Bandung: "Asian African Conference"
Bandung West Java
May 18, 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 1955, for one week in April, Indonesia hosted the Asian-African Conference in Bandung. It was the "first intercontinental gathering of coloured peoples in the history of mankind."
Four hundred high-ranking national politicians convened from thirty countries in Africa, The Middle East, The Near East, East Asia, Southeast Asia and The Indian Subcontinent. Together these countries accounted for more than one-half of the world's population.
All of the sovereign nations of these areas were invited. Two were not. South Africa because of its policy of apartheid; The State of Israel because it "occupied Palestinian lands."
Richard Wright and Adam Clayton Powell attended as "observers" from The United States.
In 1955, the world was a changed and a changing place. Only ten years after World War II and just after the end of the Korean Conflict, maps were re-drawn and new countries were emerging. Old, very old countries and ancient civilizations were re-emerging after hundreds of years of foreign domination.
The Conference in Bandung addressed issues of cooperation, trade, cultural exchange, poverty, racism and colonialism. Western nations were still stubbornly and ruthlessly entrenched in North Africa and Central Africa.
Eventually, Colonialism was crushed by Nationalism. Indeed, this year, to acknowledge the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Conference, representatives from more than one hundred African and Asian nations assembled in Bandung.
In 1955, the fear of atomic weaponry was also paramount.
In his opening address, Mr. Ali Sastroamidjojo, Prime Minister of Indonesia and President of The Conference made the observation and voiced the fear:
"At present we are standing at the threshold of another new era, facing the tremendous consequences of the progress of nuclear science. New and formidable sources of energy are discovered in the world of atoms, the technical intricacy of which is far beyond the knowledge of the ordinary layman. But what we all understand is that these new forces can be used either to benefit mankind or to destroy him utterly. What we notice at present is that these new inventions, instead of being used for peaceful purposes and world progress, are being held in utmost secrecy, with the primary aim of building-up positions of strength."
"Never before has mankind experienced such a frightening situation where powers of great might, commanding the inexhaustible resources which science and technology have put at their disposal, are building up daily positions of ever increasing strength in world politics."
"It looks as if mankind is not morally prepared for the fruits of its own genius."
I read through the two hundred pages of speeches and communiques. The rhetoric is thoughtful, genuine, and stimulating. The words speak of mutual understanding among the diversity of cultures, economic growth, and freedom.
These serious, concerned leaders had witnessed the horrors of the first half of the Twentieth Century. They sought self-determination and peace for the second half.
Disappointment and sorrow, great sorrow, were my first reactions as I wandered the halls of Gedung Merdeka The Freedom Building - the site of the Conference.
Can we forget the last fifty years in Asia and Africa?
Vietnam. Iran-Iraq. Israel-Palestine. Afghanistan. Uganda. Nigeria. Sudan. Ethiopia. Cambodia. Kashmir. Tibet. Rwanda. Kuwait. Iraq.
Countless tens of millions have perished before negligence, greed, ambition, bankrupt philosophies, and megalomania.
According to a new book called "The Unknown Mao," during the Cultural Revolution in China, Mao's "policies" caused the starvation of seventy million, (70,000,000) of his fellow citizens - in peacetime!
I am having a difficult time articulating my next reaction. All I can say is that I was startled.
On the walls of the exhibit halls were large, blown-up photographs of the conference events and the men who attended.
I was startled. I know these men. I know these men!
Wasn't it just yesterday that they were on the front pages of The New York Times and The Herald Tribune? Just last month on the front cover of Time and Newsweek and Life? On television from the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council? *
I recognized many of the leaders of the 1950's. They were the powerful men whose faces are embedded in the memory of an adolescent boy, changed and changing. Is this the explanation for my shock at seeing these images?
Gamal Abdel Nasser
V.K. Krishna Memon
Carlos P. Romulo
Emir Faisal Ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Now I am not a political analyst or world historian. But I do feel that at least something quite unexpected and positive emerged from the original conference fifty years ago:
An important group of these countries evolved into the "Unaligned Nations." They served as a buffer between the West and the Eastern Block during the years of the Cold War. Perhaps this "unaligned" group prevented their own worst fear - atomic war. Who can say?
And now I must leave Bandung and West Java. I have seen a beautiful part of Indonesia and I have learned a lot.
I am reminded that I have lived a fortunate life in the West. But it is in the East that my memories and my past come clearly into focus.
Jan * Yes, my young American friends, important debates from The United Nations were broadcast nationally. Sound-bites were not yet invented. Nor docu-dramas nor "reality" TV. In the 1950's, we only got the news.
Item from "The Nation" (One of two daily English language newspapers published in Thailand):
Sunday, July 10, 2005
"Bangkok hosted the first-ever 'International Conference of Asian Queer Studies' - a huge academic gathering that was expected to shed new light on gender studies, thanks to the broad spectrum of topics on issues related to Asian homosexual and trans-gender groups.
A joint initiative of the Office of Human Rights Studies and Social Development at Mahidol University and the Australian based AsiaPacifiQueer Network, the conference featured more than 50 speakers."
Yes, my friends. It is the Twenty First Century.