March 7, 2009

Buddhist Students in Indonesia Reject Buddha Bar

Buddha Bar reaps hard protest from Buddhist students and community in Indonesia. On March 5, 2009, a group calling itself the Buddhist Students Alliance Rejecting Buddha Bar, held a rally outside this international chain franchise restaurant. Several Buddhist student organizations joined this alliance, such as HIKMAHBUDHI (The Union of Indonesian Buddhist Students), students from Buddhist College Nalanda & Buddhist College Sriwijaya. They symbolically "sealed" the Buddha Bar in Jakarta, urging authorities to immediately close the Paris-based entertainment franchise for blasphemy in the Indonesian capital.

About 150 mainly student protesters carrying joss sticks and flowers gathered outside the bar in a wealthy neighborhood of the capital and denounced its decorative use of sacred symbols and statues. They chanted Buddhist prayers and carried banners reading "Remove all Buddhist symbols from the bar" and "Change your name or close forever". A handful of police watched calmly as the protesters then "sealed" the main entrance with fake yellow crime scene tape. The bar was closed at the time.

"For us, Buddha is our revered teacher. But for them, Buddha is a decoration and the worst thing is the statues are in such an indecent place," protest coordinator Eko Nugroho said.

"It is impossible to put the sacred name (Buddha) side by side with the word 'bar', which is associated with a place for alcohol. That is an act of defamation of religion," said Eko Nugroho.

A friend who joined with this group said, at the protest yesterday, a pro-Buddha Bar group have held a match demonstration near the location to counter the protest. But The Students Alliance had coordinated with police to avoid provocation and clash.


This rejection has started since 2 weeks ago when some Buddhist students gathered to discuss about the existence of this famous restaurant. Then the opinion kept rolling until they decided to make a move to fight for their firm belief. Especially when more Buddhist students and other communities joined the movement.

On Sunday, February 22, 2009 some of Buddhist elements in Jakarta gathered in Cakrawala Tower Fl. 19 to discuss about this Buddha Bar issue. Several Buddhist public figures were present in this gathering, they are Bhikkhu Dutavira Mahastavira, Bhikkhu Guna Badra (Chairman of SMI), Romo Sumedho, Drs. Oka Diputhera (Walubi), Suhadi (Chairman of NSI), Agie Tje Tje, Edi Sadely, Eddi Kusuma, Daniel Johan, Hartawan (Chairman of SIDDHI). Several Buddhist students organizations like HIKMAHBUDHI, KMB Buddha Samagi (UKRIDA), and some Buddhist communities were also present.

This meeting reached an agreement that Buddhist communities rejected Buddha Bar in Indonesia. They formed an alliance called “ANTI BUDDHA BAR FORUM” and they formulated their aspiration in 3 main points as follows:
1. The existence of Buddha Bar has contravened with: (a) Article 156A KUHP (Criminal Code); (b) UU (decree) No. 1, 1965
2. Urge the Buddha Bar to no longer use name, ornaments, and attributes of Buddha for commercial purposes.
3. Demand the City Government to revoke the commercial license of Buddha Bar and no longer issue any license to any party who want to use religion symbol for commercial purposes.

On Friday, February 27, 2009, The Peace & Prosperous Party (PDS), a Christian basis political party in Indonesian parliament, invited the Forum to discuss the Buddha Bar issue. The Forum accepted by Chairman of PDS, Ruyandi Hutasoit, and Vice Chairman, Deni Tewu, in PDS Faction meeting room, Indonesian House Representative Building, Senayan.

There was an interesting thing happened just before the meeting began. Standing over the meeting room door, there was Budiman Sudarma, Chairman of Indonesian Mahayana Youth, spreading leaflet to support the Buddha Bar existence.

His arguments were summarized in 5 points:
1. Buddha Bar is only a legal listed trade mark from France.
2. Indonesia as a member of World Trade Organization (WTO) has to submit the FREE MARKET system.
3. There is a Presidential Decree about Trademarks Law Treaty.
4. UU (decree) No.15, 2001.
5. Government Regulations (PP) No.16, 1997.

