The demonstration In front of the Danish Embassy in Jakarta today was calm and orderly. The building had not been closed and the police had only brought in a force of fifty policemen supported by some twenty security guards ready. It was obviously not expected to be a major event.
Many tenants left before the demonstrators arrived. They said it might be inconvenient later, but that their offices remained open upstairs. The Danish embassy, however, remained closed. The bistro in the right wing of the building was open and guests were having lunch as usual.
Outside, the insignia of the Danish embassy next to the main entrance had, along with the other Nordic embassies in the building, been covered up with blue plastic. Either to dampen the provocation or to protect the building from being damaged in the event of any throwing of the rotten eggs, that always seem to be most readily available when demonstrations take place.
Then the rain came. Heavy and with strong gusts of wind. The policemen and security guards huddled together near the entrance or elsewhere in the shadow of the building. By now, some local newsmen had also gathered and two TV cameras had quickly to be taken down and kept in the lobby.
Sometime after one o’clock, the demonstrators arrived. Some drove their own cars, some came on motorcycle. About half the total number of demonstrators arrived in and old deranged bus rented for the purpose. A bystander explained that they were the hired demonstrators.
The group of now little over 100 people then assembled in front of the building where four leaders took turn in chanting and infuriating the crowd, which eventually started to respond. Placards were shown and as the demonstrators got bolder, the holders of boards and banners climbed up on the fountain in front of the building and eventually came quite close to the line of policemen.
Last night, the Danish ministry for foreign affairs had advised Danes in Indonesia to leave the country, so it was with a bit of hesitation, I walked up to the demonstrators. The response to my camera was, however, positive, so being Press seemed to give me some freedom of movement.
One came over and asked me in English – I don’t speak any Bahasa Indonesia – where I was from. Denmark, I said. He raised an eyebrow and repeated in a normal tone of voice that it was stupid to print those drawings. I raised an eyebrow as well and shrugged my shoulders. End of conversation.
Shortly after, the demonstrators left as orderly as they had come. The bus left first. Some of the organizers stayed on across the road on the opposite pavement for a while, apparently discussing the event. Some changed their dress and stood in the more convenient attire of shirt and trousers.
As I reflect over the incident, I am of course first of all pleased the event went peaceful. But I also must conclude, that when the headlines say that the rage from the Middle East has spilled over into South East Asia, it is not true. It has angered and annoyed many at all levels in society, but it has not blindly enraged a vast number of people the way we are told it is the case in the Middle East.
Do I agree with the Danish ministry for foreign affairs when they advise Danish citizens to leave Indonesia? No, not from what I have seen and heard.
It speak in favor of the statement, that demonstrators elsewhere in Indonesia has threatened to round up Danes and deport them if there was no apology from the Danish government. And there has been Danish flags burned together with at least one image of the Danish Prime Minister.
But considering the number of demonstrators and the 220 million inhabitants of this country, I am not really convinced that my personal safety is threatened here.
I have seen before how fast these statements are issued – last year, several days after the tsunami disaster, the ministry warned against traveling to the South West of Thailand(!). I also do understand that these statements are meant not least to protect the ministry against being blamed afterwards, should things go out of hand. But every time the ministry cries “Wolf!” for other reasons than seriously requesting the Danes to get out of an area, it undermines its own credibility. I think this was what happened yesterday.
If you care to share your opinion on this subject with other ScandAsia readers, I have opened a discussion on the ScandMail webboard here: