Category Archives: Jakarta

China’s BRI Could Save Destroyed Southeast Asia

Most of the people in the West or in North Asia usually never think about it, but Southeast Asia is one of the most depressed and depressing parts of the world.

It has been through genocides, wars and atrocious military regimes.

Then, those monstrous income disparities.

Jakarta beggars at night

According to The Bangkok Post, in 2018, “the 10% poorest Thais had 0% wealth.

50% of the poorest Thais (25 million people) had 1.7% of the country’s wealth while 70% (35mn) controlled 5%.” In the same year, 1% of the richest Thais controlled 66.9% of the country’s fortune.

Indonesia is not doing much better. In fact, if it were to provide correct, unmassaged statistics, it would easily overtake Thailand as the most unequal country on earth. But Indonesia does not even declare the precise number of people, as I was informed by my colleagues, UN statisticians. It still claims that it has around 270 million inhabitants, while in reality, even ten years ago, there were more than 300 million people living on the archipelago.

Except in the Communist Vietnam, super-rich Singapore, and (still) relatively wealthy Malaysia, poor people matter very little. Or more precisely, they do not matter at all. They do not exist. And poor people form the great majority in this part of the world, although you would hardly read it from the pages of official government bulletins.

Jakarta – smog and huge slums between skyscrapers

It is enough to see Jakarta, Manila or Bangkok from the air, to understand that the Southeast Asian megapolises are totally fragmented, so they can serve the elites. Skyscrapers, malls and enormous hotels are surrounded by miserable houses and slums. Terribly inadequate public transportation (corrupt governments have been regurgitating every year, for decades, great numbers of cars and polluting scooters wishfully called ‘motorbikes’, instead of providing decent massive public transit systems) has made Jakarta and periodically Bangkok, some of the most polluted and depressing cities in the world.

Crime is out of control. Thailand has, per capita, according to Interpol, a higher murder rate than the United States. In the Philippines, before President Duterte came to power, cities such as Davao and Manila were suffering from some of the most horrid crime statistics in Asia. Indonesia, again, has escaped scrutiny, simply because of the absolutely amazing ability to hide the truth.  Most of the crimes committed there, particularly sexual ones, are never reported, and if reported, not registered.

The modern history of this part of the world is perhaps the most brutal on the planet. Brutal, but hushed up. The education system in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand is geared not to educate the children and young people about the monstrous genocides committed on the territory of Southeast Asia.

To mention just a few ‘occurrences’, the West murdered several million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, during the so-called ‘Vietnam War’ and ‘Secret War’. It carpet-bombed poor Laos and Cambodia, while supporting the most atrocious feudal regimes all over ‘Indochina’. It also displaced millions of peasants. As a result, multitudes died from hunger.

Indonesia perpetrated three genocides, killing millions. First, during the 1965-66 one, triggered by the U.S.A. and its allies, murdered 1 – 3 million intellectuals, artists, teachers, Communists and members of the Chinese minority. The second was the U.S.A, U.K. and Australia-backed occupation of East Timor, which took lives of 30%-40% of the islanders. The third genocide is the on-going, horrendous occupation and plunder of West Papua.

Burma, broke and divided by British colonialism, is yet another story. And so are the monstrous Malaysian massacres, which took place in 1969. And various massacres of the opposition as well as of immigrants in Thailand. The Thai bombing of Vietnam and Laos, to impress handlers in Washington, and the U.S. massacres in the Philippines, as well as the brutal civil war there in Mindanao.

The list goes on and on. It is a brutal horror show, the never-ending awfulness of Western neo-colonialism, as well as the sleazy servility of local rulers.

The results are omnipresent: the beaches of entire countries are devastated. Whole enormous islands like Borneo, Papua and Sumatra are finished, scarred and poisoned by local and multi-national corporations. It is smoke and filth, clogged rivers, collapsed cultures, entire civilizations. No mercy, no compassion, no future.

Jakarta – smog and huge slums between skyscrapers

But it is all hushed up. Crimes are denied. Outraged, confused nations are called ‘lands of smiles’, or ‘’friendly and tolerant archipelagos’.

It is insane, but tens of millions of foreign tourists descend on this ruined part of the world, annually. They see nothing. Some like it. They only nurture their complexes of superiority here. They do not want to understand anything. They choose to be blind. Cheap sex, shitty alcohol and beach food, as well as monumental sunburns. They continue the demolition work which has been triggered by their governments.

*****

The mood is terrible. In Indonesia, foreigners and even locals get insulted in the middle of the day, just for being ‘different’. Whites are. Chinese are. Indians are. Black people are, with terrible regularity and brutality.

In Thailand, foreigners get killed and raped, for almost no, or very little, reason. The terrible occurrences are reported almost weekly by the local and foreign press.

Privatized Malaysian boardwalk – now for a fee

Poor people feel that their beaches, their cities, have been stolen from them. In Indonesia, on the Bali and Lombok islands, everything has actually really been looted from the locals.

Societies have crumpled. The plunder of the resources, of nature, of everything, was already taking place for years and decades, even centuries.

No one knows the way out of this nightmare. Most of Southeast Asia knows nothing else than this subjugation. And it is not even called a nightmare. In Southeast Asia, or in the West which controlled these societies for as long as one can remember, the horror is being glorified.

*****

And yet, yet… On the same continent, not far away, an enormous country, governed by the Communist Party, and professing ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has been building a totally new society, defining and implementing an ‘ecological civilization’, pulling hundreds of millions of citizens out of poverty, constructing a great scientific base, the fastest trains on earth, massive transit systems in each and every city, first rate schools and universities, and stunning concert halls, opera houses and museums.

And all this with only a fraction of the financial resources, calculated on a per capita basis, of those of the West.

China… A country with 6,000 years of history and culture, with about 1.4 billion inhabitants, and with an absolutely, diametrically opposite economic and social system from that which was force-fed, for decades, to the people of Southeast Asia by the West.

A country, which, by 2020, as promised by her President Xi Jinping, will have no one, be it in the cities or in the villages, living in extreme poverty.

China, a country which is growing in order to serve its people. A country which is using capitalist companies in order to fulfill Communist and socialist goals. A country with a centrally planned and greatly successful economy. Where all land belongs to the government, and the entire future – to the people.

Beijing Egg – the biggest opera house in the world

Imagine this country, near the decaying colossus of the mainly miserable, oppressed Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia, with mostly failed systems which has forced hundreds of millions of human beings to live in filthy, destitute cities and in the feudal countryside.

And now, China, with its culture based on communalism and internationalism, is extending its hand, and basically saying: “Let us grow together! Let us help our people, let’s struggle side-by-side for a much better world. Let us save, liberate, empower your hundreds of millions of men, women and children; let us protect them from hunger, illnesses, functional illiteracy and the lack of a decent future!”

All this, despite the fact that in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and elsewhere, Chinese people were often treated like animals, killed and raped in pogroms, and kept away from the governments.

This extension of the hand is called “BRI” – “The Belt and Road Initiative.”

And it is, most likely, the greatest global and internationalist initiative in the history of humankind.

It is the most optimistic, truly socialist, vision for our planet, based on sharing and the genuine commonwealth of nations.

An enormous belt of high-speed railroads, roads, super-fast communication corridors, ports and airports, but also schools and universities, high-quality hospitals for all, of film studios and publishing houses, theatres and museums.

As this essay goes to print, China just inaugurated amazing, 4.300 km long railroad, cutting across Africa, from Tanzania to Angola. This project alone will save dozens of millions of lives. I worked in Africa, for several years. I know.

I have worked in more than 160 countries on this planet. I have seen a lot. But I have never encountered any vision so confident, so positively revolutionary, and at the same time, so kind.

*****

The West will fight. It will do everything in its power to prevent the BRI from succeeding.

It will not let Southeast Asia go without a struggle. As it is not letting Central Asia go.

Recently, I analyzed the so-called “Uighur Issue”, in my detailed report compiled in Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan and Indonesia – “March of Uighurs” it is called. The West and its allies are radicalizing, arming and militarizing the Uighur ethnic minority, doing all they can to sabotage the BRI, by attempting to destroy its important center – Urumqi – in Northwest China. This may slow the projects aimed at inter-connecting China, entire Central Asia, Iran, and even Turkey and parts of Russia.

The same has been happening in Southeast Asia. The West has unleashed a tremendous propaganda force; it has employed countless NGO’s, as well as thousands of local ‘academics’ and ‘journalists’, trying to smear all China’s attempts to pull the region out from slumber and above all, from the toxic dependency on Western colonialist powers.

I have been monitoring this occurrence, in among other places, the Philippines, where the administration of President Duterte has moved the country much closer to Beijing, and away from Washington, improving greatly the lives of the great majority of the Filipino people. President Duterte enjoys the support of around 80% of his citizens, but is brutally attacked by Western media and NGO’s. He calls China “the kindest nation on earth”. This can never be forgiven in the West.

The same can be said about Laos, where China is basically revamping everything; pulling this poor and historically ruined country back to its feet, by building a high-speed rail system, modern energy sector, while constructing hospitals, schools, and even brand-new cities. And what did West do in Laos? It fought a ‘Secret War’ here, a side-kick of the Vietnam War, basically carpet-bombing with B-52s, a big part of the countryside, killing hundreds of thousands of people, just ‘preventively’, so they do not become Communists. Washington and Thailand never even apologized for these crimes against humanity.

Now when China is rescuing its neighbor, a fellow Communist nation, the West is blabbing nonsense about the ‘environment’ and ‘debt-trap’. Anyone who bothers to travel to the Plain of Jars or other ruined parts of Laos, will discover minefields left after the carpet-bombings. People are still dying there, and Western companies which produced these monstrous cluster bombs do not even share technical specifications with the de-mining agencies. Great concern about the environment! Here, U.S. bombs are used as village fences.

A similar situation in Cambodia.

And several other nations in the region, including Burma.

*****

Nobody is laughing out loud, at those Western NGOs and propaganda outlets, mainly because the West and its servile local regimes have managed to sweep their crimes, genocides and economical plunder, under the carpet.

