Germany & Indonesia: Economy, Trade and the Omission of Human Rights

NEWSLETTER- International Communication Project, ICP – No. 22, AStA Universität Hannover – Student Union of Hannover University, May 1995

by Andreas Paul, NEWSLETTER -ICP-, Hannover, Germany

Asta_hannoverEach year, the world’s biggest industrial fair takes place in Hannover, Germany. Connected to the fair which is organised by the Deutsche Messe AG, a private company partly owned by the Federal State of Lower Saxony (of which Hannover is the capital) and partly by the City of Hannover, is always a partner country that is given the opportunity to introduce itself to the business world in a “different” way than other countries or companies at the fair. This year, the partner country was Indonesia which was celebrating economic “successes”, the 50th anniversary of its independence from Dutch colonialism (and not officially, 30 years of state government terrorism under the regime and 20 years of occupation in East Timor, formerly a Portuguese colony) came to Hannover to open the Fair and the Indonesian pavilion which was supposed to be the “largest display of its performance potential”. But not only the official delegation came to Hannover, also people from the opposition came to visit the Fair; they were then invited to discuss the Indonesian economic situation at the Universtity of Hannover. As a consequence, Sri-Bintang Pamungkas, member of parliament and presently facing dimission because of former criticism of the Soeharto-regime, and Yeni Rosa Damayanti, a student and human rights activist are now threatened with prosecution. But they are not the only ones who were in Germany at one time or another, and are now prosecuted:
Goenawan Mohamad, former publisher of “Tempo” which was prohibited in 1994 after reporting on the sale of German war ships to Indonesia, is accused of having organised a demonstration in Dresden; and other persons from East Timor are prosecuted as well.

The Economic Successes

The history of economic co-operation between Germany and Indonesia is very long, it did not start in the foreground to the Hannover Fair. But the present phase is important for future trade relations, since both sides are trying – successfully – to intensify mutual trade and economic development; or in particular, Germany is trying to keep the door open to one of the most important future markets of the world: the World Bank estimates that Indonesia will be the fifth biggest market in world in the year 2020.

The history of economic co-operation between Germany and Indonesia is very long, it did not start in the foreground to the Hannover Fair. But the present phase is important for future trade relations, since both sides are trying – successfully – to intensify mutual trade and economic development; or in particular, Germany is trying to keep the door open to one of the most important future markets of the world: the World Bank estimates year 2020.

During the recent years, trade with Indonesia declined from ca. US$ 600 million (1990) to US$ 390 million (1993); in order to stop this decrease, relations must be established or re-established. And the chances are rather good, because the Minister for Science and Technology, Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie, who studied in Germany and worked for several years for MBB in Germany, intends to maintain the “good” relations to Germany – if only Germany is willing enough to maintain them as well.

One of the tools to achieve this aim is the establishment of a forum for technology and sciences. Such a forum was already established between Japan and Indonesia; in its eleven years’ work, the “Japan-Indonesia Forum for Science and Technology” functioned as a platform to introduce and co-ordinate projects and thus enabled Japan to hold a key-position in trade with Indonesia. Now, Germany and Indonesia have established an identical forum.

Whereas such a forum is more likely to bear the expected fruits in the future, already at the Hannover Fair, several contract were signed. DeTeMobil, a subsidiary of German Telekom, got a contract worth more than US$ 580 million, to further develop the Indonesian mobile telephone network. ABB will build two nuclear power plants, and Siemens will construct several coal power plants. The two nuclear power plants that will be constructed by ABB will not be the only ones, as a total, the Indonesian government has planned to build 18 nuclear power plants; so this sector alone represents a huge market.

In addition, other sectors of trade are improving or are continuing a long tradition – like the shipbuilding sector. Shipbuilding is mostly connected with the Meyer-Shipyard in Emden
- which had already constructed and sold several ships to Indonesia. PT IPTN, the Indonesian aircraft industry, which is one of the most important industries for Minister Habibie, because it is supposed to represent the innovative abilities of Indonesian technology, has more than 70 connections to German companies supplying PT IPTN with materials ranging from literature to machines.

The background to the economic co-operation is two-edged: for Germany, it is the important and vital step to keep the door open to the Indonesian market (and to the whole of South-East Asia), and for Indonesia, it is another step to reach the aims set by Habibie.

Habibie who became Minister in 1975, when he was called back from Germany by President Sorharto, tries to modernise Indonesia and make it a country that is exporting high technology rather than importing it.

