The Last Circularity? Back to the City and Return to the Village

Max Lane, in his Unfinished Nation: Indonesia Before and After Suharto, indicates that mass action politics (banned since 1965), such as street protest mobilizations, factory strikes, and land occupations, have been revived since the late 1980s.101 However, it is still fair to say that since the establishment of the JABOTABEK in the mid-1970s (after the Malari protest event) and up to the collapse of the Suharto regime, no serious political unrest took place in the capital city and its periurban areas even though social, economical, and environmental crises have become clearly visible in the city. It may sound “spatially deterministic” to claim that the relative peace and order in both the city and the countryside under the authoritarian state were due to the production of the periurban. Nevertheless, we could say that the rural-urban linkages and the exceptional space of the periurban have served to turn the floating mass into a self-policing and self-benefiting “productive” population throughout much of the Suharto era.

The power of space remains an issue to be speculated on and research is still needed to examine the ways in which the periurban was, in fact, received and used daily by the multitude. What we do know is that the “Asian crisis,” which has substantially scaled down factories and housing construction in the BOTABEK area, has unleashed a mass amount of unemployed workers back to the streets of the capital city. Many of the floating mass, having lost their jobs in the periurban factories and construction sectors, decided to take up occupations associated with the informal sector in the city.102 In such time of crisis, many ignored the government offer of 70 percent discounts on economic fare train tickets for traveling across Java back to their villages (perhaps back into agricultural work).103 The reality bites thus are vividly expressed in the post-Suharto reformasi era as portrayed in a metropolitan press in the year 2000:

The presence of vendors (kaki lima) in the capital city is not surprising. However, today their presences have been extremely ignited (marak). They do not just display their merchandises on pushcarts or under plastic or canvas tents. Instead they set up their places with permanent stalls, which they also use as their dwellings.104

The vendors have registered their presence in the city as part of the post-Suharto urban “social movements” claiming for the rights to survive in the city. Unlike the past, today they do not seem to be afraid of the authority, as a vendor points out, “for today’s condition is different from that before the reformasi. Today’s traders are more daring compared with the past. If they (the security personnel) dismiss us, we will react against them.”105 These forces from below contributed to what Sutiyoso, the post-Suharto governor of Jakarta, described as “the multidimensional crisis,” which has contributed to what the governor thought to be “the change in people’s behavior,” and with fewer job opportunities have caused “difficulties in upholding security and order.”106 The governor, (appointed during Suharto’s regime of order), found it unbelievable that “during my first term as governor between 1997 and 2002, 4,538 demonstrations were staged by Jakartans against me . . . from small-scale rallies to ones that led to anarchy.107 The responses that eventually came, however, were equally harsh. An activist indicates that massive evictions took place in the course of five years in post-Suharto Jakarta, leaving 78,000 urban poor homeless, and at least 65,000 street vendors lost their jobs.108

By way of conclusion, it may be useful to acknowledge that these “social movements” claiming “rights to the city” after the fall of Suharto are largely taking place in the center of the city and not so much in the outskirts of the periurban areas. One could only reflect or speculate on the historical roles of the city as the arena of conflicts, but for sure, the periurban is equipped with neither memory nor institutional capacity to organize in part because of the effect of the floating mass.109 This is a phenomenon that indicates to us the profound connection between space and politics. It also points to the connection between the floating mass, the capital city, and the periurban “space of exception” that the political regime has created.

Finally, are the politics of space and the creation of the periurban as the space of exception described above correct not only for Jakarta or other megacities in Indonesia but also for other megaurban regions of Southeast Asia, which have often been understood as undergoing processes of periurbanization? This is a question that I don’t yet have the capacity to answer but I think some basic geopolitical conditions shared by different cities in this post-WWII region may provide some reflections for future research. One might, for instance, suggest the following ideas.

