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Don’t Blame the Neighbour

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Taking umbrage with Malaysia seems to be this country’s all time favourite sport that all layers of the Indonesian society can take part in with some degree of proficiency. After all the country has had years of practice and opportunities when it comes to slinging mud at our nearest neighbour.

For one thing there is the temptation of proximity that is difficult to resist – it’s always nice to have someone handy to pick on – especially if that someone is a lot smaller. For another there are plenty of different varieties of gripes readily available whenever the mood to pick a fight strikes us. From perennial problems such as illegal migrants, domestic maids abuse and general discriminations, to the garden-variety petty annoyances such as cultural plagiarism (our jamu, our batik, our song!), plus on top of that, really deep thorn in the flesh issues such as island stealing (how dare they!), the list of grievances is endless.

Of course it’s safer to argue that we are just responding to a string of uncalled-for provocations, that the fault ultimately lies with Malaysia as the giver of the offense. It justifies our getting miffed and looking down on them as a bunch of insecure and irritating upstart too big for their boots. We Indonesians after all are experts at nursing our nose when it is put out of joint.

If we spend less time examining the state of our nose however, and start asking what it is that makes it so easily put out of joint, we might just find the real problem lies in our face to begin with. There may be a lot of things they do that rub us the wrong way but may be Malaysia is not the one with the hang up. But we are. They are not the ones that feel insecure but we are. So rather than grumbling about what other people are doing wrong perhaps we can spend our time more constructively if we focus on what they are doing right and may be even learn from it.

For a start, despite their lack of originality, our neighbour is a lot more creative and a lot better at marketing themselves than we are. And it is not just a question of budget (as our government likes to use as an excuse) but rather a concerted effort to focus, plan and a lot of smart thinking ahead. Wealth after all is not about sitting on our resources and thanking God for the blessings this country are showered with and yet not doing anything about it. It is about valuing, packaging and marketing these resources so that they are attractive commodities in demand, preferable long before someone else beats you to the idea.

Take the ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ advert for example, that never fails to ruffle feathers in this country. One must admit that it is a pretty good marketing ploy. It’s just too bad that we didn’t think of it sooner. Or the idea to market a long list of things that we’ve always taken for granted as belonging to us simply because we use them, eat them and wear them: such as the ‘jamu’ herbal medicines, batik cloth, the ‘wayang’ shadow puppet, the ‘sate’ skewered meat and now even familiar songs our mothers taught us. Until of course, somebody else beats us to it, in which case we get on our high horse and cry foul.

There are a lot of things we didn’t think about mainly because intellectual property right has so far been, well, too intellectual in this country and hence a concept that has so far eluded us. We have been quite happy to steal, pirate and copy other people’s creations with little conscience or respect for the amount of thought, hard work and a lot of resource that went into the making. From the things that we wear, the books that we read, the films that we watch and the software that we use there is hardly anything that we surround ourselves with that we could truly call our own. Ours unfortunately is not a nation that values anything that originates from a creative idea.

It is only when other people start messing around with what we consider our own original creations and benefiting from them however, that Indonesia is waking up to the idea of putting value to intellectual property and the importance of claiming ownership. So instead of being annoyed that Malaysia is promoting those things that we consider as ours, we should be thankful to know that there is value to those things which we would otherwise take for granted, and that we too, with better packaging and marketing can gain economic benefit from them.

SBY is now realizing the importance of this. When he records his album, the first thing he will do no doubt will be to copy right it. Just in case Malaysia has the bright idea to use it for one of its ads.