Separatism is a new global epidemic, written by Valaskakis, a journalist from Huffington Post. He did not talk without data, separatism is indeed an ominous global threat as many issues talking about separatism movements such as Free West Papua Movement arise illegally against Indonesian sovereignty or two million voters in Catalonia – one of the wealthiest provinces in Spain – voted to secede and create a new nation of their own. There is also Crimea that wants to leave Ukraine. The latest one is Britain that already leaving Europe, followed by Scotland that scheduling an independence referendum from Britain, too. From the case mentioned earlier, the separatism phenomena are indeed a growing phenomenon around the world.
The reason that some groups want to separate from a country and others want to join are more complex than we could understand. Therefore, this article will examine the West Papua’s separatism phenomenon further by dividing the discussion into three parts. First, we will discuss the reason why some countries including Indonesia have separatist groups. Two, we will examine the source of separatism in West Papua. Whether the separatism in West Papua is contagious like a common cold or is it growing more like a cancer is something we will discuss further here and three, we will also talk about why Free West Papua Movement is not the panacea to all the problems we had in Papua.
Valaskaki has four reasons why some countries have the separatist group, which are first, a form of reaction against excessive and unregulated globalization where it leaves the ordinary citizen lost and with no identity. These separatist groups therefore seek a new sense of belongingness in a small, newly independent community, favouring localism over globalism. Second, the ethnic minorities which feel oppressed in such states, are tempted to seek a divorce, set up their own nation, where they are will then be the majority — and perhaps, in the process, exact revenge on their former tormentors, now in the minority. Third, is the worldwide failure of national governments, who seem to be misused their power for some community. Fourth, as Valaskaki explains, there is simple self-interest. Rich provinces, in a country, whose constitution obliges them to help poorer ones, (like Canada) may want to end these subsidies and keep all the money to themselves. Under this logic it should be Alberta rather than Quebec considering secession.
In West Papua’s case, we need to go back to the root of the problem. There are two major things we found as the root caused for Free West Papua Movement, first is lack of national identity and two, is the economic gap. Historically, Dutch discovered Indonesia in 1500. During the early 1600s they were dominated by the Dutch East Indies Company, or VOC, for nearly 200 years. In 1798, authority over Indonesia was transferred to the Netherlands, which retained dominion over this fifth largest country in the world until 1941, at which time the Japanese moved in during the course of World War II. By 1945 Japan was defeated in Indonesia with Soekarno and Hatta rose to become President and Vice President of the newly independent Indonesia. But within a month of the Soekarno-Hatta proclamation of independence, British army units began landing in Jakarta to help the Dutch restore colonial rule. Four years of fighting ensued. In 1949, the Dutch officially ceded sovereignty back to Indonesia, with the exception of one key area, the Irian Jaya or later, West Papua.
Along the process of getting full recognition on Indonesian independence from the Dutch and other international community, Soekarno’s presidency fought with all they have to gain West Papua back. As it stated in Soekarno’s speech “Dari Sabang sampai Merauke”, he said that “we love peace, but we love independence more. And even it takes a long defeat for Indonesian sovereignty with the liberation of the puppet state of Papua from the Dutch, we will fight to unfurl the honored red and white flag in West Irian Jaya.” Here in his speech, although Indonesia gained its independence in 1945, we can see that there was a struggle to get rid of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. Therefore, some of the people argue that the proclamation of Indonesia happened back in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1949 that the final agreement between Indonesia and Dutch was reached with one of the agreed point mentioned that the Dutch acknowledged the sovereignty of Republic of the United States of Indonesia (Republik Indonesia Serikat, RIS). This signifies that at one-point Indonesia in the form of RIS does not include West Papua as its territory. This was one of the reasons for the nasionalisme ganda (the double nationalism Papuans). Some people in West Papua see it in the way that before they were Indonesians they were Papuans first. There is a strong indication that their nationalism is not built as an Indonesian but as a Papuans.
Secondly, the economic gap. We clearly see that the separatist movement in West Papua happened because of they felt Papuans lagged so much behind other provinces in Indonesia. When there’s a gap, there’s a feeling to secede, to revenge or to do injustice. The issue of transmigrant from Java also creates a further economic gap in West Papua. The issues with the local and the trans migrant’s people is there are clearly major cultural differences. Health and education outcomes for the Melanesian population are poor, therefore the separatist group believes that the migrants have interfered with their traditional ways of life, land usage, and economic opportunities. And the wealth is not being shared with the traditional owners of the area.
This economic gap triggers cultural conflict between the newcomers and the local Papuans. The cultural conflict was aggravated by indigenous people’s perceptions that they were being left behind economically by a flood of Indonesian immigrants coming in via the central government-sponsored transmigration program. Native-born Papuans also resented the so-called spontaneous immigrants who dominated the informal sectors of urban economies. Although this condition stimulates the Free West Papua Movement, Indonesian government is not just doing nothing. President Joko Widodo’s approach is starkly different from that of his predecessors. In his first move as president, President Joko Widodo lifted a 40-year ban on foreign journalists travelling to the region. He also appears to be taking a more conciliatory approach to the Free Papua Movement by seeking to regain their trust, addressing issues of inequality, underdevelopment, corruption and violence. The effort appears to be having an impact on international perceptions.
President Joko Widodo’s apparent emphasis on peacefully resolving the problem in West Papua places considerable pressure on West Papuan independence leaders, whose reliance on the violations of human rights has largely formed the basis of support for an independent state. A more conciliatory and approachable Jakarta is likely to be an effective handbrake on support for the independence campaign. However, related to the second issue we wanted to discuss, the separatist movement in West Papuan’s cases is not always triggered by the internal or domestic factor.
There is a strong sign that external factor might get involved in triggering the ethnic conflict and separatism. Ayres and Saideman once argue in their research that ethnic conflict in general, and separatism in particular, is contagious. There is a scientific explanation for it saying that that ethnic conflict (separatist or otherwise) by ethnic kin in neighbouring states is likely to spill over, increasing the likelihood of a group’s separatism. Although we need more data to determine the direction of causality, Ayres and Saideman study indicates that there is much more work to be done to understand the sources of separatism. For instance, the Vanuatu government has a clear foreign policy on West Papua to support the independence of West Papua by passing the motion at the parliament of Vanuatu and extensively fight for West Papua’s independence in UN’s table. Vanuatu’s action has to flourish separatist movement knowing that there is another Melanesian country that supports the movement. Therefore, separatism may not be a contagious disease like a common cold for the West Papuan cases. There is a lot more internal and domestic problem to solve. However, other countries like Vanuatu should realize that Indonesia has its own mechanism as an independent country when it comes to curing the problem they own and not worsen the problem by interfering state’s sovereignty.
Thus, the third issue we want to discuss still in relation to the separatist movement is the ultimate question of whether separatism is the panacea to all or not. Here, the sociologist, Daniel Bell once remarked, in the 1970s, that the nation-state had become too big for the small problems and too small for the big ones. His words were prophetic but they cut both ways. National governments can no longer cope with pandemics, global warming, international terrorism, unregulated global finance — unless they act in unison in intergovernmental organizations. But, by the same token, Lilliputian microstates, emerging from the global separatist wave, would even be less capable to deal with these problems. Global governance would then be completely controlled by the remaining, still international, private networks. The separatists often believe that they can repeal globalization by a simple declaration of sovereignty, the adoption of a new flag and national anthem and by being awarded a seat in the United Nations. This, unfortunately, is a delusion. Same case goes for the Free West Papua Movement. Separatism movement is not a panacea to all, especially when the separatist group does not have a clear development plan to build the country after separatism.