Near stagnation in so many villages of Southeast and South Asia has allowed population growth to exceed development. Resulting spread of malnutrition combined with underemployment or unemployment compounds frustration, especially among the young. Despite well-meant national and international planning and the billions of dollars committed to development both internally and from external aid, most rural poor throughout the region feel increasingly left behind.
None of the political-economic formulas so far attempted in post independence Asia has proven truly satisfactory, either materially or humanly. Far more crucial than shortage of funds for construction of economic infrastructures is the dearth of ideas that can mobilize the vast underused manpower and harness this to popular aspirations. Too often internationally designed development schemes relate only marginally to local human and physical reality. Because funding generally dictates conception of the project, the best of technical efforts may be circumscribed thereby. The crisis in relations between developed nations of the northerly latitudes and aspiring peoples further south actually is less one of money than lack of agreement upon sound strategies for building healthy societies.
It is in this arena that SOEDJATMOKO, as a creative social historian of contemporary trends, is making his greatest contribution. Encouraging both Asians and outsiders to look more carefully at the village folkways they would modernize, he is fostering awareness of the human dimension essential to all development.
Born 56 years ago in Sawahlunto, Sumatra, SOEDJATMOKO first set out to train himself as a doctor. Because of political activities he was expelled from medical school in Jakarta during World War II by Japanese occupation authorities. At the start of the Indonesian fight for independence, he joined the foreign press department of the revolutionary government’s Ministry of Information and later the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of three young people chosen to represent their unrecognized government at the United Nations and in the United States, he participated in debates at the United Nations Security Council at Lake Success until international recognition of Indonesian independence was won in 1949. He then represented the new nation in the United Nations and elsewhere abroad and took time at his own expense to study differing political systems in Eastern and Western Europe, Russia and America.
Home again in the 1950s SOEDJATMOKO became the editor of the weekly Siasat, associate editor of the daily Pedoman and was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly. With like-minded intellectuals he challenged President Sukarno’s “guided democracy” as it became increasingly a vehicle for thought control and moved toward a closed society. When Indonesia in 1966 rejoined the United Nations he lent influential guidance, later serving as ambassador to the United States before he returned to become Special Adviser on Social and Cultural Affairs to the Chairman of the National Development Planning Agency.
The lot of the independent thinker amidst the political tumult of developing Asia is precarious. It is a measure of SOEDJATMOKO’s positive commitment that concern for himself has not inhibited forthright expression. Nor has he allowed his membership in numerous leading international forums and organizations to divorce his concern from the realities of Indonesian village life. While primarily a man of ideas rather than administrative action, his writings have added consequentially to the body of international thinking on what can be done to meet one of the greatest challenges of our time; how to make life more decent and satisfying for the poorest 40 percent in southeastern and southern Asia. In the process he is stimulating others to sharpen their perception and make government and private efforts more relevant.
In electing SOEDJATMOKO to receive the 1978 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his persuasive presentation of the case for developing Asia’s basic needs in the councils of world decision making.
It is both with a sense of pride and humility that I stand before you as the 1978 recipient of the Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. To be associated in this fashion with the memory of a great human being who was really a man of the people, concerned with the lot of the poor—the common tao—is a rare honor indeed, for which I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
But I also feel humbled, because of my awareness that whatever small contribution I may have made is dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem of persistent poverty and human suffering in Asia, and by the realization of how much still remains to be done.
The problem of poverty in our countries is not new. We in Asia all know it because our eyes, our ears and our hearts tell us. Many of us have experienced it, but were lucky to break out of the vicious circles which keep most of the poor on our continent permanently entrapped. More generally, the nationalist movements of our countries actually sprang, early in this century, from our awareness that there was no hope of overcoming poverty in a colonial setting, and that only in freedom and independent nationhood would it become possible to release the energies of our own peoples to that end. Our experience since independence has made clear how much more intractable poverty is than we initially thought, and how inextricably it is interwoven with problems stemming from the fragility of our new nations, the rigidities of our social structures and the limited cohesiveness of our transitional societies.
We now also know how woefully inadequate our knowledge and understanding is of these problems, even though, in principle at least, science and technology properly applied could provide us with the means to eradicate poverty from this globe.
For more than 20 years we have striven for a solution by applying Western development models. In some cases, mostly limited to the small countries in Asia, these have worked. They have done less well in the larger, much more populous countries, and we have not been able to prevent the number of the absolutely poor from rising. This realization is now forcing us towards development and industrialization strategies that are different from those of the West. We will have to learn how to turn the massive number of rural and urban unemployed and underemployed into our major resource. We can only do so if we put the human being rather than projects in the center of our efforts. He should be the base, the purpose as well as the means of development, if we are not to fail. It has become equally clear that the active participation of the poor in each of our countries’ development is an essential condition for its achievement. Also, we know such participation must be voluntary and self organized, on the basis of restored self-confidence and hope among the poor and the weak. We are all still groping as to how to do this. But it is already obvious that only through our wrestling with these problems of poverty and demography, through our search for an autonomous development trajectory that is inspired by our human compassion and by our commitment to freedom and social justice, can we hope to grow into the more humane, prosperous, just and moral societies we all so fervently want. It is through this experience that our nations and our cultures will renew themselves. It is through this struggle that our national and cultural identities will be transformed, redefined and strengthened from within, in ways which may be meaningful to, and compatible with, others in the world. For no longer can any nation work out its salvation in isolation.
Rich or poor, strong or weak, we are all bound to share the burden of each other’s successes.
The Magsaysay Award, as an expression of the Foundation’s own commitment to these values, will undoubtedly provide continuous encouragement to those in Asia devoted to these ends, as I have been. Once again, I want to thank you.