The downfall, or call it the near collapse of Southeast Asia, is not being defined as a downfall. Far from it.

Nowhere has brainwashing been so intense and so successful as in this part of the world. The great majority of local people are nowhere near to even beginning to comprehend what had been done to them. People do not know that they are the true victims, or that a different world is actually possible.

The Brits, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spaniards, have all managed to get away with the plunder and murder, mainly because ‘education’ has been shaped by the local ‘elites’, read: shameless treasonous servants of the Western imperialism. Talk to ‘educated’ (pro-British) Malaysians; read the books of their contemporary writers (almost all funded ‘from abroad’). Then you will understand.

The United States is still admired in Indonesia, a country thoroughly impoverished and ruined by Washington’s greed and geopolitical ambitions.

But Indonesia with a quality of life equal to that of poor Sub-Saharan African countries, is not officially considered to be poor, or deprived, or fascist or even feudal. Nobody seems to be questioning its ridiculously perverted statistics. The Philippines, too, was not defined as poor and destitute, before the arrival of President Duterte, even as millions were fleeing to all corners of the world, attempting to make a living often under horrid conditions, in places such as the Gulf.

No one is laughing, because people were stripped off their ability to compare.

The glorification of capitalism and imperialism has been too powerful.

As has the smearing of Communism.

And as has been the professional and consistent attempts to discredit everything Chinese, first by the racist European colonialists, and later by Cold War warriors and propaganda gurus from Washington and London.

*****

China led by the Communist Party; socialist China with its own characteristics, is clearly misunderstood. The BRI is also, and absolutely, misunderstood. Not because it is not transparent – transparent it is. But because Western propaganda is, so to speak, constantly and professionally muddying the waters.

Everything about China’s success is turned upside-down. The biggest fear, total horror, of the West and its lackeys in the new type of colonies here, is that China is both Communist, and a tremendously successful nation.

I am not going to argue here whether China is Communist or not, and if it is, to what extent. To me, it clearly is. Both Communist and successful. As well as internationalist. That is why I am decisively on its side, and on the side of BRI.

What is indisputable is that the intentions of the West to discredit both the PRC and BRI have absolutely nothing to do with trying to find solutions to the horrid problems our world in general, and Southeast Asia in particular, are facing.

The West does not want to find solutions. It wants Southeast Asia to remain ignorant, divided and servile.

The intentions of the West are clearly self-serving. Their only goal is to keep control over this resources-rich part of the world. And to prevent China from gaining its rightful position in Asia.

For centuries, the West kept plundering, killing and enslaving Southeast Asian people. That simple. Full stop. The nightmare is continuing, to date. This time, local elites are fully involved, although, frankly, they were always involved, acting shamelessly as go-betweens for the colonialists and the enslaved people.

It is time to try a different approach, an approach which has already saved hundreds of millions of people from misery; by giving them new lives, education, health, culture and dignity. An approach which now puts ecology and the quality of life well above business and economic growth.

The people of Southeast Asia have to be informed about the choices they have.

It will not be easy, as there is no free, no alternative press there. The mass media and ‘education’ are controlled by the elites who, naturally, want to maintain the status quo.

But there are choices. For the first time in many years.

Once the people of Southeast Asia know the truth, colonialism will end. Rapidly, almost immediately.

China and its system are showing great example by their deeds, not just by words. Wherever China comes, new winds are blowing. New societies are beginning to grow. Rationality blossoms. Nihilism disappears.

Soon a new chapter of Asian history will begin. The continent will be united, by belt and by road, by solidarity, determination and a great revolutionary spirit which will lead to the unstoppable renewal of this part of the world.

• (First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Women We Are Fighting For

There are stories that are unrelated to the news, but can explain much better than many combat reports, why people like me are fighting against the Empire and imperialism, with such determination and vehemence. Not all stories are ‘big’ or ‘heroic’; not all include famous people or iconic struggles. Not all take place on battlefields.

But they ‘humanize’ the struggle.

Once in a while, I like to share such stories with my readers. As I will do right now.

Because without them, frankly, nothing really makes sense.

*****

It was a hot, humid night in Jakarta; a megapolis with the worst pollution on earth, and with some of the most monstrous contrasts on our planet. A literally sinking city, constructed against the people; fragmented, serving only the few hundred thousand extremely rich (most of them accumulating wealth through corruption and theft), while condemning millions of struggling individuals to a slow death.

For the ruthless Indonesian elites and their Western handlers, the poor of Jakarta (the great majority of city dwellers) simply do not exist. They live in crammed slums, called kampungs – literally translated as villages. Kampungs fill huge spaces between the skyscrapers, malls, and mostly empty five-star hotels. Individuals living there consume very little, and therefore matter close to nothing. Even their number is underplayed in the official statistics.

One night, my small film crew and I were driving though the Klender neighborhood in East Jakarta; a poor, religious and monotonous part of the city.

Re-editing my big film about Indonesia after the US-sponsored military coup of 1965, an event which I often describe as an “Intellectual Hiroshima”, I had to again spend a few days in Jakarta, collecting latest footage, filming contrasts between the people and feudal elites.

We were all tired. Traffic jams have brought the city to an almost permanent gridlock. The pollution is unbearable. Life has come to a standstill. As planned by the regime, no one seemed to be thinking. Nothing seemed to be working.

We were driving past Klender train station a few minutes after midnight.

There were two young women standing by the side of the road. One of them caught my eye. She was clearly a prostitute, or a ‘sex-worker’, as they would call her in the West. But in reality, no, she was not a ‘worker’; not her. Just an abused, tired women.

I liked her face. Hers was an honest, good face. And after all that nonsense I heard during the day, after all that ‘feel good’ crap, I needed to hear something real, honest.

“Stop!” I shouted at my driver. He stepped on the brakes, then backed up a few meters.

“I want to talk to her,” I explained. Then to her: “I want to talk to you.”

She did not find my request strange. She nodded. After years of moving all around the world, while documenting the state of our humanity, I have developed certain instincts. I can tell from the faces of people, whether they have a story to tell; and whether they have the desire to speak. She did, both.

We emptied the front seat for her, next to the driver. She got in. Jakarta is a dangerous city, especially for women. But she did not seem to be frightened. She trusted me, as I trusted her.

“My name is Andre,” I said. “I am a filmmaker, and this is my team”.

“My name is Risna,” she answered and smiled.

“I want to hear your story,” I said.

“OK,” she said.

“Do you mind if I film?”

“Go ahead. I don’t mind.”

I put my GH5 over my knee, turned on the little light on the ceiling of the car, and pressed the “Record” button.

Just like that. No coaching, no preparation. And then it happened. She spoke. Clearly. Bitterly. Honestly.

*****

“It was four of us,” she began, softly:

Four children. Little ones. Two boys and two girls. Our father, a pious religious man, used to use all of us. He had sex with us, with males and females. By then our mother was gone. He wanted to get married for the second time. To a young woman. But he had no money. And so, he began pimping all of us, for cash, so he could save enough, to start his new family. All four of us… you know; we all failed in life. At seven, I often slept on the streets. My siblings are all dysfunctional. I got married, had children, but my husband left me. I’m thirty years old now. I do this to support my children, and my brothers and sister.

Trains kept passing-by. Loud express trains, rushing to far away cities: Yogyakarta, Solo, Surabaya.

“I couldn’t talk to anybody. Here, it is always woman’s fault. No matter what happens, it is woman’s fault.”

I was frozen in my seat.

“This is my story.”

“And now?” I could not think about anything else to ask.

“Now I am speaking to you.”

I stopped the car in the middle of the night. I wanted to hear a story of a woman who was working by the side of the road. And that is precisely what I got: she described to me, briefly, her life.

She did it in a simple, touchingly naïve, pure way. There was nothing unnatural in her voice.

She spoke for herself, and for millions of Indonesian women like her, too.

I cared about her, but did not know how to express it, what to say.

We spoke for a bit, about the terrible fate of women in Indonesia. About the hypocrisy of this society. But it was well after midnight, and she had to earn her living. I had to let her go.

“You will be in my film, together with your former President Gus Dur, and the greatest writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.”

She nodded, in a matter of fact way.

“What do you dream about?”

And that’s when her eyes filled with tears:

“I want to raise my children as a good mother; from honest work.”

I looked at the monitor of my camera. 8 minutes and few seconds had passed since I began recording. One human life, in a summary. One complex, broken human life. I bowed to her. Shook her hand. Thanked her.

“Do you have hope?”

She looked at me, deep into my eyes. Then she nodded.

“Yes!”

*****

At night, I couldn’t sleep.

I knew all about what she was talking about. My friend who works for the UNDP once explained to me, that Indonesia has one of the highest child abandonment rates in the world. And also, one of the highest amounts of sexual child abuse cases, particularly inside families; committed by family members. All these topics are taboo, and no ‘official’ study can be produced, as most women are only willing to speak ‘off the record’.

In Indonesia, after 1965, everything collapsed; was destroyed. But this downfall, and almost nothing related to it, can be discussed openly. Here, the fear of truth is omnipresent, and I will soon address this shocking issue in one of my upcoming essays.

*****

In 1979, when the pro-US Somoza’s regime collapsed and the Sandinistas took over the devastated Nicaragua, my friend, an American poet and translator, happened to be in Managua.

He was very young and confused.

He understood, theoretically, the greatness of the revolution. But he was still lacking examples.

Then, one afternoon, he saw a bus. A beat-up public bus, slowly moving towards the center of the city, while sun was setting down, behind the hills.

He told me the story, a long time ago, in New York, as I was ready to depart for Peru, to cover the so-called Dirty War:

It was the end of the week. The bus was full of girls; young women from slums. Some were barefoot. But they were dressed in their best. They were travelling to the center of the capital, to dance!

The voice of my friend broke. He was overwhelmed by his memories.

Do you understand? Before, they only went to the rich parts of the city in order to serve, to be humiliated, used; to labor for the rich. Now, they were going to those clubs that only a week ago were frequented exclusively by ‘gringos’ and local elites. They were going to dance. It was their country, suddenly. It was their city. They were free. The country belonged to them.

