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Celebrating Diversity in the City of Tolerance

Celebrating Diversity in the City of Tolerance

Published: May 21, 2012
peace torch

Youth from different faiths, together lift the peace torch and wish for peace in Archipelago.

Photo: AFSC / AFSC Staff

“We, the people of Yogyakarta, hold in the highest regard the diversity in cultures, ethnicities, religions, social status, and nationalities of people living in Yogyakarta,” began the Jogja -The City of Tolerance pledge which reverberated across the grounds of the March General Attack Monument recently, where almost 4,000 people had come together to celebrate diversity and tolerance.

Their commitment to tolerance and peace was a welcome sign of hope during a troublesome period in Indonesia. Over the previous year, acts of intolerance have increased exponentially, with mob attacks on churches, suicide bombings in mosques and churches, and the massacre of Ahmadiyah people in West Java.

In February 2012, a mob of hundreds calling themselves the Muslim Front (Front Umat Islam – FUI) attacked and dispersed a meeting of Ahmadiyah in Yogyakarta. Several days later, still in Yogyakarta, Molotov cocktails were thrown at Catholic schools by hundreds of students from Muslim schools. These acts of intolerance occurring in the “City of Tolerance” spurred concern among many in the activist community including long term AFSC partners Taruna Mataram Art Movement and Youth Circle.

AFSC Indonesia staff encouraged Taruna Mataram Art Movement and Youth Circle to build on their previous collaborations with AFSC fostering discourse of peace and tolerance at the community level. Therefore the groups decided to once again celebrate culture and peace by bringing the Peace Torch to Yogyakarta, and organizing a Cultural Parade for Peace – building on previous initiatives by AFSC partners in West Timor and Menado.

Taruna Mataram Art Movement and Youth Circle gathered members of over 40 various community groups in Yogyakarta to participate in the parade and reaffirm Yogyakarta as a city of tolerance that respects diversity.

The Peace Torch and Cultural Parade extended the length of famous Malioboro Street. During his opening speech,Ardan Budiyana, Taruna Mataram Art Movement organizer, proclaimed, “Whatever your religion and wherever your ethnic group originates, if you live in Yogyakarta, you must have respect for each other.”

The event’s more than 1,500 participants hailed from an array of traditional, religious and pop culture community groups. The participants themselves were a mix of ethnicities, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientations. They paraded Gunungan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, (Mountain of Unity in Diversity), a traditional cone-shaped ceremonial offering made of fruits and vegetables, symbolizing harmony in the Javanese culture. In addition to the ‘gunungan’, the Peace Torch, which had been carried from Kupang, Manado for the event here in Yogyakarta, was also paraded. By parading the ‘gunungan’ and Peace Torch, participants hoped to inspire the people of Yogyakarta and the government to rekindle the spirit of tolerance and diversity in Yogyakarta.

There was a real feeling of festivity and togetherness at the cultural parade. Pop culture community groups, such as Japanese anime cosplay, performed alongside Dukun reog, a traditional Javanese dance group with a dadak merak (a Javanese traditional mask) almost 9 feet in height. Similarly, Muslim boarding school groups with the slogan “We need a friendly Islam, not an angry Islam” intermingled with transgender community groups. A flood of around 2,000 spectators lining Malioboro Street and the courtyard of the March General Attack Monument, added to the festive atmosphere of the cultural parade.

For Wesley Johnson, a representative of Moluccan youth and also a survivor of the Moluccan civil war of 1999, the cultural parade and procession of the Peace Torch lifted his spirits.

“Really, war doesn’t leave behind anything but hate and grief,” said Wesley. “But here, I see all different people coming together and uniting for peace. Diversity should be celebrated, not a source of conflict.”

It is in this spirit that he hopes that the Peace Torch will continue to travel to Ambon and throughout the rest of Indonesia.

In front of the large crowd, the Peace Torch was received by GBHP Yudhaningrat, the vice-Governor of Yogyakarta, and then handed over to Ados, an Acehnese youth representative. AFSC partners in Ache are planning to celebrate the Peace Torch there, from where it will continue to other areas throughout the Archipelago.

Well-known Yogyakarta transgender figure Hamzah ‘Raminten’ mirrored Wesley’s comments that the Peace Torch proposed a spirit of tolerance and diversity that should not just end in Yogyakarta but spread across all of Indonesia.

Hamzah said, “The Torch of Peace and Jogja – the City of Tolerance is great, but it would be even better if it were to extend to all of Indonesia making it the Nation of Tolerance.”