Applying theories of ethno-cultural conflict and conflict resolution to collective violence in Indonesia

Kreuzer, Peter


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Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 63
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2002
Publikationsdatum: 25.01.2008
SWD-Schlagwörter: Indonesien , Konfliktregelung
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 15.78 (Südostasien)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

In recent years especially, Indonesia has been shaken by recurrent waves of high levels of collective violence. The forms have varied from ethnically and religiously-motivated riots, causing several thousand fatalities, to internecine inter-communal warfare, in which whole villages were wiped out, as happened in the Moluccas in the past four years. We are also confronted with social practices of vigilantism and the selective killings of sorcerers. Last but not least on both the eastern and the western fringe of the vast Indonesian territory, we find secessionist movements engaged in more or less violent conflicts with the central state. In the process of multi-dimensional transformation, Indonesia faces the very real danger of what might initially be interpreted as a temporary phenomenon accompanying democratisation and liberalisation and which may turn out to be a characteristic feature of a new kind of hybrid regime type in the making. Violence, in other words, once erupted might become stabilised insofar as the conditions conducive to its perpetuation are put in place in the process of transition. In the search for an antidote to violence, it does not suffice to point to the after-effects of the authoritarian and violent legacy of the Suharto era. Violence, as will be shown, predates Suharto and is a characteristic feature of modern Indonesia. Similar patterns, albeit adapted to new social, political as well as economic environments, emerge over and over again. This repetitive structuration of collective violence is fed by certain basic features of Indonesian culture and institutional design. By elaborating these general observations, the paper will apply the results of three major perspectives on ethno-cultural conflict and conflict resolution to the complex case of Indonesian collective violence. The three perspectives – centring on the psychological, the institutional and the cultural dimensions of collective violence – will be introduced, their most promising aspects described and then applied to Indonesia on the macro-level of conflict resolution. During this process, the opportunities as well as the limitations offered by these three ways of looking at collective violence, in the many forms in which this phenomenon emerges in Indonesia, will be evaluated. The psychology-centred approach stresses the identity dimension of ethno-cultural conflict. Irrespective of significant differences with other points of conflict analysis and resolution, its protagonists argue that identity has to be treated as a basic need, which, if sought for by the members of a self-defined identity group, must be fulfilled to some degree, because otherwise it will be pursued irrespective of costs. Psychological approaches accept the relevance of economic, social and political dimensions, which partly cause, contribute to and aggravate a conflict, but argue that the autonomy of the identity dimension must be taken into adequate consideration, if conflict-resolution is to have any chance of success. To come to grips with this problematic, various kinds of third-party intervention are proposed. Most prominent are the different variants of strategies for resolution which centre around workshops, in which representatives of the contending parties are brought together under controlled circumstances: arena, players, structure, II process and content of communication, all are controlled by the third party. The design can aim at analytical problem-solving which focuses directly on devising new interpretations and new solutions to old and formerly intractable problems. Other approaches argue that the workshops must be separated from any context which reminds the parties of their roles as contenders in a conflict. They must be led to understand each other as human beings, with fears, emotions, wishes and needs instead, so that they are able to see the sameness of self and others and thereby surmount the tendencies to dehumanise and enmify the other, which are two necessary ingredients of recursive and large-scale intergroup violence. Such workshops aim specifically at the re-enactment of psychic traumata, collective fears and deeply (and sometimes unconsciously) held images of the collective self and others in order to make them visible and mutually understood. Three aspects of ethno-cultural conflict highlighted by the psychological approaches, which are of special relevance to the case of Indonesia, are treated in some detail in the text: the role of collective traumata, of competing psycho-cultural narratives and of empathy- competence for the preponderant conflict style and its eventual re-formation in the direction of more civility and cooperation. A brief look at the main instruments makes clear that psychologically oriented theory, while being able to provide much input for the analysis of conflict genesis and dynamics, provides only a very small spectre of conflict resolution techniques, which, moreover, seem to work best on the local level and once the conflict has already gone soft. Even if they might play a significant role in the drawn-out processes of reconciliation, healing and the re-integration of fragmented societies in the aftermath of violence, they provide no viable avenue for the initial de-escalation of hardened intractable conflicts. Consequently, the use of psychological avenues for conflict resolution should be of interest in all those inter-communal conflicts, where the lines of confrontation have already gone soft, but the multiple underlying forces still exist. Work on traumata, empathy training and the re-imagination of commonalities as well as dividing lines is essential, if the very real danger of a return of violence is to be averted. Seen from a long-term perspective, it is extremely important that the arenas of commonality and communication built on this basis can be converted into an institutionalised form in which all groups in conflict develop a common interest. The institutional approach, while also generally accepting the view that the psychic dimension is of prime importance in the development of ethno-cultural conflict, nevertheless centres on institutional remedies for the conflicts, because in the view of its protagonists, psychic predispositions are not malleable in the short and medium term. For them, it makes most sense to concentrate on those dimensions of conflict which can be manipulated and promise some positive effect in the short to medium term. Two basic schools may be differentiated according to the prescribed recipes for conflict management. The consociationalists propose a constitutional engineering which aims at guaranteeing group rights by providing political institutions with a group representation agenda: veto rights for all politically-organised ethno-cultural groups, territorial and personal autonomy arrangements guaranteeing the highest possible