Compared to the stream of independence referendums in Scotland, Spain, and others, the Pacific region does not lack the energy of separatism. On 4th of November 2018, New Caledonia held a referendum on whether it would remain a part of the French Republic. The event concluded that the majority of New Caledonians chose to remain under the French administration. Papua and West Papua, on the other hand. Is a different matter. The province of Papua and West Papua are bigger than every other Pacific island country, while the separatist movement comprises of violent, armed militias.

The separatism in Papua has been an issue for almost 50 years, yet it never made any significant progress in reaching nationhood. The Free West Papua movement does not have enough support from the majority of Papuan population. The questions are, why does the movement persist, and will the movement ever succeed?

Separatism around The World

Crimea wanted to leave Ukraine, and failed. Scotland held an independence referendum from Britain in September 2014 and Britain is in the process of leaving Europe since 2015. Catalonia’s referendum to secede from Spain was in November 2014 (although remained unrecognized), and Quebec may possibly organize its own in the next couple of years. Wallonie, Corsica, North Italy, Bretagne and others may someday follow suit.

Today’s wave of independence movements isn’t the first time scholars have investigated the idea that secessionism might be contagious. In the 1990s, a similar trend of independence movements in Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia seemed to support the contagion theory, but academics refuted the idea, saying there is simply no evidence that secessionism spreads from country to country.

Scholars have repeatedly investigated the “contagion theory,” There is some evidence that secessionism in one part of a country tends to spread to other parts of the same country, according to expert Jason Sorens. There is also evidence that when a central government fails to put down one armed self-determination conflict, another one is more likely to emerge in the same country, but there really doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence behind the concern that allowing independence to occur in one place will encourage similar movements elsewhere around the world.

Steve Saideman, political scientist at Carleton University in Canada, has also found little evidence that secessionist movements are contagious across borders. In a 2007 study, Saideman examined the argument that “internal processes are more important in the development of separatism and its spread within individual states” than “exposure to some external event,” such as an independence referendum in another country.

The (Non)Prospect of West Papuan Separatism

Most separatist movements in this modern era are bound to fail. Looking at the current situation in Papua and West Papua, the Free West Papua movement is no different. There are 5 good reasons reasons why:

1) Indonesia is far too strong

In both economic and military terms, Indonesia is no match for West Papuan independence movement. If the separatism persists, Indonesia will, without a doubt, be the one who lasts longer. Nonetheless, the international audience have witnessed how Indonesia is becoming more permissive towards the acts of separatist movement, to reduce the risk of violence and political upheaval.

2) The history and great idea of Indonesia

The grand idea of Republic of Indonesia would be incomplete without Papua as a part of it. Something that might be very difficult to comprehend for the local papuans is that the Indonesian people actually want Papua to be a part of their country. People who live in Indonesia will understand that Papua is a land that is far to reach, and for most Indonesians, a trip to Raja Ampat or Jayawijaya is only a dream of perfect, expensive holiday plans. However, if given the opportunity, any average Indonesian would take the chance for a trip to Papua, for the love of its people and its nature.

3) Indonesia is more significant for the international society

Had the West Papuan separatists gained independence, any country with relationship with Indonesia will have to risk that relationship, if they dare to open diplomatic relations with the independent West Papua. It will be hard to imagine that any country in the world would prefer ditching their relationship with Jakarta, as Jakarta and Indonesia is an important gateway to Southeast Asia, as well as prospective human and natural resources.

4) The separatist movements are not united

The media coverage has somehow made the West Papuan separatist movement look more solid than it actually is. As a matter of fact, the leaders of “the movement” are heads of different organizations; each has its own political view and mission. This makes it even more impossible for the movement to establish formidable alliance and stand strong in front of the Indonesian government. There are many local coverage of conflicts between these leaders, mostly by local media and written in Bahasa Indonesia. If you want to entertain your curiosity, you can try googling names like Benny Wenda, Yaboisembut, and Jacob Rumbiak.

5) The cost of separatism is high, and the cost of independence is even higher.

Independence would mean losing the benefit of Indonesia’s national healthcare coverage program, annual subsidies for the local government, and abandoning current infrastructure projects. To take it a little bit further, the Papuans will be prone to foreign influence and military threats, with the presence of United States, China, Australia, and Indonesia in the neighborhood. Some of them are planning to offer foreign investments, some are planning to build military base near or in Papua. The price of independence for West Papua is uncertain, but it will be really expensive.

The separatists often believe that they can repeal globalization and conquer international politics by a simple declaration of sovereignty, the adoption of a new flag and national anthem and by being awarded a seat in the United Nations. In fact, independence is not a child’s play, and the West Papua separatist movement is not ready to pay the price.

Source :
Jason Sorens, in “Business Insider”. Taken from : https://www.businessinsider .sg/why-catalan-kurds-voting-independence-movements-secession-2017-10/?r=US&IR=T , 2018