I don't wish to claim any influence in the matter. After all, I very rarely blog about anything which isn't current and it may be entirely coincidental that my rant about the Buddha Bar has been mirrored, in less sardonic language, by journalists and the Minister of Religious Affairs.
It's quite possible too that the issue has been highlighted in umpteen other local blogs which, sorry, I haven't had the time or bandwidth to peruse.
The Minister, Maftuh Basyuni, said, “If they don’t close this place down, I am afraid we could see other bars emerge like a ‘Christian Bar’ or an ‘Islam Bar'.”
The Jakarta Representatives Council (DPRD) has also asked for the management to halt their operations to keep peace between followers of different faiths.
They are talking about revoking the business licence given that the original agreement was expected to be a partnership between the public and private sector.
Lin Che Wei and Marco Kusumawijaya, in a very thoughtful article, quote Aurora Tambunan, the head of the city’s Culture and Museums Agency back in 2005, promising that the agency would work with private management to transform the building into a ‘unique venue’ where all Jakartans could hold activities.
Unfortunately, this pledge has never become a reality. The building is not a unique venue for all Jakartans. It is a unique venue for some Jakartans - the upper class ones.
The whole building - not only a part of it - has become the totally commercial Buddha Bar. It is interesting to note that a daughter of former governor Sutiyoso now runs the operation.
Physically it has returned to its former glory, but spiritually it has lost its soul and its place with the public. As citizens of Jakarta, now we now know what the city administration means by private management.
Quite right too, and Indonesian Corruption Watch has launched an investigation into the nepotistic angle.
Perhaps more interesting is that it is reported that Indonesian Buddhist Students Association (AMB) negotiated with the management which sealed the Buddha-Bar ... and it will remain closed until the matter is resolved.
A commentator on the article praises AMB.
I'm a Muslim but I salute the Buddhist community for taking action on what they think it's right. Yes, of course the concept of 'Buddha-Bar' itself can be seen as heretical to Buddhists. But, even more impressive is that they managed to achieve their goals via peaceful means of negotiation, and not through violent threat, unlike some of the hard-liner Islamic groups around. I think the latter groups ought to learn from the Buddhist community in Jakarta about tolerance.
So peaceful citizen action is seen to be effective.
The Buddha Bar is, probably, no more. What will take its place, under the same or a more accountable management remains to be seen. One may also hope that this will lead to greater transparency in the management of the city. After all, City Hall should be protecting the interests of all Jakartans and not just those with intimate connections to City Hall.
As Lin Che Wei and Marco Kusumawijaya say, "We strongly believe that all Jakartans have the right to enjoy the building – the Jakarta administration must ensure that only a part of the building is used for the commercial purpose and that the maintenance of the building comes with a Public Private Partnership scheme which is more accountable and does not rely purely on nepotism."
I hope to be able to visit the magnificent refurbished building soon, not to see Buddhist artefacts, but solely to admire the public space and whatever public exhibitions and performances are on offer.