With more than 500 ethnic groups, each with their own language and dialect, Indonesia cannot be compared with any other country when it comes to cultural diversity.
"I have travelled to most Southeast Asian countries but nowhere is the cultural diversity as rich as what I have seen in Indonesia," German Cultural Centre "Goethe-Institute" Director Franz Xaver Augustin said in Jakarta on Friday.
Indonesia is blessed with an abundance of unique cultures and traditional arts, which must be preserved.
Speaking at a press conference for a painting exhibition on "Raden Saleh and the Beginning of Indonesian Modern Painting", Augustin said the Indonesian cultural diversity in Southeast Asia was without any parallel.
But unluckily, he noted, many Indonesians failed to respect their own cultural heritage from the Dutch colonial era.
"We have presented the beautiful works of great painter Raden Saleh in this exhibition, because they are not appreciated enough by the people of Indonesia," Augustin said.
Agreeing with Augustin, Indonesian literati Goenawan Muhammad stated the country`s people indeed did not appreciate the art and culture of their own nation.
"Even our education system is unable to motivate students to appreciate our music and artwork," said the man who is popularly known as GM.
According to Goenawan, the government has not done enough to address the problem, because several museums and paintings in Indonesia are not maintained properly.
"We know that Indonesian culture and artwork are beginning to have a good market abroad and we have to maintain them as an asset for tourism," he said.
Indonesia is made up of more than 500 tribes, who speak more than 700 ethnic languages, and are spread over more than 17,000 islands, with the five major islands being Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua.
Therefore, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) director general Irina Borkova also praised the country for its capability to preserve its cultural diversity.
"I express my appreciation to Indonesia, a country with immense cultural diversity," she said.
Meanwhile, Arief Rachman, a member of the Administrative Group of the International Bureau of Education Council of UNESCO, said Indonesia was a museum of cultural diversity.
Therefore, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was invited by the UNESCO to Paris in November 2011 to present his views on the development and preservation of the Indonesia's cultural diversity.
"In UNESCO`s view, Indonesia has succeeded in maintaining its territorial integrity as well as its national unity, although its population consists of hundreds of different tribes with their own cultures and languages," Arief had said then.
At the UNESCO General Assembly in Paris, President Yudhoyono stated Indonesia preserved its cultural diversity for the sake of national unity.
In his speech at the special session of the 36th UNESCO General Conference in Paris, Yudhoyono said a new global approach was needed to develop better understanding of cultural diversity and differences.
He called on all nations around the world to join Indonesia in creating a new approach to promote multiculturalism.
"The previous paradigm of `I and you` should now be changed to `we`," the Indonesian head of state said.
President Yudhoyono added, with the new approach, differences of opinion could be reduced, which would eventually lead to greater respect for human rights.
He said Indonesia had previously faced many problems that ended up in ethnic clashes, but through common efforts the awareness that cultural diversity was a national asset was raised, due to which the conflicts could be resolved.
"The experience later turned into a lesson and made Indonesia one of the world`s largest democracies," Yudhoyono said.
"Further, an approach that accommodated local interests and respected local cultures helped settle many problems, such as in Aceh and Poso," he added.
President Yudhoyono stated Indonesia was grateful for having a diverse society and the nation adhered to the principle of unity in diversity.
The Indonesian head of state was chosen to deliver a keynote speech because UNESCO considered the country to be a perfect example of how cultural diversity could be used as a national strength.
According to Arief, Indonesia can indeed set an example for other countries.
However, he added, if the international community respected the cultural diversity of Indonesia, then Indonesians should also make every effort to preserve and develop it.
"Therefore, the state and nation, including people from all walks of life, should familiarise themselves with Indonesia`s strength and realise that Indonesia is a great country," Arief said.
He also noted the government must play a bigger role in developing and preserving the country`s multiculturalism, because the same principles could be applied to improve Indonesia`s foreign policy.(Uu.O001/INE/KR-BSR)