Indonesia Youth Pledge 1928: Lessons for Myanmar?

Eighty for years ago, today, a small group of forward looking Indonesian youth representatives gathered to embellish solidarity, strengthen their political position against ruling Dutch colonial, and with it create a sense of identity-common-denominator to unify the diverse ethnics living in the Dutch East Indies later known and proclaim as Indonesia.For Benedict Anderson, Indonesia is the perfect example for an “imagined community”.

Eight decades later, the seed from simple three points declaration from 1928 which are to come as one nation, one land, and one language, that is Indonesia. Back then, when these brave young people returned to their respective homes, they were questioned about the pledge they took. Today, every single Indonesian grateful to have those future oriented predecessors and here’s the reason why.

If you tuned in international news in the past months, you will recognized several heartening disturbing issue on the government crackdown in Syria related to the minority Shiite (Syiah) and majority (Sunni), and especially the displaced Rohingyas in Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Since I am the student of Southeast Asian studies, I will elaborate more on the latter instances.

Myanmar, according to a political scientist expert, is a country, a state, without a nation. Gaining independence in 1948 from the British, nation building issue is massively overlooked in the history of modern Burma which sunk under six decades of junta regime exacerbated by the ethnic conflict issues along its border state like Karen, Kachin, Shan, and now Rakhine state.

During the pre-independence movement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San traveled around the country to bring together what is now being called ethnic minorities to join the Union of Burma that was about to emerge. Quickly followed, Aung San and several leaders from other ethnic minorities namely the Karen, Kachin and Shan gathered in Panglong to have their own social contract to govern the Union.

While the Panglong Agreement widely appreciated, it lacked real implementations which was agreed on to be included in the country’s constitution and not to mentioned unresolved issue of the proportion or autonomy granted for the regional leaders. As General Aung San assassinated, the promise he made during the Panglong conference went into its own demise and with it the first effort for nation building.

Several Generals in power after, the country is lagging behind its neighboring Southeast Asian partners and, to no one’s surprise, internal ethnic conflicts were one of the main reason for that.

Although President Thein Sein and his reform agenda were able to produce ceasefire agreements with several ethnic minority leaders, the remaining problems with Kachin Independent Organization and the violence directed towards Rohingya muslims in Arakan state are increasingly pressing for immediate peaceful settlements.

International community is seriously struck by the the satellite image report of the destruction of houses in Rohingya’s area in Rakhine state. As many as 200 thousands people have been displaced while 64 people have reportedly killed in the past week alone.

Why is so much hatred in Rakhine state?

Apparently, as I heard one senior official said that people outside of Myanmar do not understand how they (people in Myanmar) hate one another. This devastating comment is backed by another conversation I have with a member of Myanmar foreign ministry that alluded to Rohingya as Bengalis (as many extreme Myanmar politicians concern about their Buddhist constituents support would call) who came as a guess to their home and all of the sudden they are presenting demographic threats to the indigenous population of the Arakan Buddhist.

From the legal point of view, Myanmar is referring to its citizens as those whose ancestor lived in the country prior to 1832, the year British came to Burma. Despite this legal base of citizenship and nation’s sovereignty, I think that sticking to this reference will not in any way help resolve the crisis today given the almost two centuries of human mobility in and out of the country being discounted.

Furthermore, the somehow hated protest by Buddhist monks in Yangoon against the OIC proposal to set office in the country to help the Rohingya muslims poise the question their true identity as I always know Buddhist and their monks are the proponent for peace and detachment.


Courtesy of Irrawaddy

Thus, to make a long story short, the extent to which Myanmar have had and continue to be challenged by ethnic minority issue and nation building had the country found its search for common identity instead of accepting the majority culture as the nation’s culture through which many ethnic minorities rights are deprived.

Return to Indonesia, though it’s not a free of violence history either, the Youth Pledge in 1928 did bring the momentum to have a common future for the residents of the largest archipelago country and above all, make the present Indonesia possible.

Imagine if the pledge had not had taken place and there is not a single thread to link more than 300 ethnics in more than 17 thousand islands (though only around 3 thousand inhabited), the area that once was Dutch East Indies would have share Myanmar’s four decade long of ethnic conflicts.

Even for this new identity the youth pledged for, Indonesia, it took 13 years, to proclaim independence (a sign of confidence for the new identity against its colonial ruler) and the paths forward did not an easy either. Many conflicts claimed lives of God-knows how many. But the lesson here is that all of the subsequent historical path have directed toward a strong common identity that is Indonesia.

Finally, this is not a writing to praise the current government for its achievement in country’s economic performance but rather stands as a reminder for Indonesians on what would us be like if there were no Sumpah Pemuda (Youth Pledge) in 1928.


One thought on “Indonesia Youth Pledge 1928: Lessons for Myanmar?

  1. I strongly agree with the author, and I am thankful that the pledge was strongly nationalistic NOT religious. Because if the pledge was religious, the story of Israel could happen in Indonesia. In the case of Israel, anyone who wants to live in Israel, they have to be a Jewish because the national anthem of Israel is a jewish pledge.
    Indonesia is a home of a diversity. Indonesia is unity in diversity. #One nation, one land, and one language, that is Indonesia.

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