On Thursday (24/5), Institute of International Studies Universitas Gadjah Mada (IIS UGM) organizes its monthly discussion titled Batik and the Politics of Cultural Heritage in Indonesia: International Political Economy Perspective. The discussion invited Shofi Fatihatun Sholihah, graduate student of the Department of International Relations, Universitas Gadjah Mada, as speaker; and Azza Bimantara, Researcher at IIS UGM, as the discussant.
The government of Indonesia has been identifying Batik as part of the nation’s identity for decades. Since its independence, every president in power has always been taking strategic policy to procure international recognition. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been supporting this policy by proclaiming Batik on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
UNESCO’s acknowledgement resulted in the rapid increase of demand for Batik, however local producers found difficulties to match the needed production rate. The complex production process of Batik, added with the less competitive price, becomes the main challenge. As a result, imports of printed or handmade patterned textile products from China and Malaysia are unavoidable in order to meet the local demand.
According to Shofi, Indonesian government has actually put an effort in protecting Batik through Minister of Trade Regulation (Peraturan Menteri Perdagangan/Permendag) 53/2015. It is aimed to restrict the overflowing imports of Batik. The restriction mostly based on UNESCO’s recognition of the uniqueness of Batik, which own specific process of production compared to textile products.
However, protection regarding valuable products of a state is already included in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article 20. By means of the regulation, free-trade regime committed in accommodating fair trade of valuable products like Batik and giving affirmative action if necessary. Given the acknowledgment from UNESCO and affected communities in which Batik was made, aforementioned regulation is legally applied. As thus, Permendag 53/2015, which become the basis of imports and export restriction is no longer needed. Permendag is even problematic since Indonesia would be regarded as not complying with the WTO free-trade regime.
Furthermore, the presence of Permendag 53/2015 is also fragile. First of all, the government of Indonesia is not adopting the definition of Batik that is aligned with UNESCO’s. The Ministry of Trade only defines Batik as “textile fabric with two colors or more”. It does not put any emphasize on the production process of Batik that outlines the difference between hand-drawn Batik and printed or stamped Batik.
Secondly, Indonesia is inconsistent with its claim in protecting Batik. On one hand, Indonesia refuses the imports of Batik printing; yet it is still supporting the production of Batik printing for its export. The volume of exports of Batik is bigger than imports between 2011-2014. As thus, Indonesia’s claim that imports of Batik as endangering local hand-drawn Batik and stamped Batik producers become irrelevant.
In the latter part of the discussion, Azza stated that this research is very promising to be used as the basis of integrated policy-making for the preservation of Batik. However, this effort might be facing difficulties in near time. Unlike the Indonesian government’s claim upon Batik as endemic cultural product, it needs to be remembered that Batik in particular, or patterned textile products in general, has also been element of culture and history in other parts of the world. As a result, Batik’s ownership is facing risks to be claimed by other states such as Malaysia.
“Culture is fluid. It continuously invented and shaped through interaction in-between society or with its external facets. Thus, it might be problematic to affirm that a cultural product is purely original,” said Azza.
Interestingly, ownership claims of Batik tend to change the fluid nature of culture. As governments compete to produce and patent their unique style of Batik, the cultural heritage then becomes static and rigid. This new phenomenon arises as many states using culture to gain commercial advantage.
Writer: Willibrordus Bintang Hartono
Editor: N Gigih Pramono & Imas Indra Hapsari