Is “nationalism” still relevant today?

Answer by Mira Pravitasari:

One of the topics are Indonesia, so my answer is going to be more Indonesia-specific.

I've got a new perspective on nationalism just recently. I am taking this Kuliah Kerja Nyata (social internship) program in the University. It is fully optional, and the process is quite lengthy (I even need to attend several weekend lectures for a month on five major topics ranging from education to creative economy,  But, I feel very thankful I decided to do it for so many new things I learn that I would not otherwise learn in my faculty).

One of the first lectures' topic was Insights to the Archipelago, specifically on the issue of cinta tanah air (love for the homeland) in the villages near Indonesia-Malaysia borderlines in Borneo. The lecturer was a researcher focusing on transnational interconnections, mobility & social dynamics at interstitial state spaces at the campus's Center for Anthropological Studies. He started by asking what we, the students, think about nationalism, what defines Indonesia, and what our identity as a nation is.

Some of us answered, merah putih (red and white, country's flag colour), bhinneka tunggal ika (different but still one, motto), bela negara (defending the country), buying local products, etc. Mere symbolism and even the last one is consumerism.

But what is it that binds people from Sabang to Merauke as a nation? Is it Islam? Or the ancient-times glorious Majapahit kingdom?

None of our answers fully satisfied the lecturer. He then gave us his opinions; it was the solidarity under the Dutch occupation. Solidarity to people a thousand miles away for the shared history of brutality, violence, even enslavement of the people during the period of the Dutch Occupation was what brought us together (and thus our 1945 Constitution's Preamble mentions anti-colonization first and foremost).

Solidarity to other fellow human beings and our anti-colonization stance should be the building blocks of our nationalism so that it can stay relevant today. Soekarno, one of the founding fathers of the republic, declared that his nationalism is humanity, just like what Gandhi had mentioned before him.

For me it's this: humanity and solidarity against oppressions are always relevant regardless how the world is perceived, with or without borders.

This was also the kind of nationalism that allows an archipelago as diverse as Indonesia (with 300 ethnic groups and 700 living languages) to be able to overcome the sheer magnitude of differences and bands together as a nation.

However, the understanding of nationalism in this way is the ideal in borderlands, and not how nationalism is perceived in major cities of a country. This is the lecturer's perspective in an interview on whiteboard journal: Crossing Borders with Dave Lumenta

A nation-based identity are most common in centralized cities, in  Indonesia it is in Jakarta. If you go to West or East Kalimantan, you  wouldn’t be categorized based on the country you are from. They don’t  see me as an Indonesian. In Malaysia, I would be considered an “Indon”,  but in Sarawak, they would find similarity by proudly announcing that  their ancestors are from Indonesia Transitional areas tend to be multicultural. They are used to differences.

Is "nationalism" still relevant today?


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