Aceh’s Flag Standoff

By Yanto Sugiarto (THE JAKARTA GLOBE)
Flag rally in Banda Aceh, 4 April 2013 - NURDIN HASAN PHOTO

Jakarta, TAG – It is not clear yet how the central government will be able to solve the delicate Aceh flag issue. The question is, why was the government late in anticipating the outcome of Aceh’s regional assembly deliberations, which approved the adoption of a new flag resembling the flag and seal of the defunct Free Aceh Movement?

Although the central government insists that the national Red and White be used in Aceh, the problem is that the process of adopting the new flag has already gone through intense deliberations, accommodating the people’s aspirations. The final decision was made on March 25 by Aceh’s highest assembly, the DPRA.
A defiant Governor Zaini Abdullah believes the adoption of the flag was a legal product formulated by Aceh and its people and therefore is already being used by people in many places, including at his own official residence.
Muzakir Manaf, who is now deputy governor and chairman of the Aceh Party, is communicating intensely with Jakarta, to seek approval for use of the flag. But that will not be easy. Jakarta fears that approval of the flag could set a bad precedent and would encourage other special autonomous regions to seek their own flags.
One probability is that the Morning Star flag will be hoisted in Papua.
Jakarta doesn’t want separatist sentiments to emerge and it would be a dilemma if two different flags are present during flag-hoisting ceremonies on Independence Day or on Mondays, when the flag plays a central role in a ceremony to mark the first day of each school week — a tradition that has long existed in this country.
Indonesia has worked hard to preserve its unitary state — a concept called NKRI. But Aceh, which has a long history of struggle against what was called Daerah Operasi Militer — the military operations targeting the secessionist struggle of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) — cannot easily forget its dark history.
The tsunami that devastated Aceh in 2004 and the Helsinki Agreement brokered by former Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin garnered solidarity and put an end to separatism in Aceh, allowing rebel leaders to return from exile in Sweden.
More so than other parts of Indonesia, Aceh is unique in many ways. Aceh has never been under colonial rule. Aceh’s heroes were known for their militancy and their successful struggle against colonialism. It is the only region in Indonesia that uses Islamic Syariah laws recognized by the central government.
But despite loyalty to the NKRI concept, some sentiments still linger, related to corruption, economic injustice, political elitism, ineffective law enforcement and — most of all — the fact that a great portion of revenues generated by Aceh’s natural resources ended up in Jakarta and only a fraction of the money flowed back to the region.
It’s all about uneven distribution of welfare.
Constitutional law expert Yusril Ihza Mahendra pointed out that under the Helsinki peace deal and under regional government laws, Aceh reserves the right to use symbols and a flag that represent Acehnese culture, as stipulated in Chapter 246 No. 11 of 2005.
But in essence such symbols should reflect the special rights of Aceh without being used as a symbol of sovereignty.
Both the national leadership and Aceh’s leaders must have a cool-headed approach in solving the conflict over Aceh’s flag with a sincere, amicable and just approach.
A compromise must be reached. Otherwise, we will see the beginning of a new United States of Indonesia where each region will have its own flag — whether it is with pictures of cross-swords and the crescent and star in the middle, bows and arrows, the Borobudur temple or even the Komodo dragon.
We can’t afford to let that happen to the Republic of Indonesia.

Yanto Soegiarto is the managing editor of Globe Asia, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe.
Aceh’s Flag Standoff Aceh’s Flag Standoff Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on April 10, 2013 Rating: 5

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