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To understand the Free Papua movement, there’s a number of things to get out of the way first. First, what is Papua? Second, why does it need freedom? Third, who from? For a substantial amount of individuals, once they hear ‘Papua’ they think of Papua New Guinea. It’s not too far off, seeing as West Papua is just the western half of the New Guinea island, with ‘Papua’ being a name referring to the island earlier than contact with the west. West Papua is directly to the west of Papua New Guinea, with the island split neatly in two. So how the hell did it get that way?

Long earlier than the Free Papua Movement, like so many modern nations, West Papua is a product of colonialism. Western New Guinea was colonized by the Dutch at first, while the East was in the end colonized by the Germans within the late 1800s. (With the south-east also being annexed by Britain, because after all the Brits had to be involved somewhere.) As with many other things, this difficult mix of colonialism was shook up by WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles, granting the German territory to Australia, who by this point had been administering the British territory as well. This split the country quite evenly down the center between the Dutch and the Australians.

In 1975, the Jap portion of the island was granted independence and became Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, the Dutch administered western portion had the unlucky situation of pushing to develop into independent proper next to impartial Indonesia. The Dutch had been gradually loosening their grip for a while and in 1961, a national parliament had been elected with intentions to declare independence in 1970. Indonesia meanwhile had fashioned largely out of the Dutch East Indies, an amalgamation of many of the Dutch island colonies in that region, of which Papua was one. This, in Indonesia’s eyes, gave them claim to Papua despite the enormously different political history.

Indonesian president Sukarno pushed heavily for intervention to assert West Papua, although unwillingness to go to war outright prevented an invasion. Ultimately, Sukarno sought the US to function a mediator, leveraging their position as a ‘non-aligned’ country to realize favour, implicitly suggesting that they may ally with the U.S. if not appeased. The Dutch relented, permitting Indonesia to assume administration of West Papua until such a time as a referendum could possibly be carried out, stirring the start of what would become the Free Papua Movement. This referendum, the ‘Act of Free Selection’, was to find out the way forward for the country and involve a vote on behalf of the whole country. This is, in any case, how referendums function.

Under the new, decidedly a lot more genocidal leader Suharto took over in Indonesia, it was abruptly decided that the New Guineans have been ‘too primitive’ for democracy and instead a traditional Indonesian ‘election of elders’ was performed. This election, held August 2nd 1969, concerned only a hand-picked grouping of just over a thousand West Papuans have been allowed to vote. The vote was suspiciously unanimous, supporting integration with Indonesia and thus leading to West Papua becoming the 26th official province of Indonesia. This has understandably led to the Act of Free Choice being labelled the ‘Act of No Alternative’, inevitably spurring the Free Papua Movement. With that out of the way, let’s move on.

The Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM) was formally founded in December of 1963, not long after Indonesia assumed administration of the region however earlier than formal annexation. December first was declared ‘Papuan Independence Day’ and common flag raising ceremonies started by separatist teams on this date, making up a large portion of the country. When their efforts have been ignored and West Papua was formally annexed by Indonesia, things swiftly started to heat up. On July 1st 1971, three Free Papua Movement commanders declared the Republic of West Papua and drafted a constitution, a functionally symbolic move for which the Papuan people would work towards, similarly to the Irish proclamation of 1916 which provided a foundation for the independence movement of the early 1920s.

From 1976, the Free Papua Movement went on the offensive, threatening an Indonesian mining firm for funding and finally conducting mass sabotage campaigns against the company throughout the summer season of 1977. In 1982, the Free Papua Movement Revolutionary Council was additional established, seeking to gain recognition from international our bodies and grant their battle additional legitimacy. This in the end led to a 1984 offensive in opposition to the Indonesian military, finally ending with the Free Papua Movement being pushed out of the country into Papua New Guinea.

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