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One Country or Many? Prospects for the Future of Indonesia

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Like so many other multiethnic, multinational countries in the world, Indonesia struggles to maintain its national cohesion. Indeed, 95 percent of countries in the world have more than one ethnic group within their boundaries. and many are buffeted by some of the same stresses affecting Indonesia. Some have already crumbled-the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Ethiopia. Will Indonesia be next? Indonesia has long been conscious of its need for greater national integration and has made substantial progress in nation-building. in the sociocultural and interaction dimensions especially. (note 1) But the conditions surrounding Indonesia’s continued integration have changed significantly in recent years. Externally, the global environment has changed; internally, conditions have also changed, increasing the potential for successful secessionist movements.

The Global Environment

Externally, the world has seen the break-up of a number of states. Comparisons are often drawn between Indonesia and the state of Yugoslavia-although it can be argued that the temperament of Indonesians and conditions in the country, with its more than 300 ethnic groups, are considerably different from the situation in the former Yugoslavia with its European culture and the more limited number of players. But the precedent has been set-countries can split up-and the external pressures that helped to prevent the division of countries in the past, such as those at work in Nigeria during the Biafran war of secession, have diminished. In other words. it is more acceptable in the international community for countries to fragment-as the examples of Czechoslovakia and the USSR clearly demonstrate. Yet one should not underestimate the power of central governments t0 promote continued national unity in such countries. as Russia with Chechnya. Sri Lanka with its Tamil Tigers, and China with its Xijang, Uighur. and other populations seeking independence. or at least greater autonomy.

The Recent Situation in Indonesia

Within Indonesia conditions have also changed significantly from the early years of independence-politically, economically, and socially.