Perceptions of Indonesian youth on their role in Indonesia and Indonesia’s role in the region

This project sought to understand young people’s engagement in shaping Indonesia’s domestic agenda and their perceptions of Indonesia’s role in the region and internationally within the context of seemingly contradictory trends of westernisation and Islamicisation.

Despite its great potential, Indonesia has been dubbed the ‘biggest invisible thing on the planet’ for its poor ability to explain itself to the world. However, this has begun to change as a generation who grew up after the 1998 fall of the authoritarian New Order regime comes of age. Indonesia’s digital natives are increasingly working to project a more positive image of Indonesia to the world. At the same time, there is rising religious and ethnic intolerance that is threatening the country’s ‘unity in diversity’. Yet, not much is known of the political views and levels of engagement of the growing youth population in contemporary, post-New Order Indonesia and its context of seemingly contradictory trends of greater international openness and rising domestic intolerance.

By studying their views of authority, diversity, human rights, and political participation, this project has sought to understand the perceptions of urban, middle-class youth about how Indonesians should participate in shaping public debate on domestic political and social issues. The project also sought to gain insight into the impact of the media and education on young people’s perceptions of Indonesia’s role in the region and their attitudes towards Indonesia’s relationship with others in the region, including Australia. It used the asylum seeker issue as a case study.

The asylum-seeker issue was selected as it brings the relationship with Australia within view, enabling better understanding of how Indonesia’s youth see their country’s role in this relationship, as well as how they perceive Indonesia’s position more broadly in the region.

Alongside the project’s scholarly collaboration between Australian and Indonesian researchers, it also produced creative outputs to promote the sharing of ethnographic research to the wider public. This involved the production of two short films, ‘Respite’ and ‘Performing Out of Limbo’, which depict the people-to-people engagement between Indonesian and refugee youth in Jakarta and Makassar.


  • To gain insight into the perceptions of urban, middle-class youth regarding who or how Indonesians should effect political and social change by studying their perceptions of authority, diversity, human rights, regional engagement and solidarity, and democracy
  • To gain insight into the impact of the media and education on young people’s perceptions of Indonesia’s role in the region and their attitudes towards Indonesia’s relationship with others in the region, including Australia, by using the asylum seeker issue as a case study
  • To engage Indonesian youth directly in the research through a competition for short films reflecting on the way they think of their role in Indonesia and Indonesia’s role in the region
  • To engage Indonesian and Australian researchers in a collaborative project that builds on previous collaborations and includes senior researchers

This qualitative study was conducted in Greater Jakarta (Jabodetabek) and Makassar and had three components: Focus group discussions (FGDs), semi-structured interviews and two short films.

Key findings

Media credibility and fake news: The data confirms previous findings that there is a high level of distrust towards the mainstream media among young people, as in other segments of the Indonesian population. Among the research participants in this project, much of the distrust was fueled by the apparent political bias of the mainstream media, which is attributed to the fact that many media moguls have expressed political ambitions as presidential or vice presidential candidates in the past.  However, this high level of distrust is not accompanied by the ability to filter the information presented by the media or verify its credibility.

Democracy: Participants were adept at identifying political and social issues that affect Indonesia, but almost all sought the solution to these issues in a strong, benign leader (a perception that persists even 20 years after the fall of the New Order regime, which promoted former president Suharto as the benign father of the nation), rather than a stronger democratic system. This was uniform across the board, regardless of the participant’s stated preferred leader (e.g. Jokowi or Prabowo).

Education: One participant in the study claimed that he wanted to become the head of his village and had become interested in studying international relations to further this dream, as Australia had supported his village school. Australia’s aid appears to have had a significant impact on his view of the importance of maintaining relations with those beyond Indonesia’s borders. It is significant that Australia’s efforts to invest in education in Indonesia is having a tangible positive impact on the perceptions of Indonesian youth towards Australia and their understanding (even if it is to a limited degree) of governance.

People-to-people links: The production and dissemination of the short films confirm that the formation of people-to-people links on the ground through direct engagement can overcome differences. For example, the ethnographic research depicted in the short films demonstrates that the participants found it easier to overcome cultural barriers than generational barriers. The Indonesian university students found it easier to ‘connect’ with the refugee youth than with their Indonesian lecturers, which appears to have come as a surprise to all three parties. It was also clear that most Indonesians are not aware that there are refugees living in Indonesia and in general have a negative view of refugees, due to a lack of information or opportunities to engage with them.


  • Dr Antje Missbach
    Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Arts/School of Social Sciences
    Monash University
  • Dr Dave Lumenta
    Researcher & Lecturer, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences
    Universitas Indonesia
  • Dr Ross Tapsell
    Lecturer, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
    Australian National University


Journal articles

Danau Tanu, Antje Missbach and Dave Lumenta, Introduction to Special Edition, Jurnal Antropologi Indonesia, Vol 38, No 1 (2017).

Dave Lumenta, Rhino Ariefiansyah and Betharia Nuhadist, ‘Performing Out of Limbo: Reflections on Doing Anthropology through Music with Oromo Refugees in Indonesia’, Jurnal Antropologi Indonesia, Vol 38, No 1 (2017).

Levriana Yustriani and Danau Tanu, ‘The hoax emergency’, Inside Indonesia, Edition 134 (Oct-Dec 2018).

Danau Tanu, Antje Missbach, Dave Lumenta (eds), Special Edition: Youth, Inside Indonesia, Number 134 (Oct-Dec 2018).


Film screenings, discussion panels, and musical concerts for ‘Respite’ and ‘Performing Out of Limbo’ held at the Goethe Institute, Jakarta and the Immigration Museum, Melbourne.


Jakarta Globe: Documentary Films Offer Glimpse Into Lives of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

SBS: ‘Limbo’