So far, Indonesia was “developed” by the manufacturing industry, which is more and more transferred from Hong Kong, South Korea or Taiwan, which themselves had shifted their industries to high tech, to countries like Indonesia. The frame for such a transfer is almost ideal, since the growing number of workers in Indonesia is desperately looking for work, and, because of the number of workers and of the grade of skill that is required for the manufacturing sector, the wages are less than poor. According to the “classical” doctrine of development, Indonesia would have to follow the path of such an industrialisation: first, the extension of the manufacturing industry, and then, very slowly, the improvement of the technological sector. For Habibie, the vision did not start at the “bottom”, but at the top. With the aid of western technology, he intends to modernise Indonesian industry to enable it to develop its own high technology sector and also to export it. An example for such a development is PT IPTN which produces the N 250, an airplane that was developed in Indonesia (so far, airplanes, helicopters and spareparts were produced under license from Bell, MBB and CASA). The N 250 shall supply the domestic market, but shall be exported as well. Critics doubt that this project will be successful, because the intended sale of 700 airplanes cannot be achieved. Therefore, the subsidy of ca. US$ 1.6 billion so far (since the forming of IPTN 20 years ago) will not settle the matter, it is more likely that also for the coming years, IPTN will only survive by susidies.

Survival by subsidies is not only true for IPTN, but also for other Indonesian companies (e.g. Krakatau Steel). If such companies had to compete on an open market (which, by commitment, officials are in favour of), they would be lost, because they are hardly able to compete. Presently, they have the advantage that Indonesian companies – and also the military – are more or less compelled to buy these goods.

Criticism is the Work of Insane People

Presently, Indonesia is only “successful” in violating the human rights of its peoples and those who are forcibly made its people: the East Timorese. And the consequences of the Fair are just another example within a very long list of oppression.When it became known that Indonesia will be the partner country of the Hannover Fair and that Soeharto will visit Germany, Amnesty International, along with other German human rights organisations, organised a demonstration in Hannover.

Sri-Bintang Pamungkas, a legislator of the United Development Party (PPP), came to Hannover to hold a lecture on the economic situation in Indonesia at the University of Hannover.

The programme of Soeharto did not only include the visit of the Fair, but also a visit to Dresden and Weimar (among other cities). The city council of Weimar declared Soeharto an “unwanted person”, the same was intended by different parties in Hannover and Dresden, but these resolutions were not that successful.

In Hannover, for example, the mayor Herbert Schmalstieg (Social Democrats and member of the board of the Messe AG) said that he did not see any obstacles to welcome Soeharto in the City Hall. Of course, he also intended to (and did) talk about human rights violations in Indonesia, but in general, Soeharto was welcomed as a noble President. So, Soeharto signed the Golden Book of Hannover.

Such admonitions, however, did not seem to hurt Soeharto that much. It was quite easy for him to convince the politicians and captains of industry who were present at the opening performance for the fair, that “both economic development and social progress are a preliminary step towards the respect of human rights.” And ”the freedom to form a labour union will be meaningless if there is unemployment.” The goals are set, and for the trade partners, these goals are very convenient, because they will allow them to continue their work without rethinking their positions.

Soeharto was much more hurted by the protest of the “rabble”: in Hannover and Dresden, the people disturbed the peaceful scenes – and Soeharto pretended (and still pretends) to be hurt and offended by the kind of protest. Back in Indonesia (or, more precisely, on his flight back from Turkmenistan), he said that ”These people are insane and no longer rational.”

His anger on the protests in Dresden and Hannover is now used as a tool to start a new wave of oppression against oppositional forces. All those who are supposed to have been in Germany at the time of the Fair, are now faced with prosecution. This of course is ridiculous, because Goenawan for example had been in Germany some weeks before the Fair – but still he is accused of being present in Dresden. Also Bintang and Yeni, who had never been in Dresden, are accused of being organisers of the protests.

These accusations are ridiculous, but they can be lethal for the accused. Normally, the charge would be up to five years in prison for insulting the president. But Armed Forces General Feisal Tanjung declared that he had not yet ruled out the possibility that Sri-Bintang would be charged with subversion; then, he could be faced with death penalty.

