It’s a story about an immigrant who decided to find a new life in her early 20s. She was born in a beautiful archipelago of Indonesia. In summer 2012, she decided to leave the country due to security reason – the rise of religious extremism. She then immigrated to Denmark and currently settles there, integrating in a new culture.
It’s a story about me, sharing parts of cultures that I am proud about from my two homelands.
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika: Unity in Diversity
My friends in Indonesia usually call me Ika. It is taken from the inscription, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, in the Indonesian national symbol. Originally written in Sanskrit, this inscription means Unity in Diversity and was discovered as quotes in the old Javanese poem of Sutasoma. It was an aspiration between Hindus and Buddhist kingdoms, which ruled Indonesian archipelago in the 14th century, to unite despite differences.
For highly diverse tribes spread among 17.000 Indonesian islands, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika today becomes a powerful intangible shield against racism and fascism. It is a solid reminder for the people that despite different cultures they were brought up, different skin colors, languages, and beliefs or religions they subscribe, they ought to remember that they are one nation: Indonesian.
The path to unite the nation has never been perfectly smooth. The rise of religious extremism, for example, has probably the hardest challenge happening currently in Indonesia, where the calls have been fabricated to abolish democracy and to homogenize everyone under one religious law (Human Right Watch, 2013).
However I see this as a leadership problem, that the countrymen need to be reminded to the momentum centuries ago when Bhinneka Tunggal Ika was initiated.
I am proud with unity-in-diversity mentality in Indonesian culture because it has so far never failed to promote harmony among Indonesian people, to unite different backgrounds, amidst time of crisis. I hope that, this time, it will not fade from the people’s hearts to defend the country from extremism.
Studies consistently rate Danes as the happiest people on earth (Sachs, 2012). Living in the city of Copenhagen, which has recently been named as the most live-able city in the world (Monocle, 2013), I try to understand the cultural explanation behind these prestigious statuses through my everyday life.
Kærlighed is my most favorite word in Danish language. A combination of kære (dear) and lighed (equality), this word simply means love. It’s a good representation to describe Danish society. I learn that in Denmark, everyone, the bosses and the employees, the government and the civilians, men and women, the believers and non-believers, the heterosexuals and homosexuals, have important voice and roles in shaping society. This equality that respects our existence as human with conscious minds is a fundamental behind the narrow social and economic gap in the country. This is also the reason that negotiation, debate, and freedom of speech are very important in building policies in Denmark.
Despite being a small-area country, Denmark has been experiencing a swift, from mono culture to plural society, in the past 20 years (Herm, 2008). Increasing number of asylum seekers due to on- going crisis in the Middle East and African countries is a major contributor of demographic and cultural diversity in Denmark, followed by foreign workers, and international marriages. Interestingly, a typical issue of religious extremism, along with unemployment and organized crimes, are also hot topics here and unfortunately, are perceived as the side effects of immigration by many.
However, thanks to the kærlighed spirit. Many Danes and the government are still able to apply the law that fair for the newcomers to integrate and experience equal treatment in society. After all, safety comes first, but the path to contribute constructively in the new adopted country should continue at the same time, equal for everybody.
When the east met the west, I begin to see the beauty of the two cultures. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika and Kærlighed may come from two different cultures, but they share the same universal value: to humanize people regardless their inherent backgrounds. They show that culture can play a sound role in promoting peace, and I am proud for being part of it.