He also made an argument in his leaflet that there are 2 places in Bali are also using ‘Buddha’ word, BUDDHA SPA & BUDDHA BELLY.

A friend from HIKMAHBUDHI, Agus Hartono, countered these arguments. He said “When a business investment have been used for personal or group interest with sacrificing others interest (even permitted by the law), then a question about morality and ethics appear. LAW MUST NOT SACRIFICE MORALITY, ETHIC, AND HUMANITY!”

On Monday, March 2, 2009 Anti Buddha Bar Forum had an audience with The National Awakening Party (PKB), an Islam basis politic party, and accepted by the Chairman, Muhaimin Iskandar, and Vice General Secretary, Daniel Johan. The forum looks for a support from political party and legislative members for their aspiration.

In addition, this forum later held a press conference to declare their stand. They demanded the closing of Buddha Bar. Their stand got support from Indonesian Nationalist Youth Forum (FKPI) and a public figure from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Kyai Muhidin. In this press conference, Sangha Mahayana Indonesia (SMI) issued a binding ruling that Indonesian Buddhist rejected the Buddha Bar presence in Indonesia.

On March 3, 2009, Anti Buddha Bar Forum met the Vice Governor of Jakarta, Prijanto, to deliver their aspiration about Buddha Bar. The result is Jakarta Administration would ask PT Nireta, the franchise owner of Buddha Bar in Indonesia, to change the name.

Vice Governor Prijanto gave the Forum interesting information that there were 3 letters sent to Tourism Department which approved the use of Buddha name for Buddha Bar in behalf of Buddhist community. They were Indonesian Buddhist Communication Forum, Central Board of Buddha Mahayana Majabumi, and Central Board of Indonesian Mahayana Youth but now these organizations do not exist anymore.


Buddha Bar is a trade mark under license by George V Restaurant, brought by Raymond Visan from France. It was opened first time in 1996 in Paris. After that it became a famous café and has branches in many cities in the world like Paris, Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, London, Kiev, Sao Paolo, Dublin, and Praque.

Jakarta is the first city in Southeast Asia to host a Buddha Bar. It was said that Buddha Bar could never open in Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, because these countries considered the using of Buddha name on restaurant as an insulting to a religion. Its opening in Jakarta is really an insensitive decision by the government.

This café or restaurant occupies the ex-immigration building in Teuku Umar Street, Menteng, Central Jakarta. This heritage building has known as Bataviasche Kunstkring (I've written about this building once in this blog) was rented to PT Nireta Vista Creative as the franchise owner of Buddha Bar in Indonesia for 5 years.

It was said that the owner of this franchise of Buddha Bar is Renny Sutiyoso, daughter of former Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso; Puan Maharani, daughter of former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri; and Iyan Farid.

HIKMAHBUDHI as one of the elements of the Students Alliance to Reject Buddha Bar, and Anti Buddha Bar Forum made a petition to reject the Buddha Bar in its website. For anybody who support the move could visit its website at, just click the “DUKUNG” (Support) button to vote.


Meanwhile, Emerson Yuntho from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) urges Police, Judiciary, or Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to investigate the deviation of the ex-immigration building transfer process.

Moreover, The City Government is urged to explain to public about the transparency of regional budget usage to protect ex-immigration building.

He explained that, according to article 19-2(b) of decree No 5, 1992, heritage items can’t be used solely for personal or group interest. Also in tourism context, heritage usage, according to article 6 of decree No 9, 1990, must be consider religion values, local custom, and others values which are live in society.

"When the immigration office (Bataviasche Kunstkring) transfer happened between Judicial Department and Human Rights Department in 2001, The City Government proposed an additional budget in Regional Assets Inventory Project from Rp 1 billion to Rp 30 billions. That such huge Fund will be used to protect the immigration office which is considered to be a historical building.

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