Soeharto not only declared the critics insane, he also said that ”If there are problems domestically, then let’s solve them at home.” Yet, the treatment of critics does not leave any room for real criticism. One way to silence them is to put them in prison, another way is to terrorise them in their daily life. So even if the accusation against Sri-Bintang are dropped, the government has the possibility to pay some rogues (critical people they are called who are just expressing their point of view – and of course, they are acting on their own accord) to smash windows, burn his car, etc…

Freedom of Expression vs. Soeharto

When Soeharto is talking about solving problems “at home”, he seems to be quite confident that the means can be achieved by suppressing the people. A real opposition is not allowed to exist (which, of course, does not mean that there is no opposition against Soeharto and his regime). Despite any declarations of the regime that Indonesia is a democratic country which undeservedly receive criticism from organisations like Amnesty International for human rights violations, the present reality reveals the opposite. The policy of “openness”, which was the watchword of the government for the last three years, came to an end – if it ever really started.
For most of the oppositional forces, and in particular for the Indonesian students, “openness” never really existed anyway, they never believed in such slogans. Yet, some older politicians and activists believed it, they were trying to use this situation in a tactical way and were trying to avoid the closing of “openness”, in order to gain some improvements.

For the Soeharto regime, “openness” was nothing but a tactical means to avoid a dangerous situation in which its own grip on the power might be loosened, due to political pressure from within or without.

So, when “openness” was introduced, it was a sign for the Indonesian people to use the “freedom” properly, and for other countries it was a sign that Indonesia really is democratic – a huge democratic, expanding market which needs only some investors.

Of course, the western countries almost always backed the Soeharto regime, but at the beginning of 1990, after the often declared end of the Cold War and the cessation of Bipolarity, the question of human rights was on the agenda, and the political survival of some dictators depended on some concessions.

How easily such concessions are retracted, can be seen in the cases of the magazines Tempo, Editor and DeTik. All three of them were leading oppositional papers in which the regime was criticised for its policy.

In 1994, the (limited) Freedom of Press, which faced a short spring, came to an end when reports on government policy became too critical. But even the expression “too critical” must be seen in a different light, because the issues the magazines were reporting on, were of common interest and what they had been writing on was the mere truth. Still, the images that were created by these reports were much too negative for the regime to stand.

So, when in Tempo, the sale of 39 former GDR war navals of Germany to Indonesia was criticised – and in particular the costs and the benefit (1) -the publishing license was revoked. The same happened to the other two magazines. For their open criticism they were rewarded with the revocation of the publishing licence.

The latest blow against Freedom of Expression was struck in April 1995, after Soeharto came to Germany to visit the Hannover Fair. Since he not only met politicians and captains of industry, but was also faced with demonstrator who were protesting against the dictator and human rights violations in Indonesia and East Timor.

The Indonesian delegation came to Hannover to celebrate the commemoration of the independence and past and future “successes” of the Indonesian economy. This visiting program perfectly agreed with the wishes of the Deutsche Messe AG, which is in favour of just organising an industry fair and not to talk about “politics” (2), the government of Lower Saxony, the City Council of Hannover and with the Federal Governent.

Yet, they were not able to solely paint a picture of brilliant colours of a paradise on earth, because some oppositional groups from Germany had also come to Hannover to organise a mass rally, some “subversive” activities, and discussions and press conferences. Due to these activities, at least the topic of human rights abuses in Indonesia and East Timor was partly discussed in the public and its mass media.

But is it already a success when the mass media are reporting on human rights abuses, but are also celebrating the signed contracts with Indonesian companies, which will allow the clan who owns or has a great influence on most of the companies (along with the Minister for Research and Technology, Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie, who together with his familiy and relatives, owns or has shares in more than 50 companies) also, to enforce and tighten its grip on the Indonesian society?

If we had believed in the morality of politics, and if we had believed in what the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had told to the world in Copenhagen only some weeks before during the World Conference on Social Development (3), then we also would have believed that the Indonesian delegation – and especially President Soeharto – never came to Hannover and were welcomed by the celebrities of city, state and economy. But then, who believes in what a politician says during a world conference?

Not only Soeharto knows that the German politicians are rather interested in securing work places in Germany than securing the safety of some oppositional forces.


(1) These old GDR-war navals were sold to Indonesia for only US$ 12 million, which is rediculously cheap; but the price must be put in relation to the follow-up costs: maintanance of the ships, construction of harbour facilities, and other factors will cost ca. US$ 1.1 billion. In Tempo, the suggestin was made that to purchase new naval which would only cost ca. US$ 733.3 million.
(2) The spokesperson of the Deutsche Messe AG, Eberhard Roloff, said that the Messe AG never gives political judgements, ,This is not our task”. The Messe AG’s task is to support trade.
(3) In Copenhagen, Helmut Kohl told the world that “There is no justification for denying people their civil and political rigths for the sake of economic objectives”.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,