23-12-2020: Perhaps taking their cue from the declaration of a fake coronavirus pandemic, some Papuan separatists have recently self-declared a fake “government in exile”. From the leafy green surrounds of Oxford in the United Kingdom – where he has become a citizen – Benny Wenda declared himself the President of the Provisional Government of West Papua, under the effective protection of British imperialism. Not amused, immediately following the December 1 announcement from Wenda in the name of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), the Indonesian government in Jakarta summonsed the British Ambassador with a request for the British Government to clarify its position of the declaration of a “Provisional Government” of West Papua. In the announcement Mr Wenda stated that the ULMWP now declares the Indonesian state’s presence in West Papua to be illegal, and it rejects and will not comply with any law issued by Jakarta.
“United” separatist movement?
Yet even the Papuan organisations pushing for separation from Indonesia, at whatever cost, are not all behind the ULMWP, nor behind Benny Wenda. Both the TPNPB (West Papua National Liberation Army) and the KNPB (West Papua National Committee) have rejected the declaration of self-government. Sebby Sambon from the TPNPB stated that the declaration was made in a foreign country (which it was – the UK), and that Benny Wenda could not be the President of West Papua because he is a citizen of a foreign country (which he is – the UK). In addition, Benny Wenda’s self-declaration has likewise been rejected by the OPM (Free Papua Movement). The TPNPB and the OPM are armed and militarised separatist organisations, while the KNPB is not.
Despite their apparent lack of arms, the KNPB, like the armed separatist forces, is not shy on issuing threats to any Papuans who work with the Indonesian government, or do not support separatist independence, or simply wish to live in peace alongside non-Papuan Indonesians. Victor Yeimo, the international spokesperson for the KNPB, recently posted a virtual death threat on Facebook aimed at the Chief of Police of Papua, Irjen Pol Paulus Waterpauw. Yeimo blamed the Indonesian military for recent deaths in the Puncak Jaya regency, but the local police chief stated that unidentified armed attackers shot two of the students. Yeimo dismissed this and posted online: “Paul Waterpau…you and we are the same…you and I will die tomorrow. Death is for sure…the blood of the country boy you shed in these days is being accommodated into vengeance and curse for you….”.
Dishonest independence movement
One can only imagine the response of the police of the Western governments of the US, Australia, and the UK if anyone had posted virtual death threats against high-ranking police chiefs on Facebook! They would be extremely lucky not to be arrested and detained immediately. Yet armed or unarmed Papuan separatists not only threaten the lives of police chiefs. They actually use physical violence – up to and including manslaughter – against Papuans who wish to live in peace with other Indonesians, and other Indonesians simply on the basis of their ethnicity. For example, during the riots in Wamena in September 2019, Papuan separatists turned against and began to physically attack other Papuans and Indonesians who attempted to calm them down, seeing that things were beginning to get out of hand. The attempts to placate separatist crowds unfortunately failed, and in the ensuing riot 33 people were killed, including 25 non-Papuans and 8 Papuans. 82 people were injured, including 38 Papuans and 44 non-Papuans. The separatists set ablaze 10 government offices, 351 shops, 15 motorcycles, 100 cars, 27 residential houses and the Mission market. Understandably, many Wamena residents were left traumatised by the separatists’ extreme violence.
Yet, Benny Wenda and Co make the specious claim that their movement is a movement for the liberation of all Melanesians, or all Melanesians resident in West Papua. Commenting on Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Mr Wenda stated that he cannot be trusted, and that Papuans are “better off going back to where we came from. We are demographically, culturally, linguistically, part of Melanesia.” Yet the dishonesty soon becomes apparent, as the example of the Wamena riots illustrate. Papuan separatists are not about uniting all Melanesians, for many of them are not at all prepared to injure or kill other Melanesians who do not support a separate state, nor those who wish to live side by side non-Papuan Indonesians. In effect, all Papuan separatist groups present all West Papuans and Indonesians resident in Papua, with an ultimatum: politically back “independence” or you could face what happened in Wamena: being burned alive or stabbed to death.
The dishonesty of the West Papuan (in reality, the Indonesian provinces of Papua and Papua Barat) independence movement stems from the top. Benny Wenda himself has to re-hash ongoing lies about his background, which he uses to deceive Western liberals, and many left parties. Mr Wenda spins a deceptive narrative that he is an innocent exiled independence leader, who cannot return to his homeland because of his dedication to his political cause. The reality is not so saleable to hand-wringing humantarians in the West. Mr Wenda cannot return to Indonesia because he faces a jail term of 25 years if he does so. Why? He incited a mob to attack a police station and set of shops in Abepura in 2000, which killed one policeman and injured three others. One month after his first trial, he escaped from prison in Jayapura and fled to neighbouring Papua New Guinea, and from there fled to the UK. Due to this history, Mr Wenda very carefully avoids mentioning it, or just blatantly lies, during instances such as being invited by high society to conduct an essentially bogus TED talk.
