The Indonesian government is drawing up plans to introduce military education as a subject in colleges across the archipelago to boost patriotism.
The plan being discussed by the defense and education ministries has been condemned by students and activists who say it will weaken free thought through brainwashing and perpetuate a culture of violence on campuses.
They also see it as part of moves to try and militarize Indonesian democracy following recent attempts to try and move military officers into civilian agencies and ministries.
However, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Education Minister Nadiem Makarim say it would foster among students a spirit of love and desire to defend the country.
"Students can spend one semester following a military education," Deputy Defense Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono said in an Aug. 16 statement.
"Students would not only be required to be creative and innovative but also to foster a love of the nation," he said, adding that the proposal is following a 2019 law on national resources for state defense.
However, students and activists are up in arms against such a move.
Dominikus Milan Septian, a university student in Jakarta, said it would weaken free thought and a student’s ability to question and be critical.
“It will limit the freedom and space for students to discuss things freely,” he told UCA News. “Instead of enforcing military education, the government should raise the quality of our education. Compared with other countries, the quality of our education is very low.”
Simon Wenehen, a lecturer in Tangerang, Banten province, said military education in universities is no longer relevant to the present situation of Indonesia.
“We should prioritize character building among students, developing their skills to be able to face challenges in modern-day life,” he told UCA News.
He suggested that military-style education would better be incorporated into other subjects related to the national ideology and citizenship, and not be a standalone program.
Fatia Maulidiyanti, an activist with the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), said the entire plan must be questioned.
“There is no need at all to implement conscription in any form,” she said. “It is dangerous. It will perpetuate a culture of violence on campuses and students who question things would slowly be silenced through a military regimen.”
However, Stanilaus Riyanta, an intelligence analyst from the University of Indonesia, said the move might help counter extremism being cultivated at universities.
“The threat of radical ideologies is very big among youths, particularly students. This [military education] might an effective response to that issue,” he said.
Similarly, Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, said military education in higher learning institutions could be a good thing in terms of protecting the country.
“I think every citizen is called upon to maintain the unity and sovereignty of this country and together make it a nation with dignity,” he told UCA News.
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