Saturday, June 22, 2013


By Mansor Puteh

Every time I visit Jakarta, Indonesia, I would make it a point to go to Jalan Budikemuliaan. It is a short street by the side of the more popular Jalan T. H. Thamrin, named after one of the prominent leaders of Indonesia.

And not so far away from Jalan Budikemuliaan is the Monumen Nasional or Monas which is the tall obelisk tower standing in the park at the edge of which is Istana Merdeka which is the official residence of the president of the republic.

The Malaysian government owns a piece of land on this road, and it was where the Pusat Pelajar Malaysia (PPM) or Malaysian Students’ Center was.

I stayed there when I visited Jakarta for the first time in May, 1974, and found it very convenient and also cheap to lodge at.

It was the first stop for many students from Malaysia visiting Jakarta, until it was closed down.

The next time I paid the place a visit in 1995, I found it vacant. The PPM had been moved to another place.

And few years after that I paid the place another visit and found that the buildings had been torn down and it is just a vacant space.

The signboard says that the property belongs to the Education Department of the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta, and it sits on prime land, across the street from Bank Negara Indonesia, which is the national bank of Indonesia.

I am not sure what plans the Malaysian government has for this property in Jakarta, but for me, I would like to propose that a new Malaysian cultural center be built on it, so that it can become a showcase of Malaysian culture in the city.

And it can become the main focus of the intimate relations that Malaysia and Indonesia has, which must be reconstructed and structured so that elements from amongst the angst-stricken members of the local populace cannot cause this relations to turn sour, when and as they please.

The center which I want to propose can be called the Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysia Cultural Center in Jakarta or Pusat Kebudayaan Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysia di Jakarta.

This complex can also have galleries for exhibitions, halls for forums and also hostels for Malaysian artistes visiting the city for performances, which can be arranged regularly so that cultural activities related to Malaysia and Indonesia can be organized.

Screenings of new and old Malaysian films and forums to discuss them can also be organized.

These can surely become a major attraction to the young and creative inclined people in Jakarta, so in time, the center can become the main focus of attention of the city’s culture vultures.

The end result of which can be seen in the form of the merging of the minds, thoughts and actions of the people of Malaysia and Indonesia.

A bookstore can also be opened in the center where books from Malaysia can be sold and made available to the public who may not have the access to such facilities in Jakarta or anywhere in Indonesia.

And in this way, both countries can benefit from it.

I am surprised that there have never been any serious attempts to forge bilateral relations on the people-to-people level by Malaysia and Indonesia.

Most of the time, focus has been only on the need for such attempts, but nothing concrete has materialized, after lengthy speeches with predictable contents have been shared to the media of the respective countries by dignitaries from each other’s countries.

Even in 1974, I knew that the PPM was a focus of attention to the locals in Jakarta who found the Malaysian Students’ Center to be attractive to the young who would come to mingle with the Malaysian students who are temporarily located there.

Unfortunately, this gesture was never appreciated by the Malaysian authorities who did not know how to seize it so over time, and after the PPM was closed and moved elsewhere, such personal communication between the Malaysian students and the locals seized to happen.

So no wonder over the last many years, there had been unnecessary discords that were created by some small and fringe groups of people in Jakarta, who may not have known the special ties that bound our two countries and the history of how they came about.

I am confident the Tunku Abdul Rahman Cultural Center on Jalan Budikemuliaan in Jakarta can be such a useful center where not only cultural activities are held regularly, but also social, intellectual activities that can encourage better bilateral relations between our two countries in ways that cannot be imagined, or which would cost a lot to achieve.

Malaysia and especially Finas have spent a lot of money to invite filmmakers and other artistes from Indonesia to perform in the country or to give workshops over the last few decades.

Finas especially has invited Teguh Karya, Ariffin C. Noer, Christine Hakim, Eros Djarot, Slamat Rihardjo, Garin Ngroho and Alex Komang to attend film festivals in the country and also to give workshops or to act in films produced by Malaysian film companies.

Unfortunately, this method of engaging them with the hope that they could become better members of the public in Indonesia who can cause the creation of better relations has not happened.

However, the Indonesian counterparts have not reciprocated the deed by inviting Malaysian filmmakers and other artistes to perform or to give workshops in Jakarta or anywhere in Indonesia.

Till now no Malaysian filmmaker has been invited by them. And chances of any of them being invited by Indonesia are still bleak, with almost no chance of it happening, since the Indonesians do not have programs of exchanging visits by their artistes and filmmakers like we do here in Malaysia.

Therefore, the job of promoting and encouraging bilateral relations between Malaysia and Indonesia is mostly done by Malaysia, with the Indonesians not doing anything at all.

So no wonder, there are some skirmishes in Jakarta when small fringe groups of angst-stricken Indonesians who would gather outside of the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta to voice their discontent on petty issues.

But generally all these were created by their own government agencies which have not tried to create a better environment to allow their own people however marginalized or fringed they are and however angst-stricken they may be, to not resort to violent acts.

Such acts can only be construed to be the failure of Indonesia to create the right and proper environment that can discourage such physical acts from happening in their own capital city.

Whereas the Malaysians do not copy what the Indonesians had done outside of the Malaysian embassy, even if they could do so.

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