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«Creating Datasets in Information-Poor Environments: Patterns of Collective Violence in Indonesia, 1990–2003 Ashutosh Varshney, Mohammad Zulfan ...»

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Journal of East Asian Studies 8 (2008), 361–394

Creating Datasets in Information-Poor

Environments: Patterns of Collective

Violence in Indonesia, 1990–2003

Ashutosh Varshney, Mohammad Zulfan Tadjoeddin,

and Rizal Panggabean

Indonesia has witnessed explosive group violence in recent years, but unlike its

plentiful economic statistics, the data on conflict are remarkably sketchy. Be-

cause the New Order (1966–1998) wanted to give the appearance of order and

stability, it did not believe in publishing reports on group conflict, nor did it allow researchers and nongovernmental organizations to probe the patterns and causes of conflict. This article is based on the first multiyear dataset ever constructed on group violence in Indonesia. Following, and adapting for Indonesian conditions, methodologies developed and used elsewhere, we cover the years 1990–2003, split the data into various categories, and identify the national, regional, and local patterns of collective violence. Much that we find is surprising, given the exist- ing theories and common perceptions about violence in Indonesia. Of the several conclusions we draw, the most important one is that group violence in Indonesia is highly locally concentrated. Fifteen districts and cities (kabupaten and kota), in which a mere 6.5 percent of the country’s population lived in 2000, account for as much as 85.5 percent of all deaths in group violence. Large-scale group vi- olence is not as widespread as is normally believed. If we can figure out why so many districts remained reasonably quiet, even as the violent systemic shifts— such as the decline of the New Order—deeply shook fifteen districts causing a large number of deaths, it will advance our understanding of the causes of col- lective violence in Indonesia.

KEYWORDS: Indonesia, riots, collective violence, ethnic conflict, communal conflict, New Order S ince 1998, as the so-called New Order (1966–1998) came apart and group violence in Indonesia flared up, some predictable questions have engaged the minds of scholars, policymakers, and civil society actors. How widespread is group violence in Indonesia? What 361 Creating Datasets in Information-Poor Environments 362 forms—ethnic, religious, economic—has it primarily taken? Have the group clashes of recent years been significantly more frequent, or worse, than those in the late New Order period?

Until recently, Indonesia lacked a statistical base to allow precise and professionally adequate responses to these questions. One often encoun- tered an impressionistic contrast drawn between the chaos and violence of post-Suharto years and the stability and peace of the authoritarian New Order. Although the New Order had a remarkably bloody beginning in the massive anti-Communist killings of the mid-1960s, Suharto’s In- donesia came to acquire the image of a calm, well-ordered society in the 1980s and 1990s. An orgy of tumult, brutality, and violence ended the New Order in May 1998, but the image of a peaceful New Order returned in several quarters, especially as Indonesia started going through the teething irritations of a fledgling democracy. In some quarters, comparisons were drawn between Indonesia and Nigeria, and the idea that Indonesia might become a “failed state” developed a constituency. According to a widely noted report, a “struggling state like Indonesia, whose weakness has allowed terrorism, corruption, and civil conflict to take root in alarming ways,” has performed only slightly better than the comprehensively failed states of Afghanistan, Haiti, and Somalia.1 Is this an accurate assessment? Is the image of a peaceful New Order, especially in its later years, correct? Is the violence of postSuharto years spread over most of the country, or is it locally concentrated, leaving large parts of Indonesia relatively untouched? The last question is an important one. If group violence is locally concentrated and many parts of the country have remained peaceful, having at best small group clashes but no large-scale killings or wanton destruction of property, then the pessimism about the future of the country under a democratic dispensation is clearly less warranted. Indeed, in that case, patterns of Indonesian violence are no different from those identified elsewhere in the world, and the pessimism felt about Indonesia may have its roots in not placing the country in a systematic cross-country perspective.

This article, the first step of a two-part study, reports the findings from our dataset for the period 1990–2003. The second part of the study, currently under way, will be more fully causal in nature. It will concentrate in depth on six cities—four for understanding the roots of Muslim-Christian violence, and two for examining the observable implications of such violence for Pribumi (indigenous)–Chinese relations.

Of the four cities chosen for Muslim-Christian relations, two (Ambon and Poso) have had a great deal of violence in recent years and two Varshney, Tadjoeddin, and Panggabean 363 (Manado and Palu) have experienced no, or very limited, violence. A similar pairing between the violence-ridden city of Solo and the peaceful Yogya, separated by a mere 60 kilometers, will probe PribumiChinese relations. This design owes its origins to a study of HinduMuslim relations in India (Varshney 2002) and is based on the premise that to understand the causes of violence, it is often good to study peace and violence together. Of course, what became an explanation for India’s Hindu-Muslim violence is now a hypothesis for Indonesia, to be tested and rejected if empirically invalid. Moreover, in the Indian study, variations across cities were the main object of analysis. In the Indonesian study, two kinds of variance, spatial and temporal, are at issue. We not only seek to explain why some cities had violence and others did not during a given time period; we also want to understand why cities with a long record of communal peace (Ambon, Poso) turned massively violent at a certain point.





