To understand the Free Papua movement, there’s just a few things to get out of the way first. First, what’s Papua? Second, why does it need freedom? Third, who from? For quite a lot of individuals, once they hear ‘Papua’ they think of Papua New Guinea. It’s not too far off, seeing as West Papua is just the western half of the New Guinea island, with ‘Papua’ being a name referring to the island before contact with the west. West Papua is directly to the west of Papua New Guinea, with the island split neatly in two. So how the hell did it get that way?
Lengthy before the Free Papua Movement, like so many fashionable nations, West Papua is a product of colonialism. Western New Guinea was colonized by the Dutch at first, while the East was in the end colonized by the Germans in the late 1800s. (With the south-east also being annexed by Britain, because after all the Brits had to be concerned somewhere.) As with many different things, this sophisticated mix of colonialism was shook up by WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles, granting the German territory to Australia, who by this point had been administering the British territory as well. This split the country quite evenly down the center between the Dutch and the Australians.
In 1975, the Jap portion of the island was granted independence and have become Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, the Dutch administered western portion had the unfortunate situation of pushing to turn out to be unbiased right subsequent to unbiased Indonesia. The Dutch had been gradually loosening their grip for some time and in 1961, a national parliament had been elected with intentions to declare independence in 1970. Indonesia meanwhile had shaped largely out of the Dutch East Indies, an amalgamation of most of the Dutch island colonies in that area, of which Papua was one. This, in Indonesia’s eyes, gave them declare to Papua despite the enormously different political history.
Indonesian president Sukarno pushed closely for intervention to claim West Papua, though unwillingness to go to war outright prevented an invasion. Ultimately, Sukarno sought the US to function a mediator, leveraging their position as a ‘non-aligned’ country to achieve favour, implicitly suggesting that they could ally with the united states if not appeased. The Dutch relented, allowing Indonesia to assume administration of West Papua until such a time as a referendum could possibly be carried out, stirring the start of what would develop into the Free Papua Movement. This referendum, the ‘Act of Free Alternative’, was to find out the way forward for the country and involve a vote on behalf of the whole country. This is, after all, how referendums function.
Under the new, decidedly much more genocidal leader Suharto took over in Indonesia, it was out of the blue determined that the New Guineans had been ‘too primitive’ for democracy and instead a traditional Indonesian ‘election of elders’ was performed. This election, held August 2nd 1969, concerned only a hand-picked grouping of just over a thousand West Papuans were allowed to vote. The vote was suspiciously unanimous, supporting integration with Indonesia and thus leading to West Papua turning into the 26th official province of Indonesia. This has understandably led to the Act of Free Selection being labelled the ‘Act of No Alternative’, inevitably spurring the Free Papua Movement. With that out of the way, let’s move on.
The Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM) was formally based in December of 1963, not lengthy after Indonesia assumed administration of the area but earlier than formal annexation. December first was declared ‘Papuan Independence Day’ and regular flag elevating ceremonies began by separatist teams on this date, making up a large portion of the country. When their efforts have been ignored and West Papua was formally annexed by Indonesia, things swiftly began to heat up. On July 1st 1971, three Free Papua Movement commanders declared the Republic of West Papua and drafted a constitution, a functionally symbolic move for which the Papuan people would work towards, similarly to the Irish proclamation of 1916 which provided a foundation for the independence movement of the early 1920s.
From 1976, the Free Papua Movement went on the offensive, threatening an Indonesian mining company for funding and finally conducting mass sabotage campaigns against the company throughout the summer season of 1977. In 1982, the Free Papua Movement Revolutionary Council was additional established, seeking to achieve recognition from international bodies and grant their struggle additional legitimacy. This ultimately led to a 1984 offensive against the Indonesian military, ultimately ending with the Free Papua Movement being pushed out of the country into Papua New Guinea.