Almost a year after he took office, US President Barack Obama’s approval ratings may have slipped among the chattering classes of New York and San Francisco, but the sheen is yet to come off Obama-mania in Indonesia.
At least that’s how it seemed last week when a bronze statue of Obama as a 10-year-old boy was unveiled in a central Jakarta park, on the same day that he picked up his much-criticized Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
Located in the downtown Menteng Park, close to the Besuki primary school that Obama–then known as ‘Barry’–attended between the ages of six and ten, the statue is intended to encourage the youth of Indonesia to chase their dreams.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘Hopefully this can motivate the children,’ said Sylviana Murni, mayor of central Jakarta, at the unveiling ceremony. ‘Who knows if there will be another child from this country who can become a world leader?’
You’d think it would be hard to disagree with such sentiments. But in a country as large and as politically-engaged as Indonesia, a version of Newton’s third law applies: every action has an equal and opposite protest movement.
Not long after the statue was erected, Heru Nugroho, an IT worker, launched an Indonesian-language Facebook campaign calling for the bronze cast of young Barry to be removed because it is a slur on the sovereignty of the nation.
A statement on the campaign’s web page, entitled ‘Turunkan Patung Barack Obama di Taman Menteng’ or ‘Take Down the Barack Obama Statue in Menteng Park,’ expresses shock at the decision to place a statue of a US citizen in an Indonesian public space, claiming that in the history of Indonesia as a sovereign nation, Obama is a ‘nobody’ who merely ‘ate and defecated’ in Jakarta before returning to his homeland.
The group, which has already attracted more than 30,000 supporters, plans to write to the governor of Jakarta, Fauzi Bowo, to protest and claims it will file a lawsuit to remove the statue if it attracts more than 100,0000 members.
Although many people in this overwhelmingly Muslim country have been disappointed by Obama’s desire to continue George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign policy concerns are not behind the growing opposition to the statue, according to the group’s founder.
‘I respect Obama and realize that he’s a role model who had a dream and attained it,’ explains Heru, who runs an Indonesian culture and history website called Wacana Nusantara (or Archipelago Discourse). ‘But this is Indonesia and Menteng Park is a public area for Indonesian society.’
There’s no question, for once, of a misuse of public funds. The statue, which cost just over $10,000, was funded by a group of Indonesian businessmen. Heru’s concern is that Indonesian public spaces should be reserved for the commemoration of Indonesian figures.
‘We want a statue of someone who has made a contribution to Indonesia or Jakarta and we have so many real local heroes we could put there instead.’
Heru argues that former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin, widely credited with turning around the city’s economic fortunes, or Benyamin Sueb, a popular local entertainer in the 1970s, would make much more appropriate candidates.