“This is when I understood,” he concluded, “that the revolution was right. Not because I studied Marxism, not because of some theory. But because these girls from the poor neighborhoods of Managua had suddenly gained the right to dance. They gained their right to exist; to be alive!”

*****

In Cuba, they say: “Everyone dances, or no one dances!”

Covering the world, documenting wars, conflicts, but also revolutions, I often encounter women like Risna.

Whenever countries collapse, whenever they are destroyed by savage capitalism, by religious extremism, or by subservience to imperialist powers, women suffer the most. It is almost the rule.

Most of them suffer in silence, as even their voices are being muted.

The more oppressive, regressive society gets, the more subjugated are its women.

Their humiliation, repression, suffering gets glorified as virtue. While rape, molestation, and submission are hushed up, never discussed. In countries such as Indonesia, if a woman protests and speaks about her fate, she gets ridiculed, discredited, or even thrown into prison, as has happened recently, on several well-publicized occasions.

Western hypocrisy is obvious: while everyone there is obsessed with ‘political correctness’, London, Washington and Paris are glorifying, supporting and even producing regimes which treat women worse than animals.

*****

Risna deserves to be in one of those proverbial buses which are taking women to the once exclusive clubs, so they can dance. In a rough translation of the metaphor: ‘so they could become the owners of their own fate, of their cities, and their country’.

Women like her are the women we are fighting for.

Their stories are our stories. Be they in Managua, Jakarta, Kampala, or Mumbai.

They are as significant as those stories from the war zones near Syrian Idlib, or Afghanistan, or Libya.

Not to tell such stories would convert us, revolutionary writers, into liars.

Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

In Indonesian Borneo: Humiliate Native People, then loot their land

You will never read about it, but Dayak people, the “First Nation” of the enormous island of Borneo, are broken, robbed and brainwashed.

“Unity in diversity” it says; the motto of Indonesia. But it could be argued that the opposite is true. There is very little unity, and less and less diversity, as the country is controlled from Jakarta, an enormous, overpopulated stinky and sinking megapolis which is located on the island of Java.

Jakarta does not want to allow any dissent. For half a century it has made sure that everyone on this huge and unfortunate archipelago thinks the same, while desiring no improvement. Here, everyone is religious, everyone anti-Communist and fanatically pro-capitalist. The result is: the country collapsed, a long time ago, but ‘no one noticed’. While the Western media is paid ‘not to notice’.

“It is a modern-time colonialism”, I heard thousands of times. Java is perceived by many who are living on those proverbial thousands of islands (the Indonesian archipelago has over 17 thousand isles which are spread over a great area), as a colonialist, aggressive and morally corrupt entity. No wonder: after independence from Netherlands, the country was formed, generally, along the old colonial boundaries.

During the era of the progressive anti-imperialist President Ahmed Sukarno, Indonesia was at least a co-founder of the Non-aligned Movement. It nationalized its natural resources, while building an enlightened socialist motherland.

That did not last very long. Following the West-sponsored brutal military coup of 1965, socialism was destroyed, Communists and atheists murdered, and the US-style neo-colonialist rule managed to smash all hopes for a better future.

Ever since, most of the islands have been run as colonies: pillaged, and oppressed. The ‘transmigration’ policy has been turning local people into a minority, at least in the various ‘strategic’ areas. Those have literally been flooded with state-sponsored immigrants from Java, Southern Sumatra, and other densely-populated Sunni Muslim parts of the country.

Modern-day Indonesia has lived through three cruel genocides in its modern history: one triggered during and after the fascist coup (1965/66), then one that was perpetrated in (formerly) occupied East Timor, and the one, on-going one, in the conquered West Papua. But that is not all: terrible inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts have been shaking Indonesia for decades: from Aceh to Sulawesi, Ambon, Kalimantan (Borneo), to name just a few. Anti-Chinese pogroms have been common for centuries.

If there were to be a referendum, most of the islands, including the tourist island of Bali, would opt for independence. But that is a hushed fact, as it would never be allowed. The unproductive and depressingly over-populated island of Java virtually lives off the plundering of the riches of the entire archipelago. Indonesia’s ‘wealth’ mainly comes from commodities; from unbridled plundering of the outer islands.

Polluted waterways of Kalimantan

That, of course, is true about one of the biggest booty – the enormous Kalimantan.

Many of the filthy rich Javanese families are connected to the plunder. Their wealth comes directly from destruction of the archipelago. The five-star hotels surrounded by Jakarta’s slums, malls with overpriced European brand names, and tasteless villas in gated communities, are built on blood and robbery.

*****

The island of Borneo is the third largest island on earth, after Greenland and Papua. It is shared by Indonesia (where it is known as Kalimantan), and also by Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. And it has, or more precisely, it used to count on all kinds of imaginable treasures, from oil to coal, gold, uranium and timber.

 

 

Entering Indonesian Kalimantan from Malaysia

It also used to be one of the most pristine and stunning parts of the world, covered by plush native forests, which grew all along the mighty and clean tropical waterways.

Borneo’s native people, the Dayaks, used to live in true symbiosis with nature. Whatever their internal problems were, they never tried to conquer other islands.

But this self-contained paradise had been brutally penetrated and eventually destroyed; first by the Dutch colonialists, and later by the legendary Javanese greed united with Western multi-national companies.

Today, Borneo, or at least its Indonesian part, is almost entirely ruined. Most of its forests have been cut down, giving way to the endless and toxic oil palm plantations. Rivers where gold is being mined both legally and illegally, are poisoned by mercury, while entire mountains are levelled by local and foreign mining companies. Coal mines are of tremendous proportions, and expanding.

Horrid palm oil

The wisdom of the local people is still alive, but only deep in what is left of the native forests. Most of the ‘modern-day’ Dayak people have been cannily incorporated by the regime into the system which thrives on plundering of the land and of all that nature holds above and below the surface.

*****

Mr. Krisusandi, the chief of “Dayakology Institute” located in the city of Pontianak, West Kalimantan, does not hide his frustration, when he sits across the table from us, in his office:

West Kalimantan has more than 150 ethnic groups of Dayaks. Each has its own language and culture… and that’s only in the area of West Kalimantan! To call them all by the same name – Dayak – is derogatory, inaccurate.

Local people used to inhabit some of the richest lands on earth, in terms of natural resources,” I suggest. Mr. Krisusandi agrees:

Precisely. And this is precisely the curse; the key to understanding why, compared to other indigenous societies, the oppression of Dayaks is the worst.

During Suharto’s ‘New Order’, the regime developed stigmas and stereotypes, belittling and humiliating Dayaks; like that they are ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ and ‘uncivilized’. The military, the fascists, got used to judging Dayaks as forest dwellers and destroyers. The result: Dayak society got discriminated against, losing its culture, independence, and even began feeling shame for being what it is.

Because of that shame, Dayaks have been lulled into converting to Islam, or to Christianity. And after that, they were not Dayaks, anymore! Consequently, they were forced to accept the centralized education system, which has been totally ignoring the local knowledge.

That was, of course, not all. The so-called ‘New Order’ of Suharto’s pro-Western cronies and collaborators, was determined to liquidate all left-wing beliefs. That’s what it was ordered to do by Washington. And Indonesian culture before 1965 was at least ‘communitarian’, if not out rightly Communist. The cultures of Dayak people were no exception.

Mr. Krisusandi confirmed, readily:

’New Order’ believed that it had hegemony on ‘modernization’. And they saw even traditional ‘longhouses’ as something ‘Communist’. They used to call them ‘filthy’, or even ‘fire hazards’. The regime was totally anti-Communist, and it branded all Dayaks as ‘Communists’. Actually, it went to such an absurd extreme that each and every person who refused to abandon his or her longhouse and traditional way of living, was branded as a Communist.

To be a ‘Communist’ was, for decades, synonymous with the highest crime, punishable by death.

It was terrible suffering to be a Dayak then, and in many ways, it still is now. On top of it, all this was accompanied by the theft of land.

As I mentioned before, most of the Dayaks were forcibly converted to Islam, or Christianized. For some, it was the only way how to get ahead. Those who accepted Islam were registered as ‘Malays’, and as a ‘reward’, some were even allowed to became government officials.

*****

Julia, a female activist and researcher from West Kalimantan, now a PhD student at Bonn University in Germany, gave a similar testimony as Mr. Krisusandi’s:

The marginalization and stigmatization of Dayak people in West Kalimantan during the New Order era occurred in a structured and in a systematic way. For example, at the beginning of the New Order period, there was a massive demolition of longhouses, Dayak traditional settlements, in West Kalimantan. Only few survived, and those that remained were only in the inland areas, such as Kapuas Hulu. Infrastructure facilities (mainly roads) to access Dayak settlements in remote areas were also very far behind, with the consequences such as the lack of access to education, health services, etc. The social stigma was created: Dayaks were perceived as backward, stupid, and primitive. Most of Dayak people have been feeling embarrassed to be associated with their Dayak identity. There were even attempts made to rename “Dayaks”, calling them “Daya”.

Ms. Fidelia, a retired schoolteacher, who lives in Singkawang, West Kalimantan:

Based on my experience as a primary school teacher during the 1980s, I felt that compared to the other students, my Dayak pupils found it relatively more difficult to grasp knowledge. Most of the Dayaks live in the interior of Borneo. For more than three decades, Suharto’s government made the conditions of the rural Kalimantan very tough; the interior of the island remained underdeveloped and very hard to access. Because of this isolation, people have been experiencing lack of basic services and facilities, such as education.

Misery in rural Kalimantan is widespread. Enormous palm oil plantations turned huge areas into monocultures. Local people who stayed, are now forced to basically import everything from outside. Life has become extremely expensive. Thousands of villages are literally surrounded, choking by commercial entities. The traditional, natural way of life is totally ruined.

*****

To obtain any substantial information in the cities and villages of Kalimantan, is almost impossible. That is why the tragedy of this plundered island is almost ‘undocumented’.

