By Warren Doull
Since 2014 a new ideology has been rising in Indonesia. The new ideology – ‘fear of foreign proxies’, emphasises that Indonesia is threatened by proxy wars. Could this new ideology be manipulated by Indonesia’s elites to consolidate their growing power and block dissent?
In April 2014, Army chief of staff General Gatot Nurmantyo told university students in Bandung that foreign interests could threaten Indonesia by influencing proxies (third parties) to undermine Indonesia. These proxies, he explained might include small countries, NGOs, civil society organisations, mass media and individuals . These proxies, he seemed to suggest, could include Indonesian organisations and individuals.  However, the organisations he is branding as proxies seem to be the very organisations that are most likely to demand accountability from the increasingly undemocratic oligarchy in Indonesia.
As ‘fear of foreign proxies’ spreads across Indonesia, domestic NGOs, civil society organizations, mass media and individuals may find it more difficult to criticize corruption, environmental pillaging and trampling of marginal ethnic groups because Indonesia’s ruling elite may brand them as proxies for foreign interests.
Since the election of President Jokowi, this ideology has been gaining momentum. In September 2014, Nurmanto warned students in Jogyakarta about the threat of proxies.  In early October 2014, Hanura parliamentarian Dr. Susaningtyas Kertopati joined him in espousing this ideology.  In mid- October 2014, Nurmantyo was spreading the ideology to eastern Indonesia. He told university students in Ambon that the spread of narcotics into Indonesia was part of an international conspiracy to destroy Indonesia.  Then he continued on to Merauke and told Papuans that a proxy war had been used to separate Timor-Leste from Indonesia due to oil interests in 1999. At the end of October, he was telling university students in Bali that foreign interests might seek to restrict development and education in Indonesia. Similarly in October 2014, other military officials ran a seminar in Lampung titled ‘the role of youth in facing proxy wars’.
This emerging ideology appears not to have been reported in the English language media until March 2015 so most links in this article are to Bahasa Indonesia news sites.
By November 2014, warnings about ‘proxy wars’ were spreading fast. The military was warning high school kids about the threat posed by small countries, NGOs, civil society organisations, mass media or individuals.  University students in Depok, south Jakarta, were warned against foreign interests who recruit Indonesia’s younger generation with indoctrination, education facilities and materials, so that they will become agents of foreign countries (Merekrut generasi muda Indonesia dengan indoktrinasi disertai fasilitas pendidikan dan materi, agar mau jadi agen negara asing). In 2015, the military campaign against ‘proxies’ has continued right across Indonesia. A major ideological campaign is underway.
An Indonesian English language newspaper finally reported this growing ideology following visits by Nurmanto to Semarang  and Medan  in March and April 2015 respectively.
Why is this campaign being run now? Proxy wars are not a new trend. Many conflicts before and during the Cold War were proxy wars, including conflicts in Indonesia in 1965 and 1975. One thing that is new is that the national Parliament and police force have become the most corrupt institutes in Indonesia  and have, since mid-2014, been consolidating their power. Parliamentarians’ attempts to undermine others who might challenge them began with an unsuccessful attempt in mid-2014 to have provincial governors appointed not by direct election but by corrupt local parliaments. In early 2015, parliamentarians and senior police successfully crippled the nation’s Corruption Eradication Commission.
There is a growing risk that they may soon manipulate the military’s proxy war ideology to cripple other Indonesian organisations which might challenge them. As the new xenophobic ideology spreads, Indonesian NGOs, civil society organisations, mass media or individuals will find it more difficult to criticise corruption, environmental pillaging and trampling of marginal ethnic groups. They will fear being labelled by the re-emerging oligarchy as proxies for foreign interests.
Indonesians, like all other nationalities, do indeed need to be wary of being caught up in proxy wars. Xenophobia is not healthy but wariness and ability to critically analyse foreign interests is certainly healthy. But Indonesians also need wariness and ability to critically analyse the selfish interests of their own elites. With Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission crippled in early 2015, NGOs and civil society organisations are two remaining voices to hold the oligarchs accountable. What may have started as a well-intentioned campaign by the military may well be soon manipulated by elites to less nationalistic purposes.
Indonesians need to be wary about being trapped by their own oligarchs, where organisations that speak out against the oligarchs are labelled as proxies for foreign powers. Voices of dissent are now vulnerable to being branded as proxies if they speak out in favour of improved government accountability, stricter controls over environmental exploitation, respect for marginalised ethnic groups, workers’ rights and improved government services for the nation’s millions of poor people. If this happens, Indonesia will slip further into the noose of a Parliamentarian-Senior Police oligarchy whose recent treatment of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission suggests their first priority is their own bank accounts.
Warren Doull is a pseudonym. Warren worked for UNTAET in Timor-Leste in 2001-2002 and has also lived and worked extensively in Indonesia.