“Comparing Ideas and Practices on Managing Religious and Cultural Diversity in Indonesia and Germany”

(Berlin, ICD House, October 12th, 2011)

“Comparing Ideas and Practices on Managing Religious and Cultural Diversity in Indonesia and Germany”

The Event was organised by the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin and the ICD
(Berlin, ICD House, October 12th, 2011)
by Bastian Renner and Dorota Mazur

Introduction (Marc Donfried, Founder ICD and H.E.  Dr. Eddy Pratomo, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the Federal Republic of Germany)

On Wednesday 12 October, the Embassy of Indonesia and the ICD together invited Students, Young Leaders, and a number of Indonesians high-profile politicians to a small conference and panel discussion on cultural diversity and interfaith-dialogue.

The event was openend by Marc Donfried, the founder of the ICD, with some introductory remarks regarding Indonesia‘s transformation towards democracy in 1999, and the importance of multiculturalism within the country. He added that Germany, and especially Berlin with its high number of immigrants, is in need of cultural diversity. With the background of Chancellor Merkel‘s speech in 2010, in which she stated that 'Multiculturalism in Germany utterly failed', M. Donfried emphazised the importance of dialogue between cultures and religions in order to further understand each other.

In addition to this short introduction, H. E. Dr. Eddy Pratomo, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the Federal Republic of Germany, outlined the importance of cultural dialogue for Indonesia. In the contemporary world, cultures should be seen as sources of productivity and collaboration instead of a source of conflict. Only by promoting tolerance and mutual understanding, can Indonesia and Germany prevent struggles in the multipolar and multicultural world. He further stated that Islam and democracy can go hand in hand and that the following panel discussion will be a first step in fostering interfaith dialogue and creating a network between all guests.

1st speaker: Dr.  Fatimah Husein (Islamic State University Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta)

After the introduction by Marc Donfried and H.E. Dr Eddy Pratomo, the first speaker Dr. Fatimah Husein from Islamic State University Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta, opened the dialogue by outlining the cultural situation in Indonesia. Dr. Hussein, who holds a P.h.D. in interreligious relations and an expert in cultural diversity in Indonesia, pointed out that Indonesia consists of over 17, 000 islands with several different religions and ethnic groups. Furthermore, the Republic of Indonesia is neither secular nor theocratic. While officially no religion dominates the country, Indonesian citizens are  very religious and represent 6 main religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Those religions however are unevenly distributed over all islands, with some being predominantly islamic, other christian and other very mixed. What is at the heart of Indonesian philosophy, however, is the concept of Pancasila, the belief in one god, which unites all religions. Even though Hinduism and Buddhism do not necessarily have one God in particular, the concept has to be understood more in a way of believing in only one higher power, which can be manifested in different ways.

In order to prevent conflict, the free exercise of all religions is protected by Art. 29, of the Indonesian constitution, which guaranees free choice of religion to all Indonesian citizens. Additionally, Indonesia has a Ministry for Religious Affairs dealing with problems and struggles between different religions. The main six religions are also supported by government funding to finance schools and religious events, while all other smaller religions which are not financially supported  can at least apply for specific religious holidays to get days off from work. 

Dr. Hussein summarised that Indonesia has come far in its development of cultural diversity. Especially with the fact in mind that Indonesia transformed into a modern democracy as recently as 12 years ago; the achievements are therefore very impressive. Of course, there are still some struggles, but Dr. Hussein concluded that as the process of democratization is still going on, the struggles hopefully will be solved soon as well.

2nd speaker: Prof. Dr. Armada Riyanto

The second speaker was Prof. Dr. Armada Riyanto, Head of the Institute for Philosophy and Theology Widya Sasana, Malang.

Prof. Riyanto started his talk with the insistence that there is no such thing as good or bad culture. Rather, there are only different cultures. Managing these different cultures is thus not only important, but also challenging. In addition to the 17, 000 islands mentioned by Dr. Hussein already, Prof. Riyanto noted the fact that Indonesia also inhabits over 300 tribes and 300 languages. He proved the point that one simply cannot grasp the diversity of Indonesia in its entirety, by pointing out that he himself, despite growing up in the country, had just visited 7 different islands. 

Prof. Riyanto suggested that there is a general religiousness in Indonesia. Thus, understanding Indonesia‘s cultural diversity necessitates an understanding of Indonesias religious diversity. He also pointed out that in Indonesia, it is being religious that unifies the country, rather than the specific belief of that religion. In other words, everyone is religious; what kind of religion they subscribe to is secondary.

