How years in Europe changed the President


PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie has said that spending 20 years in Europe made him value democracy and rendered him immune to criticism and bad press.

“I am used to it because I went to live in Europe when I was 17 years old,” the German-trained engineer told the Asian Affairs journal.

“All my formative years were spent in Europe. As a result, the values of human rights and the value of democracy became a greater part of my moral system.”

He said he was not bothered that some Indonesians did not want to understand his views on certain issues.

“It is normal. Indonesia is my country and has a different culture. I respect it; it is also my culture.”

A “European value system”, he maintained, made him more open and receptive to calls for reform and democracy in Indonesia.

Noting that more than 900 demonstrations had been held since he came into power, he said he told Parliament that demonstrations “were the greater part of democracy. If the people want to have cooking oil for free, just demonstrate.

“But don’t commit crimes.”

He took pains to point out that he had “engineered a relaxation of the system”, and that “the boundaries were being pushed back”.

Despite this boast, his detractors charge that he has done little for the reform movement and has instead been preoccupied with shoring up his own position.

Labelling his critics as “preachers” without identifying them, Dr Habibie said they were not consistent in their views.

“The mass media is making money out of the preachers’ actions. The problem with the press is that it is a buyers’ market.

Truth is not essential.

“You know I just listen to all these criticisms, but I have to be pragmatic.

“Otherwise, I will create new problems and those who will suffer are neither me nor the preachers, but the people.”

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