The first was Washington’s Cold War largesse in the region, which initiated massive intervention from the Americans and their allies to prevent communist insur- rection.110 In this effort, the largely agricultural societies of Southeast Asia would need to be managed through capitalistically authoritarian anti-communist regimes by ways of controlling the political life of the countryside and the governing of its peasants through the concept of floating mass. Perhaps one needs to look at the security-based development “aid” and its urban-rural planning apparatus made available by Washington in the postwar era to see how it was connected to the spatial organization of the periurban region.

The second condition, related to the first, was the peculiar “subcontracting” discourse led by Japan in its attempt to create an economic zone, which, by the 1970s, had dominated Southeast Asia. The huge inflows of Japanese capital (which generated the first massive demonstration, called the Malari event, in Jakarta in 1974) and later capital from South Korea and Taiwan have made possible the growth of industrial zones at the periurban areas of major capitalist countries in Southeast Asia. The cooperation between Japan and the United States has created not only a particular economic regime for Southeast Asia but also a particular space in which the organization of labor and population was at stake.

These geopolitical forces have produced the periurbanization of capitalist countries in Southeast Asia. But the concretization of this possibility, even after the Cold War has disappeared, owed much to, in Terry McGee’s words, “the particular role of the state as a central institutional element in the process of social change.”111 This essay has shown just how important the particular role of the state has been in leading the process of (peri)urbanization to “the end of the peasantry.”

Where are the peasants to be located in the post—Cold War era and, more specially, after the collapse of the authoritarian regime of Suharto?112 The new era that followed has its own markers: in another power, in the legacies of imperialism and postcolonialism, in the institutions of neoliberalism. Here, too, there are witnesses and voices that continue to weigh heavily and importantly to ask what obligations the present bears for the past, which seems to carry over to the future. For instance, Achmad Ya’kub, a member of the post-Suharto Indonesian Federation of Peasant Unions (Federasi Serikat Petani Indonesia, FSPI) reports that (although the peasants he described did not come from just periurban areas),

On May 17, 2006, the streets ofJakarta filled with thousands ofpeasants. More than ten thousand men, women and children from the remote villages of Java flocked to the city centre with their banners, songs and the sound of the drums to one of the largest protests for agrarian reform since the end of the New Order in 1998. They were joined by workers, students, youth groups, urban poor, and other civil society representatives.

The Indonesian Federation of Peasant Unions (FSPI) and La Campesina initiated this mass mobilisation to protest against two major events in Jakarta critical to the direction of agrarian policy nationally and regionally. Firstly, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which in its 28 th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Jakarta declared faith in trade liberalisation to alleviate poverty “in line with the spirit of the WTO Doha Development Agenda.” . . . Secondly, farmers in Indonesia are alarmed by the current move by the National Land Body (an institution directly under the presidency of the republic) to implement the World Bank’s concept of “market led land reform” which focuses on the liberalisation of the land market (through land titling) and not on land distribution. . . .

Protestors left from the Istiqlal mosque early morning and walked to the Presidential Palace. There, the president sent an official delegation (the minister of Agriculture, the chief of the National Land Body, the cabinet secretary and its spokesperson) to meet the farmers’ leaders. The official delegation told the protestors that they had “the same heart and mind” as the farmers, but that “even if power was in their hands, they could not use it alone.” The peasants replied that if no concrete step was taken towards genuine agrarian reform, they would organize more mass actions and land occupations in the future.

The protesters then marched to a central circle (Bundaran Hotel Indonesia) to spread out information about agrarian reform among the public passing by. . . . The march then went to the Parliament building where representatives from vari?ous parties addressed the farmers. From the top of a truck, they promised them to implement land reform, but farmers had heard it before. They shouted at the parliamentarians: “Don’t promise it, do it!” They also shouted: “Come to our village, and see for yourself how we live!”

After an exhausting day of protest under the sun, some 7500 peasants which had come to Jakarta in 120 buses spent the night in the city and left at dawn to return to their villages. That same day, some protestors from Ciamis (West Java) occupied 300 hectares of land belonging to a teak plantation. A sign that agrarian reform in Indonesia cannot wait anymore.113

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