I have been intending to write more about Bali from the inside-outsider’s point of view. Being inside and outside often makes me feel inside-out and often alienates me from the many non-Balinese people here (expats) and sometimes from the Balinese, too. Its a tricky tightrope.
I intend to share periodically, digests from the local newspaper, the Bali Post, which is biased toward the indigenous Balinese point of view (probably rightly so, as someone needs to take up the torch). I read it daily, one could say religiously. Occasionally I will post full translations of important pieces of writing from this newspaper, which does a very good job of voicing the points of view of the majority of Bali, the Balinese. This is a majority swiftly being displaced and marginalised in a variety of ways. Visions of Tibet anyone? Different encroaching agents, but similar results? Worth thinking about.
The following is a direct translation from Indonesian to English, of a piece which appeared on the font page of the Bali Post yesterday, and which echoes many other articles in this newspaper and other media in recent months.
The Paradox of Bali (from The Bali Post)
Bali has become synonymous with tourism. But not all Balinese make their living from tourism. In fact, tourism is only a boon for those who ive in Kuta, Nusa Dua, and particular areas of Gianyar Regency. Meanwhile, Jembrana, Tabanan, and Bangli Regencies don’t get to taste the sweet nectar of tourism at all. This is exactly the paradox which is being felt at this moment in Bali. Unconditionally, tourism – – as the leading sector of the economy – – is forcing all of Bali to make a leap from an agrarian economy to a service based one.
Statistically, indeed there has been a per capita income increase related to the aforementioned economic transition. As an illustration, the per capita income in Bali jumped from Rp 16,032 in 1969 to Rp 2,417,000 in 2000. Following the economic corrections of “post-bomb” Bali, these figures during the past year have increased more steeply than ever.
Empirically speaking, the effects of tourism have been so transformative as to have changed the very nature and structure of the Balinese economy. It was impossible to predict in advance to what a degree the tourism boom would have affected the macro-economic situation of the affected areas. At the same time, one cannot ignore the social cost that must be paid by Balinese society to enjoy mining this dollar-rich sector, which is a very high cost indeed.
Qualitatively speaking, the former chairman of “Parasporos”, Made Suryawan, emphasised how the Quality of Life of the Balinese people has decreased. In this regard, we must note that as of mid-2008 there are still 548,617 Balinese people living below the poverty level in the nine regencies of Bali. This figure is so high as to represent 15 percent of the population of the island. Furthermore, the level of unemployed people actively seeking work, which numbers 94,000, is a great concern. Even more alarming, is the fact the the majority of these unemployed seeking work have higher education at the diploma or degree level.
Furthermore, the Chairman of “Kadin Bali”, Gede Wiratha states that of the approximately Rp 150,000,000,000 of tourism assets here, only 6 percent are owned by Balinese.
It’s not surprising, given the above, that one should ask whether tourism indeed has benefitted the Balinese people as a whole. It must be acknowledged openly that tourism has only prospered a small segment of the population.
This is so, in spite of the fact that the main draw for tourism here is the Balinese culture itself, with its roots in Balinese agrarian and artistic traditions, which have contributed so much. It’s a paradox indeed, that the reputation of Bali can be so great as to generate many millions of dollars a day, while the benefits of it for the people remain so slight. As mentioned above, so many Balinese people still remain desperately poor, and so many are still actively seeking work, yet cannot find jobs.
It’s certain that an irony such as this is going to continue indefinitely unless serious, basic steps are taken to rectify the situation. The marginalisation of the Balinese people during this festival of dollars will become an eternal source of shame and regret, unless the elites act swiftly, and take radical steps to mitigate the situation. Most importantly, they must act to address the economic inequalities that have become so pronounced here.
Admittedly, this is not a simple matter to resolve. The situation is already so acute and so critical, that only the few who have a pure and compassionate heart still care enough to make a difference.