Post #3: Nationalism and Inequality in Indonesia

The acclaimed Merriam Webster Dictionary defines nationalism as, “a sense of national consciousness exalting one national above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” Journalist and author Fareed Zakaria explains why the rise of nationalism around the globe is actually dangerous for the international system. In Chapter 2 of his book, The Post-American World 2.0, Zakaria argues that rising nationalism in nation-states will lead them to become less willing to cooperate with one another and come together to solve global issues. Purposeful action and cooperation among nation-states is already difficult in the anarchist international system. According to Zakaria, increasing pride in one’s nation will make it that much harder to compromise with others. Nationalism is also rising in the developing world, which Zakaria believes is contributing to an overall resentment of the West in other areas of the world. As Manfred B. Steger states in Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, “This artificial division of planetary social space into ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ spheres corresponds to people’s collective identities based on the creation of a common ‘us’ and an unfamiliar ‘them’. Nationalism leads citizens to view their nation-state as “the best,” and are therefore unwilling to compromise with lesser nation-states, or ones they deem as not meeting their nation’s superior values. This is why many, including Zakaria, believe nationalism can be a dangerous force.

The word “Indonesia” first came into use in 1920 as a way to unify the group of islands then controlled by the Netherlands. A feeling of nationalism swept across the archipelago during the early 20th century, thanks in part to the rise of Indonesia Nationalist groups who helped inspire support Indonesian independence. One of these groups was the Indonesian Nationalist Party. Formed in 1927, the party’s goal was economic and political independence for Indonesia. While the party was disbanded in 1931 (it would re-emerge in 1946 after Indonesia had declared its independence), it was instrumental in spreading nationalist and anti-Dutch ideas across Indonesia. After a four-year battle, both the Dutch and the United Nations officially recognized Indonesia in 1949. The nationalist feelings inspired by political parties like the Indonesian Nationalist Party ultimately played a role in motivating the Indonesia people to successfully fight for their independence. Many scholars have observed a new nationalist attitude emerging throughout the Indonesian people. It became apparent following the 2014 presidential election, in which many citizens expressed their anger at the continued foreign involvement in Indonesia.

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Indonesians celebrate their Independence Day (via fotoimg.com)

In my previous blog post I briefly touched on the current status of income inequality in Indonesia. While Indonesia has managed to successfully bounce back from the Asian financial crisis of 1997, income inequality is still a major problem for the country. Although Indonesia is currently experiencing a rising GDP and declining poverty rate, a 2015 study conducted by the World Bank reveals that Indonesia’s wealth gap has risen more than any other Asian country since 1990. Indonesia’s Gini Coefficient did drop from 40 to 39 in 2016. However, the country’s Gini Coefficient was only 30 in 1990. This leads economists to believe that Indonesia’s current economic growth is benefitting their rich more than their poorer citizens. In the aforementioned study, the World Bank identified four majors factors the Indonesian government must address if it hopes to combat its rising inequality. These factors are as follows: 1). Inequality in opportunity, 2). Inequality in the labor markets, 3). High wealth concentration, 4). Unequal resilience to stocks. The Indonesian government has identified combating inequality as a priority and works to implement policies to narrow their country’s wealth gap.

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A poor Indonesian village contrasted by skyscrapers in the background (via theeconomist.com)
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