In a country of more than 300 ethnic groups, each with their own languages and dialects, Indonesia cannot be compared with any other country for its rich cultural diversity. As an archipelago comprising more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world’s fourth most populous country.
Arief Rachman, a member of the Administrative Group of the International Bureau of Education (IBE) Council of UNESCO, said in Paris recently that Indonesia is a unique laboratory for the country’s cultural diversity.
He noted that Indonesia is made up of over 500 tribes who speak more than 700 ethnic languages spread over more than 17,000 islands that are made up of five major islands, including Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua.
In view of the fact that the Indonesian nation consists of so many different ethnic groups, local languages and local cultures, UNESCO director general Irina Borkova praised the country for its capability to preserve its cultural diversity.
“I expressed my appreciation to Indonesia, a country with cultural diversity,” Irina Borkova recently said in Paris.
Therefore, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was invited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to present his views on the development and preservation of the country’s cultural diversity.
“In UNESCO’s view, Indonesia had succeeded in maintaining the territorial integrity of its unitary republic (NKRI) and its national unity, although its population consisted of hundreds of different tribes with their own cultures and languages,” Arief said.
That is why he said UNESCO has invited President Yudhoyono to speak at a special UNESCO session to mark the 10th anniversary of its declaration on cultural diversity. Arief said President Yudhoyono would share Indonesia’s experience in maintaining its cultural diversity for the sake of unity at the upcoming UNESCO General Assembly in Paris.
He added that Indonesia was chosen to deliver a key speech because UNESCO considered the country to be an example of cultural diversity that eventually became a source of the nation?s strength.
According to Arief, Indonesia, with its efforts to maintain its cultural diversity, could become an example of a nation that used its cultural diversity as a key, or main vehicle, to assist in the nation’s progress. Arief said if even the international community respected the cultural diversity of Indonesia, then all parties within the country should also make every effort to preserve and develop it.
“Therefore, the state and nation, including people from all walks of life, should familiarize themselves with Indonesia’s strength and realize that Indonesia is a great country,” Arief said. Arief noted that the role of government in developing and preserving the country’s multicultural life was also important, since it could also be used in its foreign diplomacy.
Meanwhile, President Yudhoyono, in his speech at the special session of the 36th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on Wednesday, said a new approach must be found to develop understanding of cultural diversity and differences.
The Indonesian head of state also called on all parties around the world to join Indonesia in creating a new approach to the development of multicultural life.
“The previous paradigm of ’I and you’ should now be changed to ’we’,” the Indonesian president said.
President Yudhoyono said, with this new paradigm, differences of opinion could be reduced to promote a positive multicultural life that would eventually promote respect for human rights.
“I cannot deny that the world is not free from prejudices and other negative notions, but we must challenge it with unity and mutual respect,” he said.
Indonesia, he added, had experienced a number of problems relating to ethnic issues that ended in conflict, but through common efforts by all components of the nation, the awareness had grown that diversity was a national asset that could be used to advance life, and so conflicts could be settled.
“The experience later turned into a lesson and has turned Indonesia into one of the world’s largest democracies,” he said.
Further, an approach that accommodated local interests and respected local cultures helped settle problems, such as in Aceh and Poso, he said.President Yudhoyono added that Indonesia was grateful that it was living in a diverse society and adhered to the principle of unity in diversity.
He hoped its experience in managing its multicultural life, made up of various ethnic groups and hundreds of different local languages, could contribute to the respect for cultural diversity that UNESCO has long advocated.
President Yudhoyono said, as current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), that Indonesia is supporting efforts to develop the understanding of different cultures among ASEAN member countries with regard to creating a region with cultural diversity and promoting the common welfare.
In his speech, the president also appreciated that UNESCO has helped Indonesia protect and develop its cultures, including its recognition of the country’s heritages, such as wayang (puppet), batik, kris, angklung, and its assistance for the maintenance of the Borobudur and Prambanan temples.
Meanwhile, presidential special staff for international relation Teuku Faizasyah said UNESCO’s invitation from President Yudhoyono to present his views was a sign of recognition from the international community of Indonesia’s cultural diversity.
“The participation of President Yudhoyono in the special session of the 36th UNESCO General Assembly is an opportunity for Indonesia to enhance it active role as a bridge builder and solution maker through inter-cultural cooperation,” Faizasyah said.
According to him, the invitation to President Yudhoyono from UNESCO was a display of the appreciation of the UN body to the Indonesian government’s commitment to preserving and promoting its cultural diversity as living assets.