June 1, 2010 at 14:02 | Posted in Indonesia | Leave a comment
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While having my dinner at the hotel cafe and flipping through Jakarta Post, I found out that today marks the 65th anniversary of Pancasila.

Probably what kept me safe while walking on the streets of Jakarta is this ideology of Pancasila…
On the first of June 65 years ago, Sukarno, who became the first president of the Republic of Indonesia, delivered his monumental speech later named “The Birth Of Pantja Sila” (Lahirnya Pantja Sila).

This speech was published in 1964 together with his courses on the same topic under the title of Tjamkan Pantja Sila. Pantja Sila Dasar Falsafah Negara (Thoughts on Pantja Sila. Pantja Sila the Philosophical Foundation of the State).

The 193-page booklet has fallen into a signifi cant oblivion over the last 12 years and is now hard to get in bookstores.

Nevertheless, thoughts on Pancasila remain relevant, particularly for two reasons.

First, like it or not, it is still embedded in the Constitution of 1945 and therefore comands at least legal compliance from the state’s institutions, if not from Indonesian citizens in general.

Second, Sukarno seemed to have unmistakenly hypostatized the mode of Indonesian life marked by cultural diversity into the principles of Pancasila.

The first reason could be of pro forma relevance as it may well lead to political hypocrisy. The second reason, however, is an attempt to bring the diversity inherent in Indonesian society and its cultures (yes: cultures, and not culture) under one roof. This project, however, is not without outstanding
question marks.

To the extent that diversity is still inherent in Indonesian life, there will be a need to compare it with American pluralism. The motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (Unity in Diversity) in the old Javanese Kawi language inscribed on a scroll gripped by the claws of the Garuda (eagle) indeed resembles the Latin “E Pluribus Unum” marked on a scroll held by the beak of the American eagle. Yet each of them has distinct connotations of their own.

Whereas the Kawi statement purports to connote “diverse, and yet of the same kind”, the Latin version means rather “out of many, one”.

The difference underlying the mindset of the Indonesian and American founding fathers is intriguing.

The Indonesians experience diversity in their life leading to a sort of cultural diversity, while the Americans seem to be more familiar with the plurality that marks their cultural pluralism.

Cultural diversity indicates “the cultural differences that exist between people, such as language, dress and traditions,” as well as “significant variations in the way societies organize themselves, in their shared conception of morality, and in the ways they interact with their environment.” (en.wikipedia. org/wiki/cultural_diversity).

On the other hand, cultural pluralism sees “smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and whose values and practices are accepted by the wider culture.” (

Provided that we can accept these definitions, which are accessible online by anybody, some conceptual differences can be drawn. Cultural diversity in fact underlines cultural differences among the cultural units of a society and their capacity to share common values.

Whereas cultural pluralism is a stance that accepts different cultural identities thereby making them part of the common culture, which leads to the term “American melting pot.”

As the pluralistic “melting pot” comes from a position that accepts differences, a society that rests on cultural diversity seems to need the capacity to build a common denominator for the different cultures to stay together in a larger framework.

Whereas the pluralistic “melting pot” absorbs differences, a society that rests on cultural diversity has the need to accommodate differences.

Consequently, a society that rests on cultural diversity risks having certain elements that may insist on being different and insist on their differentiation. “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” being a symbolic reifi cation of Pancasila indeed seems to risk such a situation.

The fact of cultural diversity underlying the concept of Pancasila leads to the consequence that there will always be elements that see themselves different from and beyond the Pancasila framework.

Nevertheless, as the Constitution of 1945 documented the vow to build a republic that is for any and all Indonesians, Indonesians shoulder the perennial task of embracing those who are “different from Pancasila”.

As such, Indonesians have to make sure that even those who are “different from Pancasila” have an equally pleasant place under the common roof of the republic.

Indubitably, such a stance needs a lot of tolerance, which is a “thing” that sounds very strange to the Indonesian ear nowadays.

No wonder, because in a social political setting where corruption is rampant and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is striking and widening, there will indeed be very little place for tolerance.

In other words, we are still far from Pancasila as a reality. The longer we fail to realize Pancasila, the stronger the arguments for those who are “different from Pancasila” to push for another alternative.

Indonesians have to make sure that even those who are “different from Pancasila” have an equally pleasant place.

The writer is a professor at the School of Philosophy, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.


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