Prof. Riyanto suggested that one of the most positive aspects of Indonesia is its generally positive attitute towards minorities. In fact, the official language of Indonesia, once belonged to a minority group. Prof. Riyanto ended his talk by pointing out the need for a new paradigm; only by focusing on cultural minoriteis and those 'wounded by the system' we will be able to fully understand cultural diversity and thus have a successful interfaith-dialogue.

Marc Donfried (founder ICD)

After the talk from Prof. Riyanto Marc Donfried introduced Fr. Eva-Sabine Petry from University of Wales. Her talk was essentially an answer to Marc Donfried’s question: „what is the importance of religious dialogue in Germany“? With the background of struggles with religious customs in for example classrooms or in the public sphere he asked whether or not a debate about religious diversity is actually desireable, or if a strict secularism would be a better option?

3rd speaker: Fr. Eva-Sabine Petry (University of Wales)

The last speaker before the panel discussion started was Fr. Eva-Sabine Petry from University of Wales. With her focus on Indonesian immigrants to Germany, she gained a great deal of knowledge with regard to both Indonesian and German ways to deal with cultural diversity and immigration.

Fr. Petry began by reminding the audience of the situation in Germany following the two World Wars, the need for migrant workers, and the subsequent change of attitude towards immigrants. Fr. Petry’s essential point was that until 1973 many migrant workers were welcomed to Germany. However, what the politicians at that time did not take into consideration was the fact that most migrants (assumed to be only temporary workers) would actually choose to stay in Germany. A debate about multiculturalism or integration was thus non-existent, and this led to significant problems in later years, when the government realised the existence of sub-societies all over the country. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that, in comparison to Indonesians, Germans are not very sensitive to cultural differences. While Indonesians have the attitude to wait, observe and then adapt to local customs, Fr. Petry suggested that Germans tend to behave in a manner with which they are familiar; they act as if they were at home. This can also be seen in the fact that Indonesian immigrants seem to be well integrated without any help, while German business men going abroad need specific training in order to not offend local habits.

Fr. Petry further pointed out that German law is inherently founded on Christian values. Thus, integration in Germany might be more problematic for non-Christians. In order to deal with different cultures, she emphasized that education is the key to success. Only when everyone, on all levels, is educated about cultural diversity, will migration be able to work well. She put forward the point that cultural diversity has to be implemented top-down by the government in order to get things going. With regard to society in general, Fr. Petry suggested that educating Germans about diversity, and also at the immigrant level, would enable communication and ultimately foster cultural diversity.
By way of example, Fr. Petry introduced the success of the BOSCH Company. Here, the company asked its employees about their own values and came up with the top 7 answers where cultural diversity was ranked 7. Then, the company educated all its employees and set up cultural diversity programs in order to foster cultural exchange.
Fr. Petry concluded her talk with an emphasis on the point that Germany can learn a lot from Indonesia, and that there is still much work to do.

Panel discussion

Marc Donfried began the panel discussion with two integral questions: where do we want to go in terms of religious education? and how do we want to get there?

Dr Husein elaborated upon her experience as immigrant. She migrated to Indonesia from Yemen when she was a child, however she surprisingly didn't really encounter any adaptation problems.  She said that when she came to Indonesia she already had had something in common with local inhabitants - the religion, as 86 % of the country is professing Islam. Being a Muslim at the start helped her to understand one part of Indonesian culture and, she believes, enabled a speeding up the immersion process. By sharing her personal experience she emphasized the role that religion plays in adjusting to a new culture. According to what she said one's faith might either accelerate the adaption process or become an obstacle that is very hard to overcome.

Prof. Riyanto pointed out that in Indonesia diversity is something you learn from experience and that is not something you are taught by a teacher at school; for this reason he emphasizes the importance of fostering cultural traditions. By way of example, Prof. Riyanto recalled the house of his childhood, where a jug with water would always be outside the doorstep so that every passer-by could take a drink, and sometimes even come in to eat lunch with dr Riyanto's family. This childhood experience influenced Prof. Riyanto in terms of cultural open-mindedness. The way in which some customs can help us to become more open to others was particularly highlighted here; we can actually learn a great deal about diversity from within our homes and in our own country’s traditions and cultures. Here, Prof. Riyanto pointed out that Indonesia can learn from Germany.
Finally the issue of the presence of religion at school was discussed. Mr. Donfried asked specifically whether it would it be better if we allowed the policy of “sterilized classroom” where no one can show his/her religious background?

