Chinese New Year 2008 celebration in Jakarta. Photo by: DMahendra, from Flickr.
For more than three decades, the Chinese Indonesians have been forbidden to express their culture. The authoritarian “New Order” regime under former President Suharto declared that it is illegal to use the Chinese language and characters. Subsequently, the “Imlek” (Chinese New Year) celebration was never seen and held. During that time, violation against the regime's rules would bring about severe repercussions: end up in jail or ‘involuntarily disappeared’.
Thanks to President Wahid in 2000 who annulled the discrimination against the Chinese and all the minority in general, the Chinese Indonesians now can express their culture openly. President Wahid and then followed by his successor President Megawati Soekarnoputri, then declared that the Chinese New Year as a national holiday. Now, not only the Chinese Indonesians, all Indonesians can also enjoy the holiday.
The latest census of Indonesian ethnicities in 2000 showed that the population of the Chinese Indonesians was 1.2 million. Some experts said that the number is even larger (up to 3 million), since inter-ethnic marriages are becoming more common between the Chinese and other ethnics in Indonesia. Thus, the proportion of the Chinese Indonesians to the country's total population is currently around 1-2 percent, and it subsequently makes them to be among the 10 biggest ethnics in Indonesia (there are more than 300 ethnicities and more than 700 languages and dialects in the country).
Having a large number of Chinese Indonesians, the country should be a destination to enjoy the lunar New Year celebration. A lot of events and Chinese decorations can now be found on the streets, malls, department stores and other amusement centers. The atmosphere can be felt stronger in the China towns, which exist in almost all major cities in Indonesia, such as in Medan (North Sumatra province), Jakarta and Semarang (Central Java province).
Nevertheless, there are still some some fundamental religious groups that say that it is forbidden for muslims to wish “Happy Imlek”, let alone to participate in the celebration. They also said the same message during Christmas. To these groups, Mohd Yusri Hafiz Yusof, a Malaysian student in Akademi Pengajian Islam Universiti Malaya (Islamic Studies Academy, University of Malaya), in Kuala Lumpur, has the answer:
…Di Negara China, terdapat lebih 100 juta umat Islam dan mereka merayakan Tahun Baru Cina… Allah s.w.t tidak melarang umat Islam berbaik, berbuat baik, bergaul secara baik dan berlaku adil serta jujur dengan golongan lain, baik Yahudi atau Nasrani…
Thus, Happy Chinese New Year for all of us, especially the Chinese Indonesians!