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New Left Review I/235, May-June 1999

Benedict Anderson

Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future

In my experience, nationalism is frequently misunderstood. For that reason, I will begin my remarks by discussing briefly two common kinds of misunderstanding, using Indonesia as an example of a phenomenon almost universal in this century which is now crawling to its end. [*] This text was delivered as a public lecture in Jakarta, 4 March 1999, shortly after I was permitted to enter Indonesia for the first time in 26 years. The first is that nationalism is something very old and is inherited from, of course, ‘absolutely splendid ancestors’. Thus it is something that arises ‘naturally’ in the blood and flesh of each of us. In fact, nationalism is something rather new, and today is little more than two centuries old. The first Declaration of Independence, proclaimed in Philadelphia in 1776, said not a word about ‘ancestors’, indeed made no mention of Americans. Sukarno’s and Hatta’s Declaration of Independence on 17 August 1945, was essentially similar. By contrast, the mania for seeking ‘absolutely splendid ancestors’ typically gives rise to nonsense, and often very dangerous nonsense.

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Benedict Anderson, ‘Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future’, NLR I/235: £3

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