Medan, Indonesia – In recent weeks, a story resembling one of Indonesia’s many popular soap operas has been doing the rounds on the country’s social media.
In the tale, a woman and her loyal husband divorced, and he agreed to pay off her debts while giving her custody of their three children. But after a rich neighbour seduced the woman, her ex-husband was so furious that he took one of the children back. The two others, meanwhile, demanded that their father discipline their mother.
It is actually pro-Russia messaging, with Russia cast as the wronged man and Ukraine in the role of the ex-wife. The rich neighbour is the United States, and Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, the three children.
The story is thought to have first appeared on the Chinese messaging app Weibo in the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but its enthusiastic reception in Indonesia through Whatsapp groups and on other social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, suggests an increasingly pro-Russia stance among Indonesians, which has caught some by surprise.
“Pro-Russian social media has been quick to frame the war to favour Russia,” Alif Satria, a researcher in the Department of Politics and Social Change at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, told Al Jazeera.
“Using memes and imagery that are appealing to Indonesians, they portray Russia as a dutiful husband who wants to win back Ukraine, an ungrateful ex-wife who sided with European thugs and has held their children, ethnic Russians, hostage.”
As a result of such imagery, in the three weeks since the war began, something of a split has emerged between Indonesia’s official stance, and social media as well as online commentary that is more sympathetic to Russia, if not outright supportive.
Indonesia voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression as well as the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights decision establishing an independent commission to investigate alleged human rights violations. President Joko Widodo also called for a ceasefire in an interview with Nikkei Asia on March 9.
According to Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer in international relations at Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani in Bandung, part of the issue lies in a dislike of the US harboured by some Indonesians, even though they might previously have come out in protest against Russia’s wars in Chechnya and its attacks on Syria.
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