My mission strategy as "Cultural diplomacy to promote peace and harmony"

Sri Astari Rasjid, daughter of a diplomat, spent her early childhood in India and Burma. She finished her primary school in Jakarta and became Editor of a fashion magazine in her teens.

She then continued studying fashion designing in London. Back to Indonesia, she became a fashion designer, then a corporate wife, raising her children.

Later in life she pursued her passion in the Arts and became a professional artist in Indonesia, who represented her country in various exhibitions around the world.

In 2016, she was appointed as Ambassador of Indonesia to Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia by President Joko Widodo.

E. Mrs. Sri Astari Rasjid, sees Bulgaria as a cultural land in Eastern Europe, therefore she defines her mission strategy as "Cultural Diplomacy for Promoting Peace and Harmony", hoping it will open more doors to other bilateral cooperation such as Trade, Tourism and Investment.

And she succeeded. Indonesia, yet all of Asia, have never been more familiar with and closer to Bulgarians...

- Your Excellency, in your speech you have recently stated that Indonesian nation was not built upon ethnical be it culture, either religion, but was a community of people from more than 300 ethnic groups. What is it that bonds them?

- Just to have a little fun with your first question let me tell you that, we have thousands of Islands which are well connected by "ocean" together. People are also connected through another ocean, which calls ocean of love and solidarity for humanity. 

The motto of Indonesian Nation is "Unity in Diversity". We know the value of being "Many" and in the same time "One"! We are like a tree with many branches. Indeed the different branches of the tree, are blessing because they bring more greenery, fruits, flowers and shades.

Bonding the Indonesian Nation has a very strong social-philosophical foundation, called Five Principles (Pancasila), which is from our late first President H. E. Sukarno. It’s the fact that Indonesian Society is running well based on these principles which guarantee the faith, humanity, Unified Identity, democracy and social justice in Indonesia. If I want to mention the Five Principles:

1. Belief in the One and Only God

2. A just and civilized humanity

3. A unified Indonesia

4. Democracy, led by the wisdom of the representatives of the People

5. Social Justice for all Indonesians

Language is another main key here. Bahasa Indonesia is our National Language which all Indonesian speak it. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world and our language is one of the most widely spoken one.

Language is the key element of a culture and is the guarantee for the nation’s integrity and cultural sustainability. As Bulgarian Language, protected your identity in centuries, Bahasa Indonesia is playing the same role in my country. We have a corner for Bahasa Indonesia in Sofia University too. I am glad to tell you that lots of Bulgarians are interested and enroll for the Indonesian Language which enable them to have a better opportunity for their connections relating to Indonesia.

- Which achievements of Your country make You be proud of it?

- We are a well united nation, in good and in bad times. Especially in times of natural disasters, that stroke our country many times this year, Indonesians show solidarity, compassion, integrity and strong affection to the effected communities, while there is also quick action from the government side. We are one when difficulties and troubles occur in the country.

It is a big achievement in these days, to unite diverse cultures, religions and ethnicities in a peaceful society. I am proud of the role of Indonesian society and my government, as being a symbol and a support for maintenance of peace in local and global scale, which contribute to the third largest democracy country.

My People are hard working, honest, soft mannered with strong spiritual power, inherited to them through millennials. Having one of the highest degrees of ethics and human morality, is another pride for Indonesians.

Economic achievements of Indonesia, repressing corruption, building vital infrastructures, during President Joko Widodo, the current president is the pride for all of his team. He shows true love, respect and care to the people and in the same time has not lost the common touch. He is also fighting for the benefit of the nation in many aspects.

If I can go back to the establishment of "Pancasila", during our first President Sukarno, which is a progressing and everlasting philosophy, and yet to be further utilized in the world, is another aspect of Indonesian achievements to be mentioned.

As an artist, I am proud to see our fellow Indonesian talents, are successfully staging their Arts in the global scene. They are inspiring many people around the world by their creations of art and beauty.

