Untying Borobudur's Gordian Knot
    Category: Column By : François Richli Read : 1049 Date : Friday, November 14, 2014 - 10:27:07

    Borobudur is the serene face of Indonesia: a symbol so reassuring that Indonesia uses it on its banknotes. Yet this glorious monument is a disgrace. Borobudur, tragically, is an unacknowledged embarrassment to the country—as if Indonesia was too malu to admit it, and face this uncomfortable truth. A visit to Borobudur should be remembered as a soul-enlivening experience, but it is, sadly, quite the opposite.

    First, guests usually arrive in a litter-strewn parking area. They are then assaulted by thousands of hawkers selling garish knick-knacks and cheap t-shirts. The guides at the site can only repeat, parrot-like, some basic information that provides no deeper understanding about this great mandala in stone, and its glorious ode to Buddhism. For most, they remember climbing some hot burning grey stone and little else. A fortunate few that can afford a private tour will have a better experience, with access to a VIP entrance (hawker free), an experienced guide and may even have some shade from an umbrella as they climb the structure.

    Borobudur’s residents, meanwhile, hardly benefit: Only a bare 15% are employed in tourism, the rest are either unemployed or farmers. Thus something is not quite right. Paradoxically, the Borobudur’s citizens suffer due to their temple. The one law that has been respected is that no factory can be operated within the town’s boundaries—a fine measure to be sure, but one that adds to local unemployment. Thus many try to become hawkers at the site, which now number 3,500.

    The unemployment situation now drives many to sell their land to developers near the site. It is suspected there are many related structures lying hidden behind the ground close to Borobudur. Yet no one has bothered to survey, let alone preserve them, and thus they could be destroyed by wanton developments that dig up the ground to put in foundations for new multistory resorts and residences.

    The issues facing Borobudur are not unknown: Many have committed much to efforts to preserve and conserve the site. Endless meetings have been held, research to fill a library has been published, various schemes initiated, and numerous political figures have voiced their support—but virtually nothing truly concrete done. It is a frustrating mess, proving that too many cooks spoil the broth.

    Borobudur is under the mandate of many authorities, each with different agenda, and with little coordination—the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of State Owned Enterprises (which is designated to run the area around the site). Then we have the Ministry of National Education and Culture, mandated to preserve the temple.

    Naturally, there’s more: the mayor of Borobudur and the regent of Magelang, the governor of Central Java, and not forgetting, to a lesser extent, the governor Yogyakarta and UNESCO. Borobudur’s citizens, sadly, have little say. Let’s propose a simple solution: Get a sword, and slice the “gordian knot” that is Borobudur. President Joko Widowo should appoint one qualified and unbiased expert to bring together all factions and knock their heads together, so there is one unified plan to fulfill Borobudur’s potential and preserve its grandeur. Indonesia and humanity deserve it.