Solo's diverse citizenry celebrates Chinese New Year peacefully

Year of the Horse festivities in Solo bring people from different races together.

By Yenny Herawati for Khabar Southeast Asia in Solo

February 13, 2014
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Multi-ethnic crowds in Solo put memories of 1998 race riots behind them as they rang in the Chinese New Year late last month.

  • Imlek Festival goers in Solo celebrate the Chinese New Year. The festival went from January 23rd through January 29th. [Yenny Herawati/Khabar]

    Imlek Festival goers in Solo celebrate the Chinese New Year. The festival went from January 23rd through January 29th. [Yenny Herawati/Khabar]

Record crowds turned out to celebrate the Year of the Horse at the week-long Imlek Festival at Vastenburg Fort in old town Solo from January 23rd through January 29th.

"To celebrate Imlek in Solo like this year is pretty amazing to me. Decades ago, Solo had trouble accepting ethnic Chinese," Solo resident Susanto Wibowo, 49, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Nearly 16 years ago, he witnessed the deadly riots in Solo between Javanese and the ethnic Chinese minority.

"It was saddening, and I hope we will never experience that again here. I am enjoying the peace that has been progressing in our region," Susanto said.

Burying old wounds

Tanu Kismanto, the festival's chief organiser, was excited about this year's turnout.

"People from different ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and religions are coming together. They are enjoying the show," Tanu told Khabar.

The 2014 edition of Imlek strove to boost tolerance through the theme of "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika" ("Unity in Diversity") – which is also Indonesia's official motto.

The festival comprised colourful lantern decorations and at least 88 stalls that featured food, handicrafts, cultural displays and performances, among other attractions.

"We are learning from the past, and this celebration is useful to bury the wounds that everyone may have experienced during that bitter time," Tanu said, adding that most people in Solo had since learned to appreciate ethnic and religious differences.

Part of Indonesian culture

During his speech to open the festival, Solo Mayor F. X. Hadi Rudyatmo said Imlek was not exclusively a Chinese celebration.

"It is a diffusion of culture between ethnic Javanese and Chinese," the mayor said.

City assembly leader Hermanus Subagyo was not surprised by the diverse turnout because Solo's Tiongha organisation turned the Chinese New Year into a multicultural celebration.

"This year the festival has been very peaceful. We are hoping for a prosperous Indonesia," Hermanus said.

Imlek is now part of Indonesian culture, said Abdul Qodir, a Muslim leader in Solo who chairs the Al-Huda Pesantren.

"This is the place where we are sharing and witnessing history. We encourage everyone to appreciate this celebration and to continue to embrace this harmony," he said.

The violence that erupted in 1998 taught the people of Solo a lesson, and now it is everyone's responsibility to keep the city secure, tolerant, and prosperous, Abdul said.

"Be mindful and put our trust in each other to keep our community strong," he said.

Reader Comments
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    • Christoper
      February 12, 2014 @ 09:02:47PM
    • This can set an example for other cities.

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