Indeed this will be our pride for the future, as we appreciate the heritage of our ancestors, the same as you Bulgarians are proud of preserving your folkloric heritage.

- The role of Indonesia in the international stage is important. It is the 10th biggest participant in the UN peace-keeping missions. What are the goals of its foreign policy in this so entangled world nowadays?

- Indonesia is a member of G20 and obviously holds responsibilities in global councils of governance. Indonesia was chosen to be a non-permanent member of the Security Council by the United Nation’s General Assembly for a two-year term, starting on Jan. 1, 2019. As Ambassador of Indonesia in this region, I would like to express my appreciation to Bulgarian, Albanian and Macedonian Governments for their reciprocal votes and support. 

Indonesia's commitment and our contribution to the establishment of world order is based on our values of freedom, lasting peace and social justice which are in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. We want social justice, freedom and honor for human race. In the international context, Indonesia’s participation aims to maintain international peace and security, with high respect to the national sovereignties.

To give a concrete view of the Indonesian role, we are the biggest Muslim country in the world, therefore we always have our friendly relationships with The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and all Muslim Nations around the world.

From this stand point, Indonesia has a considerable role of diplomacy and also influence, between countries in Middle East and always mediate in time of crisis between main regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Iran.

We do believe in unity of human society, in spite of ethnic diversities. That’s why we, Indonesians value the bilateral relationships with different countries and make it an asset for establishment of peace and harmony in the world.

- The diplomatic relations between our two countries have been established 62 years ago, what level are they today?

- Our relationship is in a very satisfactory level. The interactions of our government officials occur on regular basis and we have a very respectful relationship with Bulgarians.

In my mission time, we had Indonesian Minister of culture H. E. Mr. Anies Baswedan, in Bulgaria, to sign a cultural operations MOU with H. E. Mr. Vezhdi Rashidov the Previous Minister of Culture, in Sofia 2016.

Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, H. E. Mr. Daniel Mitov also visited Indonesia on 2016, and signed the Visa Exemption agreement between two countries with Indonesian Minster H. E. Mrs. Retno Marsudi, in Jakarta, March 2016.

Bulgaria and Indonesia support each other in the UN also for the candidacy of Indonesia as a non-permanent Security Council member.

We have parliament members who came and visited Bulgaria to meet their Bulgarian counterparts.

- What is our trade exchange? Is there interest in investments and what is its direction?

- The main exports of Indonesia to Bulgaria are Coffee, palm oil, paper and paper products, yarn and cloth, electronic, furniture and aquatic products, curry and curry products, glass and glassware, and cocoa.

The main imports from Bulgaria, are Tobacco, coriander seeds, chemicals (disodium carbonate), electronic components, grains, fodder, wheat and machinery and metal rolls.

About the investments, IPS a Bulgarian company, started an Investment plan in Indonesia to build a renewable energy devices. Many other invested in land properties in Indonesia.

According to the Indonesian Statistics office:

In 2018 to October, the total value of Bulgarian trade was $ 374.41 million or increased by 286.92% compared to the same period in 2017. The number of changes of 317.34% occurred for the Jan-Aug 2018 period compared to the same period in 2017.

For Bulgarian investment in Indonesia, there are $ 1.2 million for January 2017. For the year 2018 in the January-September 2018 period, Bulgarian investment was recorded in Indonesia, $ 0.3 million.

In addition, it was recorded that Indonesia imported military equipment from Bulgaria amounted to $ 22.8 million for 2018.

Commenting on this data, let me share an interesting part of my artwork which I created in 2006. My art work is called La Vie en Rose "Guns and Roses". When I came to Bulgaria, I realized that I am in a country that produces Guns and Roses, and I always define your land to my friends as the land of Power and Beauty.

- All of us, Bulgarians, see your active endeavors to popularize your country in Bulgaria. With a great success has passed the festival of Indonesian arts and culture "Wonders of Indonesia" that is initiated by you. What other wonders from your country would you like to show us?

