The Nation is a product of popular, unified consciousness – consciousness which is constructed through narrative – which in turn constructs ideology: national ideology.
The Nation is not natural. It is not simply “there.” It is an abstraction transformed into an object which appears natural. To paraphrase the historian Benedict Anderson, the nation is an imagined community of people, imagined through national myth, historical narrative and ideology.
The Nation is perhaps best understood through the concept of “the people,” a generalized consolidation of the multiple wills inherent within The Nation, or as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have defined these multiple wills, “the multitude.”
Indeed, for Hardt and Negri, the concept of “the people” is very different to that of “the multitude.” While the former appears as a single will and is realized through homogeneity, best reflected in the acceptance of national sovereignty, the latter is, to quote Hardt and Negri, a “multiplicity… which is not homogeneous or identical with itself and bears an indistinct, inclusive relation to those outside of it.”
This situation is paradoxical and conflicting: on the one hand, “the people” is realized through the crystallization of a single will, while the various wills and actions of “the multitude” directly contradict this generalization.
When Sukarno first delivered his Pancasila speech on June 1, 1945, he was acutely aware of the enormous challenges and difficulties the new Indonesian state would face – challenges which still exist today. He also knew that every nation must transform the multiple “wills” of the multitude into the “the will” of the people
And with the fervor of revolution over, the temporary, unified will of the people gave way to the numerous wills of the multitude, and Sukarno – not to mention the other leaders of the new states, such as India’s Nehru and Ghana’s Nkrumah – was soon confronted with the specific demands of countless tribes and ethnic groups.
These demands, through their plurality and multiplicity, conflicted and continue to conflict with the homogeneity required for the proper functioning of the nation-state, which must repress the multitude and transform it into a single, unified will, the will of the people, and this conflict manifests itself in different ways. First of all, the will of the people is achieved only after a long and difficult struggle, the chief weapons wielded by the state being ideology, which constructs and disciplines the individual, as well as violence, which is used to quell any form of dissent deemed as potentially counter-productive to the process of nation-building.
The clearest example of this in regards to Indonesia, and the clearest example of the conflicting wills of the multitude, can be found in the histories of East Timor, Aceh and West Papua, all of which rejected national sovereignty and were met with brutal state-violence and force. It would be a mistake to question whether this force was or was not necessary, because without force and violence, the nation-state could not exist. The multitude must be coerced into becoming the people; for this reason, the nation-state is born through violence while its very existence is the continued exercise of such violence.
Last years “National Congress of Faiths to One and Only One God” gave around 300 indigenous groups in Indonesia the opportunity to voice their concerns. First and foremost among these concerns was the Indonesian state’s failure to recognize their respective traditional religions. This is a perfect example of the multitude’s plurality, while it presents the Indonesian state with an uncomfortable reality: that the state has been somewhat ineffective in coercing the multitude into the people.
Although Sukarno had a deep appreciation for the rich cultural diversity of Indonesia, such appreciation was also balanced with pragmatism. If Indonesia was to become a nation, the people would have to identify first and foremost with the nation, while local beliefs and traditions were promoted only within the dialectic of state nationalism.
Perhaps that is why Sukarno limited the number of official state religions in Indonesia to just six, a number easier to unite and mold into ”the people” than the potentially thousands of traditional beliefs held by Indonesia’s diverse population (although, has proven, this unification is still very difficult).
Multiplicity, difference and diversity will always stand in opposition to homogeneity, and so the voices of the multitude – represented in Indonesia through the last years “Congress of Faiths” – will continue to question the idea of the nation, and in the process, bring it into question.
Recent concerns voiced by the indigenous peoples of Indonesia are not concerns unique to Indonesia, however; they are reflective of much of the post-colonial world, where boundaries were constructed in order to resist colonialism and imperialism. These boundaries, however, which manifest themselves in both physical as well as non-physical forms, are largely artificial and often fail to represent an essential or generalized people. It is this conflict which lies at the heart of the post-colonial state: a conflict which, inevitably, leads to crisis.