People are scared to talk, or they do not comprehend their own conditions and their position in the Indonesian and global context.

In Banjarmasin, Palangkaraya, Pontianak and in other urban and rural areas of Kalimantan, people who live in absolute destitution, are refusing to even admit that they are poor. The inhabitants of filthy and hopeless slums lacking almost all basic services, consider their life ‘normal’, and most of them describe their state as ‘pasrah’, which means ‘abandoning, surrendering their lives to fate and God’.

Just as in the rest of Indonesia, oppressive forms of religion (mainly Saudi-style Wahhabi Sunni Islam) have already managed to take full control over the population. Under such conditions, no rebellion is possible. This is, of course, a brilliant arrangement for savage capitalism and for the bunch of corrupt captains of the Indonesian regime.

Since 1965, the logic of pro-Western rulers was simple and effective: ‘Do not allow the arts, philosophy and creativity to ‘pollute’ people’s minds. Kill everything socialist and communist. Make Indonesian citizens simple, pious, uniformed, and uninformed. Smash everyone who is different.

Native people in the resource-rich parts of the archipelago (such as Kalimantan) were the most affected. They have been treated precisely as the South Americans were treated by their Spanish or Portuguese colonialist masters and tormentors: all the resources have been stolen, while local beliefs and languages smashed. Simultaneously, totally foreign religious concepts have been pushed down their throats. Those who were willing to collaborate, were given important government and academic positions, ridiculous titles, and at least some cut from the loot.

Monstrous mines in Borneo

The price was terrible: the destruction of both land and the original population. The ‘primitive people of the forest’ were actually much more advanced than their conquerors. They knew how to live with their nature, their environment. Before colonialism, rivers and forests, mountains and villages were intact and thriving. The destruction of local culture led to the collapse of the environment, and in the case of Borneo, of the entire island.

*****

I am making a long documentary film here: about this damaged culture, and about the whole island that used to be much closer to ‘paradise’, than any other place on Earth. As I film, in all the corners of Borneo, I feel terrified. What I see is indescribable. I have to use visuals, images, to prove the point. Words are not enough. It often feels that the destruction is unreal; that all this is just a nightmare, that I will wake up, that the horror will go away. But it is real; nothing goes away. People, their greed, are capable of ruining anything, even the most stunning places on our planet.

Mr. Krisusandi speaks about his Institute of Dayakology with pride:

We established it, in order to return dignity to our people.

Then he recalls the terrible on-going struggle:

In the beginning, when the destruction of the longhouses began, there was a fight. But the government was canny; it introduced so-called logging concessions. It also accelerated trans-migration from several over-populated parts of Indonesia, predominantly from Java. In the name of ‘development’, government took over all land, and sold it to companies that began planting palm oil, or introducing indiscriminate mining. Dayaks could do nothing. They became powerless; coolies on their own land.

During the so-called ‘reform period’, after Suharto stepped down, the situation marginally improved; but by then, the Dayaks had almost no intellectuals. And those who were ‘educated’ during ‘New Order’, had typical ‘developmentalist’ mindsets. They sold out; they even began oppressing their own people.

A prominent educator from West Kalimantan, who did not want to be identified out of fear of losing his job, clarified:

On my island, being so-called educated could lead to something negative. A Dayak person who goes through the formal Indonesian education system, could and usually would end up following only his or her own mercantile interests, and consequently do harm to both community and nature.

What he meant is that the person often chooses to work for the companies or the government, that are intensively ruining the Borneo island, while further indoctrinating and disempowering local population.

%22Communist%22 – the-longest longhouse in the world deep-in-rainforest

While deep in Borneo, one year ago, we visited a longhouse, where we were told by Mr. Paulus, the elder in a traditional Bali Gundi longhouse in the Putusibau area:

People who go to school; they get smarter and cannier and then they work for the government and companies, they forget to help their villages and hometowns. As long as they get money they do not care anymore.

Recently, President Jokowi decided to at least give some land back to the Dayak people. It was a symbolic gesture, but practically, nothing changed, and almost nothing was returned to the native people.

As confirmed by Mr. Krisusandi:

It is now actually almost impossible to give anything back to the people. West Kalimantan consists of roughly 12 million hectares of land. Concessions, those for palm oil, mining and other commercial activities, were already given 13 million hectares. With national parks, a total of 16 million hectares is already committed. So, just calculate: it is 4 million hectares more than total area of West Kalimantan!

I think about those once mighty and pure rivers, endless tropical forests, deep and ancient cultures of local people. I close my eyes, trying to imagine hundreds of already vanished species of fauna and flora. Then, I imagine the huge, repulsive, kitschy dwellings of local ‘elites’, in Jakarta and Surabaya. I imagine European and North American cities built from the loot of places such as Kalimantan.

Kalimantan Devastation

“Will Dayak people fight for their rights?” I asked.

“Maybe the next generation will,” comes the hesitant reply. “But not this one. Definitely not this one.”

In Palangkaraya city, we spoke to one of the most prominent Dayaks, an author J.J.  Kusni, a man who spent long years in France, but finally returned to his native land.

I filmed his long, passionate testimony, in which he expressed sadness, even outrage over the state into which the Dayak people were reduced.

“Philosophically, a Dayak is a fighter,” he said.

But the spirit of Dayak people was obviously smashed. Most of them have become victims, while others were convinced to convert themselves into collaborators. The entire Indonesian part of the Island of Borneo is now burned down, poisoned and logged out. There are few ‘protected parks’, but even in the middle of them, commercial activities are now detectable. Entire original cultures here are humiliated. People are confused. Most of them gave up, accepted, resigned.

Destruction and thorough ruin are being propagated as ‘progress’, by the Indonesian regime. Brainwashing is passed as ‘education’.

“Through the national and even village government structures established by Suharto, everything in Kalimantan became “Javanized”,” explained J.J. Kusni.

“So, what are the Dayak people doing?” I asked.

“They are crying,” he replied curtly.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Filming in the Most Depressing City on Earth: Jakarta

It stinks, it is the most polluted city on earth, but that is not the most terrible thing about it.

You can drive for ten or even twenty kilometers through it, and see only ugliness, fences and broken pavements. But there are many miserable cities on this planet, and I have worked in almost all of them, in 160 countries.

So why is ‘Jakarta killing me’?  Why am I overwhelmed by depression whenever I decide to film here, or to write about the state in which its citizens are forced to live? Why, really, do I feel so desperate, so hopeless?

I am tough. I hardly succumb to depression even in such places like the war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, or in the middle of the toughest slums of Africa.

So, what is it, really, about Jakarta?

Here, I often speak about ‘immorality’, but again, what do I mean by this term? I am not a moralist, far from it. I have no religion, and I very rarely pass ‘moral judgments’, unless something truly outrageous unveils in front of my eyes.

So why, as so many others, do I land in this city in good spirits, and leave one or two weeks sick, broken, literally shitting my pants, full of wrath, despair?

Why? The Western mass media and local servile sheets are constantly bombarding the world, describing Jakarta as a ‘sprawling metropolis’, or to use the terminology of the Australian National University, as a ‘normal city’.

But it is not. In fact, it is the most ‘immoral’ place on earth that I know. It is one enormous monument to fascism, intellectual collapse, Western neo-colonialism and turbo-capitalism.

This time, right here, I will explain, briefly and determinately, why!

*****

You can actually avoid feeling this way, if you decide to land in Jakarta, work for a week or two surrounded by local ‘elites’ (usually shameless thugs), sail through life here with half-closed eyes. Or if you get paid well ‘not to see’. You can also be a Western journo who lives in one of high-rise condominiums, gets himself local bimbo for a girlfriend, and collects his ‘news’ from official briefings and press conferences.

Such foreign ‘visitors’ are warmly welcomed in Jakarta, and they get incorporated into the life of local tsars, of feudal ‘cream’, of bandits who double as business people or politicians.

It is not so difficult! You land at that lavish Terminal 3 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (half of things do not work here, already, or ‘yet’, but the terminal does look lavish), you can take a luxury limo to one of so many 5-star hotels, have meetings at a steel-and-glass office tower, dine in a posh mall where nobody shops (a money laundering concept), but where those with unlimited budgets, often dine. After all this you can leave thinking that Jakarta is just cool – bit ‘shallow’, too loud and too vulgar – but a ‘kind of cool’ city.

And you can, if you choose to never learn that about 90% of its citizens are actually living in slums.

That is, if ‘international standards’ for what is a ‘slum’ and what is ‘poverty’ or extreme poverty, were to apply here.

You see, ‘officially’, according to the treasonous Indonesian regime, only 9.9% of Indonesians are ‘poor’.

In Indonesia, you are not really ‘poor’, not necessarily, if you or your children are shitting into canal, and that canal is literally toxic from chemical, medical or other waste, and if, just a few meters ‘down the stream’, someone is washing clothes, or even brushing teeth, getting bit of your excrement. You are not ‘poor’ if you have no access to clean water, or to a decent electricity supply (almost nobody does in Jakarta, as the voltage fluctuates and destroys almost all electric appliances in no time). You are not poor if your children cannot afford to eat milk products and become physically or mentally ill from a lack of vitamins, minerals, or out rightly suffering from malnutrition. You are not poor if you are ‘functionally illiterate’, cannot compare and know close to nothing about the world.

In Indonesia, you are poor if your income is below Rp.400.000 per month (the definition applied since March, 2018). That is, as I write this essay, the equivalent of US$26 per month. Even the most cynical ‘absolute poverty’ line stands at US$1.25.

According to the UN declaration that resulted from the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, absolute poverty is “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information. It depends not only on income, but also on access to services.”

If this definition were to be applied to Jakarta, at least, but probably more, than 90% of the population would have to be considered as ‘absolutely poor’. And most likely between 95 and 98 percent of people all over the entire archipelago.

