TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Indonesian Ambassador to Colombia, Priyo Iswanto, delivered a heartfelt statement as part of his rendition of the 75th anniversary of Indonesia's Independence Day amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of us, Indonesians here in Colombia, believe that it is not hyperbolic to say that in this pandemic, the situation is rather identical to the time when we were at war. Both the war and the pandemic have led to an irretrievable number of deaths, economic setbacks, and job losses as well as a setback in the fight against poverty,” Iswanto said, as told to ANTARA.
Celebrations of the anniversary of Independence Day, that falls every August 17 for Indonesia, could perhaps be one of the few opportunities for Indonesians residing overseas to bask in a sense of home, including for diplomats and ambassadors, spending time away from home in service to the nation.
Despite only 89 Indonesians residing in Colombia, a smaller number as compared to members of Indonesian diasporas in other nation, all of them would take the once-in-a-year opportunity to come together and echo their nationalism, love, and devotion towards their motherland.
“They would always take the time to participate in activities that would enliven the celebrations at the Embassy grounds, even if the sacred day fell on working days. The day would reflect such a strong sense of unity, as these Indonesians, despite being overseas, would come together, get to know each other, and share their stories,” Iswanto stated while reminiscing about the days when celebrations were held merrily at the Embassy.
However, this year, as Colombian authorities have imposed mandatory quarantine since the end of March until August, it was no longer possible for the Embassy to hold a commemorative event and a gathering for Indonesian nationals.
Iswanto believes that the fervor and enthusiasm to commemorate Independence Day could not be dampened by the pandemic. As a matter of fact, this time of uncertainty can offer a momentum to bolster unity and togetherness.
The absence of crowds will also be apparent during the commemoration of Independence Day at the Indonesian Embassy in Rome, Italy, as Indonesian Ambassador to Italy, Esti Andayani, drew a parallel between the fight against the pandemic and the pre-independence era when war was taking place, albeit the difference lying in the absence of weapons.
“The essence of struggle, however, is the same,” she stated.
Andayani, as a diplomat, called for further measures to be taken to contribute to the true essence of independence today, including through steps to ensure protection of Indonesians overseas.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the diplomats tirelessly performed their protection diplomacy duties for Indonesians overseas,” Andayani stated.
In these times of uncertainty amid an unprecedented crisis, protection is one of the most important aspects for those residing outside their own native countries. It also offers a sliver of comfort and hope knowing that despite being in a foreign country away from their kin and not being able to gather with fellow Indonesians to celebrate Independence Day, they are being protected.
However, unlike Rome and Bogota, Indonesians in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, would still be able to bask in the togetherness, as they gather to commemorate the historic beginning of the nation.
Third Secretary of Economy from the Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh, A. Yathriba, expressed joy while highlighting the rather conducive situation in the city that allows the Embassy to hold a ceremony in person.
“There were concerns over the possibility of not being able to hold a ceremony, but as it turned out, the situation here is more conducive, which allows us to foster a sense of togetherness with Indonesians here,” she stated.
Yathriba ensured the application of stringent health protocols, including maintaining a safe distance and wearing masks, during this ceremony.
Apart from working on offering protection and also facilitating the return of Indonesians back home, the diplomats are also conducting their duties to maintain relations with other countries.
“Indonesian diplomats in various countries are also working alongside their partners in the accredited countries in a bid to find treatments and vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ambassador Esti Andayani stated.
Bolstering bilateral relations feature on the list of duties that diplomats are mandated to conduct even amid the pandemic.
Ambassador Iswanto opined that with diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Colombia approaching its 40thyear, the pandemic has, in a way, presented an opportunity to Indonesia to boost its image, as the national carrier flew a route to Colombia for the first time in May, when it facilitated the return of 366 foreign nationals from various nations, including Colombia.
Keeping the spirit alive
As handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has gradually became more conducive in Italy, local authorities are still implementing “living with the virus” protocols. With some 14 thousand confirmed cases in mid-August, the Indonesian Embassy in Rome is resorting to virtual celebrations of the Independence Day for Indonesians in Italy, Cyprus, Malta, and San Marino.
From online bazaars with Indonesian foods and products, photo and food plating competitions, to a webinar themed ‘Literacy for the Nation: Writing Creativity and Inspiration,’ the Indonesian Embassy in Rome is making all-out efforts to keep the spirit alive.
In the meantime, the Indonesian Embassy in Bogota is also opting for virtual celebrations through a ceremony and competitions, inviting all Indonesians in Colombia to participate.
“There is a silver lining to holding the ceremony virtually, as 10 Indonesian diasporas in the accredited countries of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St. Christopher and Nevis, can join in the festivities,” Ambassador Priyo Iswanto stated.
While the two Embassies in Bogota and Rome gear up for their virtual events, the Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh is preparing its new building for the in-person ceremony since in the start of August, the Embassy had shifted to a new building in front of one of the iconic tourist attractions in the city, the Statue of King Sihanouk.
Akin to those in Bogota and Rome, most people here in Indonesia will also be commemorating the sacred day through the virtual medium, as the central government has prepared several online events to replace those normally held in person.
Despite the distance between one another, be it due to the pandemic or currently being overseas, a sense of oneness would perhaps be felt and exuded a little bit stronger, as the people gather in spirit to be united in the fight against COVID-19, as Indonesia welcomes its 75th year of independence day.