Many Indonesians perhaps do not realize how lucky they are to have Bahasa Indonesia as their national language, because it has become a major uniting factor for a nation that has more than 1,000 ethnicities and sub-ethnicities and 706 languages.
The leader of our youngest neighbor, Timor Leste, has just reminded us of the power of the language. Indonesia has a huge task ahead of it to preserve and to develop this invaluable asset.
Timor Leste‘s newly elected President Ramos Horta‘s remarks on the power of Indonesian have probably received little attention here, despite the deep substance of his message. Our ignorance of Horta‘s commentary, however, probably also reflects our low awareness and low appreciation of this precious asset that has contributed so much to the unity and integrity of the nation.
Speaking to reporters after meeting his host President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta last week, Horta, the co-laureate of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize said, "The Indonesian media may not have paid attention to my use of Bahasa Indonesia when I addressed the Parliament on May 20 and all members of the Parliament also speak the language."
Horta, who admitted that he is yet to be a fluent speaker of our language, promised to study Indonesian more intensively, so that he "can deliver (his) speeches in Bahasa Indonesia on (his) next visit."
In return, President Yudhoyono promised to help the development of Indonesian in Timor Leste. Because without the sustainable promotion of the language, it is not impossible that in the long run Indonesian language users will decline among the younger generation.
Indonesian assistance in promoting the language in Timor Leste will be beneficial to developing the education system there, and the intensive involvement of international assistance, especially in financing terms, will help secure the sustainability of the language.
Although Tetun and Portuguese are the official languages of the young state, Indonesian has become an effective working language. The fact that Indonesia occupied the territory for about 24 years until 1999 played a crucial role in the development of the language there.
Despite its independence, the influence of its former colonial master‘s language will remain very powerful because Tetun is more an oral language, while Portuguese is only spoken by a small part of the population. Despite the bitterness left by colonial history, the mastery of Indonesian by Timor Leste people will be useful for them in their daily life even when compared to English.
The decision of our founding fathers in 1928 to declare the then lingua franca, Malay, as Indonesia‘s national language, and not Javanese despite it representing the largest portion of the population, had a far-reaching affect on the formation of an independent Indonesia in 1945.
Even in Papua, where anti-Indonesia sentiment keeps growing, without Bahasa Indonesia it would be very difficult for the Papuans to communicate with each other because there are more than 350 different languages spoken there. Many people even say that Papuans are more disciplined in using correct Indonesian grammar than Jakartans.
President Horta has reminded us that we have a very important asset that has helped unite and will continue to play a crucial role in uniting the widely diverse people of Indonesia. When even our former colony highly appreciates our national language, why do we continue to take it for granted?
There is also a growing fear that Indonesia is facing a serious threat of disintegration because the size of the country and the yawning gap between Java and the rest of Indonesia. The list of the threats can be extended. But do we realize that Bahasa Indonesia has strongly united us a nation?
President Horta promised to speak the language when he comes to Jakarta for another visit. He gave us a pleasant reminder: We have a priceless treasure that we need to be proud of. And more importantly we should be aware that we are all obliged to preserve and to develop this treasure.
Source: www.thejakartapost.com (14 Juni 2007)