In case you have not noticed, there seems to be a full scale blow-out by Indonesians against Malaysians — and not between the governments but, instead, between the people.
Of course, the countries have long-standing conflicts related to disputed borders (read here and here). Furthermore, abuses of migrant labour in Malaysia (with Indonesians making up the majority of the foreign labour force) are a major problem with the Malaysian government a willing accomplice. Several terrible cases of abuse of Indonesians in Malaysia and also an abused princess (highlighted in the media) have raised the temperature in Indonesia.
But it seems that many (I’m not sure how many) Indonesians are now really “pissed-off” with Malaysians for allegedly stealing Indonesian culture.
Now, there are many reasons to be “pissed-off” with the Malaysian government and some Malaysians (e.g. the governments contempt for human rights and democracy, the way Malaysians in general treat labourers, and in particular migrant labourers) but to say that Malaysia has stolen Indonesian culture — that is a little far-fetched.
My understanding (and I hope the readers can assist me) is that the archipelago was influenced mainly by Hindu and Islamic culture, and to a certain extent by Chinese traders, with the locals (and their kingdoms) building on these cultures. There were fluid borders that only became permanent after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824 that divided Peninsular Malaysia from the Islands of Sumatera — one part under English rule and the other under the Dutch. With all of this considered — plus trade, conquest, inter-marriages, the spread of Islam, etc — it is only natural that the most of the archipelago has a similar base for their cultures. Furthermore, the British invited people from the archipelago to populate Peninsular Malaya. This would only mean further transfusion of cultures. Hence, I find it hard to see how Malaysia could have stolen “Indonesian Culture.”
However, what is more bewildering is the suddenness of the surge of hatred. It was a long held view, since Konfrontasi, that Indonesia and Malaysia had patched up their differences, and it has seemed that the Government-to-Government relationship is now excellent. But signs of unhappiness have been building, manifested through popular culture, demonstrations by Indonesians against attempted purchase of strategic industries (e.g. banking) in Indonesia by Malaysians, etc. But the recent fall-out was still unimaginable.
It is unclear to me (a Malaysian) what are the actual causes for this anger. I am unable to comprehend how the issue of culture is paramount to the anger.
As just one example of how globalised our cultures are.:Malaysians have been accused of stealing a popular folk song “Rasa Sayang” from the Indonesians —but this song clearly belongs to everyone.
And can we focus on issues that benefit all of us? Issues like ensuring human rights are respected by all ASEAN governments, and the introduction of proper labour laws both in Indonesia and Malaysia to regulate and protect labour, should matter a great deal. I think moves in those directions would be far more worthwhile.