Our dataset is a result of approximately 10,000 hours of work done by a team of fourteen researchers, most of them based in provincial capitals. We were able to cover more than 3,600 incidents of violence, of which more than a quarter—a little over 1,000 incidents—resulted in over 10,700 deaths during the period 1990–2003. We believe we have been able to create the most comprehensive dataset on collective violence in Indonesia available to scholars, policymakers, and activists thus far.2 Our attempt to be comprehensive, however, does not mean that we have been able to cover all acts of violence in Indonesia since 1990. We should specify what we have excluded, or had to exclude, from our dataset and why. First, we did not cover all forms of violence, only collective violence. We define the latter as violence perpetrated by a group on another group (as in riots), by a group on an individual (as in lynchings), by an individual on a group (as in terrorist acts), by the state on a group, or by a group on organs or agencies of the state. We did not cover violence between two individuals—attempted or actual homicides— unless they triggered a larger group clash. Our focus was on group violence, not on crime or violence per se.3 Second, we also had to confine ourselves to episodes of violence that fell short of secessionist wars. Even though the violence in Aceh and Papua would have been part of our definition of collective violence, we were unable to include it in our dataset.4 The insurgencies in these two provinces posed serious personal risks for our team and made systematic research in their provincial capitals impossible. There were sources of information in the national capital, but as we later show, the Creating Datasets in Information-Poor Environments 364 Jakarta-based sources are an inadequate substitute for the provincial sources on the ground.

In other words, our database covers collective violence in Indonesia with the exception of those areas where a war of insurgency has been under way. Substantively, we reached three main conclusions. Of the three, the first two are relevant to the Indonesian debate, and the

third is germane both to Indonesian discussions and to the larger comparative literature on ethnic conflict. The conclusions are:

1. There is no evidence that the late New Order (1990–1997) was peaceful. If we add to the findings reported in this article what we already know about the insurgencies during Suharto’s rule and the other forms of group violence in the 1980s, the most striking difference between the New Order and the post-Suharto period is not that one was peaceful and the other has had a lot of violence. Rather, the New Order often used state-perpetrated violence to bring order, whereas clashes between social groups have been much more common since 1998.

2. Ethnocommunal violence is not the most common form of group violence in Indonesia. It is episodic, not routine, but when it does take place, it is immensely deadly and claims many more lives than the other forms of group violence such as lynchings and village brawls.

3. Overall, collective violence in Indonesia is locally concentrated, as in several other parts of the world (Fearon and Laitin 1996; Varshney 2002). A mere fifteen districts (kabupaten), holding 6.5 percent of Indonesia’s total population in 2000, accounted for 85.5 percent of all deaths in collective violence. This result requires that we not only take note of the national-level factors that might have led to violence, but also pay special attention to local factors that kept peace in most of the country, even as fifteen districts repeatedly burned. Large-scale group violence is not as widespread in Indonesia as is often thought.

The article is organized as follows. The first section goes into the basic reasons for why a database was necessary, how it was constructed, what its limitations are, and how they might be remedied in the future. The following section outlines the existing theories of group violence in Indonesia and judges their applicability in light of our database. The next section presents a whole range of substantive results, concentrating on several questions: the level of violence before and after the end of the New Order and the types, relative intensity, and geographical distribution of the violence. The final section summarizes the conclusions.

Varshney, Tadjoeddin, and Panggabean 365

A New Dataset: Why? How?

As already indicated, the existing statistics on collective violence in Indonesia are highly sketchy.5 Like many other governments in the developing world, the New Order, ruling Indonesia for over thirty years, until 1998, did not ever publish any figures on deaths or losses in ethnocommunal violence. In what William Liddle has aptly called a “Hobbesian bargain,” the entire rationale for the New Order was its offer to Indonesian citizens of “prosperity and stability in exchange for acceptance of authoritarian government” (Liddle 1999, 37). Thus, other than seeking to deliver prosperity to the masses, the New Order also had an interest in showing that peace and order prevailed under their rule. Supplying honest data on group violence was contrary to a key regime objective. No statistics were ever provided.

How can one, under such conditions, determine the basic patterns of violence in a society? Viewing newspaper reports as a source is about the only other option that is known to researchers. In 2002, following this idea, and on the basis of reports in two capital city news sources—primarily Kompas, supplemented by Antara—the United Nations Support Facility for Indonesian Recovery (UNSFIR) compiled the only all-Indonesia database (Database I hereafter) available for the late New Order period and the period after its collapse, covering the years 1990–2001 (Tadjoeddin 2002).

How reliable were the newspaper reports used as evidence? Such a question is quite easily answerable in countries where the press is free.

Not all newspapers may be trustworthy in such countries, but typically countries with a free press also tend to have a newspaper or two, which can be called journals of record. In the United States, the New York Times has long performed this role, and in India, until recently, the Times of India did. For Indonesia, it is sometimes argued, Kompas is a journal of record (Liddle 1999).6 Whether or not this claim is correct for the standard economic and political reporting, its validity, as we argue in this article, is highly questionable on ethnic or religious violence. Neither Kompas nor Antara reported any incidents of group conflict anywhere in Indonesia in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1994 (Tadjoeddin 2002). From what we already knew, however imperfectly, the absence of group violence in these years appeared to be an artifact of government regulations. As a principle, the New Order did not allow press freedom in its more than three decades of existence. Indeed, on ethnocommunal issues, the government had a socalled SARA policy. SARA was an acronym for ethnic (suku), religious Creating Datasets in Information-Poor Environments 366 (agama), racial (ras), and intergroup (antar-golongan) differences. These differences were not to be discussed in the public realm.

In other words, a database constructed from Kompas and Antara simply could not be viewed as reliable unless cross-checked. But how was this to be done? There are, of course, several ways of running reliability checks on newspaper reports. The most promising and timetested method is cross-checking the capital city news sources with reports in provincial newspapers. That is the path we chose.



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