degree of internal self-rule, proportional representation of all ethno-cultural interest groups according to their strength, broad-based parliamentary government, to name just a few. Integrationalists share the power-sharing orientation of the consociationalists. They argue, however, that III political institutions ought to be structured in such a way that their raison d’être – the plural society and its political expression in ethnicised politics – is removed in the long term. Political institutions should, in their view, provide a centripetal counter-force against the centrifugal tendencies characteristic to plural societies. They aim at providing institutional incentives for inter-group cooperation and concentrate much of their practical suggestions on different options for electoral engineering which promote cross-cutting alliances. Both approaches are clearly in favour of federal designs. Because of their antagonistic paradigms, they differ sharply on the concrete forms the federations should take. Consociationalists opt for carving up the unitarian states along ethnic lines, thereby constructing ethnically rather than homogenous states. Integrationalists opt for mixed, non-communal states which might promote intra-group rifts and foster inter-group alliances. One possible recipe for the Indonesian problematic which can be derived from this literature is a need for the empowerment of the constituent parts of the Indonesian nationstate. As much political power as possible should be devolved from the federal to the state level (which, in the case of Indonesia, might at this point in time imply the devolution of further federal preserves on the one hand, but also a re-centralisation of some of the rights and duties which have been devolved to the district level in recent years). These measures of state-centred devolution should be supplemented with a strengthened political representation of the regions in the centre, so that enduring regional interest in national- level politics is safeguarded. It would also be sensible to open up avenues for the formulation and representation of purely regional, ethnic or religious interests in the field of parliamentarian politics. All groups must have the right to form political parties. As long as they receive enough votes, it must be possible for them to press their cases in local, regional or national level parliaments. A corresponding, institutionally-grounded strategy of enhanced elite-cooperation is a sensible complement which could minimise the danger of political stasis resulting from mutually-incompatible aims. A further necessary ingredient of institutional redesigning should be a strengthening of the state, especially a rise in status, pay and the number of police forces. By creating an incentive structure which makes efficiency, rule-bound behaviour and clean-handedness pay, in terms of career and status, the police forces must be enabled to guarantee internal security in the medium term. This can hopefully counteract the pervasive tendency to privatise security and violence. Players, who do not abide by the rules or have problematic track records should not be punished in the first instance, but deactivated by means of a sensible retirement policy. The cultural perspective does not offer a particular menu of conflict resolution techniques, but centres on the necessity to check the recipes for conflict resolution for their cultural commensurateness. Proponents of this approach criticise the fact that neither psychologically nor institutionally-grounded strategies give prominence to the cultural conditions under which their recipes are put to use. If, however, conflicts as cultural events are filled with, understood through and explained by specific cultural symbolism, then it should be of eminent importance to analyse these symbolic universes. Culturalists argue that the success or failure of the psychologically-grounded strategies as well as the IV institution-centred strategies is firmly based in strategic adaptations to the culture of the recipient society. They may also need parallel exercises of a purposeful change in cultural values, norms, cognitions, schemes, emotive structures and suchlike. Oft-prescribed institutional engineering must be accompanied by the probably even more daunting task of cultural engineering. A look at Indonesian culture reveals a corresponding explicit culture of conflict avoidance and an implicit need for violent conflict resolutions in highly critical situations. It is argued that the premium on conflict avoidance leaves the culture without any systematic way of dealing with fundamental conflicts between societal groups in a cooperative and non-hierarchical way. Strategies for compromise as well as options for long-term powersharing are lacking. Therefore, it is an important long-term task to develop new strategies for devising win-win conceptions of problem-solving out of existing cultural practices and to emancipate the constituent parts of the polity, so that a public discourse between the different communities can be initiated, in which all parties can air their grievances and pursue their interests. Such a perspective begs the question of the cultural adequacy of the strategy of nation-building, which has been implemented in Indonesia during recent decades since the eve of independence. It is argued that Indonesia needs a multi-cultural if not a multi-national concept of the state and corresponding community, which should find its institutional expression in a future Federation of Indonesia. If such an attempt is eventually to succeed, it clearly needs a reformulation of the concept of the Indonesian nation, which until now is described in terms of a homogenous Indonesian people on a mythologised violent revolutionary path towards national sovereignty and a host of other violence-prone symbolic ingredients. These aspects clearly have to be demythologised, a task, which in the short term is up to the social scientists. What is most needed in Indonesia is a change from the mere repetition of well-known theories-in-use and efforts to optimise strategies within the boundaries of the hitherto used paradigm, but a more fundamental inquiry, which at least contemplates the option of replacing some or most of those institutional and cultural patterns which led repeatedly to violence by alternative patterns. Obviously, there is no easy way out and no single strategy will suffice. Enabling ethnic representation while undercutting ethnic outbidding, empowering the regions while creating enough incentives to bind them to the centre, deconstructing the violent, centripetal tendencies as well as the authoritarian orientation of the national political culture and replacing them with participatory and cooperationoriented symbol structures while safeguarding the vision of historical continuity and collective self-sameness, keeping the initially artificial flowers of interethnic contact in workshops alive and transforming them into creatures which, over time, display a modernised image of indigenous design and a robust health, are some of the foremost and, at times, contradictory tasks which have to be tackled if Indonesia is to have a realistic chance of surmounting violence, albeit not in the short nor medium term, but at least in the long term.

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