Fifteen years ago last month, Indonesia’s President Suharto was overthrown following a series ofstudent-led protests. In the violent chaos that ended the former dictator’s long and brutal reign, there was a wave of seemingly well-organized beatings, rapes, and murders of ethnic Chinese in major cities such as Jakarta and Surakarta, also known as Solo. Indonesia’s new democracy was christened in blood.
Today, that sinophobic violence is a distant memory (due in no small part to a failure to investigate the attacks and prosecute the perpetrators), but it is clear to all that numerous threats to domestic security lurk just below the surface. Recent events in Yogyakarta, affectionately known as Jogja, illustrate the forces that threaten stability as the world’s third-largest democracy approaches an election year. These include confusion about the Indonesian Army (known as the “TNI,” for Tentara Nasional Indonesia, one of the many, many acronyms that dominate political and conversational speech in Indonesia) and its mission; the weakness of civilian state authorities; ethnic, religious and racial tensions; rising criminality; conspiracy fears; and the power of social media to amplify gossip and rumor. READ MORE