The Republic of Indonesia is itself a result of global and regional transformations. When the Republic gained its independence in 1945, it has ever since been transforming to accomplish its purposes as outlined in the constitution: to realize an independent, united, sovereign, just and prosperous country. These transformations were catalysed by both internal and external factors and entered all aspects of life. Politically, Indonesia has experienced three major political periods: the so called ‘guided democracy’, centralized authoritarian rule, and reformation towards democracy and decentralization since 1998.

The current transformations are complex. The outcome of new openness through democratization is an ongoing modernization of society. Along with globalization, modernization also leads to dynamic social transformations in term of ideas, life styles and wider variety of choices for the people. Furthermore, besides influencing the transformation of society, the Indonesian rapid economic expansion implies negative ecological consequences.  Democratization, on the one hand, provides a fertile ground for a progress of freedom of expression which was highly restricted during the authoritarian regime. It has encouraged marginalized groups to raise their voices and become more visible. The struggle of Papuan people for independence, the endeavor of minority groups for the acknowledgment of their indigenous beliefs and religions, as well as the struggle of the LGBT community against discrimination and inequality are some prominent examples. Despite many obstacles, human rights movement -including women’s struggle for equality- continues its endeavor for progress.

On the other hand, freedom of expression made it possible for other groups to propagate extreme and undemocratic agendas that have triggered violent conflicts. By enforcing repressive regulations such as the blasphemy law, anti-pornography law and IT law, for instance, minority groups have experienced political and religious persecution. If people are pressurized to adopt certain moral and religious values, whether open or subtle, freedom of expression is threatened. Meanwhile, technological innovation (internet, smartphones and social media) amplify this phenomenon, thus deepening social cleavages and triggering new conflicts around identity issues within Indonesian society.

Transformations are an intricate matter. They may happen in a very subtle mode where their impacts may be unnoticed, but they also can be overwhelming, too complex and difficult to handle for an individual or a community. Nevertheless, transformations are inevitable for a society and it is an open question whether transformations lead to social progress and a better life for the people or to social decline, political exclusion and conflicts.

Peaceful diversity is a political and social fundament of the Indonesian state. It was built on a cultural tradition of solidarity, inclusiveness and tolerance, a cultivated ability to compromise between different views, ideas and beliefs, as expressed in musyawarah (deliberation) and mufakat (consensus). However, along with the transformation processes, this fundament is challenged and confronted by increasing discrimination against otherness. Racial and religious conflicts, exclusion of individuals and groups, injustice, inequality and poverty are symptoms  of destructive transformations that are becoming more visible. The economic framework of free market capitalism is also contributing to dividing society into winners and losers.

Growing feelings of losing privileges and fear of an unknown future are employed by politicians actively and openly to generate votes. Dichotomy of identities such as Indonesian values vs Western values, pribumi (native)vs asing (foreigner) and Islam vs kafir (non-Muslim) have been prominent issues during recent political competitions. The current polarization leads to an erosion of the social and political fundaments of the country. Within such a climate, diversity is no longer seen as Indonesia’s strength. As a result of the emphasis on conformity, diversity is rather perceived as a threat.

“The Symposium: Transformations Underway” looks deeper into these recent transformations and rethinks the idea of Indonesia as stipulated in the constitution. How do Indonesians, as a nation, understand the concept of an “independent, united, sovereign, just and prosperous” society? How can Indonesia navigate through current transformations without abandoning its history and the fundamental principles on tolerance and peaceful coexistence in diversity? The symposium will provide space to discuss those aforementioned issues and to present ongoing research on related issues from various academic perspectives. The objective of this symposium is to share new insights and exchange ideas about the future development of Indonesia. The Future Indonesia Network will publish articles of issues discussed in the symposium in a book.