.


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