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Cablegate: There Will Be No Valentine's Day in Bukittinggi

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R 141055Z FEB 08
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UNCLAS JAKARTA 000306

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KIRF SOCI LOVE ID
SUBJECT: THERE WILL BE NO VALENTINE'S DAY IN BUKITTINGGI


1. (U) This message was coordinated with Consulate Medan.

2. (U) SUMMARY: A controversy has erupted over Valentine's
Day in West Sumatra. The Mayor of Bukittinggi--the
second-largest city in the province--has banned Valentine's
Day celebrations, asserting they are "immoral." The Governor
of West Sumatra--taking a firm stand for romance--countered
the ban, however, telling the press that there would be no
interference with celebrations of the holiday. The Mayor's
attitude is not widely shared in Indonesia--where many
non-Islamic and non-indigenous holidays are celebrated
openly. END SUMMARY.

3. (U) DOWN WITH LOVE: Valentine's Day has taken a hit in
West Sumatra. The Mayor of Bukittinggi, a city of 100,000
known for volcanic mountain views and located in the heart of
the matriarchal Minangkabau region, has declared that
Valentine's Day celebrations should be banned because they
are not in line with local culture or Islam.

4. (U) According to press reports, a number of government
permits already issued for Valentine's Day activities have
been revoked by City Hall. The same reports said the Mayor
intended to use existing regulations on "immoral act
eradication" to prosecute enterprises and anyone else that
celebrated the day. The Mayor also was quoted as stating
that 100 additional "public order security officers" would
monitor hotels, cafes and restaurants for "illicit behavior."
Swinging for the fences, the Mayor also came out against New
Year's Eve celebrations.

5. (U) The controversy over Valentine's Day in Sumatra is
not wholly new; it has flared a bit in the past, but is more
intense in Bukittinggi this year. Traditionally, the holiday
has been celebrated at many retail locations in the
area--much as it is in urban centers across Indonesia,
including Jakarta. In Bukittinggi, the recent exposure of
what the press reported as "pornographic images" of teenagers
circulated on cell phones triggered the outcry, according to
one contact. Sofyan Karim, former regional chief of
Muhammadiyah (a well-known national Muslim organization) in
West Sumatra, told Pol FSN that the city's ban was "not
against Valentine's Day but opposed to the behavior of some
teenagers at Valentine's Day events, including kissing and
drinking alcohol."

6. (U) CUPID'S COMEBACK: West Sumatra Governor Gumawan
publicly waded into the Valentine's debate to present a
moderate view. He told the press that no one should have
problems with Valentine's Day because Muslims always show
affection to everyone. He specifically stated that his
government would not ban Valentine's Day events and would
make no effort to monitor or otherwise interfere with them.

7. (U) He also made a point of saying that the provincial
ulamas (Islamic clerics) council did not officially declare
Valentine's Day as "haram" (heretical), as was reported by
the press. In Jakarta, Ma'aruf Amin, head of the MUI fatwa
committee, confirmed to us that in fact there was no specific
MUI edict against Valentine's Day. Amin, however, condemned
the use of alcohol and other "immoral behaviors" that he said
often accompanied Valentine's Day celebrations.

8. (U) ROSES STILL WELCOME: Valentine's Day seems safe in
most of Indonesia. And, based on what we picked up,
Valentine's Day celebrations are even taking place in
Bukittinggi despite the municipal warnings. Nonetheless,
sadly, the outcry reportedly put a damper on celebrations
there. In terms of the larger picture, Indonesians sometimes
face differences between government leaders influenced by
conservative versus moderate religious perspectives--and this
type of societal debate bubbles up now-and-then.


HEFFERN

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