Jakarta (AsiaNews) - This afternoon, at the age of 69, the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, known by the nickname "Gus Dur" died. He was born September 7, 1949 in Jombang (East Java) and is the figure who most contributed in recent years to dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia.
Of mixed ethnicity (Indonesian and Chinese), Gus Dur has also earned the esteem among the Chinese communities of the archipelago by revoking the ban forbidding the use of Mandarin and Chinese traditions in place at the time of Suharto (1967-1998) .
Under Suharto, the Chinese were regarded as second class citizens, accused of being "traitors" and often used as scapegoats in the crisis that erupted in the country. The Chinese, the richest part of the population, were seen as the cause of poverty of others (Indonesians) and the source of all social tensions. Ethnic clashes with the Chinese took place in '78 and 80, with killings and the burning their homes. The most violent clashes were 14-15 May 1998, when during looting and fires, thousands of Chinese women were raped by gangs of criminals. As a result thousands of Chinese fled from Indonesia, but Suharto was forced to resign on 21 May '98.
Gus Dur, became president in '99, the first to be elected after long years of dictatorship and challenging Suharto's successor BJ Habibie, rejected by the parliament. On 21 January 2001 the ban on the public use Chinese language and Chinese cultural traditions was lifted, and the celebration of the Chinese New Year was made a national holiday. The strength of this decision matured more respect, tolerance and democracy in the country.
Abdurrahman Wahid was forced to resign in July 2001 when he also fell out of favour with parliament.
Gus Dur to his credit sought peace with the Islamic rebels in Banda Aceh and always supported the religious freedom of Christians. In times of crisis, the possibility of terrorist attacks against churches, he urged members of his Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama to promote protection and vigilance, to defend the Christian communities. Thanks to him the Nahdlatul Ulama has become the most important (and largest) Islamic organization, open to dialogue with other religions.Having previously studied in Egypt and Iraq, Gus Dur always had good relations with the Muslim world internationally. Several kidnappings of journalists in Indonesia, the Philippines and the western part of Iraqi extremists and fundamentalists have been solved thanks to him. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - who was his collaborator, but often the subject of his criticism - sent his condolences to the family of Wahid. He had visited the former president in hospital shortly before his death.