- Yes, indeed it was a great success. We presented Indonesian textile, Batiks in 2016. In the second year 2017, we presented wonders of Indonesia exhibition at the Quadrat National Gallery, featuring Textiles, heritage jewelries and crafts from all over Indonesia and in the same time fine arts exhibition from the collection of Indonesian national gallery was exhibited at the National Gallery Palace in Sofia.

In the Third year, we had a fashion show for both classic and modern designs by famous designer Ghea Panggabean who was invited to Sofia fashion week 2018.  We showed the public how the Indonesian textiles and jewelries are worn and shine on Indonesian and Bulgarian beautiful ladies. King Simeon and Queen Margarita also attended the event at Military Club which became one of the most memorable event in Sofia with traditional - modern fashion show, Gending Sriwijaya dance and music performances.

The fourth edition of wonders of Indonesia is happening in 2019, show casing contemporary art of Indonesia which is of my interest and passion as a contemporary artist. We are planning to have a joint exhibition with Bulgarian artists, to exhibit contemporary arts from both countries. We will also stage a modernized Javanese classic dance.

Some other heritage and vast collection of jewelries, textiles and artifacts will also be exhibited. We are also participating in the Plovdiv festivals as the European Cultural Capital 2019.

As You see, we designed a chain of "Wonders of Indonesia" exhibitions, with different aspects of art and tradition, during my mission in Sofia.

I believe there is not enough time in one mission, to show the heritage of Indonesia. Hopefully my successor will continue the tradition of "Wonders of Indonesia" in Bulgaria.

- You are an expert and a collector of traditional Indonesian art. It is thanks to you that in Sofia we have already several times touched the beauty of batik - a unique textile inscribed in the UNESCO Representative list of mankind's intangible cultural heritage. Is it your favorite?

- It’s my passion and obligation to keep and preserve the batik culture as much as I could. From my early days, I have been collecting and preserving Batiks, Jewelries, artifacts and all other cultural heritage of Indonesia. It apparently was for a reason for that urge of collecting them, so now I can show them to the world audiences, in my mission.

By collecting all this cultural heritage, I also learn the history of my country as well as sharing it with your nation.

Collecting Batiks, is also a personal love for beauty and appreciation for our ancestral artists.

I love all the textile collections of Indonesia and the richness of my country’s traditional textile home industry. We have many forms and designs from different regions of Indonesia which I try to wear them in different occasions.

- Indonesian participation in festivals and scientific events in Bulgaria is noticeable. How is the cultural exchange between our two countries developing at the moment?

- Since, signing of the Cultural MOU between our Cultural Ministers in 2016, it is our obligation to fulfill the agreement on cultural exchange, between Indonesia and Bulgaria.   

My country is rich in performance art, dance and music. That’s why we always achieve the highest awards in festivals and competitions especially in Bulgaria. I am so glad that Indonesians are the main participants of folkloric festivals of your country too. We have won several Grand Prix awards in these past few years.

We invited many people from Indonesia to Bulgaria. Many artists, designers, cultural people came during my time and visited the country. Even many of my friends, personally came to see the beauty of Bulgaria, as I tried to promote Bulgaria to my people as I promote Indonesia here.

Because of my love for your culture and nature, I expect the same activities to happen in Indonesia through Bulgarian Embassy in Jakarta. Hoping to strengthen the relationship, further more and tie our peoples heart with passion for each other’s cultures.

- The interest of Bulgarian youths with regard to Indonesia and its culture is growing? What according to you, has provoked it? Is there a reverse interest (by Indonesian youths with respect to Bulgaria)?

- I can see the growing numbers if Bulgarian students for Bahasa Language and cultural courses. The reasons for these interests are the beauty of our culture, the opportunities of business, exceptional and natural beauties of Indonesia for tourism and most importantly the passion of learning in Bulgarian Nation. I see how Bulgarians, are eager to learn about other nations. This is the strong aspect of your nation which will pay back greatly in the future.

