x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

600 ethnicities, 66 years, 'and we are still united'

About 200 Indonesians, many in colourful traditional dress, gathered at their embassy yesterday to celebrate 66 years of their country's independence.

ABU DHABI // About 200 Indonesians, many in colourful traditional dress, gathered at their embassy yesterday to celebrate 66 years of their country's independence.

Wahid Supriyadi, the Indonesian ambassador in the UAE, led his countrymen in singing the Indonesia Raya, the national anthem.

"Every year, Indonesians are excited to celebrate independence day," said Ridho Hudi, 46, an Etihad Airways pilot who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Muslim community..

It was on August 17, 1945 that Indonesia attained independence from Dutch rule.

"Independence did not come easy for us because we gained it only after 350 years of Dutch rule," said Mr Hudi, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past three years. "Even after independence was declared, the Dutch still tried to occupy our country."

July Melani Jap, 32, who works in an oil and gas company and has lived in the capital for almost four years, said she usually celebrated the day with friends. "This year I've decided to join the rest of the community at our embassy."

The crowd sang three songs: Padamu Nagri (For My Country), Hari Mardeka (Independence Day) and Tanah Airku (My Homeland).

Diplomats read aloud the Proclamation of Independence and the Pancasila, the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state.

Mr Supriyadi also read excerpts from a speech by the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the Bahasa language.

"We fought hard for our independence," Mr Supriyadi said. "The proclamation of our independence in 1945 was an affirmation of the Indonesian youth's plans in 1928 to have 'one country, one nation and one language'."

Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, he said. "We have 600 ethnic groups with different languages but we're still united until today," he said.

The members of the community later gathered around the ambassador for the traditional rice cake-cutting ceremony.

Sixty-six years after it gained independence, Indonesia's role in the international scene has been "well recognised", Mr Supriyadi said.

With a gross domestic product of about US$720 billion (Dh2.6 trillion), he said Indonesia was the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the 18th largest in the world. He added that it had joined the G20 - the group of 20 nations with developed and emerging economies.

The ambassador, who will complete his three-year tenure in November, said bilateral relations between the UAE and Indonesia had increased significantly. Last year, trade between the countries was worth $2bn, a 29 per cent increase from 2009's $1.55bn. The UAE's investment in Indonesia had grown to at least $11 billion during the last three years, he said.

There are 80,000 Indonesians in the UAE, of whom 50,000 are in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Ruwais.

rruiz@thenational.ae