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The Jakarta Post
Friday, September 10, 2004

Indonesia features prominently at EUROSEAS conference

Veeramalla Anjaiah, The Jakarta Post, Paris

Over 400 scholars from all over the world -- mostly from Asia and Europe --
met in the French capital for four days of discussions on Asia-Europe ties,
local autonomy, socio-religious conflicts and many other issues related to
Indonesia and other Southeast Asian states.

As the largest nation in Southeast Asia with the greatest population of
Muslims in the world, Indonesia was one of the main topics of discussion at the 4th
European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EUROSEAS) conference, which
was held from Sept. 1 to Sept. 4 at the centuries-old University of Paris.

With its vast territory, 220 million-strong population, political dynamism,
socio-religious complexities and conflicts and its ongoing efforts at
democratization, Indonesia featured prominently in the majority of the 32 panel- and
three round table discussions at the EUROSEAS conference.

The four-day conference began with keynote addresses from French Minister
Delegate of International Cooperation, Development and Francophony M. Xavier
Darcos and the Philippines' former minister of foreign affairs Domingo L. Siazon,
Jr.

In his speech, Darcos emphasized that France's interest in Asia had never
wavered, though it had undergone sweeping changes over time and taken on new
dimensions.

"Asia holds a genuine attraction for the French population: it surprises us;
it fascinates and it excites our curiosity," he said.

Darcos also said France attached great importance to the relationship between
the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN).

A special round table discussion was chaired by Delfin Colome, executive
director of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), on "The Impact of EU/ASEM
Enlargement: Threat or Opportunity for Asia Relations" on the first day of the
conference. The ASEF was one of the main organizers of the 4th EUROSEAS.

"This discussion is so relevant because it is being held just four weeks
prior to next month's Asia-Europe Meeting of heads of state in Hanoi," ASEF
director for intellectual exchange Bertrand Fort told The Jakarta Post on the
sidelines of the conference.

An Indonesian delegate also concurred with Fort's view, saying the discussion
would enhance the understanding of the overall state of EU-ASEAN relations.

"EUROSEAS is doing a good job by organizing this kind of discussion on
EU-ASEAN relations," Gunaryadi, a research fellow at the University of Portsmouth
who presented a paper on the EU's visibility in Indonesia, told the Post.

The conference's second day focused on Panel 31, which dealt with regional
autonomy in Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular.

For several years, a large number of foreign scholars have been conducting
various studies about the political impact of decentralization and regional
autonomy in Indonesia.

Ana Lounela, a young researcher from the University of Helsinki in Finland,
was one of the many academics who visited Indonesia in this context.

"I stayed in a village called Ngadisono in Wonosobo regency in Central Java
for one year to observe and analyze power relations at the village level at the
time of regional autonomy," Lounela told the panel.

Carol Warren, an Indonesia expert from Murdoch University in Perth,
Australia, said the Indonesian government introduced local autonomous legislation with
an objective to assuage discontent in the regions and to bring about greater
popular participation in the political process.

However, several speakers of the panel argued that the introduction of
regional autonomy had led to new problems and tensions. Due to several overlapping
regulations, it was not clear who was in control -- the central government or
regional authorities -- while collusion had led to environmental destruction in
several provinces.

One participant even went so far as to suggest that the centralized system
was far better than the decentralized.

The third day drew a large crowd with "Violence in Southeast Asia: Ethnicity,
Nationalism and Religion" held by Panel 3, which focused mainly on case
studies rather than a general analysis.

The last day of the meeting focused on the impact of the 1997 financial
crisis.

Ironically, neither the French media nor foreign media gave much coverage on
the EUROSEAS conference.

Kartini, from the National University of Singapore, believed the media may
have been preoccupied with the hostage-taking of two French journalists in Iraq
and the Beslan tragedy in Russia.

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