INDONESIA

Why are Nazi symbols suddenly popular in Indonesia?

First there was the reopening, with big fanfare, of the “Soldiers’ café”, a gloomy place in the city of Bandung where you can drink coffee dressed in an SS uniform. Now there is an election video in which an Indonesian singer rocks outwearing Heinrich Himmler’s uniform. Why are these Nazi-era references suddenly popping up in Indonesia?

Advertising

 

First there was the reopening, with big fanfare, of the “Soldiers’ café”, a gloomy place in the city of Bandung where you can drink coffee dressed in an SS uniform. Now there is an election video in which an Indonesian singer rocks out wearing Heinrich Himmler’s uniform. Why are these Nazi-era references suddenly popping up in Indonesia? We asked our Observers in Jakarta…

The owners of the “Soldaten Kaffee” may try to claim that their coffee shop is dedicated to World War II and not Nazism specifically, but just a quick glance at their Facebook page reveals an obsession with the Third Reich. Among many posts on the subject, you can find a photo of an Asian soldier captioned “I’m on the Führer’s side”, along with the comment: “Just for fun :) NO political issues. NO glorification”.

Ahmad Dhani's music video.

 

The same Facebook page features another Nazi shout-out that has received a lot of attention in Indonesia. In a video clip dedicated to presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, Indonesian rock star Ahmad Dhani chose to wear the uniform of SS Reichsführer and Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, all while holding a garuda, a symbol of Indonesia. The candidate seems to have appreciated the video, given that he reposted it on his own Facebook page, causing a wave of indignation that has extended far beyond the country’s borders.

 

“I don’t believe for a second that there is any Nazi ideology behind all this”

In a country where the Jewish community is made up of only a few dozen people, teaching Jewish history is clearly not a priority. Jakarta resident Aditya Rian Anggoro is 23 years old, and he heard about the Holocaust for the first time in university, thanks to his father.

 

I don’t recall learning anything about this tragedy at school. It was my father who, when I was a university student, recommended that I read a book about the Holocaust. That’s when I first glimpsed the scale of the massacre that took place.

So when a video like Ahmad Dhani’s comes out, and journalists from around the world unanimously agree that it’s completely disrespectful, I am ashamed for my country. I am ashamed because I know that many Indonesians have not the slightest clue what lurks behind these symbols. I don’t believe for a second that there is any Nazi ideology behind this.

It’s not exactly feasible to force people to go learn more about the issue, but I do think that public figures have a responsibility. It’s a very serious misstep by presidential candidate Prabowo. [Editor's Note: On a post on a Jakarta-based blog, two researchers, Adrian Vickers and Mirela Suciu, commented that Prabowo has favoured references to “strong men” figures.]

“Most Indonesians don’t see a connection between Nazism and the Jewish community”

The coffee shop is just in it for the money. People see swastikas and think it’s cool, without asking any further questions. [The swastika is a positive and ever-present symbol in Indonesia and the rest of Asia. Its 45°-titled version, the symbol of the Third Reich, is far less known].

 

Personally, I have heard that there are some Jewish people in our country, but I don’t really know where they live [Editor’s Note: Indonesia is more than 87% Muslim]. I don’t know how the population perceives them, but I am sure that most Indonesians don’t see a connection between Nazism and the Jewish community.

The most ironic part of all this ignorance is that the media have found out that the singer himself has a Jewish grandfather!

 

Indonesia is not the only country that is experiencing an interest in what some call “Nazi chic”. SS uniforms have become somewhat trendy in South Korea, while in Japan, the manga version of “Mein Kampf” has become a bestseller.