2011 was an eventful year in Indonesia’s diplomacy. There were ups and downs, highs and lows. For a comprehensive analysis of this, you should be consulting established newspapers like Kompas or The Jakarta Post. You’d most likely be drawn to the same issues though: Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship, the expanded East Asia Summit, the G-20 and APEC Summits, the reinvigoration of US-Indonesia relations, everything culminating with the Bali Democracy.
Yet, the thing that often goes unnoticed is the one that has often poses the most difficulty for diplomats, be they in lands afar or stationed in Pejambon: the protection of Indonesian citizens abroad.
Highlighted by the tragedy that befell Ruyati, 2011 was a year when citizen protection once again grabbed a considerable proportion of news headlines related to diplomatic and foreign policy issues.
Citizen protection was an issue that moved the people’s emotion, capable of pooling funds as much as Rp 1.2 billion for a poor maid on death row (although the money was never actually used to save her, and instead went to her home’s renovation and certain other lifestyle upgrades). Fingers were pointed, mass rallies gathered. It was an issue with which the Government was constantly hammered, made a punching bag by every single politician other than those wearing light blue.
Each time, it appears as if nothing that the Government did was ever right. The Government was always pictured as slow, unresponsive, and unwilling to care for the “regular” Indonesian citizen, dutifully earning a living abroad. And when something actually went the right direction, when the Government managed to rescue an Indonesian from the jaws of death, not enough credit was given, preferring instead to give the thumbs up to some TV station with a red logo.
Indeed, the protection of Indonesian citizens abroad has never been a black-or-white issue. When we are demanded to work on the principles of partiality towards our fellow citizens (in spite of the crime they had committed), then the issue could never be only about right or wrong. How do we right the wrongs or act otherwise? It is as if, like magicians, diplomats could simply say abracadabra and pull out favorable decisions from out of the hat.
Of course, as a public servant, our job is a thankless one. I, and many of my friends, agreed to this when we signed on the dotted lines. We also knew that the pay wasn’t going to be that good. But as fellow workers, carrying the nation’s burden on shoulders nourished by measly government salaries, it is difficult for me not to turn to my friends in citizen protection services and give my fullest appreciation to them.
Let me use this space to thank you, my fellow diplomats, for not only raising the red and white in some of the most dangerous places on earth, but also for protecting any of our people who have crossed into harms way, more than 15.000 people in 2011.
I thank you for making your way to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunis and other parts of the world wrecked by political havoc. I thank you for braving the roads to tsunami-torn Sendai and providing lifelines not only for Indonesians, but also other foreign nationals there. I thank you for facilitating the rescue of our sailors from pirates on Somalian waters. And for returning the thousands of overstayers who had lived in shanties under a bridge on the holy Arabic soil.
I thank you all.
I am my brother’s keeper. I promise this. And for that I have entered this public servitude. I know, in my heart, that my diplomat colleagues think the same. But don’t tread on us. To climb a mountain, much moral support is needed from the people back home. For we will always seek the best for our brothers, even if they are not the best of them. Who will come to our sides if not our own?