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'Indon' And 'Malingsia'

The dislike of Malaysia amongst Indonesians has the potential to develop into hatred if the current low ebb in bilateral relations is not managed properly.

This distaste and enmity has been fueled by a series of spats over the treatment of Indonesian migrant workers and accusations that Malaysia appropriated traditional Indonesian songs and dances for its tourism campaigns.

It's easy to find examples of this anger. Malaysia has been nicknamed "Malingsia" (maling means thief in Bahasa Indonesian) due to its claims on Indonesian cultural products, while a shop on Jl Barito in South Jakarta has been selling t-shirts that declare in bold letters that they are "NOT Made In Malaysia".

"While Malaysia has long promoted "Batik Malaysia" it has also taken to staging the Reog dance, which originated in Ponorogo, East Java."

A slightly softer version of the same attitude can be seen in a TV commercial for a popular, traditional, over-the-counter anti-flu herbal medicine. It features local performers Butet Kertaredjasa and Agnes Monica and showcases several Indonesian cultural products, such as batik, the Reog dance and anklung music. At the end, Butet tells viewers that they must love and promote Indonesia's traditions or other people will take them.

If we could trace this dislike's development, it may well have started with the disrespect Malaysians have shown Indonesians. More than one million Indonesians work in Malaysia, where they are derogatorily referred to as "Indon".

We have heard far too many cases of ill-treatment of Indonesian maids at the hands of their Malaysian masters. Several women have had to go to heroic lengths to escape their abusers.

When disrespect meets with dislike, things can easily get worse through just a single incident. And this is exactly what happened when the Malaysian government was caught using Rasa Sayange, a traditional song from Maluku, for tourism promotion purposes.

The situation got worse when a Malaysian delegation sang a Minangkabau song before an international audience at Asia Festival 2007 in October, in Osaka, Japan, and claimed the song had Malaysian origins.

While Malaysia has long promoted "Batik Malaysia" it has also taken to staging the Reog dance, which originated in Ponorogo, East Java.

Inflamed by media reports and angry denunciations from nationalistic politicians, a series of street demonstrations against Malaysia ensued.

All of these incidents were all unnecessary. If the elites and politicians from both countries talked and discussed the issue openly, the protests could have been avoided. Incidents like that are frequently the result of mistrust or simply misunderstanding.

It is true that Malaysia has never claimed ownership of Rasa Sayange, or even batik or the Reog dance. But we often forget that Malaysians, and especially the Malays there, comprise people of Ambonese, Javanese, Minang, Batak, Bugis descents. That's why they have exactly the same cultural traditions as Indonesians.

Now that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is in Malaysia, it's high time that he talk frankly with his counterpart Ahmad Badawi about these thorny issues, especially Malaysia's poor treatment of Indonesian migrant workers.

We cannot afford for our relations with Malaysia to slip further. We have too much stake: there are more than one million migrant workers in Malaysia, and we have Malaysian companies investing billions of dollars in Indonesia.

If our relations get worse, it will not do any good to our fellow Indonesians in Malaysia, and nor will it be a boost to Malaysian investment in Indonesia.

Malaysians, after all, make better foreign investors here, as we feel more comfortable with them because of the things we share: color, religions and culture.

On the cultural side, instead of fighting over the ownership of cultural products, why don't Indonesia and Malaysia work together to promote the things we have in common, like batik, music and dance.

And don't forget, our modern songs and movies are quite popular in Malaysia as well. We don't want people in Malaysia to stop buying Indonesian CDs just because they might react the same way to what we have been doing here.

Let's hope that President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Badawi will mend our problems as neighbors and help promote even closer relations, as neighbors and brothers that share the same cultures and beliefs. (The Jakarta Post/ ANN)

MySinchew 2008.01.11


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