Repression on the Cheap: responses to anti-state dissent in post-new order Indonesia

Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Friday 27 September 2013


PSC Reading Room, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU
ANU Canberra


Dominic Berger


Dominic Berger
+61 2 6125 0927


My thesis looks at one aspect of Indonesia's democratic quality that remains contentious, namely the state's treatment of peacefully expressed anti-state dissent, such as Islamism, Separatism and Leftism. Anti-state dissent manifests itself in a great variety of events and movements, and state institutions must constantly decide which manifestations are repressed and which to tolerate. By mapping which forms of anti-state dissent become the target of the harshest forms of repression, I identify a counter-intuitive pattern: state institutions in contemporary Indonesia are inclined to target weak manifestations of dissent, while tolerating, co-opting or absorbing strong manifestations of anti-state movements.

Firstly, some manifestations of Islamist ideology, such as obscure Islamic State (NII) groups in West Java, face disproportionate stigmatization and repression, while trans-national Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir is not only tolerated but openly embraced by some elements of the state. Secondly, non-violent pro-independence activists in Papua and Maluku are locked up for treason, while former rebels in Aceh now govern the province. Thirdly, Marxist ideology and symbols associated with the former Communist Party (PKI) continue to be banned, while contemporary leftist organizations and socialist unions are directly engaging in mainstream politics.

At first glance, the scapegoating of apparently non-existent threats, and the acquiescence towards significant threats, creates the impression that state institutions are able to construct and deconstruct political threats at will, irrespective of objective realities. But I argue that behind the nuanced processes by which the state constructs its ideological enemies lie rational material calculations. In short, repressing weak dissent allows state institutions to create the appearance of a coherent and dominant state at a low cost.

About the Speaker

Dominic Berger completed his BA with 1st class Honours at Flinders University. He spent part of his studies on scholarships at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang and at Universitas Parahyangan in Bandung. After graduating he spent a year in Indonesia, working for the Friedrich€Ebert Foundation in Jakarta. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the Australian National University's Department of Political and Social Change. Dominic conducted fieldwork in Indonesia between April 2012 and April 2013.

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