History is repeating itself in West Papua. After finally being forced to reverse course on East Timor, both the Howard Government and the Labor opposition have been gripped by another bout of bipartisan opportunism. Their prime concern is to maintain “good relations” with the Indonesian bourgeoisie. The result? The legitimate aspirations of the West Papuan people for independence have been sidelined, and thousands of additional Indonesian troops and police have been deployed to West Papua to repeat a familiar pattern of repression — transmigration, brutality and clandestine operations.
Long struggle. On December 1, 1961, West Papua declared its independence and raised the Morning Star flag. Holland, the colonial power, began transferring administration to the Indigenous Melanesian people. In 1962 Indonesia launched an unsuccessful invasion. The Dutch then handed West Papua to the UN which promptly gave the resource-rich region to Indonesia on the proviso that an act of self-determination take place. The resulting vote was a farce. A thousand hand-picked chiefs were rounded up by the Indonesian military and voted at gun point — unanimously — for integration in Indonesia. The people of West Papua — organised through Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) — have been struggling for independence ever since.
Escalation. The success of the East Timorese struggle for independence has raised the stakes on both sides. The Indonesian bourgeoisie is far from united over the best method to suppress the Papuan revolt. Many of the business contracts of Suharto’s cronies are due to expire, and the highly factionalised élite is locked in struggle for control of the rich mining and timber resources. After ultra-nationalist vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has responsibility for the eastern provinces of Indonesia, ordered a ban on flying the Morning Star. The struggle to fly it has become a rallying cry. In Jayapura, a pro-independence crowd marked the anniversary of the declaration of independence by raising the flag. The same day, 300 Papuan students demonstrating in Jakarta were tear-gassed for displaying it.
Lessons. The people of West Papua are clearly a separate people with their own land, economy, religion and culture. Tragically, between 100,000 and 300,000 Papuans have been killed or have disappeared since Indonesia took control. Escalating Indonesian repression can only intensify the demands of the West Papuan people for independence. Indonesian military out of West Papua — recognise the 1961 Declaration of Independence!