When it comes to teaching religion in German schools Dr. Petry claimed that by learning about others' beliefs, one can forget somehow about ones' own faith. But not learning about them at all wasn't an option for her either. Instead a good balance has to be found in dealing with a child’s own religion and with different believes.
Another point in the discussion was the role of citizenship for the full inclusion into a country. Not every immigrant can become a citizen, and so the guests were asked how an individual could become an Indonesian citizen. With regard to this question Dr Riyanto that “sometimes immigrants are more Indonesian than Indonesian people.” Dr. Petry concurred and elaborated with a story of her daughter, who, after living for a year in Africa through an exchange program, fell in love with African culture and started to express that feeling by wearing African clothes, jewelry and having African hairstyle. In some ways she became African without realizing it.

Dr. Petry also noted that citizenship is extremely important in terms of security. Above all, being a citizen gives an individual certain privileges, but what is more important is the sense of security that it allows immigrants to feel in a foreign country. If people are uncertain whether they will be allowed to stay in a country, they are less likely to adapt and learn the new language. For this reson, Dr. Petry further pointed out that to improve the integration process migrants should be given German courses for free. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t want to spend money on migrants if there is no assurance that those immigrants are going to stay in Germany.

After talking about the importance of citizenship, another crucial topic appeared - reconciliation and the influence of the history on the present dialogue between countries. A brief overview of Indonesian history reveals that there were topics that couldn't be discussed, especially after 1965' coup. For a long time, ex-communists and Indonesians with Chinese roots were under a lot of pressure from the government, and having communist descendants would cause a great deal of trouble for many Indonesians. Dr. Husein, who was mentioning this part of Indonesian history, concluded that this problem is slowly disappearing, and that the reconciliation of Indonesian people is moving forward.   
Dr Riyanto added that in history classes in Indonesian schools, Indonesian students are learning only about the good side of Indonesian past what he called “history of the winners”. However, he stated that in history there are no winners. After all, they are history.

To sum up the theme of reconciliation and history Dr. Petry spoke about the importance of exchange programs for young people. Being confronted with different culture and religion helps one learn not only about a foreign country's culture but also to discover a foreign country's history.

Questions from the audience

After the panel debate people from the public had the chance to raise their voice and ask questions to speakers. As time was limited, first questions were collected and then the members of the panel discussion had the chance to answer.

First, a german journalist was concerned with the loss of values and the rise of secularism in the Western world. He also mentioned the problem of taking a stand on Israel-Palestinian conflict due to Germany’s Second World War experience.

Then, an intern was worried about decline of religious freedom in Indonesia.

Another participant asked how it was possible to make sure that all cultures in Indonesia are represented on the same level, and how to bring all their representatives together?
The next question was about one of the Pancasila's principle (belief in only one God) with regard to Buddhists' belief in many gods. The participant also wanted to know if speakers have an idea how to improve teaching about diversities in Germany.

Lastly, a participant stated that the Western world is targeting the wrong approach when it comes to Religion. He mentioned that religion is becoming less and less important in the western society and therefore asked how it would be possible to implement religion in Western discourse, and what role religion should play in a global world.

As time was limited, the speakers didn't respond to all questions but once more they tried to explore the issue of diversity, tolerance and interfaith dialogue in their answers.
Dr. Hussein highlighted that in Indonesia interfaith dialogue was held on different levels; academic, national and non-governmental, and that there is collaboration between Christian, Islamic and secular universities. In terms of religious violence she said that it is not only an inter-religious problem, but sometimes it can be an intra-religious problem as well. For example, recently an Islamic mosque was bombed by fundamentalist Muslims.

Prof. Riyanto pointed out that religion always emphasizes non-violence, and that religious people do does not always correspond to their religion’s principles. Furthermore he added that interfaith tolerance and how to achieve it would be aided by Indonesia adapting to democracy, which would help to improve intercultural and inter-religious cooperation within the country.

With regards to Germany Dr. Petry said that German people still have many things to learn about diversity and tolerance, and especially about inter-cultural hospitality.


After the panel discussion Marc Donfried rounded up the event with some concluding remarks. He pointed out that the interfaith dialogue requires a two-level approach, in which both Indonesia and Germany can learn from each other. Furthermore, he emphasized that the biggest challenge all countries is to stay humble and to acknowledge and discuss their own problems. The conference was a successful step towards bringing people together and fostering interfaith dialogue.

In summary the conference was a very successful event which brought students, young leaders, professionals and Indonesian officials together. The positive atmosphere continued with a light lunch provided by the Indonesian Embassy during which the guests further exchanged experiences and points of view on the topic over tradition Indonesian cuisine.