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Yayasan Desantara

History, Desantara. In 1997 Indonesia had an economic crisis which was then turned into a de-legitimacy to New Order government. The crisis, among others manifested in the form of social unrests and student protests, finally shook all the structural network of New Order government that had been supported by political centralism and its neo-liberal economic system. The fall of New Order authoritarian regime was accompanied by the awakening of Indonesian civil society.

That political change brought Islamic groups, which had been passive labels in New Order structural power, as social and political power with more significant roles. The groups gave birth to many social thinkers and activists playing active roles as engines of democratization processes.

One of these Islamic groups, which deserve a closer look due to its potential power, is the institution of traditional Islamic schools (pesantren). For traditional Moslems,  pesantren is indispensable. Pesantren has been successful in becoming the most popular institution of education with its class and ethnic-crossed network. Together with its middle class layer who had a chance to have an encounter with the West in their higher schools, pesantren communities spread along various locations (mostly rural) contributed to the mushrooming of civil society movement. We could find this in the emergence of various discussion forums, social-religious studies, grass-root advocacy network, and women movement amidst the youth who have educational background in Islamic schools and universities.

Desantara was born in the middle of these communities. In the same time with the deepening of political crisis and de-legitimacy to the New Order, Desantara grew as a network of young activists and thinkers of civil society who seek to have a more democratic Indonesia. Traditional pesantren background and various university majors function as a bond that ties them. One of interesting issues at which the forum pays continuous attention is cultural discourse as a capital for social transformation. Together with other grass-root power, pesantren is addressed as a promising agent of social transformation.

As widely known, New Order cultural policies produced a number of profoundly socio-cultural effects among grass-root communities. 1965 incident is assumed as a turnover of cultural orientation which falls various political groups apart, an event which then created floating mass under New Order rule.

Desantara wishes to bring back the contestation and dialogue that had widely flourished before. For Desantara, a shattered history must be re-memorized and reinvented with a more actual spirit by re-opening the space for cultural powers in the society that are more autonomous, inclusive, and democratic.

Building epistemic communities among pesantren groups and local communities (masyarakat adat) with a goal to bridge the thinking gap and tension between the two became the first program in Desantara, which continues up to now. In the long run, the emergence of these epistemic communities would hopefully become social capitals for the growing of cultural practices and thinking with more inclusive and liberative vision before the mass.  In the local level, pesantren and other communities should be continuously supported to be able to participate in public sphere. In this context, Desantara facilitates the emergence of communication space that is more participatory, and at the same time supports the subject repositioning amidst the pressures of its surrounding cultural practices and structures.

In the process, the communities and networks with which Desantara works in the grass-root level demand a more intensive and extensive support.  For Desantara, the sowing of more inclusive and transformative religious ideas inevitably demands an obligation to awaken civil politics in various fields.  Problems the people are facing could not be directed to only one single factor.

1.Cooperating with the Ford Foundation since 2002.
2.Cooperating with The Asia Foundation in 2003-2005.
3.Cooperating with The Japan Foundation in 2003.
4.Cooperating with the Tifa Foundation in 2005.
5.Cooperating with DRSP-Elsham in 2006-2007.
6.Cooperating with HIVOS, since 20077.Cooperating with JAKER- New Zealand AID, since 200
PublicationIn Indonesia, cultural problems can hardly neglect the history and social struggle between society, the state (religion) and market. It has been believed for a long time that religion and culture are extremely separated. Lying deep within this distinction is the state policy which puts religion as the supreme power and the only institution having the authority to control the moral of society. On the other hand, culture has been marginalized as subordinate power to serve the market and state. Socio-cultural basis on which identity is legitimized is also inescapably bound to the practice of separation/distinction between state and culture. Santri (pious Moslem) vs abangan (Javanese syncretism), agama (religion) vs faith (aliran kepercayaan) are among dichotomies with character of binary-opposition which tended to take as granted.

1. Desantara magazine is representation media of Indonesian cultural dynamics seeking to get out of that culture-religion dichotomy. Specifically, this magazine presents encounters, contestation, and resistance between certain faith groups and other societal elements with different cultural system. Arts, local culture, and religious spirits which were previously placed as passive or subordinate, victimized in the context of authoritarian political system, are represented in the new perspective of subalternity: as signifiers of other power with their own potentials to have self-transformation process

Desantara magazine initiates to build a linkage between the model of popular movement and the resistance against mainstream epistemology which currently determines social, economic, cultural, and political constitution in Indonesia.

2. Women’s Journal: SRINTHIL. This publication has entering its third year and has reached its 21st edition. With the commitment that have been made by Ford Foundation and Desantara, the support from Ford would be given in three years, beginning in 2007. However, in reality, Srinthil itself has been worked out since 2003. Initially, Srinthil is a media for multicultural women studies. SRINTHIL was formed as an effort to build alternative discourses on women issue, gender, and their relations to religion and culture.

