The Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation for Freedom began its activities in Indonesia in 1969. Together with selected student activists, FNF and the Institute for Research, Education, Economic and Social Information (LP3ES) published the periodical magazine PRISMA. It became famous for being the only intellectual journal that allowed an open discussion of social issues, politics, economics, and history.
Ulil Absar Abdalla of Freedom Institute as moderator, Barun Mitra, Liberty Institute, India, Feng Xingyuang, Chinese Academy of Social Science, and Sjamsu Rahardja, Paramadina Public Policy Institute, Indonesia. (left to right)
Influencing intellectual debates was only one part of a strategy to empower the Indonesian people in their struggle for an open society with equal opportunities.
Working with rural enterprises inspired us, and our partners, to develop a third and final approach to reach our overall aim of an open society. This time we provided programs related to the establishment and management of small and medium-sized enterprises in the provinces of West Java, Yogyakarta, Central Java and East Java. These were conducted in partnership with the Society for the Improvement of Small Businesses (PUPUK).
During the first three decades of FNF’s work in Indonesia, our programs were designed to allow Indonesians access to intellectual debates, to community services and to economic resources. The plan had to be adjusted when the autocratic President Suharto resigned from office in 1998 and a new democracy was established in Indonesia. Along with political reforms since 1998 and after the first free and fair elections in 1999, the foundation began focusing on strategic consulting and capacity-building programs for the newly empowered but rather inexperienced members of parliament and political parties. Capacity building programs for good governance and training in the areas of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and market economies were the major focus of our activities after 1998.
Capacity building for politicians and political parties
Following the 2004 elections some young politicians established an informal network (Forum Politisi) as a platform for discussions and debates of political issues, such as amending the constitution, political party laws, and electoral laws. These discussions expanded the expertise and skills of younger party members and empowered quite a number of them to join their party leadership and to soften the sometimes suffocating grip of old party elites on internal party affairs.
When the main features of the new political system had been established, Forum Politisi organized capacity building workshops for young politicians and party executives. Until today, topics are being discussed surrounding election campaigns, how to deal with the media, how to conduct interviews, fundraising, and speaking in public. A subsequent survey concluded that the training significantly improved the participants’ chances to be elected. Today, Forum Politisi has branches in the Javanese cities of Yogyakarta and Semarang, where they are providing venues for political discussions and political capacity building.
Over the years, FNF worked with almost all Indonesian political parties. The National Awakening Party PKB and the Democratic Party of Struggle PDIP have become observer and full member of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), an alliance of liberal parties in Asia. Meanwhile, in 2009, FNF signed a partnership agreement with the Indonesian Democratic Party.
This cooperation included several programs aimed at improving capacities within the parliamentary group of the party, discussing political strategies, improving political communication and relations with the party’s constituency. In 2010 the Democrats put themselves forward as an observer member of the global party alliance Liberal International (LI).
Liberal workshop for students in Lido, West Java
Strengthening local governments
Besides our cooperation with politicians and political parties, FNF also supports newly empowered local governments at the provincial and district level. In selected localities, we promote principles of good governance by conducting capacity building workshops for district and city mayors, village chiefs and other stakeholders. We focus on participatory planning methods that will contribute to a more lasting regional development.
Since 2007, FNF has focused its local government programs on the district of Wonosobo in the province of Central Java. Ruled by an inspired local leader, Wonosobo has become an example of good governance and grassroots democracy. In cooperation with the local government, FNF supports the coordination of district agencies and their cooperation with agencies at the sub-district and village level. FNF and partners are aiming to turn Wonosobo into a role model for other Indonesian districts.
Local government training in Wonosobo district, Central Java
Promoting liberal values in Indonesia
Indonesia is still quite unaccustomed to the liberal ideal of individual rights and responsibilities. Under the autocratic rule of President Suharto, “liberal” was negatively branded as promoting anarchy and a lawless society. In Indonesia, FNF cooperates with a liberal think tank¸ the Freedom Institute to persuade Indonesian youth that liberal values are setting the rules for an open society.
Unfortunately, fundamentalist religious groups in Indonesia have learned to exploit the freedom of expression and also the risks associated with Indonesia’s transition to an open society for their own advantage. With acts of violence they are challenging the young democracy and the traditional Indonesian values of diversity and pluralism. The foundation supports the Liberal Islam Network and the Journalist Association for Pluralism SEJUK, who struggle to strengthen the fading tolerance in the Indonesian society and to resist fundamentalist influences in society.
Democracy education in Indonesian high-schools
To further protect the fledgling Indonesian democracy, we work together with high-school teachers and students. In collaboration with the education department of the city of Semarang in Central Java, we have improved civic education classes in three pilot schools. We provide democracy training and innovative teaching methods to the high school teachers to make their classes more relevant and inspiring. We inform them about the values, institutions, and procedures of a modern democracy. Four decades after the foundation has initiated its programs in Indonesia, student activists from the 1960s have taken senior leadership positions in Indonesia’s new democracy. In the same spirit, FNF has adapted its programs to work with key players in the country. We are excited to work in Southeast Asia’s only free society. Our focus remains on supporting initiatives to create an open society and equal opportunities within the framework of a vibrant multi-party democracy.
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