Thursday, April 28, 2016

Indonesia’s President’s State Drama and the Exiled Compatriots


President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is not a king nor does he behave like one. But like royal visits, visits by Indonesian heads of state to the Netherlands have all been marked by dramatic moments — albeit in various forms. The first such visit, in the 1970s, came amid a climate of growing concerns and protests in Europe against military dictatorships in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

President Soeharto’s arrival on Sept. 2, 1970, turned the city of The Hague and the Huis ten Bosch Palace into a dramatic scene of war against protestors. Assigned to drive the car carrying minister Widjojo Nitisastro, I was able to see how the security, much to the annoyance of the guests, had been prepared to the maximum. The planned three-day visit was eventually cut to just one.

The second visit was by president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid on Feb. 3, 2000 — only two years after the fall of General Soeharto. It was the time of the introduction of a new era — the era of openness and democracy. Gus Dur arrived just days after his unexpected dismissal of military chief Gen. Wiranto — the first of its kind in Indonesian history.

Gus Dur was particularly warmly welcomed, becoming the first Indonesian president to address the Dutch parliament.

At a ceremony, he told Queen Beatrice “Your Majesty, here I am, a blind president with a wife in a wheelchair.” The Queen responded with a smile expressing respect and sympathy. Addressing his many friends in Holland, Gus said, “I told you, didn’t I, that I’d be president of Indonesia.”

Gus Dur created his own dramatic moments as he proudly introduced the new Indonesia. Soeharto’s drama, by contrast, was caused by his dictatorial regime. The third drama ironically happened because of a serious misunderstanding of a democracy based on the principles of Trias Politica.

On Oct. 5, 2010, president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was about to board a flight when he abruptly cancelled his visit, worried the Dutch would respond to the demands made by the Republic of the South Moluccas ( RMS ) separatist group to arrest the Indonesian president.

For Yudhoyono, it was apparently a timely decision to demonstrate his leadership and patriotic image. Heroism seems never redundant whenever it involves a former colonial power — as if we were still at war with them.

Likewise, on the Dutch side, war veterans opposed Queen Beatrice’s plan to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of Indonesian independence on Aug. 17, 1995, as this would suggest that they, in the 1940s, had acted as an aggressor equivalent to the German Nazis. The Queen had thus to wait in Singapore before arriving in Jakarta two days later.

Now there are no more recalcitrant war veterans and no more RMS actions demanding independence. Instead, President Jokowi is confronted with a much greater drama at home and what is left of it abroad: the fate of Indonesian exiles since 1965.

In 2000 Gus Dur met with exiles, calling them “wandering heroes”, but he was not able to restore their civil rights. Yudhoyono, who enjoyed being among the world’s top Who’s-Who, never really showed much concern for them.

Jokowi, a simple man who’s not shy about his simplicity, likes to listen to people’s concerns. Taking a break from his business agenda, he approached his compatriots in the streets, talked at a hotel and visited Indonesian students in Leiden.

Unfortunately, there was no chance given to this first president with no link to the New Order regime to meet exiled compatriots at exactly the same time his government at home was sponsoring a historic symposium to publicly discuss, for the first time, the tragic impact of the 1965 genocide.

The Indonesian Embassy in The Hague apparently failed to see the significance of the opportunity for President Jokowi, who has promised to resolve the 1965 tragedy, to meet with exiles and compatriots concerned with the continuing impunity.

Fortunately, and surprisingly, though, Francisca C. Pattipilohy, accompanied by fellow exile Soengkono, bravely found her way to shake the hand of the President and deliver a letter from the International People’s Tribunal of Crimes against Humanity 1965 ( IPT ).

“Yes, I’m aware, I’m aware,” said the President as he received the letter, which urged the Indonesian state to proceed with the findings of Indonesia’s national commissions on human rights and violence against women.

Had there been a dialogue, the President would have acquired greater understanding of the depth of the problem — how stigmatizing and humiliating it was for hundreds of exiles to be denied civil rights to live safely in their own homeland.  

For Tante Cisca, as Francisca is affectionately called, it was a precious moment. Once outside the hotel she cried and proudly said “I did it! Oh, after 48 years I’m meeting and talking to an Indonesian president.” She then rejoined the IPT rally, which rejected any “reconciliation without uncovering the truth”.

Francisca, 90, a translator exiled since 1968, and her husband Zain Nasution, a journalist who died in prison in 1975, could have been among the nation’s heroes. In the 1940s Francisca joined the Zain-led Indonesian student bond in Holland, the RUPI. Both were members of the famous Perhimpoenan Indonesia ( PI ), the nation’s independence movement, which first used the term “Indonesia” and the members of which included founding vice president Mohammad Hatta.

Zain and Cisca were passionate fighters. They protested against Dutch aggression by returning their Malino scholarships in 1948 and returned home only to be persecuted and left in detention in December 1965.

It’s not clear what recommendation the government commission in July will present to the President and what approach he will take to resolving the festering wound of 1965. That will presumably be the thorniest question for President Jokowi.

He will have to decide whether to follow the lead indicated by his politics and security minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who vehemently rejected any apology to the millions of innocent victims affected by the 1965 tragedy, or whether to issue an apology on behalf of the state and bravely seek a way — his own way — to resolve the issues by listening carefully to the suffering survivors.

The writer Aboeprijadi Santoso is a journalist formerly with Radio Netherlands.


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