But this whole country is wrapped in a duvet of lies and fabrications. Several years ago, when I was writing my big book about Indonesia Archipelago of Fear, Pluto, UK), I spoke to several leading statisticians from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), which is based in Montreal, Canada. I was told, on the record, that Indonesia does not have 245 million people as was commonly reported, but more than 300 million. However, all international and local statisticians are strongly discouraged from disclosing the real numbers. Why? Because those 60 or probably millions of more people simply ‘do not exist’.

If they ‘do not exist’, the state, the government, the regime, do not have to take care of them, to feed them, to even bother registering them. These are the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable individuals.

Almost everywhere in the world, poor countries are addressing their social problems publicly, because they want to raise awareness of the plight of their people. Some nations are then combating their problems themselves (like China or Venezuela), or they are asking the international community for help.

In Indonesia, the rulers are covering-up the true horrors of the Indonesian reality. Why?

Because they don’t give a damn about the poor. They couldn’t care less about the great majority that actually lives in destitution. They don’t need ‘help’, because the people do not matter. What matters is the profits of the few who are from the ‘elites’, as well as servitude and prostitution to the Western rulers. After all, it was the West that triggered the 1965 coup in which between 1-3 million intellectuals, ‘atheists’, Communists and unionists lost their lives. And so, the Indonesian treasonous business ‘heads’, the military generals, religious leaders as well as the servile scholars and media ‘stars’ are merrily prostituting themselves, eternally grateful to Washington, London and Riyadh, for saving them from the just and egalitarian society, which the great father of the nation Soekarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were aiming at.

‘Positive statistics’, which are actually easily detectable lies, bring ‘more investment’ for their enterprises. Or so they believe. The Indonesian economy is almost exclusively based on the plunder of natural resources by foreign multi-nationals, as well as local companies. Profits end up in the pockets of very few. The business of the savage plundering of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra and Papua has been monumental. The country has been almost fully stripped of its forests; it has leveled to the ground entire mountains and polluted mighty rivers. But the loot flows abroad, or it stays in the pockets of Jakarta’s chosen few.  Apart from ‘commodities’, Indonesia produces almost nothing of value. Its scientific research is basically nil, and its intellectual output minimal. Even judged by Western standards: the 4th most populous country on the planet, does not have one single Noble Prize laureate, and not one internationally recognizable thinker or a writer.

And so, there are those 5-star hotel towers, office buildings, and ridiculously overpriced malls and supermarkets (most of them designed and built by foreign companies), basically catering for those who steal, and never had to work for their money.

Living in slums that are not called slums

But in between, there are the so-called kampungs – ‘villages’ – where the great majority of Jakarta’s citizens live. A Kampung sounds romantic, but in reality, it is not – anywhere else on earth it would be called a slum. The slums of Jakarta and, in fact, of the entire Indonesia, are rat-infested, open sewage colossuses, with dark narrow alleys, toxic canals, and extremely limited access to drinking water (water in the capital was privatized by French and British companies, and as a result, the quality dropped and prices became unrealistically steep for the majority of people).

Except for just a few tiny dirty specks of green areas, and the most of the time closed small square in the center of the city called Monas, Jakarta has no public parks. Forget about public playgrounds for children, or public exercise machines! In fact, Jakarta has nothing ‘public’ left. Nothing ‘belongs to people’ – as everything was sold, corrupted, grabbed and privatized. A family of 4 has to pay around 7 USD to even enter Ancol, the only available beach area, despite the fact that Jakarta is theoretically a maritime city. But even in Ancol, despite the entrance fee, the tiny beach is littered with garbage, and a narrow promenade is broken and outrageously filthy. Otherwise – there is nothing!

A tiny public space a la Jakarta

In one enormous slum (sorry, kampung), I recently filmed hundreds of children playing in the middle of a cemetery, simply because they have no other places to go.

On the other hand, Jakarta has more mosques per square kilometer than any other city on earth that I know (and I have visited almost all Muslim countries). Mosques and small mushollahs, are literally growing on every street, often taking over land that should be intended for public use. But unlike in Malaysia or Turkey, these religious institutions do not provide playgrounds for children, or a ‘public space’.

The contrast between the tiny minority of extremely rich, and the destitute majority (I don’t believe that Jakarta has any substantial ‘middle class’, anymore), is so tremendous, that these two groups appear to be living on two absolutely different planets, while inhabiting the same city. The structure of Jakarta is such that the two realities often never even meet. And it is considered normal, by both the exploiters and the deprived masses.

Poor are used to being poor, obedient and ‘entrusting their fate into God’s hands’, in the Indonesian language called pasrah. And the rich are secretly laughing at the poor, all the way to the bank. I know them, the rich of Indonesia, too. I worked, for decades, with Indonesians from across the spectrum – from the poorest of the poor, to the richest of the rich.

*****

So why do I feel as I do? Why do I want to throw up?

Haven’t I worked in Mathare and the other tremendous slums of Nairobi, Kenya, or in Uganda, or India?

Yes, of course. I made films about the misery in Africa. But it is different there. In the entire city of Nairobi, which is the so-called service center of East Africa (much of the money from Uganda, Rwanda and even DRC Congo is being washed there), there is only one truly huge luxury mall, of which Jakarta has dozens. Comparing the palaces (ugly, vulgar, but palaces) that the Indonesians are building from the blood and sweat of the poor and from the theft of the natural resources, with those in Africa, the African ‘elites’ at least have some shame left. They don’t make contrasts so visible. They intuitively know that what they are doing is wrong, and often try to hide their wealth.

And in Africa, slums are called slums, and every slum dweller knows that his or her life is shit.

In India, things are bad, almost as bad as in Indonesia, but at least there is some true resistance, and the Communist Parties are regularly in control of various Indian states. Left-wing guerillas are fighting a civil war all over the sub-continent, and the country has some true great thinkers and intellectuals, most of them from the left.

The Indonesian poor have no idea that they are poor, they ‘thank God’ for what they have, or, more precisely ‘do not have’. And the super-rich looters are proud of their achievements. They are hiding nothing. On the contrary – they flash their wealth, knowing that they are above the law, or any moral principles. They drive their Mercedes limos right next to the slums, without fear. They are actually respected, not only feared. The more they steal, the more they are admired.

And if they are crossed, they kill.

They kill human rights activists, peasants who refuse to give up their land, or anyone who stands in their way.

Justice is totally corrupted. Actually, everything is. Only those who pay are protected.

To even just irritate the true owners of the city can lead to death. In Archipelago of Fear I wrote about the case of an owner of the former Hilton Hotel, who shot a waiter point-blank in his own establishment. Why? Because he had humbly dared to inform the owner’s girlfriend that her credit card had been declined. For the murder he only got a few years, and he bribed himself out just a few months after being put behind bars.

Not long ago, they put into prison the former moderately left-wing governor of Jakarta, known as Ahok, for trying to improve the infrastructure, sanitation and public transportation. The official charge: “insulting Islam”. A bad joke, really, as almost all Indonesian linguists agreed that there was no insult whatsoever. But again, it worked: to do something for the people, one risks being branded as a socialist, or a Communist (which here is illegal). To pay too much attention to the wellbeing of the common citizens may brand you as an atheist, which is also illegal. So, if you build a few new train lines, a few sidewalks, erect a couple of parks; you are risking ending up deep behind bars. Religions – be they Wahhabism or Pentecostal Christianity – have, for decades, been fully encouraged by the West, which is gaining greatly from destitution, ignorance and the obedience of the Indonesian masses.

Yes, I have seen a lot of horrors in this world, and faced indescribable cynicism. But Indonesia is truly ‘unique’, and so is its capital city.

It is like a huge, decaying carcass of a fish, inside which 12 million people breathe the most polluted air on earth, surrounded by indescribably ugliness, gloominess and pop-ridden meaninglessness.

And there is no fight, no true rebellion against this totally fascist arrangement of the city and the society.

The poor ‘know their place’. They have obediently accepted their fate. They steal from each other, insult and oppress each other. They do not dare to take on the real usurpers and bandit rulers. Or more precisely: they do not find them to be the real reason of their plight. In Jakarta, there is so much tension and hatred, but it is not directed against those who brought the city and the nation to their knees.

All this, while the rich do not even bother to look down at the masses. They actually do not even notice that the masses even exist. They make sure of not counting the tens of millions of monstrously poor human beings.

And the West lies, its media lies, and so do its economists.

Read the US and European newspapers and you will be told that Jakarta is a ‘sprawling metropolis’, that Indonesia is the ‘third biggest democracy’ (my god, according to them, India is No. 1), and that the Indonesian religions are moderate and tolerant.

*****

Jakarta is a shameless fusion of fascism and feudalism. As the great Australian painter George Burchett (the son of the legendary left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett) once told me: “Cities are usually built for the people. But the Indonesian cities, particularly Jakarta, are built against the people.”

Ciputra Mall

I have written many times about Jakarta’s ‘cultural offering’. With 12 million inhabitants, it has not one permanent concert hall, its cinemas exclusively showing Hollywood junk, with some variations of Southeast Asian horrors and other garbage. The only art cinema at TIM has only around 30 seats and a very sporadic schedule. The few modern art museums are all privately owned, and avoid all social topics, or any criticism of capitalism and Western imperialism. But there are, of course, the paintings of Warhol and a few decadent Chinese artists mocking Communism, hanging on their walls. This way, the local elites can get even further indoctrinated, while taking their selfies.

Deeper thoughts are discouraged. Pop culture – its lowest grade – is literally everywhere. Intellectually, the city has been ruined since 1965.

Noise is everywhere, too. Loud, aggressive noise. Monstrous decibels that would be banned anywhere else in the world, beat people who are visiting malls. Mosques all over the city are, unlike their counterparts even in the Middle East or Malaysia, broadcasting entire sermons over the Orwellian-style loudspeakers, at least five hours a day, but sometimes much longer. Churches of extreme right-wing orientations preach ‘Prosperity Gospel’, periodically telling the worshipers that “God loves the rich and that is why they are rich, while hating the poor and that is the reason why they are poor.” To escape religions is impossible. To escape noise is impossible. It often appears that the people of Jakarta are terrified of silence. Silence would make them think, and thinking could lead to some extremely frightening conclusions.

