What’s CONEFO?

I was happily sorting when I came across this beauty from Indonesia. I was pretty sure I recognised this one, with its distinctive portrait of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia.

Sukarno himself would make for a great story: he was conversational to fluent in ten languages, led the Indonesian movement for independence from Dutch colonial rule, and had nine wives in his lifetime, with an age range of 51 years.

However, when I went to file the stamp, it turned out not to be from the series I’d thought. In fact, there were some important differences compared to the others.

It’s surtaxed, for one thing (at an unusually high 100% of the face value), and features the word ‘Conefo’ on the upper right hand side. The border is red instead of dark brown, and it lacks the icon in the bottom left corner reading ‘1966’. So much for my amazing observational skills!

In fact, my stamp dates from 1965, though it’s still not the first stamp featuring this portrait.

So…what is Conefo? Was this the philatelic version of covfefe?

No, of course not. CONEFO was the Conference of the New Emerging Forces, an initiative by President Sukarno to form a new coalition against imperialism – a competing centre of power after Indonesia left the United Nations in January 1965.[1]

The other initial CONEFO member states were the People’s Republic of China, DPR Korea, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (or North Vietnam, a state that existed between 1945 and 1976). Cuba, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, the United Arab Republic and Palestine Liberation Organization were ‘observers’.

MPR/DPR Building in Jakarta, Indonesia. Sukarno planned for this to be the CONEFO headquarters; it serves now as the country’s seat of government. Image credit.

CONEFO was officially established in January 1965, and dissolved just 19 months later in August 1966, when Sukarno was overthrown by General Suharto. I say officially established, with fancy italics, because the idea of CONEFO was suggested by Sukarno back in 1963.[2]

Indeed, the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO) had taken place in Jakarta in 1963, a name shared with the sporting federation behind the games. Why? Because the International Olympic Committee suspended Indonesia, who had the previous year refused entry visas to Israel and Taiwan for the Asian Games. You still with me?

So if you can’t join them, beat them. The first GANEFO took place in November 1963, with approximately 2700 athletes taking part in 20 sports.[3] Depending on what you read and how you count, anywhere from 46 to 51 states were represented.

If, like me, you’re still in lockdown, you can sit back and watch the opening ceremony! Who says quarantine has to be boring?

Now, unlike CONEFO, GANEFO was definitely ringing a bell… Where had I seen that before? As it turns out, in my beloved Albanian stamp collection!

In January 1964, Albania released a series of 4 stamp commemorating GANEFO. Albania won two bronze medals…or, better, Ramazan Driza won two bronze medals, having competed in both the shotput and discus events.[4]

I’d say ‘better luck next time, Albania!’…but there was no next time. The second GANEFO event, in 1966, was restricted to Asian countries. A third GANEFO (or second Asian GANEFO) was planned for 1970. However, multiple plans for the games fell through and GANEFO as an organisation was disbanded.

Are there any CONEFO or GANEFO stamps in your collection?



[1] William A. Redfern, “Sukarno’s Guided Democracy and the Takeovers of Foreign Companies in Indonesia in the 1960s,” (PhD diss., University of Michagan, 2010), 372.

[2] Peter Hauswedell, The Anti-Imperialist International United Front in Chinese and Indonesian Foreign Policy 1963-1965: A Study of Anti-Status Quo Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976), 379-81.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GANEFO

[4] http://www.gbrathletics.com/ic/gang.htm

See also: Ewa T. Pauker, “Ganefo I: Sports and Politics in Djakarta,” Asian Survey 5/4 (1965): 171-185.

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