Saturday, 2 May 2009

Balinese - pacifists, resigned, partied or indifferent?

Balinese - pacifists, resigned, partied or indifferent?
By Bali BS News
Aug 7, 2005, 02:10

No-one likely bears the rife Indonesian extortion based corruption more than the Balinese themselves, albeit we think to a different level then the foreigner. That all being to do with money of course, how much someone has or is perceived to have. There is little doubt of the “money tree” mentality amongst Indonesians; that foreigners are money trees. But the Balinese do suffer, they do have money taken from them by bullies in uniforms, they do have false complaints made against them which the police develop into money making investigations, and they do go to jail for the wrong reasons. But are the Balinese, behind their perceived innocence by token of their gentle nature and soft smiles just as bad as, reactionaries to, or a part of the problem? And will they ever do anything to bring about change?

Tourists perceive the Balinese to be honest, hard working, caring, friendly people. And they are, at least the ones they meet are, or appear to be. Of course hotel staff are chosen for their tourist friendly nature. Shop workers also have to be westerner savoir-faire. But look a little further down the chain of marketing savvy responsibility to the market stall holder, the money changer, the hawker and the petrol pump attendant and you will see a different picture; maybe a more typical one where customers are systematically fleeced. Ask the question of your friendly hotel worker about crime in their village and they will likely tell you about how chickens and worse are routinely stolen. So are the Balinese genuinely nice people or are they, like most societies a mix of the good and bad, and if so by what measure?

The seventh United Nations survey of crime trends and operations of criminal justice systems, covering the period 1998 – 2000 put Indonesia 8th in the world for both reported robberies and embezzlements. The emphasis being on reported incidents of course as the Indonesians have a saying “Report a stolen chicken, lose a cow”. That is, reporting a theft to a corrupt police force will likely end with money being extorted from you. Also, even when complaints are filed by foreigners with the Balinese police, there are documented accounts that the police say that a complaint was not properly filed and therefore could not be investigated after the poor fleeced tourist has gone home and can do nothing more about it; hmmmm. So these facts alone make the 8th worst robbery crime rate in the world look a little bit understated. With that in mind, you simply have to accept that Indonesians, including the Balinese are prone to being the biggest bunch of thieves in the world, unfortunately, and we do mean that.

You can hardly blame the Indonesians of course for their perception that westerners are money trees and for being so inclined towards theft. With document reports of corruption going right to the very top of their government, with police offices openly extorting money from them instead of protecting them, with government officials from teachers to passport officials all seemingly on the make, with a crumbling infrastructure and spiraling fuel prices (because one the richest countries in the world in terms of oil reserves now has to import oil at super high rates because their sole petroleum company is riddled with corruption and related under-investment). In come foreign guests with bulging wallets and a too often superior, often outright insulting attitude to the Balinese by token of their impoverished position. And it does not take much imagination to understand and see what goes on under the smiling surface.

Of course, no-one below the top tier of extortion money makers likes the system. Even if any dirty money they specifically get affords an individual a comfortable living by Balinese standards, the term “karma” clearly is paramount in the Balinese way of life, and probably with good Newtonian reason. That is, the Balinese probably make such a big deal of karma a) because there is so much wrong, and b) because it gives the innocent the hope that the guilty will get theirs in the next life, and so anesthetize the pain of being cheated by others. In short, unless the dirty money is enough to drown out any and every echo of wrong doing, the Balinese are human beings just like the rest of and do not like the present system.

So why don’t the Balinese and even Indonesians do something about it? Is it because they are gentle pacifists? Well that might be a reasonable theory except that, as so called pacifists, the Balinese fought a bloody war of independence against their former Dutch colonial masters not that long ago. So why not fight the oppressors now? The problem is that every Indonesian and Balinese could unite in the struggle against a foreign enemy, but how do you unite against oppressors that are one of your own? Reporting crime too often only brings you more pain. Internal resurrection brings a swift and Internationally condemned response from the Indonesian government and their strictly controlled military. Foreign governments aren’t going to do more then direct often lip service concerns at what Indonesia does to its citizens, after all that would be internal interference. And foreign governments never do that right?

So the Balinese have two possible choices. First is to do nothing except try and get politicians into power who genuinely want to unselfishly improve the lot of every Indonesian by removing corruption and making government workers truly public servants. Second is to just hope things change in time, in their next life; how often do you hear the Balinese refer to a better next life? Actually, both will work in time as corruption and crime will simply relatively sink the Indonesian state further in the world wealth rankings. As the Chinese say, “A business built in the shade will never flourish”. And it is particularly poignant when you realize so many successful businesses were and still are run honestly by Chinese descendents in Indonesia, but were repressed and are still looked down on by Indonesian officialdom. The Chinese were and perhaps still are the Jews of Asia.

So, one day, the burden of figuring less and less prominently in the world and in particular, in the region will almost certainly invoke change. Disquiet amongst the people that count exists right now, with the all powerful Indonesian military top brass moaning about the fact that even tiny Singapore now has a more powerful navy than they. But change through dented International pride is still a long way off. Indonesia does not fear invasion, so a strong army is more important to them, which is a statement in itself as to what the army can be used for. So the Balinese look set to steal from each other and us for some time yet.

But maybe there is another option. If foreign tourists stop going to Indonesia to avoid becoming victims of extortion and crime, and to stop contributing to the problem, the Indonesian government would have to take notice. Tourism is Indonesia’s third largest industry. If it stopped, there would need to be immediate action taken by them to get it back. And if they did not react properly and promptly, is there any doubt the Balinese would remind them of the need to do so?

Of course this last notion will bring cries of “You must be anti-Balinese” from the throng of people so dependent on their cheap holidays and subservient smiling hosts. But we remember it was not that long ago that the Balinese were lamenting their lost tourist money-trees directly after the Bali bombing, and fearing they would never return. But what message could you read in newspapers besides the greedy blaming foreign governments for warning their citizens not come to Bali then because of the ongoing risk? Why, you could read the true, soft, human Balinese coming though with articles proclaiming that even if the tourists never returned, no-one on Bali would starve. OK, all the hotel workers would have to go back to the rice fields but that Bali could become better, more Balinese as a result. So we say considering staying away from Bali until the corruption is brought under control is very pro-Balinese. Such action certainly would be very good longer term for the Balinese both in monitory value, karma, health and happiness, and make Bali a better and safer place for foreigners too.

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