*****

And therefore, I film.

I film broken pavements – tiny narrow sidewalks made from unmatched tiles, polluting scooters and unhygienic eateries blocking the way of the few daring pedestrians. Why is all that happening? Because nothing public is respected or put together well. Everything that is not for a fee, is simply dreadful. And it is designed to remain that way.

I am filming slums. I am filming filth, such filth which these days hardly exists even on the Sub-Continent. I cannot believe my own eyes, and so I film. I always believe my lenses.

Bus way stop — doors not working, people often fall to their death

I know the arteries of the city, big and small. I know the corners, back alleys, clogged waterways. I know the humiliated, imprisoned waterways, surrounded by miserable dwellings.

I know the old city – Kota Tua, built by the Dutch and so badly restored, that UNESCO recently refused to put it on its prestigious World Heritage Sites list.

It is easy to accuse me of being anti-capitalist, or “anti-Indonesian regime” of thieves and of barefaced collaborators. But it is impossible to accuse me of not knowing the country and its capital city. I have literally been everywhere, covering every conflict here, for more than twenty years, witnessing the atrocities committed against the people, nature and the culture.

Wherever I go in this world, I speak about Indonesia and Jakarta. It is my warning to the world.

The Indonesian nightmarish scenario has already been implemented in many parts of the world, by Western imperialism, but, has often failed as it was too monstrous for other people to swallow. The West tried to replicate Jakarta in those countries that I deeply love and call home: they tried it in Pinochet’s Chile (“Watch out, comrades, Jakarta is coming”, Allende’s people were told), but Chile rose and both the regime and the fascist system were smashed. They tried it in Yeltsin’s Russia, and again, the people rejected this horrible extremist horror show.

Jakarta is not just a city – it is a concept. Perhaps it should one day become a verb – “to Jakarta”. That would mean, to sacrifice people to greed, corruption, business, religion and foreign interests.

But it is not omnipotent. It can be confronted and defeated. We fought against Jakarta in both Santiago de Chile and Moscow. And we won.

And we will win elsewhere, too. Maybe even in Jakarta itself, one day…

All this explains why I often come to both Borneo and Jakarta – to work on films, to define and document the horror, to warn the world what has already been done to the Indonesian nation.

I try to cut through lies. I try to explain that Dilma Rousseff, the former President of Brazil who was impeached (during a constitutional coup) because of the ‘massaging of statistics’ before the elections (something that is commonly done in many countries including those in the West) would have to be, theoretically, executed by a firing squad, or quartered by a mob, if she were to do proportionally what the government of Indonesia is doing without any scruples or second thought. In Jakarta, they do not ‘massage’ – they pervert, lie, and call black, white, and day, night. And they get away with everything. No one dares to challenge them. And they get rewarded by the West – as long as they rob the country and its people of everything, and deliver huge part of the loot to the gates of Washington, Canberra, Paris and London.

I get exhausted. And ‘broke’ once in a while (because almost nobody wants to read about Indonesia, or watch films about it). And once in a while I get thoroughly depressed, temporarily losing faith in humanity. And I shit from the terrible food. And I get sick from the pollution. And I get exhausted from constant racist insults of the passers-by in this, one of the most racist countries on earth, which in just a bit over half a century has committed 3 monstrous genocides: in 1965, against the people of East Timor, and now against the Papuans. It is constant ‘bule’ (albino, or worse), but I am lucky, as my Chinese comrades suffer much worse insults, and, of course, my African comrades do as well, not to speak of my Papuan brothers!

Fascist Jakarta is a tough adversary. But I am tough, too. And so I go, drive and crawl through the dirt, noise and insults. Because it is needed. Because here is buried the key to the countless other conflicts that the West has implanted all over the world.

The Economist once described Indonesia as the least documented large country on earth. Right. And there are many reasons for it. I often describe 1965 as a “Cultural Hiroshima”, because almost all the intellectuals were either, killed, imprisoned or muzzled – overnight, and on the direct suggestions and orders from the West.

This is the most intellectually and mentally damaged country on earth, which often feels like one huge mental asylum. It is the biggest untold story of the 20th Century. Too many people got killed here. Too many people had killed. Everybody fears everything. But nobody dares to speak or to define things.

Jakarta is a city where people ‘don’t know’, or they simply refuse to know that they are being robbed of everything, that they have been fooled, and that they had been thoroughly brainwashed.

Here, cheap pop culture, Western junk food and forced dependency on filthy scooters and private cars are called ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. Watching European football is a ‘sign of progress’. Mobile phones and text messages double as culture, and so do video games. Nobody reads books.

You ask the poor about poverty, and what do you hear? Women ‘put their fate in the hands of God’. Men begin ‘analyzing’, speaking like the IMF, using business jargon: “exchange rates, global economic situation, support for small businesses…”

In reality, the majority of local families, according to my own survey, lives on US$2-3 dollars a day (family of 4-5). Food in supermarkets costs 2-8 times more than in places like Germany. Therefore, the supermarkets are empty. The Majority of people shop at pasars – markets, where food is often full of cancerogenic chemicals, and filth is everywhere.

But most of people do not feel poor. They feel insulted when they are told that they live in misery. All without exception answer that they have nothing against capitalism. Most of them know nothing about the world; they have never been taught to compare.

Anti-Communist Museum

Everybody ‘hates Communists”, as demanded by the West and by the local rulers. There are entire anti-Communist museums here, and people going out to go there, even paying from their own pocket to get further indoctrinated. If you tell them that all they see is one huge lie, they get mad, angry, sometimes even violent. Their entire lives are based on myths. Their lives depend on them, psychologically. If myths were to be taken away, their entire lives would collapse, as they would lose meaning. That is why there is too much noise, and no substance. People are scared. But they don’t know what frightens them.

Everybody thinks the same. There is hardly any variety. It is scary. Indonesia feels like North Korea, as it is presented by the West and its propaganda. But North Korea is actually totally different – there I found definitely much more intellectual diversity than in Jakarta!

Nobody wants to change things – at least not the system, the essence. People want “more money and better life”. Is their life bad now? “No!” Do they hold their elites responsible? “For what?” They don’t understand – they don’t know what I am talking about, or pretend they don’t know, when I ask such questions.

And the rich? Their kids are in the US, Japan or Europe, studying how to screw their own population even more, after returning back. For them, the greatest pride is to work for some foreign company, or to be awarded with the Western diplomas, and to be given some reward from Europe or the United States.

And the city is choking on its own gasses, garbage and excrement. While the rich have their condos and villas in Australia, California, Singapore and Hong Kong. They can get out of Indonesia whenever they want, as they have already stolen millions, billions of dollars. When they come back to Indonesia, it is to rob even more.

I have to admit, it is all ‘a little bit tiring’. Fine, honestly: it is exhausting. Documenting all this is deadly. So now you know.

And I also have to admit, it is often lonely working here. No one in his or her sane mind would come here to work. The expenses, both financial but also related to mental sanity and physical health, are tremendous. Rewards are near zero. The West does not allow the truth about Indonesia to reach the world, and therefore, no powerful criticism of the country can ever by aired by the mainstream media.

But it is my duty to speak. Therefore, I speak. And write. And film. And as my maternal Russian and Chinese grandparents did – I fight against fascism, regardless of the cost!

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Capitalism Reduced Indonesian Cities to Infested Carcasses

From Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Samarinda and Pontianak

*****

Several years ago, a prominent Indonesian businessman who now resides in Canada, insisted on meeting me in a back room of one of Jakarta’s posh restaurants. An avid reader of mine, he ‘had something urgent to tell me’, after finding out that our paths were going to be crossing in this destroyed and hopelessly polluted Indonesian capital.

What he had to say was actually straight to the point and definitely worth sitting two hours in an epic traffic jam:

No one will be allowed to build comprehensive public transportation in Jakarta or in any other Indonesian city. If a mayor or a governor tries and defies the wishes of the ruthless business community which is in fact controlling most of the Indonesian government, he or she will be dethroned, or even totally destroyed.

These ‘prophetic’ words are still ringing in my ears, several months after the complete destruction of the progressive Jakarta governor, known as Ahok (real name: Basuki Tjahaja Purnama), who tried very hard to improve the seemingly ungovernable and thoroughly destroyed city, constructing new mass transit lines (LRT), restoring old train stations, cleaning canals, attempting to build at least some basic net of sidewalks, as well as planting trees and creating parks.

After Ahok’s first and extremely successful term in office, the opposition consolidated its forces. It consisted mainly of the Islamists, big business tycoons, and the military as well as other revanchist cadres (almost exclusively pro-business and pro-Western individuals) that are still controlling Indonesia.

‘Ahok’, an outsider and an ethnic Chinese, patently lost.

Instead of coming to his rescue, several ‘prominent’ but corrupt city planners and architects, most of them enjoying funding from abroad, shamelessly joined the bandwagon of ‘Ahok bashing’.

But even defeating Ahok was not enough. He had to be punished and humiliated, in order to discourage others from trying to replicate his socially-oriented example. Already during the election campaign, charges were brought against him, alleging that he had ‘insulted Islam’ during one of his public appearances.  It was total nonsense, disputed by several leading Indonesian linguists, but in a thoroughly corrupt society (both legally and morally) it simply worked.

On May 9, 2017, ‘Ahok’ was sentenced to two years in prison, and unceremoniously thrown into the dungeon.

Since then, many of his projects have stopped totally, or at least were significantly slowed down. A disgusting filth has once again began covering Jakarta’s canals and rivers.

For those who still believed in miracles, all hopes died.

Those ‘city planners’ who still conveniently believe that one can ‘work with’ the present regime (they call it ‘government’) correctly assumed that it was once again ‘business as usual’.

As ‘Ahok’ was being thrown behind bars, huge sighs of relief were almost detectable all over this misfortunate archipelago! Everything has returned to ‘normal’, at least for those who have been benefiting from the collapse of Indonesia and its cities.