3. DEPORT Newsletter: This newsletter is specifically created to present information on minority groups’ issues; how far these groups achieve access to public services, how the state can fulfill their rights as minority groups and the struggle of the minority groups themselves to survive in the middle of social, political and economic changes. This newsletter will be published bilingually (Indonesian and English) and distributed to government institutions and civil society organizations, inside and outside Indonesia.Duration: Bimonthly5 times in a yearObjectives:1. Boosting campaign on diversity in Indonesia, especially in the context of religion and cultural issues as well as the life of minority groups in Indonesia.

Developing the sense of solidarity among civil society so as to be critical and evaluative in perceiving minority groups issuesAll of Desantara’s publications are integratedly oriented to disseminate multicultural ideas and its alignment towards marginal and minority groups, including women. Desantara’s medias have been developed based on the strength of the network, to become an intersection that unite various individuals and groups in the efforts to protect and respect other groups, particularly the marginal and minority groups in Indonesia. Even though each has its own segmentation and uniqueness, all of these medias are formed as an effort to campaign the issues of diversity, to persuade people to respect other individuals/groups who are different, and to encourage critical and emancipatory attitude in viewing the symptom of change in their surroundings.

4. Book publicationAll of Desantara’s works in research and writing, partly will be published in the form of book. The manuscripts that will be published as a book will be selected based on Desantara’s meeting.

5. Official Website Media desantara.or.idDesantara’s website will be developed into official site that can be used as space of communication among Desantara’s network. This website will be developed as an alternative media that covers cultural issues in local regions, and become an alternative information for cultural thought and action with a perspective of justice and equality in Indonesia. All this time, Desantara’s website has been managed by the secretary, but starting in the year of 2008, this website will be managed professionally by staff that is specifically appointed to do that.Currently, Desantara’s website has been accessed by more then 50,000 visitors. Desantara’s website will be improved from year to year. At this time, the functions of the website are still limited to getting email contacts and news about cultural issues in local region that has successfully reported and investigated by Desantara network. Improvement will be to make it easier for visitors of this website to use it.

RESEARCH AND ADVOCACYDesantara have been doing research in some local community. Some researches are about mapping and profiling sosial dynamic around local communities: these datum is important for Desantara to do advocacy. For Desantara, advocacy is a way of working together with communities to reclaim rights of freedom and justice. Freedom and justice are basic and interconnected paradigms. Desantara’s position paper divides two interconnected activities of advocacy: cultural advocacy and paralegal advocacy (a struggle to gain legal status).

As one of its efforts in cultural advocacy, which Desantara prefers to call as cultural reconciliation, Desantara has been promoting a dialogue between religion and culture through gathering events attended by leaders from Islamic (traditional) schools (pesantren) and communities of local artists and indigenous people in Indonesia. In the beginning, this program was only conducted in South Sulawesi, West Java and East Java. Since 2005 the program has been expanded to other regions such as East and South Kalimantan.

In the future, it is likely possible to expand it to wider area to meet the demand and needs from Desantara’s networks which currently grows to several other regions.In general, the program is generated by a need to build an action of dialogue which will hopefully contribute to consolidation of civil society based on principles of mutual respect to different cultures. Previously, common people (rakyat), especially in pesantren, community of local artists, and indigenous people, had difficulties in getting access to public space. Their geographical position, located in rural areas, nearly always made them as merely the object of state policies. And in post-New Order era, this condition does not change much. In fact, the weakening of state as mediator and the agent of law enforcement made the public sphere subjects to dominant actors.

As a result of power struggle, competition among different actors unavoidably takes place within this public sphere. Instead of being strengthened, civil society has been much more disintegrated with the state weakening. Cultural politics of common people (rakyat) has been continuously haunted by suspicion, negation, and exclusivism which provide grounds for violence between different groups. This condition is made worse by the absence of common interest as mutual respect to different cultures/religions.The dialogue program, framed under Halaqah theme, is manifested in the form of workshops, seminar, campaigns through local newspapers, and book publications. It is often carried out simultaneously with advocacy on certain issues threatening peaceful coexistence between different cultural groups.As mentioned earlier, the cultural reconciliation must be accompanied by paralegal advocacy to achieve significant result.

In this context, Desantara plays a watchdog role to several bills on religious pluralism and culture which would bring direct impacts on pesantren, local art communities, and indigenous people in Indonesia. As many people know, the actual number of religions and faiths are exceeding official figures. Apart from five official religions (Islam, Catholic, Christian, Hindu and Buddha), a number of local religious communities also exist in this country. These communities not only have different cultural practices, but also demand equal recognition to what they believe as their religion. We can find such case in South Sulawesi, for instance. Generally capture as a region dominated by Moslems, South Sulawesi is in fact rich of different cultures and faiths. This cultural diversity necessarily calls for official recognition from the state, especially recognition over the religious identity.

Instead of being recognized, those distinct communities have been under constant repression, terror, and other intimidation practices. Post 1965 conflict, religious policies have been intensely introduced to force those communities to choose one of five official religions. During New Order rule, religions outside those five official religions were categorized as “faith” (aliran kepercayaan). In practice, these faith communities were still forced to affiliate to one of those five religions. These policies of course created abundant and excessive impacts on the society.

