The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network
By: Riyadi Suparno
We Indonesians are simply overreacting in our response to Malaysia's use of the Balinese Pendet dance in promotional TV spots. We are acting like a big brother and bullying our younger brother. And such responses will not help us become a better nation.
First, it was a small protest from a group of Balinese people, the rightful owner of the dance, then unfortunately it grew into a nationwide condemnation of Malaysia.
Just read the comments posted at www.thejakartapost.com or many other Internet forums discussing the issue, and you will easily find many condemnations from Indonesians against Malaysia, some even urging the government to ganyang (invade) Malaysia, invoking memories of the time Indonesia was in confrontation with Malaysia.
Unwisely, the government responded in the same way, with the tourism minister summoning the Malaysian embassy's top official and sending a letter of protest to his counterpart in Kuala Lumpur.
But it did not stop there. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono joined the fray, calling on the Malaysian government to deal more carefully with "sensitive" cultural issues between the two countries.
Our responses have really gone too far. Just read this news from Antara: Diponegoro University (Undip), one of Indonesia's leading institutes of higher learning, has stopped admitting Malaysian students for the 2009-2010 academic year in an expression of "nationalism".
"We have done it as a concrete expression of our sense of nationalism," Undip rector Susilo Wibowo said Tuesday as quoted by Antara, after attending a ceremony to mark the induction of new students.
But we don't know the real reasons behind it. It could be because there were no Malaysian students applying to study at the university this academic year, which begins in July.
The point here is that we just overreacted to this issue, or worse, we tried to bully one of our closest neighbors.
Malaysia uses various Asian cultural expressions, especially Chinese and Indian, in its tourism campaign "Malaysia Truly Asia". China and India have never protested Malaysia's use of their cultural heritage in its tourism campaigns.
Why then are we so angry whenever Malaysia uses our cultural heritage, including the Pendet, batik and wayang in their tourism campaigns? In reality, though, Malaysia has never claimed the Pendet as their dance, batik as their craft or wayang as their performance.
These are Indonesian cultural expressions brought to Malaysia by the millions of Indonesians who moved there, mostly as migrant workers.
If it's an issue of rights, we don't have copyrights for most of our cultural products. Much, if not the majority of our cultural heritage, was created by our ancestors for the good of society and mankind.
For instance, many of our best classical Javanese gamelan compositions were written by anonymous composers. They were composed for the kings and the people, and the composers deliberately did not put their names there, much less copyrighted them.
Before Indonesia existed, anyone could play these compositions, even people from outside the Javanese kingdom. Now that Indonesia exists, does it mean nobody outside Indonesia can play and use them in their tourism campaigns, even if they have gamelan groups in their own countries?
Currently, hundreds of gamelan groups exist outside Indonesia. If they wish to promote their groups or if their country wishes to use these gamelan groups to promote tourism, they have every right to use gamelan images in their campaign.
Thus instead of getting angry or sending letter of protests or stopping admitting Malaysian students, we should be more positive and collaborate with the Malaysian government to promote our culture in that country.
When there are more Malaysians dancing the Pendet and playing the gamelan and to Indonesian pop songs, it will only mean more benefits, and not losses, to Indonesia. It will mean more commerce and tourism between the two countries.
Not only that, it would also strengthen cultural ties between the two nations.
Similarly, if Malaysia advertises more Indonesian cultural heritage, it would bring more benefits than losses to us.
Lets say, Malaysia advertises the Pendet, and tourists go there because of the advertisement. There is a great chance these tourists will continue on to Bali to see the Pendet at its source. So it not only saves us precious advertising dollars - which we rarely ever spend anyway - but also brings in dollar from more tourist visits.
So let Malaysians dance our Pendet and play our wayang and advertise them. It will only do good things for us in Indonesia.