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Bali: Choose Tradition Before Innovation

Editorial: Let's Destroy Bali! Bali Academic Makes Forceful Argument for Placing Tradition Above Practical Considerations in Determining the Rules to Guide Bali's Development.

(5/18/2009) The following editorial is a free translation of an article written by Professor Dr. Ir. Wayan Windia, M.S., a member of the agricultural faculty of Bali's Udayana University, that first appeared in the Bali Post. Titled "Let's Destroy Bali?" We have translated and presented Dr. Windia's thoughts here in our continuing effort to ensure Balinese voices addressing social issues are disseminated among the larger international community.

Let's Destroy Bali? - Professor Dr. Ir. Wayan Windia, M.S.

If everyone can agree on this, let's join forces and destroy Bali. Come on, for the sake of the investors and migrants, all together now, once and for all, let's get it over with and demolish Bali. And, in doing so, we can at least stop the never-ending debate about the essence of Bali and how best to preserve it.

The current polemic on Bali's new zoning regulations (RTRWP) dominates public discourse; daily reporting on the topic can be found in the Balinese press. This fact alone demonstrates that the people of Bali remain steadfast in their thinking that Bali must be preserved together with its unique ancient traditions - increasingly under threat in this modern, pragmatic world. The rapid rate of development and change in Bali is adding to the weight and importance being given to the RTRWP dialogue. Bali's growing economic importance in the region adds further to the those with an opinion and what must be done "to" and "for" the "world's favorite island."

For the Balinese, the RTRWP must embrace the "idealistic view" that their home island must be preserved and protected. Clearly, the transformative process of change cannot be avoided. Nonetheless, the fundamental principles, realities, substance and essence known to the world as "Bali" must still be protected.

What is this essence of Bali which must be preserved at all costs? This underlying supposition must be discussed and agreed before we proceed any further.

It must be asked: Are we compelled to faithfully embrace the beliefs of our ancestors? It would seem that the Balinese cornerstone philosophy of "Tri Hita Karana" should at least be protected and championed in accordance with the three areas encompassed by that doctrine. In the palemahan or natural environment - the threats to Bali's rice terraces, jungles, beaches, lakes, rivers and mountains must be overcome. In the pawongan or social environment - the organizational structures of the subak water management systems, traditional village structures and provincial regulations must be visited to preserve Bali's culture. Finally, in the parahyangan or spiritual realm, atention must be given to community values of harmony, cooperation and spirituality.

On the basis of this tripartite understanding, it's best if we do not too readily change the concepts and values we have inherited from our forefathers. Why? Because those concepts and values are time tested: formulated and agreed upon long ago on the basis of a shared idealism, community deliberations, established social practice, pureness of concept and purpose, and an reverential air of sacredness. In those days of the distant past, the emphasis was oriented only on creating a future for Bali. And, indeed, if our desire remains to preserve Bali and its culture, then don't change the idealistic foundations on which Bali was founded.

For example, the height of buildings in Bali should not be changed. Pragmatic considerations alone (and presented by proponents of change as logical arguments) do not alone warrant changing provincial laws and regulations. Do not, only for the sake of change and progress, change the rules that prohibit high buildings or currently outlaw the diversion of agricultural rice fields to other purposes.

On the surface, these two areas share no direct connection. Nonetheless, both agriculture practice and rules on building height need to be preserved to protect Bali.

Let's Destroy Bali?

Change begets more change. We are convinced that if we change any existing concepts we only pave the way for future generations to change and alter other established rules and traditions. And, as is the case today, those future changes will be argued for and predicated upon "pragmatic" grounds in sharp contrast with the fact that these very rules were initially established on "idealistic" grounds. Such is also the case for other idealistically driven rules and traditions - such as the requirement to include "Bali style" in design concepts, preserving green zones, set-back rules, etc..

This situation is analogous with efforts to amend the nation's 1945 constitution. Amend the constitution and, in a single instance, you open a flood gate holding back other parties with differing social agendas seeking even more amendments. As we all know, the 1945 constitution was created largely out of idealistic considerations while, in stark cotrast to those now urging amending that document on pragmatic grounds.

Has our idealism changed? In Bali, if our surviving principles needed to protect Bali's culture and founded on idealism are changed only out of pragmatic considerations (to protect the interests of investors), then Bali is already sitting precariously on the precipice of its own destruction.

But, then again, if everyone's in agreement, let's all heave-ho and destroy Bali. Let's not keep the investors and migrants waiting; just get it over with and demolish the island. In this way we can at least end the interminable debate about standing up for Bali.

In the past, those who conceptualized Bali's development based their model on Hawaii. They did not want to see Bali develop along the lines of Hawaii where the culture, nature and the local people of Hawaii were all marginalized out of a "pragmatic" need to accommodate development. If we fail to absorb these lessons learned by Hawaii, Bali will be, slowly and surely, demolished and dismantled. Then, once Bali is in ruins, the Hawaiian historical experience indicates that the investors will come forward and threaten to leave Bali unless they are paid some sort of compensation. Such is the scenario that will see Bali balancing on the brink of a deep ravine of permanent self-annihilation.

For these reasons, we deeply regret the attitude of the consultants and designers of the new RTRWP who are surrendering to "pragmatic" considerations. It appears that these people have been driven by material considerations, short terms interests and "pragmatism" to sell-out their idealism.

Dark Clouds

It is also increasingly obvious that Bali must be led by a person who is consistent and fully understands the extensive and intensive implications of Balinese culture.

We understand that the intense pressures of globalization and the resulting pressures its brings on the people of Bali and its environment.

The implementation of the three cornerstones of our politics (i.e. Tri Hita Karana) we hope will ensure the appointment of leaders and a political elite who preserve and protect the precious inheritance of our forefathers. We also fervently hope that our politicians will never be guilty of carelessly picking leader who may resemble a fighting cock but is, in fact, a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Also fervent is our hope that the public have no cause to rise up and demand the resignation of their leader.