Nation building vs. State Building

According to Wikipedia, nation building refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state; whereas state building is less widely used and is described as  the construction of a functioning state. Two notions strongly intertwined, but not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

flagsI attended a very interesting discussion last Thursday, arranged by a small group of journalist, with a Malaysian speaker who is a historician and a press expert on both Indonesian and Malaysian press. He has been researching about Indonesia and Malaysia since the ’50s; and his research includes various aspects of it, though mostly they are regarding language, culture and inevitably – press. His main point is that the current press situation in both countries is a result of a long history of colonialism, “democracy” and cultural dynamics.

He further stated that because Indonesia’s press had been flourishing since even before the independence declaration, and thus its current situation is much better than that of Malaysia’s. Despite its cultural differences and vast area, he thinks that Indonesia is very much “united”, in that the different cultures go along well with each other and, thanks to the 1928 Sumpah Pemuda declaration, they have one unifying language besides the 300+ local languages. Since 1928, he said, Indonesian press has been using Bahasa Indonesia in all publications, and it helped in the process of nation building.

Indonesia, compared to Malaysia, has stronger national identity and more solid and functioning press. Whereas Malaysia, a country with three different cultural groups – Malay, India, and China, has press with three different languages that promote different issues. Moreover, Malaysia is still behind Indonesia in terms of freedom of press and democracy. Thus, Malaysian press is not as deliberating as Indonesian one. Indonesian press, though, due to the freedom of press that was imposed post-reformation in 1998, is now (still) facing a euphoria and faces a problem of a press too-free that it lacks certain quality (e.g. decency).

But, the (relatively) free and uni-lingual press in Indonesia is proven to work in nation-building, he argued. Malaysian press, that is not functioning well in being the fourth estate, is not able to become one of the tools for the country’s nation building. The country, however, succeeds in state building. due to the increase of GDP during the past decade, Malaysia is now one of the leading countries in the region with USD 8,495 per capita, while Indonesia‘s is a mere USD 2,151 per capita. Malaysia’s success in state building could also be seen from its success in constructing one of the world’s tallest buildings.

This situation reminds me of the old days when the old regime was still in power. Indonesia’s GDP was among the highest in South East Asia, Malaysians were still going to university in Indonesia, but the press was oppressed and people enjoyed what only seemed like freedom and democracy. Now it’s the other way around. Malaysia’s emerging as one of South East Asia’s strongest economies, Indonesians go to Malaysian universities, Indonesia exports (sometimes illegal) housemaids to Malaysia, although the press and the people enjoys freedom of expression.

There are many things that I can reflect about from the discussion. But one thing that bugs me is this nation building and state building issue. There is indeed price to pay for the freedom that we are breathing now. The price is perhaps too expensive for some. We managed to build our nation, but our state is crumbling down. We are (still) proud to be Indonesians with all our flaws, sure. But after more than 80 years after the nation emerged, how long will it survive if the state never emerges?

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