In 2003, this advocacy program succeeded to cancel the Bill on Harmony among Different Religious Believers. One of bill’s big mistakes was its intervention and restriction over citizen’s freedom in performing their religious practices. In 2004, the program was extended to South Sulawesi and West Java to monitor similar state regulations. Apart from success in the state level, advocacy program also successfully build networks among civil society movement in the grass root level. The latest legal issue being advocated by Desantara is Intellectual Property Rights. For Desantara, it is putting threats to the existence of local art community and indigenous people which recognizes no individual ownership over cultural or intellectual values in their community.

Database and LibraryDesantara recognize the importance of data and information which can be updated all the time with the presence of Desantara’s network across the country. Database of cultural issues will be very useful for anyone interested in understanding further about information presented in this program. As manifestation of Desantara’s concern to share information, a website is built to provide online resources and information to the public.

Meanwhile, Desantara’s library will be continuously improved to provide reading room and updated references/sources to meet the need of activists, students and academics on cultural issues.TRAINING This Training is to build capacity at skill writing and research. Writing and Research both are core cultural working by Desantara.  1.Journalism Training to enhance research and writing capacity. 2.Training for Basic Writing on cultural diversity3.Video Community Training. Capacity Building for Youth in using video camera to capture cultural diversity  Calendar of Desantara’s Activities (2002-2006)1.

Cultural Halaqah    : 2001-2006. Partnership between Desantara and Ford Foundation. It has been carried out in South Sulawesi, East Java, Central Java, Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB), and West Java. In 2005, similar program was carried out East and South Kalimantan. The program includes: workshop and seminar on culture, cultural gatherings (silaturahmi kebudayaan), media campaigns (magazines, newspapers, and local radios). It successfully initiated the publication of Desantara magazine in 2001. It is quarterly magazine.

1.Discussion forum and Rethinking Indonesia Studies: 2001, 2002. This limited roundtable discussion analyzes the issue of nationalism in postcolonial Indonesia. The first discussion taking place at Bumi Wiyata Hotel presented Dr. Daniel Dhakidae and Amrih Widodo as the sourcepersons. Second discussion (2002) presented Dr. Mohtar Pabotingi and the President of Free Riau, Al Azhar (Riau). This program contributed to the establishment of Desantara’s research division, which then produced research proposal “Nasionalism in the Perspective of State and Civil Society: After Soeharto’s Fall”. Started in 2004, the research has been carrying out in collaboration with LIPI (Indonesian Institute for Sciences) and Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology.2.

2.TRAINING FOR CULTURAL PLURALISM: Emancipation School: 2003-2004. It is a program of capacity building designed to develop multicultural and pluralism discourse. It was then followed by the establishment of civil society focal points and network in several regions such as West Java and South Sulawesi. At national level, it succeeded to withdraw the bill on harmony among religious believers which is against Civil Rights in the context of religious freedom.3.

3. International Workshop on Multicultural Women: 2003. Partnership between Desantara and Japan Foundation. This program was intended to develop public discourse on the existence of traditional women who are still in marginal position. In the forum, different groups from the state, religious communities and traditional artists gathered to formulate a common strategy which provides more grounds for establishing space of freedom in traditional arts in which women are its predominant actors. Based on the workshop, a book titled “Perempuan Multikultural” (Multicultural Women) was published.4

4. Development of multicultural discourse through advocacy actions in 5 local communities (2004-present). A collaboration program between Desantara, Interseksi and Tifa Foundation. The research program is carried out by Interseksi, while the advocacy and network establishment is carried out by Desantara.5.

5. Workshop on “Learning to Write Social History and Culture” (2003-present). In the beginning, this program was designed to build the capacity of Desantara’s staffs on Cultural Studies and its benefits to social movement in Indonesia. However, it is then expanded to the public in order to build new networks among the youth interested in the cultural actions in Indonesian context. Some media publications (DIASPORA and JALANG in 2003-2004) emerged out of this program. Those two newsletters became medias for those “graduated” from this workshop.6.

6. Monitoring Action on the Criminal Bill: 2006-2007. Desantara and ELSAM are joining hands to criticize the legal draft, especially on the section of religious and cultural issues.  In 2006-current, Desantara has nationally formed the National Alliance for Criminal Law (KUHP) Reformation. Desantara considers the religious delict in the Criminal Law is in contradiction with the Human Rights principles. The aspect of religion criminalization still colors the articles in the Criminal Law and its application. If we study carefully, people or groups that are accused as disgracing religions can be easily punished without considering accurate proof. 7.

7. 2007-2008. Forming a joint work network (JAKER) with LBH Bandung, PBHI West Java, Fahmina Cirebon, Pasundan Church West Java, and Muhammadiyah Youth Network West Java. JAKER is monitoring the issue of freedom of religion in West Java.

8.TRAINING FOR  Ethnography Journalism; Banyuwangi (2006), Aceh(2008)

9.TRAINING For Basic Writing to descripe and analize cultural diversity.  Makassar, Medan, Lombok (NTB) (2007).

10.TRAINING for Video Communities (2007):  South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara and Central Java.

11.INTERNAL CAPACITY BUILDING: Restructuring and Reorganizing  Desantara Foundation:  2008.



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