About Indonesian Youths, it will be nice if the Bulgarian folklore art and culinary be promoted in Indonesia.

Frankly there is a real passion in our Youth to come and study here, but Obtaining Bulgarian Visa for them is still a barrier. It is in Bulgarian part now to give us the free visa exemption for ordinary passport holders. Indonesia already granted 30 days free visa for Bulgarian citizens to visit Indonesia. Hopefully we can reach an agreement during my time to solve this issue.

- It seems you believe in the force of cultural diplomacy. You have also been the heart of the first Asian Festival "Asia closer", and of the second The Colors of Traditions that were held with a huge success. What has made melting together the embassies of the Asian countries here since almost all have participated.

- Thanks to my president H. E. Mr. Joko Widodo that I became ambassador in a cultural land of Eastern Europe which has very strong roots in history and also preserved the traditions of the Nations very well. I truly appreciate the culture here.

As an Artist Ambassador, in a cultural land, I formulated my mission strategy as "Cultural diplomacy to promote peace and harmony".

Peace and harmony comes in the picture when You bring other nations in the frame. Indeed, this is the philosophy behind Asian Festival in Sofia.

Asian festival, is a collaboration between Asian countries to present the beauties of Asia to Bulgarians. It is unique opportunity to taste Asia, hear Asia, see Asia, touch Asia and feel Asia on this day.

I am so grateful to Asian Ambassador friends, who considered our proposal, to participate in Asian Festival from the first, second and the third on 2019.

Asian countries have the same Eastern spirit which will be the leading force in the future. They have the same dream, common interests and backgrounds. Unity in diversity is the practice of Indonesian motto, in Bulgarian context, with Asian colors. Indeed united together we are stronger. 

Fortunately Asian Festival is on its pace to become a brand and hopefully will continue further. I am very much thankful to the Vice President, Mrs. Iliana Yotova, who opened the first Asian festival in 2017 and to Mr. President, H. E. Rumen Radev for opening the festival in 2018.  

- And, finally, a personal question. Besides being an extremely active Ambassador, you are one of the most elegant women in the CD here. How do you achieve so difficult combination, how do you keep in shape?

- It’s a big complement and always ladies enjoy this kind of complements. It goes without asking or saying how to do it.

I take the compliment and I tell you that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The ability to see beauties, indicates the presence of a beautiful soul. Some people always see the imperfections but there are lots of people who learnt from Jesus Christ, to search, seek and see beauties in everything, especially in human personalities.At this Christmas time, bringing the name of Jesus Christ, means celebrating His Birth to give love and peace to mankind and to say: Merry Christmas to Bulgarians and all Christians. Tchestita Koleda y Nova Godina!

The photos are provided by the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Above: H. E. Mrs. Sri Astari Rasjid, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Indonesia to the Republic of Bulgaria


First row:
Opening of Wonders of Indonesia 2018 at the Military Club in Sofia;
Gending Sriwijaya procession and dance performance;
Indonesian Designer’s Ghea Panggabean Fashion Show;
With the Indonesian delegates at the Wonders of Indonesia 2018 reception

Second row:
Asian Festival 2018 opening by the BG President H. E. Rumen Radev;
Signing of MOU on Renewable Energy  between BG company IPS and ITB, UNHAN and LEN;
Wonders of Indonesia 2017 opening;
Wonders of Indonesia 2017 exhibition at Kvadrat 500 National Gallery

Third row:
La Vie en Rose "Guns and Roses", bronze sculpture by Sri Astari Rasjid, 2006;
Rose Festival in Kazanlak;
Indonesian Independence Day celebration, 17th of August 2018, with our Embassy staffs, Indonesian Honorary Consuls in BG and special guests;
Interview with Mrs. Ekaterina Pavlova from Diplomatic Spectrum