“An Indonesian Leads America”

I deliberately chose this title to make it sound like the headline in one of the biggest German magazine in 1998, which covered the election of Indonesia’s 1st President, BJ Habibie, after the Soeharto 32 year tyranny. BJ Habibie had studied aerospace engineering from 1955-1965 in Germany and during the last period of Soeharto’s reign, he was the Vice President until Indonesia’s great tyrant stepped down in 1998 only a few months after Soeharto (for the 7th time) was elected president. When BJ Habibie assumed presidency, the headline in Der Spiegel, one of the biggest magazine in Germany, was, “Ein Deutscher Führt Indonesien,” (A German Leads Indonesia).

As the German’s were proud to have “their guy” as President for 2 years, the people of Indonesia are blindly proud of Obama.

Throughout Obama’s campaign until he was inaugurated last Tuesday, at midnight, Jakarta time, Indonesia’s eyes has been fixed on the man that was looked upon as a “brother” or in English ‘fellow countryman’. In the Indonesian language, fellow countryman is “saudara sebangsa” which literally means a fellow country-’brother’.

The fact that Obama had lived for 4 years in Indonesia as a boy is enough reason for people in this culture to think of Obama as a ‘brother’. During the inauguration, Obama was a special fried rice type menu by street vendors. His face on T-shirts is the latest fashion in Jakarta. “Star-spangled banner” is now a favourite song among children of Obama’s elementary school in Jakarta. Obama’s pictures and discussions about him and his family have been dominating national newspapers and TV in Indonesia for the past few months. Interviews with Obama’s half sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, who has never been to Indonesia besides the first 3 years of her life, become the most anticipated TV show.

Everybody here seems to adore Maya also, the “humble half sister of Indonesia’s great brother, Obama,” who, in the minds of Indonesians, has never forgotten where she comes from. Nobody seems to care that decades ago Maya left the country and has never been back. The only reason why she said she had always wished to visit the country where she had been born might only be because hundreds of Indonesian journalists hunt her down for interviews and comments, hoping to hear from her something that would connect Indonesia to Obama more. Maya would have had to give a diplomatic and sympathetic answer to the Indonesians of course. Thus the “I had always wished to come to Indonesia”.

The mood in the streets of Indonesia was probably more jubilant than in America when Indonesia heard of Obama’s victory back in November 2008. I remember the moment when Obama gave his first speech as president-elect; I passed a bunch of people watching the speech live on TV when they looked at me with a happy grin on their faces, saying, “We won!” For the past months, I have been wondering whether I was still in Indonesia or had moved to America. Our own presidential election is approaching (April 2009) and I wonder whether the people of Indonesia would look for Obama’s face in their ballot.

Indonesia has dangerously high expectations with their fellow country-’brother’ in the White House. Despite the Vice President’s call on the people not to expect Obama to be close to Indonesia and not to hope that the foreign policy between Indonesia-US is going to dramatically change, parties and celebrations for “their guy” were still held and hopes are still high up; especially amongst Muslims, who expects that the U.S. will have “a more nuanced approach to the Muslim world”.

The adoration for Obama by Indonesian people is getting a bit too much. Obviously the majority of Obama lovers in Indonesia have no clue about Indonesian politics let alone, Obama’s. The only ground for them to love him this much was that ‘personal connection’ they had with Obama, as his step-father was Indonesian and as he had lived in Jakarta for 4 years. Obama is still capable of giving and receiving standard Indonesian greetings and standard small talk in Indonesian, as was the experience of SBY, the current President of Indonesia who spoke with Obama on the phone to congratulate him. And this drove Indonesians even more madly in love with him.

Having “their guy” in the White House, Indonesia seems to have forgotten their long history of hatred against the US. The years of burning the American flags and the years of demonstrations in front of the US embassy in Jakarta seem to be over. As sad as it sounds, now all the hatred can be (and is being) concentrated on Israel.

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