Friday, 18 December 2009

Proud of an idealistic Greenpeace?

Muh Taufiqurrohman , Jakarta | Wed, 12/16/2009 | Opinion

Greenpeace recently embarrassed the Indonesian government with its daring action against APRIL and PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (APP), two companies suspected of deforestation in Riau’s Kampar Peninsula. Its actions have shown that Greenpeace is truly a campaign organization that bears witness to and voices environmental destruction.

In an era where the effects of global warming are increasingly apparent, and as a former direct dialogue coordinator of the Indonesian branch of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, I am proud of the steps Greenpeace Indonesia has taken not only in addressing deforestation in Riau, but also in increasing awareness about and taking practical action to resolve other critical environmental issues.

However, I believe that Greenpeace can, and must, do more than stage direct action, direct communication and photo opportunities in its current struggle to stop deforestation and to be an environmental group that the Indonesian public is proud of.

Greenpeace Indonesia should focus on its main campaign goal; never forgetting that a forest moratorium is the ultimate goal of its forest campaign.

As this year’s forest defender camp has come to a close, and the meetings in Copenhagen end later this December, Greenpeace should further pressure the Indonesian government to issue a moratorium.

While it has achieved small victories, these are nothing but minor battles in the war on deforestation.

It is important not to lose sight of this, as Greenpeace has a tendency to be satisfied with small victories, often becoming laid back and losing focus after staging successful protests and obtaining media coverage.

Greenpeace Indonesia must never lose sight of, nor sacrifice, its idealism. For instance, it should treat all environmental “criminals” fairly.

In its campaign to save paradise forests in 2006, it named Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau as a major actor responsible for Indonesian deforestation.

Yet, Greenpeace has never staged any direct action against this company, for one simple reason.

Greenpeace chose not to aggravate either the Malaysian government, for fear of harsh reprisals and possible enforcement of the inhuman Internal Security Act against activists, or the public, a promising target for future Greenpeace fundraising.

In line with this, Greenpeace Indonesia also needs to live out its idealism within the organization. Since Greenpeace protests paper manufacturers such as APRIL and APP, it is the responsibility of staff members to avoid using such products. Unfortunately, it is common among Greenpeace staff to turn a blind eye to the use of Sinar Mas paper, for instance.

When questioned by an idealistic staff member, the practice was defended for keeping overhead costs at a minimum. It is necessary for staff members to practice what they preach if Greenpeace Indonesia is to avoid being hypocritical, and be influential and respected in the public eye.

Sadly, Greenpeace never officially boycotts products made by the companies they protest against. It would be a small but significant step to take.

It is time for Greenpeace to rethink its strategy of nonviolent direct action. Although direct action is unique, daring and in many ways highly effective due to its sensationalism, financial supporters in Indonesia have raised concern over the sustainability of the strategy, believing the government and public will lose interest, unless Greenpeace activities increasingly up the ante, leading to arrests or clashes with police or adversaries.

Rather than constantly attempting to outdo itself with increasingly sensational actions, Greenpeace Indonesia should consider complementing these hit-and-run daredevil actions with practical and ongoing solutions that can benefit both the Indonesian government and those locals affected by environmental destruction.

This is an urgent demand that has been voiced by Greenpeace supporters and the general public since 2006 when the Greenpeace direct dialogue program was established in Jakarta.

Greenpeace Indonesia has attempted to address this demand, and the 2007 Greenpeace Southeast Asia organizational development plan meeting in Bangkok saw Indonesian members propose solutions of eco-forestry and ecotourism to address the situation in Papua.

However, Greenpeace leaders ruled them out because Greenpeace saw itself as a nondevelopmental organization and felt the solutions would not attract media attention. Surely, had they been considered viable solutions, the Indonesian public would have welcomed them, and their successful implementation could only have meant good things for both the environment, not to mention future Greenpeace marketing and fundraising activities.

Besides providing practical and sustainable solutions, Greenpeace Indonesia needs to be more independent and as the above case would suggest, if it is to be successful must be fully accepted and supported by the Indonesian public. It is no secret that Greenpeace Indonesia’s agendas are often dictated by directors in Amsterdam or Bangkok, understandably so, Greenpeace is a global organization.

Unfortunately, this means agendas may better represent these directors’ personal political interests and can lead to insensitivity toward or neglect of local needs and situations. In addition, the involvement of foreign activists in Indonesian Greenpeace events is not only costly, but has also strengthens the stereotype that NGOs like Greenpeace are nothing more than agents of the West and capitalism.

Part of being more independent requires that Greenpeace launches projects to address local issues. One such project would be a clean water initiative to improve Jakarta’s rivers and gutters. Greenpeace direct dialogue campaigners and supporters alike all long to see Greenpeace actively pursuing such a relevant, beneficial and long overdue initiative.

Success with such projects will increase the public image of Greenpeace in a way that perhaps no other form of action can. No longer foreign actors, they will be hailed as local heroes for years to come.

Despite minor financial issues and some negativity from regional leaders, there is no doubt that local Greenpeace staff are highly capable. Nurhidayati’s national leadership has produced a force well trained in staging nonviolent direct action and running national campaigns.

There are no Indonesian environmental NGOs protesting against deforestation as daringly and effectively as Greenpeace and I am proud of it. However, it is time for them to put an Indonesian face to Greenpeace Indonesia, and to be seen as fighting for an Indonesian cause.

The writer holds a Masters Degree in International Relations from Parahyangan Catholic University and is a former direct dialogue coordinator of the Indonesian branch of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.