Ambiguous Political Support for Greenpeace in Indonesia

A number of Philippine politicians agree with Greenpeace’s call for opposing the development of biotechnology in agriculture. They designed a petition and a Philippine court granted a writ of Kalikasan in favor of the petition to stop field trials of the genetically-modified organism (GMO) Bt eggplant (called Bt talong). In this case Greenpeace successfully managed to gain political support for one of its causes. Something similar might happen in Indonesia as well.

Reminiscing about the New Order era, NGOs at that time were identical to anti-government groups or opponents and were even accused of being foreign agents. Since the reform era, when more people demanded political freedom, NGOs have been considered as one of the recognized political institutions. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reported that the number of NGOs has grown from about 10,000 in 1996 to about 70,000 in 2000.

This led to the emergence of a theory of society and social movements in which social forces, no longer social classes, fill the relation between the state and society. Not surprisingly, the NGOs got the nickname “Third Sector,” after the government and the private sector or industry.  The Third Sector’s mission is to promote social awareness, environmental, and other specific issues regarding public life.

The reform era in Indonesia that occured in 1997-1998 became the right moment for foreign NGOs to explore this country. One of them was Greenpeace, which has been in the country since 2000. Indonesia is indeed one of the major countries Greenpeace focuses on in South East Asia, alongside the Philippines.

It could be said that the presence of Greenpeace in Indonesia is now on the upswing. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), in a speech to celebrate World Environment Day 2013, specifically mentioned and invited Greenpeace to cooperate with Indonesia. As a form of openess, the President took time to visit the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, which was docked in the Port of Tanjung Priok in mid-2013. Not long ago, in late November 2013, the President re-emphasized the importance of partnering with environmental NGOs in front of palm entrepreneurs at the Conference of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) IX.

As we can see in the media, Greenpeace, instead of defending the environment, spends most of its time launching negative campaigns. In the Philippines, the issue they focus on is biotechnology in the agricultural sector, which they call harmful to human health and the environment. While in Indonesia, Greenpeace accuses the palm industry of beinga contributor to deforestation, forest fires, and land conflicts between local/indigenous communities and companies.

However, the Greenpeace movement in Indonesia’s ability to influence politicians to make social movements with petitions like in the Philippines has not happened yet. Greenpeace still seems to be trying hard to deal with Indonesian politicians’ attitudes, most of whom  generally reject the organisation. For instance, Law No. 17/2013 on Community Organisations (UU Ormas) is one way to suppress community organizations, including foreign NGOs.

Amir Syamsuddin, as Law and Human Rights Minister,  admited Greenpeace campaigns in Indonesia often disrupt business. There’s also an impression of foreign interests being represented by Greenpeace. In fact, the suggestion to freeze and revoke Greenpeace Indonesia’s license is being reviewed now.

But not all politicians do not support Greenpeace. In this context, the President, who is also the Chairman of the Democratic Party, is open to Greenpeace. Does this represent the position of the party? Most likely yes, because it is not normal for party members to be opposed to the attitude of their chairman. So the previous statement of Syamsuddin, the Democratic Party’s honor council chief, is clearly against his superior, SBY.

We can understand that because of Syamsuddin’s position when saying that Greenpeace is annoying he said that as the government representative. But, it obviously shows that the political support for Greenpeace in Indonesia is still ambiguous. In other words, this organisation politically still has not secured the “confidence” of Indonesian politicians.

What makes Indonesian politicians undeceived by Greenpeace? Is it because there is no “political deal” that Greenpeace can offer? Or do Indonesian politicians indeed have full awareness that it is more important to support the advancement of national industry? It requires further study to determine the final answer. But, one thing is for sure, theGreenpeace movement in Indonesia is quite successful in attracting public attention.

About Rina Hutajulu 17 Articles
Rina Hutajulu is an independent journalist for the Dekker Centre focusing on political studies of civil society movements and environmental issues in Indonesia. She writes for various on line media and print media as well. Rina is based in Jakarta.

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