On July 17th 2012, Shilla and myself were invited to attend the official launch of the Strategic Review Journal and Discussion Forum on Peace and Reconciliation. From my point of view, one of the highlights of the event, besides having the presence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Cabinet Ministers and several other dignitaries, is the presence of three high profile figures that became speakers at the Discussion Forum, namely, Jose Ramos-Horta; Anwar Ibrahim, and Thaksin Shinawatra.
Prior to sharing the highlights of the discussion, I believe it’s best to give brief background information on the Strategic Review Journal. Quoting from the words of Strategic Review’s Editor in Chief, Dr. Hassan Wirajuda, “One of Strategic Review’s main strengths is to provide a forum, both in print and in cyberspace, for people with diverging views to share them openly.” He added, “The editorial and advisory board of Strategic Review do not subscribe to any particular position or ideology, except maybe that all ideas and opinions are welcome and should be disseminated to the widest possible audience.” Ergo, we could say that Strategic Review’s objective is to give a more balanced point of view on issues that have drawn the public’s attention.
After knowing briefly about Strategic Review Journal, let’s continue to the highlights of the discussion, shall we?
While the official launch was underway, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had just delivered his keynote speech and the discussion forum was just about to start, I was still in disbelief that I was attending a forum along with these three highly prominent figures. Jose Ramos Horta, who was the former President of Timor Leste had experienced an assassination attempt. Another prominent figure was Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian Opposition Leader who was severely beaten and imprisoned for six years. Whereas, the third prominent figure, Thaksin Shinawatra, was Thailand’s former Prime Minister who was overthrown by a military coup and forced into exile.
However, even with the presence of these prominent figures, I still thought that the discussion on how to maintain peace and go through a smooth reconciliation would be more on the theoretical side. In reality, all of them mostly talked about their real life experience and their encounters with conflicts in their respective countries. Anwar Ibrahim even joked on how a Malaysian prisoner was a lot less privileged when compared with the prisoners in Indonesia. He said there was no possibility for him to request a room with air conditioner and other luxury. As a prisoner, he was sent to a maximum-security prison with plenty of security checkpoints.
Anwar Ibrahim continued to share his experience when dealing with issues related with reconciliation. He said, “After you’ve experienced the difficulty in getting your rights and freedom, then you would realize the necessity to maintain freedom.” Later, he also praised Indonesia for its ability to “not be saddled by the baggage of the past.” He resisted the urge for payback and asked instead for Malaysia to allow fair elections as the path to reconciliation. He also added, “I am only able to forgive, and move on. Not necessarily forget, but move on. If you are totally committed to democracy, you don’t have time for retribution.”
The day was still young, and it was Thaksin Shinawatra’s turn to share his experience. One of the aspects that he stressed on was the need for calm in handling the political crisis in his country. He said, “I think we need truth, but the truth must not lead to future conflict, we must learn from our past failures, but we also must move on.”
“Legislation need to be put in effect, and must have an impact during the effort to withhold a peaceful situation,” Thaksin added. At first, I was a bit shocked to hear such a peaceful message from a person who has been dethroned by force and exiled from his own country, but later on I noticed that everything he said was not on getting things even with the opposition, but rather to create a greater good.
One of the best moments of the discussion in my opinion was when Ramos-Horta shared his experience on peace and reconciliation. He has actually done what Thaksin Shinawatra and Anwar Ibrahim so far had only put into words. He noted that after the former East Timor’s 1999 independence referendum and the bloody withdrawal of the Indonesian military, he and independence fighter Xanana Gusmão -who is now the country’s prime minister- made peace with Indonesia a first priority, despite calls for an international tribunal to investigate crimes committed there. “Sometimes we have to swallow this desire for retributive justice,” he said. However, the most important thing he said about peace keeping efforts was that leadership, passion, and humility are the traits that are essential in maintaining peace.
My expectations went sky-high after hearing what all of the speakers said, I went on hoping that the message of peace and forgiveness pointed out during the discussion will be realized in Timor Leste, Malaysia and Thailand. Most importantly, I hope all of the speakers could prove that they are true statesmen and in the future they will actually put their words into action.
I would like to close this article by quoting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, “There is no peace, no freedom, and no stability, unless we take out the cancerous seeds of conflict and hatred from our society and replace them with seeds of amity and good will.” May there be smooth reconciliation and everlasting peace in Indonesia, the Southeast Asia region, and other parts of the world.