To Bali or not to Bali....

Dean Boulding deanb at
Wed Sep 22 11:07:27 EDT 1999


I am just back home to Jakarta from a week away (at a conference in Bali, as it 
happens) and have finally caught up on my email.  Although there has already been a 
fair bit of discussion on the pros and cons of holding the conference in Bali, much 
of the information presented seems at odds with my own experience:

Dr. Castro writes:

<<<The only point I disagree is the comparison between the effects that bad 
environmental or economic policies have on people with direct manslaughter (by the 
thousands). Things may not be black and white, but when a plebiscite is followed by 
the massacre of those who won it (amost 80% of the votes) - this does not configure 
an ordinary situation. In the latter case, I believe there is plenty of reasons to 
reject a country as an ICRS host. 

I believe most reef scientists would realize the difference between the
Indonesian people, its government, and extremists. >>>

The first point above rings true, but I would suggest a small caveat:  it appears 
that hundreds have been killed, and thousands may have, but we can't say with any 
certainty at the moment that thousands have been killed.  If the death toll does 
get that high, FWIW, it is likely that starvation and disease will be largely 
responsible (if that makes it any better for anyone).  The oft-cited 200,000 killed 
in the 70s and 80s were almost all from starvation and disease, not bullets.

The second point is one I would like to make also.  My impression is very different 
from that of Dr. Erdmann:  I think that the international press has been very good 
at distinguishing between the Indonesian people and a few lunatics.  CNN excepted, 
of course.

Ed Colijn writes:

<<<As Dr. Erdmann already pointed out (and knowing the political arena in
Indonesia I agree with him) "the Indonesian military and current
transitional government couldn't give a wrasse's tail about the ICRS"
nor the opinion of international (which includes Indonesian) coral
reseachers. My conclusion is thus that if you like to hurt those
responsible for the East Timor crisis, a boycot of the ICRS is simply
NOT the way to go because you're hurting and, by doing so, blaming the
wrong people! >>

The first part is right; the second does not follow.  Indonesian politics is about 
power; we are witnessing a power struggle.  If a conference is cancelled, no one 
will talk about it (except perhaps to complain about foreigners), but if it goes 
ahead it will be raised as an example of how Indonesia has been able to retain its 
role in the world community.  Like it or not, holding a conference here helps those 
for and against reform; cancelling it hurts both parties.

<<<If you really like to see something change in Indonesia point your
arrows at your governments and tell them you don't accept any renewed
support of the military or lucrative arms deals from your national
military industries as long as human rights are not respected and the
military's involvement in the environmental destruction in Indonesia is
not stopped.>>>

Not likely to be effective.  World military aid to Indonesia was miniscule last 
year.  Anyway, these politics and power struggles are intensely domestic, and the 
participants place international attention a distant second.  Think back to the 
four students killed at Kent State years ago:  did the American military care what 
the Canadian, or Indonesian, governments said?

Bob Buddemeir writes:

<<<It is my understanding that in the negotiations for the ICRS, the Indonesian
government (which is now a previous government and will be either one or
two governments further back by late next year) agreed to issue visas to
all legitimate reef scientists -- 'as long as they aren't involved in
politics.'  It is a matter of experience that at least one prominent
reef scientist has been denied entry to the country in far more peacable
and stable times.  Just what do we think the odds are that the
Indonesian government will issue visas to all of those reef scientists
who have been calling on their own governments not to support the
Indonesian government?  Politics, indeed.  Indonesia has treated visas
as it has elections --a privilege to be granted as a tool of the
government rather than a right.>>>

This actually highlights a significant change in Indonesia, which many of us living 
here tend to forget about.  There really has been a difference in the way issues 
such as press freedom, elections and visas are treated.  Two years ago I would have 
agreed with the above statements, but now I think those days have passed.  I would 
not worry overly about visas any more.  Of course, if things really take a turn for 
the worse over East Timor and xenophobic nationalism surges, all bets are off ;-).

Someone else questioned safety at Bali:  not an issue.  In the worst riot to hit 
Indonesia in a generation, Bali was safer than a typical day at any large North 

J. Charles Delbeek writes:

<<<I am not sure why it takes this action in East Timor to highlite what has
long been known about the Indonesian government and their history of human
rights violations. I would ask the question, why was this country chosen
in the first place to host the meetings? If there are objections about
human rights violations now, where were those objections back in Panama
and what were the reasons then for ignoring them? I mean the track record
of this country in not new.>>>

True.  I was not at Panama.  In fact, outside of East Timor the Indonesian record 
in terms of respect for human rights has been improving.  This merely serves to 
summarize the decision for the organizers:  send a message to the Indonesian 
government/military (a good thing) but harm local researchers, or do the reverse?  

I have no recommendation, based either on moral imperatives or practicalities; it 
is not my conference to decide, and after eight years living here I sometimes get 
confused trying to sort it all out.  I would not be too swayed by arguments that 
the powerful do not hear about the message that was sent; over time, they will hear 
it more and more.  It is up to them whether they choose to listen, but the wise 
ones do.

On a separate note, I would not worry too much about logistics (who goes where, 
when) as there are organizations in Bali capable of doing an admirable job for 
large gatherings.  It was suggested that the ISRS Scientific Program Committee 
would be handling quality control.  Perhaps they could give a status report and let 
everyone know how the preparations are proceeding.  

Dean Boulding
Jakarta, Indonesia
ICQ  5568143

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