The clock of Indonesian history was turned back. It is now almost certain that at least for several upcoming decades, all Indonesian cities will remain what they are now – a living hell, the worst nightmare, and indisputably some of the most horrid urban areas found anywhere on Earth.

But readers abroad are not supposed to know all this. Indonesian people are not supposed to understand the situation. It is now all biasa – ‘just normal, just fine. Everything is fine. Read those ANU (Australian National University) papers and you will learn that ‘Indonesia is now a normal country, like Brazil or Mexico’. Nothing extraordinary is taking place.

*****

In reality, everything has collapsed. The cities have.

Not metaphorically, not hyperbolically, but concretely, practically.

A renowned Australian artist, George Burchett, who now resides in Hanoi, Vietnam, once visited Jakarta. For several weeks we travelled together all around the Indonesian archipelago. He was shocked and depressed. Before departing, he declared:

I saw many cities, all over the world. Cities are built for the people. For the first time in my life, in Indonesia, I saw the cities that are actually built not for the people, but against the people.

It is because Indonesian cities are fascist. They do not serve the needs of its citizens. On the contrary, they are designed to extract that little which is still left in the possession of the common Indonesian folks; extract and give it to the local rulers, as well as to the multi-national companies.

*****

Excerpts of the most common definitions of ‘failed states’ are stated in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and can perfectly apply to both Indonesia in general, and to its cities in particular:

The governing capacity of a failed state is attenuated such that it is unable to fulfill the administrative and organizational tasks required to control people and resources and can provide only minimal public services… A failed state suffers from crumbling infrastructures, faltering utility supplies and educational and health facilities, and deteriorating basic human-development indicators…

Governor ‘Ahok’ tried to change the situation. Crowds cheered. Millions watched, in all the major cities of Indonesia. Hope was born, at first fragile but soon blossoming.

Then suddenly: a tremendous blast, full stop, and collapse! The man who dared to inject several socialist elements into the sclerotic, brutal system, ended up behind bars.

And it is now all back to the old ‘failed state’ scenario. Life is once again thoroughly empty and predictable.

There is hardly any difference between the Indonesian cities. If you put a person in the center or a suburb of Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Semarang, Medan, Makassar or Pontianak, he or she would have no idea, which one is which.

All major streets are choked with traffic jams. There are no sidewalks, and even if there are some pathetic and narrow ones, they are overtaken by aggressive and smoke belching scooters, as well as by unregulated and unhygienic street vendor stalls. Thugs are everywhere, controlling the streets. Almost all side streets have open sewage system. When it rains, entire neighborhoods get submerged under filthy water. Tiny carts, pulled by unclean and underpaid men, collect garbage. All the cities face the same problems, and all the cities look precisely the same.

Sanitation, water quality and garbage recycling facilities are at similar levels to those of the poorest sub-Saharan African countries.

With food and fuel prices up many Indonesian children are forced to work

Slums are omnipresent – huge and brutal. In fact, most of the neighborhoods of the Indonesian cities, called kampungs (‘villages’), could easily fit the international definitions of slums.

*****

A few years ago I was invited to speak at the University of Indonesia (UI). Various students asked me: “Why? Why is all this is happening in our country? And is there any solution?”

I replied that, of course, there is a solution: “socialism and central planning. But it would also have to be determined and real, and it would have to include a full-hearted anti-corruption battle, as well as a decisive ban on selling all natural resources and utilities to foreigners.” I added: “And tell your professors to stop salivating over-funding from the West, and flying to Europe in order to learn about ‘administration’, ‘good governance’ and city planning from those who have been robbing your country for several centuries.”

I believe that students liked the sound of what I was saying (not sure they were still capable of understanding the meaning of my words). However, predictably, I was never invited to the UI again.

*****

Indonesian cities are like open sores. Everything has been stolen from them and as a result, what makes life bearable is clearly missing. Only what the ‘elites’ do not want, is what has been left for the people.

Hungry and Homeless in Jakarta

There are hardly any public parks in Indonesia, at least no parks of any significance. Cities have no river or seafronts, in a striking contrast to South American, Middle Eastern and even African urban areas (not to speak of tremendous and beautiful public spaces, parks, promenades and exercise areas in China).

Dirty, clogged and polluted driveways are called ‘streets’ and ‘avenues’. There are no sidewalks, or if there are, they are just one meter wide, with broken tiles or deep potholes. Where sidewalks are not really needed, there may be actually some built – along one or two streets in the very center and in front of some government buildings, connecting basically nothing. This clearly shows that nothing is actually designed for the people.

It is important to understand that the government of Indonesia, on all levels, is not actually an institution that consists of men and women who are determined to improve the country and to serve its people. On the contrary!

In Indonesia, a great number of politicians belong to or are somehow affiliated to the military, which has ruled the country brutally since the 1965 Western-backed military coup. That coup destroyed everything socialist and Communist, banned Communist ideas, and murdered between 1 and 3 million people, including almost all the progressive intellectuals. On top of it, most of the politicians are businesspeople, tycoons and oligarchs, and the great majority of them of unsavory reputations. They have been robbing the nation and its people for more than half of a century, and there is absolutely no reason why they should stop doing it now, or anytime soon. For these individuals, to grab the top political positions is nothing more than about maximizing the profits.

‘Indonesian democracy’ which the West loves to glorify (no wonder, as Indonesia de-facto functions as an obedient colony, plundering its own citizens and resources on behalf of the West), consists of countless political parties, of which not one of them is from the left, or defends the interests of common people. Moreover, a great majority of the ‘civil society’, of the NGO’s, are subservient to Western economical and political interests. Many, if not all, of these organizations are directly funded from Washington, Berlin, London or Canberra. (I described the situation in my latest novel, Aurora.

Indonesian companies and its government are one single entity. And they are decisively and in unison plundering the entire archipelago of its natural resources. The 4th most populous country on Earth produces almost nothing. (Read my book Archipelago of Fear in English and in Bahasa Indonesia).

The ‘philosophy’ of this unbridled plunder is then applied to ‘urbanism’; to the way Indonesian cities are governed and basically abandoned to the markets. Not even in Africa where I lived and worked for several years, is there such absolute and shameless theft of urban land by the elites (of which members of government are part).

Once all this is determined, to understand the reality of Indonesia and its cities becomes much easier.

Once this is defined, Indonesian cities ‘begin to make sense’.

*****

In reality, there is not much that could be called ‘urban’ in the Indonesian cities. Be it a city like Pontianak with 600,000 inhabitants, or Jakarta with 12 million (28 million including the surrounding cities and suburbs).

Wherever one goes, profit over people is taken to the extreme.

Like those logged out, mined out and polluted islands of the archipelago, Indonesian cities are designed in a way that brings maximum income to the extremely small group of individuals and businesses. The price has to be paid by the impoverished, often ill, badly-educated, and literally choking majority.

The tremendously low level of media outlets, education, pop entertainment, as well as constant religious encroachment and feudal family structures, are purposefully spread and upheld, so the population does not think, does not doubt and does not rebel.

The results are shocking.

Indonesian cities are like palm oil plantations or open-pit mines, with some elements of military barrack colonies (of course, there are some special quarters for the overseers, with large and kitschy houses, like those that dot South Jakarta).

Here, nothing is constructed to make life great, colorful, ecstatic, meaningful and happy. There are no permanent concert halls, no theatres, and no grand public museums (one that recently opened is private, and serves to further politically indoctrinate people, this time targeting the ‘urban middle class’). There are no pedestrian neighborhoods, and no free and public seafronts.

Not one architecturally valuable structure has been constructed in any Indonesian city after the 1965/66 military/religious coup.

In Indonesia, a ‘public area’ is synonymous with a mall, in fact, with countless malls of various sizes and qualities. Inside the malls, there are chain eateries and chain shops, as well as cafes. There are also a few cinemas, showing mostly Hollywood junk or local horror films. On the weekends, there are bands playing old Western and Indonesian pop tunes, offering absolutely no variety. Some 50 songs are recycled again and again. The most favorite is, predictably: “I did it my way”.

There is nothing ‘extra’ in the Indonesian cities. Here everything is stripped to absolute basics: you somehow survive on your meager salary (with prices, at least for the food and consumer goods being as high or higher than in Tokyo or Paris), you somehow move to your workplace and back, sitting for hours every day in horrific traffic jams as there is no public transportation even in such cities with 2-3 million inhabitants, like Surabaya or Bandung. You cook and wash your dishes and clothes in terribly polluted water, and try to save on outrageously high electricity bills. There is absolutely nothing to do in your neighborhood. There is, of course, always a mosque nearby or sometimes a church, if that’s what you fancy. There are no parks, no playgrounds for children. There is no sidewalk to walk to a cafe, and so, if you want to actually go to a cafe or to a bookstore (all the bookstores in Indonesia are increasingly poorly stocked and heavily censored), you have to jump onto your scooter or into your car again, if you have any strength left.

The chances are – you have no time for anything, anyway. A 3-4 hours long daily commute, your exhausting work, and all you have time for is to collapse in front of the television set and get indoctrinated, neutralized and idiotized even further.

You learn to smile when you actually want to die, or at least to shout. You sense that nothing could ever change for better, and that your life is finished, perhaps at 25, or even earlier.

Eventually, some people do it sooner than others: you become religious, and you become traditional, conservative and ‘family-oriented’. There is nothing else, really. The cities of Indonesia will make sure that there is nothing else. They are the perfect machines, manufacturing obedience, extracting everything from human beings, and giving nothing in return.

*****

I often describe the coup of 1965 as a “Cultural Hiroshima”. While in Japan, the US openly experimented on the health of millions of human beings, in Indonesia the experiment was of a totally different nature. The area of interest to the Empire was:

What would happen with a progressive anti-imperialist nation that counts on a complex and diverse culture, if it is bathed in blood, if its theatres and film studios are shut down, 40% of teachers get murdered, women from left-wing organizations get their breasts amputated, writers are locked in Buru Island concentration camp, and urban planners are thought to design cities like Houston, Dallas or LA, but in a country with salaries that are 10% or less than those of the U.S.A.?