Left parties bedazzled by “Free West Papua” slogan
One can possibly forgive Jennifer Robinson, who hosted Benny Wenda’s TED talk, for being spellbound by a heist such as the Papuan separatist movement. One the one hand, Jennifer Robinson, as a human rights lawyer, has served the working class by defending Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. On the other hand, Robinson has been beguiled by the tales of Papuan “oppression” allegedly at the hands of the Indonesian government, when she filed an appeal to the United Nations (UN) after the ULMWP’s declaration of a “Provisional Government”. Jennifer Robinson is a lawyer accustomed to high-end clients, and thus her career ultimately demands loyalty to the establishment. However, the same could not be said for a slew of “socialist” parties who make claims to be fighting the capitalist elite, yet cannot see how they are being snared by Papuan separatists who know how to push their buttons.
Virtually all Australian left parties are transfixed by the deceptive slogan of “Free West Papua”. This includes the Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, Solidarity and the Communist Party of Australia. Yet Marxists do not support a separatist movement just to jump on a bandwagon. Every separatist movement must be examined carefully and weighed on its merits. For, generally speaking, socialists are in favour of larger states. In terms of economic and political development, and under both capitalism and socialism, a larger state offers economies of scale which small states cannot. Agitating and acting for a smaller separate state needs to have a mighty justification. Firstly, there has to be intractable oppression occurring on a wide scale. But is this the case in West Papua?
Rather than “oppress” West Papuans, the Indonesian government has, on the contrary, made extensive efforts to include West Papuans within the unitary state of Indonesia. Far from committing a “genocide”, the Indonesian government in fact provides free health care to all Papuans – where it is at all possible. In 2014, the Indonesian government launched Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional (JKN) – the largest single payer health care system in the world. It currently provides around 80% of Indonesians with health insurance and aims to cover all Indonesians, including Papuans. Workers in Australia, and certainly in the USA, would more than welcome government provided health care.
Further, education is compulsory and free across all of Indonesia up to Year 9. Secondary and Tertiary education is offered, but it is said to be competitive to enter. Papuans, along with the 300 other different ethnicities that make up Indonesia’s 275 million strong population, face no discriminatory basis for entry. While fees are charged for the higher levels of secondary and Tertiary education, there are no other barriers which prevent Papuan students from accessing any of this. Indeed, many Papuan students studying at Indonesian Universities are often the ones who agitate for West Papuan “independence” – while having their education at least partially subsidised by the Indonesian government. Given this, one can understand Indonesians feeling aggrieved that some West Papuan students then use this education to urge others to protest, or even take up arms, against Indonesia.
What is more, the Indonesian government is well into the process of striving to provide electricity across the 17 000 islands that make up the country – including West Papua. Hundreds of villages across West Papua have never previously had any access to electricity. This means of course that everything closes when the sun goes down. Access to electric power also opens up the possibility of the starting of industrial and commercial activity, leading to economic development. Some of the physical terrain of West Papua is impenetrable jungle, yet the Indonesian government has prioritised the electrification project – spending millions doing so. It can scarcely be denied that the delivery of electric power enables a better standard of living across West Papua.
For independence or against transmigration?
The fine-sounding and exalted aims of “freedom” and “independence” are, in the case of Papuan separatism, part of an elaborate ruse to cover their real motivating factor – bitter opposition to Indonesian transmigration. Transmigration from Java, Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia into West Papua is significant and causes some issues which can inadvertently disadvantage West Papuans. Yet there is no systemic or intentional attempt to drive out indigenous Papuans, nor eliminate their cultural traditions. At the time when the Indonesian government began “Special Autonomy” for West Papua, the government removed the former name “Irian Jaya”, and established regional parliaments. At that time, the flying of the West Papuan Morning Star flag was not banned. It was only later, when the flying of the flag marked armed separatist militia provocations, i.e., open war, that the Indonesian government took the step of prohibiting the display of the Morning Star flag. What appears to be an example of political repression is in fact a measure which is in place to prevent further violence.
There does appear to be some environmental problems, and problems of involuntary socio-economic marginalisation of Papuans due to the large influx of Indonesian transmigrants over many years. However, such problems can scarcely be addressed, and in fact can only be magnified, if some Papuans embark on a campaign of separatism which uses any and all means to whip up further antagonism towards Indonesia in general. For socialists, such a path is completely at odds with efforts to politicise workers in a progressive direction. Ethnic conflict, combined with hostility to those of your own ethnicity who hold a different perspective, only creates a toxic environment. It can only drive other Papuans and Indonesians further away – into the arms of the Indonesian government. Verbal denunciation, let alone threats of violence, to others who are skeptical of “independence” can only be counterproductive. Left parties internationally who cannot see this danger, and fan the flames of this self-destructive course, are being played like a deck of cards.
For Marxists, the key concern is the political and ideological development of the working class towards socialism. Needless to say, this cannot occur in West Papua if they are effectively being urged to turn against the Indonesian proletariat, which numbers in excess of 200 million workers. Issues with the Indonesian government can only be addressed through a firm alliance with Indonesian workers, and the workers of the Asia-Pacific. This can be done without unnecessarily disrupting the economic development of West Papua, which is currently being carried out by the Widodo administration. Ultimately what is required, however, is socialist development of regions such as West Papua as well as Indonesia, Australia and beyond. This posits the necessity of building Leninist vanguard parties linked internationally in a determined struggle to end all ethnic and national conflict.
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