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From Sabang to Merauke: Nationalist secession movements in Indonesia

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Popular movements in Aceh and Papua seeking separation from Indonesia must be understood in the context of earlier nationalist movements in history, including Indonesia's own movement for independence from the Netherlands. Movements in Aceh and Papua have built a sense of identity, considering themselves to be ‘notion-states’ even if they are not yet nation-states. This process parallels Indonesian identity formation in the early twentieth century. Aceh originally combined local, Indonesian and Islamic identities, but intrusion by central government institutions sparked a defensive nationalist reaction, which was stimulated further by uneven economic development and by repressive tactics by the centre. Papua was incorporated into Indonesia by means that led local people to believe they had been denied their right to self-determination, spurring a historical sense of grievance and a collective identity of shared suffering much like that in Aceh. By the end of Sukarno's Guided Democracy and Suharto's New Order, both territories had passed a point of no return in their nationalism. Repressive tactics have failed to contain aspirations for independence; a new approach based on dialogue is needed.

Keywords: Aceh; East Timor; Indonesia; Papua; nationalism; separatism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street #2074, Toronto ON M5S-3G3, Canada., Email:

Publication date: April 1, 2007


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