The answer is simple: “It would turn into Indonesia. It would become Jakarta, as it is now”. For the Western demagogues and the imperialist planners, “Indonesia” and “Jakarta” are not only the names of the country and the city: they are names of the concept, of a model.

This model, forced on the colonies, is perfect for the West and its interests.

Jakarta: One of better public sidewalks

It is also perfect for the Indonesian ‘elites’, who are often getting dirty at home, plundering all they can, but do relax and play and often evacuate their entire families to Singapore, California, Australia, Hong Kong and many other ‘safe and clean’ places.

It is the cheapest; the most efficient of concepts designed to plunder, and to royally fuck a nation. Not surprisingly, the West has tried to replicate this ‘successful Indonesian model’ in many parts of the world.

It even tried to inject it into Russia, after the USSR was first mortally wounded and then destroyed. It tried to force it on Chile… My much older friends in Santiago told me that before the 9-11-1973 coup perpetrated by General Pinochet on behalf of the West and its companies, several people around President Allende were threatened by the right-wingers: “Watch out, Jakarta is coming!”

*****

Jakarta came! It is here, all over Indonesia, in all of its cities, and to varying degrees in most of the countries that have fallen under the Western neo-colonialist boot.

But what does it really mean, ‘Jakarta’? Is it just a name or is it also a verb, an infinitive? “To Jakarta…”

It is ‘to take everything away from the people and to give nothing back’. ‘To Jakarta’ is to lie and to loot and to convince human beings, through long decades of indoctrination, that everything is just fine, and as should be. ‘To Jakartize’ the nation is to make almost the entire population irrelevant, to deliver the loot on the silver trays to both local and foreign rulers, leaving only dirty and polluted rivers and canals behind, as well as tremendous traffic jams, smog, bizarre overpasses with no escalators, and broken tiles along the driveways.

Even filthy beach in Jakarta is for a fee

The ‘Jakartized population’ is obedient, explosively violent, edgy, but not towards the regime, turbo-capitalism, corrupt elites and their Western masters, but towards each other, as well as towards the minorities.

Jakarta gets very little criticism from the official mainstream Western and local media, and almost no genuine analysis from academia. No surprise: to attack the reality of the Indonesian cities is like attacking the entire Western neo-colonialist system imposed on various parts of the world. To tell the truth would destroy any journalistic career, as it would torpedo almost any chance for a well-remunerated university tenure!

Very often, all that one could expect in terms of a realistic description of the situation in Indonesia, are random exclamations overheard on board departing airplanes, or some ‘anecdotal evidence’ from the pages of travel magazines and blogs. It appears that what normal people see with their own eyes is in direct contradiction with what the mainstream media and academia presents as ‘facts’.

On 17 September 2017, a Malaysian newspaper The Star wrote:

Based on a real-time air quality index uploaded to the Airvisual application at midday on Friday, Sept 15, Jakarta ranked third as the most polluted city in the world… In mid-August, the application showed that Jakarta was at the top of the list, followed by Ankara, Turkey and Lahore, Pakistan.

“Escape Here” magazine ranked Jakarta as the No1 city in its report “The 10 Worst Traffic Cities in the World”:

It happens to be the country’s capital and one of the most poorly designed cities in the World, a combination that makes getting around here a disaster. An ever-increasing number of car owners that come from the expansion of suburbia that surrounds this mega-city are to be blamed for the 400 hours a year that citizens spend in traffic. It is actually hailed as being the worst traffic in the world. It doesn’t seem like there is any solution for this mega-city as the infrastructure here falls into the hands of the local government and contracts are renegotiated annually; which means long-term projects are pretty much impossible. An average trip in this city takes about 2 hours…

On 2 September 2015, even the official propaganda English language newspaper of Indonesia, the Jakarta Post, re-published the survey ranking the horrendous Indonesian capital as the 9th ‘un-friendliest city on Earth’:

Jakarta, the Indonesian capital notorious for gridlocks and bad air pollution, ranks 9th among the world’s least friendly cities this year, a recent survey by an international travel magazine shows. Readers of the highly regarded luxury travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler included Jakarta for the first time on its ’10 unfriendliest cities in the world’ list this year. In the survey, one of the readers said Jakarta was ‘the scariest place I have ever been to ‘with its congestion and aggressive locals.

The ‘scariest place’: but, of course! What could one expect from the capital city of the country that in the last half a century has committed 3 monstrous genocides (against its own population in 1965/66, against the people of East Timor and an on going genocide against the people of Papua)?

What could one expect from cities that have been totally robbed of green spaces and, in fact, of everything that could be called ‘public’, where the arts have disappeared and where absolutely everything has become commercialized; where everything and everybody is now expected to be the same – behave the same way, look the same way, sound the same way, taste the same way.

Try to look different, and if you are a Papuan, Chinese, African, or white, just try to walk on those broken tiny sidewalks of Surabaya, Jakarta, Pontianak, or Medan. You will be shouted at; you will immediately become the target of naked racism. People will stop and point fingers, or worse.

A few days ago I filmed from a boat sailing on a polluted river passing through Pontianak city, on an island in Borneo. Two children on the shore immediately raised their middle fingers and began yelling: “Fuck you!” Just like that: with no warning and for no reason. And this is, of course, not the worst that could happen. If I was Chinese… were I an African… Everybody knows it. Nobody speaks about it, nobody writes…

According to Western ‘analysts’ and academics, Indonesia is a ‘democratic’ and ‘tolerant’ nation. The deeper it is sinking, the more oppressive and intolerant it becomes, the more devastated it gets, and the more it is glorified.

Lies are piled up on lies. “The Emperor has beautiful clothes’, everybody shouts, as in that old children’s tale. But, in fact, he is naked!

It is clearly “political correctness” at work. One is supposed to be ‘sensitive’ to the local ‘culture’, religion, and way of life. The only defect of this approach is that in countries such as Indonesia, the local culture, its way of life and even the extremely aggressive religions, are all the direct result of the fascist regime that was directly imposed onto this nation by the West after the 1965/66 slaughter.  Had the socialist pre-1965 course be allowed to naturally flow, Indonesia would now be a truly normal, socially-balanced, secular and tolerant nation, and its cities would serve the people, instead of the other way around.

Just a normal river in Jakarta

Here, the ‘political correctness’, is once again, protecting the crimes against humanity that have been committed by the West, by the local elites and the military, as well as by the religious leaders. The local ‘culture’ is not being protected at all, as it is actually dead, murdered.

The cities are dead as well. Their carcasses are stinking, horrifying, monstrous, stripped of all hope. People living in them are choking, humiliated, marginalized, unwell, and constantly robbed by the system.

Bizarrely, it takes an elitist magazine like Conde Nast to notice… It takes random travellers to speak out… One would never read such comments in the reports coming out of the Australian National University or on the pages of the New York Times.

*****

Just outside the city of Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia, on the Island of Madura, several enormous ships are being manually cut into pieces and sold for scrap by destitute local people. Periodically things explode, collapse, and people lose their faces or limbs. It is a horrible sight: truly haunted, disturbing. Just like in Bangladesh, although here, it goes almost unnoticed.

In many ways, I believe that the Indonesian cities resemble those ships, and those polluted coastal areas where the ships are broken into thousands of parts and then sold. Once proud, they are now humiliated, in pain, being torn to pieces while still alive.

Only real fascism can treat its citizens this way; only a regime that has lost its marbles, and gone thoroughly insane.

Indonesia cities… What do they really consist of? Well, they are made of those tiny and crammed homes, filthy canals, potholed driveways, of indescribable pollution, of mosques and churches. Then there are a few office towers in their centers, countless shopping malls and several luxury hotels where the elites can escape and take some rest from the daily nightmare, which is ‘normal life’ here. Golf courses everywhere, but no decent public parks, as even those few green areas have been already thoroughly privatized.

*****

Now the former governor of Jakarta, ‘Ahok’, is in jail for daring to change things; for building public transportation, cleaning the rivers and building a few tiny parks. He is in jail for relocating squatters to public housing, and for trying to serve the impoverished and humiliated majority.

His clearly socialist deeds were immediately smeared and discredited by the elites, by the Western-funded NGO’s and by corrupt city planners. Even when this could not stop his determination and zeal, religion was unleashed. Most of the religions are, after all, regressive, pro-business oriented, and ready to support any fascist regime.

*****

How much deeper can Indonesian cities sink? When are they going to become uninhabitable?

People are already dying; thousands are, unnecessarily – from cancer, from stress, from respiratory diseases.

Millions of human beings are wasting their lives. They are alive, but it is only a bare existence, not really life: they are moving mechanically, cutting through the filthy air on their scooters, eating junk food, constantly surrounded by decay and ugliness.

Why?

For how much longer?

The forests of Borneo, Sumatra and Papua are burning. All over this archipelago, everything is logged out, consumed by mines, ruined by monstrous pollution. The extraction and looting of natural resources is the only real economic ‘engine’ of today’s Indonesia.

The cities are not faring much better. They are actually not faring any better at all.

It is time to wake up, or it could get too late. But the nation appears to be in a total slumber. It does not notice, anymore, that it is really in freefall. It was conditioned not to notice. It was made to accept, even to celebrate its own collapse.

Those who forced Indonesia into all this will not tell. As long as there is at least something left, something that can be extracted, utilized, looted, they will be cheering this great Indonesia’s ‘success’ and ‘progress’.

I encourage all those people from all over the world who would want to see the true face of neo-colonialism, of savage capitalism and right wing disaster, to come to the Indonesian cities! Come and see with your own eyes. Come and take a walk; don’t hide in your comfortable cities full of leafy parks, concert halls, art cinemas, public transportation and theatres.

This is real. This is a warning to the world!

Come and see how cities look like in a country where Communism and socialism are banned, where a colony does not even realize that it being colonized, and where everything is served on huge silver plates straight into the gullet of that monster called fascism.

Ketapang, West Borneo, Indonesia

• All photos by Andre Vltchek