Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Indonesia Bids Adieu to the 'Smiling General'

Dilemma of forgiveness: Between morals and law

On the afternoon of Jan. 27, H. M. Soeharto, a former president of Indonesia who ruled for 32 years under the new order, passed away due to the failures of organs. In his age (eightysix-year-old), when he should be ready to leave in peace, he was still haunted by some legal cases. He won his controversial case against Time magazine, but the daily Jakarta Post express its concern towards Indonesia's Press Law.

Being hospitalized since January 4, 2008, Soeharto has made the Indonesian media following his condition by the hour, either at the hospital or in a complex of family funeral in central Java.

Opinions in the printed media, online media, and blogs are flooded with views on his status as a former president and the legal status of being the suspect in a corruption case. People were discussing the term of forgiveness (read this, and this as the examples), while the human right activists were accusing the media of building people’s opinion to forgive him and enhancing his good deeds. Even foreigners were sending their opinions to the English daily Jakarta Post, saying that forgiving him could encourage corruption in the country.

H.M. Soeharto was born on June 8,1921 in Kemusuk, a small village near Jogjakarta, Central Java. His father was a farmer. His childhood as a son of a farmer also dominated his attention to the agricultural sector in Indonesia.

His military career had helped him to gain his way to the presidential chair. The 30th September Movement in 1965, which was also marking the fall of communism in Indonesia eased his way to take over the political power from Indonesian first president Soekarno.

His wife, known as Madame Tien Soeharto, became his biggest supporter and helped him gain his votes by organizing the wives of military and the wives of government officers through the organization related to their husbands' offices. Yet, these organization were only to enhance the patriarchal system, not empowering women's political movement.

Women's organizations as the part of national movement died away after the accusation for some women's organizations that they take part of the torturing and murdering generals in the 30th September Movement. Madame Tien Soeharto was also involved in several projects such as the building of Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (the Miniature of the Beautiful Indonesia) to show the richness of Indonesian culture, a project that was objected through demonstrations but later on had the chance to show its beauty. She passed away on April 24, 1996.

The economic crises that hit Asian countries was also enhancing the back ground of the student’s movement that forced Soeharto to step down from his presidential reign on May 21, 1998.

Soeharto gained the title Bapak Pembangunan (the Father of Indonesian development) for the physic and economic development of Indonesia during his time. He was clever enough to pick his aides and coordinate them to be able to put the country in economic progress to be one of the Asian Tigers. His former ministers confessed that he had the ability to learn the situation quick, to listen to his assistants' arguments, and give his full support to make the idea into realization.

Grassroots Indonesians were also enjoying the economic development in his era. His attentive approaches towards farmers made him a great father to most Indonesian farmers. People who gained scholarship through the organization he founded would not forget his aid that uplifted them from being poor.

Respect also came from other leaders. Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister from Malaysia; Mahathir Muhammad, and Brunei's King Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah were among all foreign friends who came to pay him their last visit in the hospital and will also join the crowd in the funeral ceremony.

But, it weren't only friends who came to the hospital. Last week protesters were also demonstrated in front of the hospital to ask people to remember all the human right violations and the corruption cases happened under Soeharto’s leadership. They asked the government to continue probing into his corruption case. Perhaps the duality of meaning behind his mysterious smile (either agree or disagree) also popping out its fruit.

I was born in the era of the new order, most of my readings were restricted to books available. After the reformation period in 1998, the freedom of the press and publication granted me access to read more books which unveiled the hidden side of Indonesian history.

His step-brother, Probosutedjo, made his remark while visiting him to the hospital: “Soeharto had his five yearly reports as a President and was accepted by the MPR (People's Consultative Assembly). The only period he missed was the two months period between March to May 1998, the moment of his resignation as a president”.

As a citizen who was far away from the real political world I think he was right. As a children I grew up to witness the counting of votes for the five years election of our legislatives. Citizen were always involved in the campaign forwarding the general elections. Most Indonesians were all taking part in Soeharto's actions, either voluntarily or under psychological pressure. Citizens who voted for him, the media who were afraid to loose their publication permit, all were responsible in supporting Soeharto.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono canceled his trip to open the Anti Corruption Conference in Bali and announced seven days of mournings for the smiling general. He will be leading the funeral ceremony today (January 28th, 2008) in Central Java. Soeharto preferred to be buried beside his wife in the family funeral parlor.

Morally Indonesians forgive him and remember all his great contributions to the country. Half mast flags are playing with the wind in front of citizen's houses. Ordinary people also came to the family house in Jalan (street) Cendana, to pay him their last respect. Television, radio, and the internet in Indonesia are all signaling their mournings. Yet, the law and the history of Indonesian as a state will still need the legal verification to answer the long crying of the victims of human rights' violation. How Indonesian deal with this problem will be the basic step to launch back as a great country, this time in a real democracy! History should be learn in an objective view.

Let me quote Herodotus: "Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all; the conscientious historian will correct these defects." We do need to let these conscientious historians work properly or we are to face what George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".


JJS said...

Hello Retty,
the demise of former President Soeharto had so much media coverage that it was difficult to distinguish true analysis from articles just quoting other articles or news agencies.
This is where contributions by citizen journalists can make a difference, by giving a glimpse of what life was during Soeharto's more than 30 years in power, because though he did contribute decisively to the overall development of his country, criticism was equally deserved (corruption, political repression, curtailing of rights). Citizens are understandably patriots when an event touches the whole nation, and surely the passing away of a major figure is one such occasion. The privilege, perhaps also the duty of citizen journalism is to express one's feelings with sincerity, while at the same time pursuing a clear-headed analysis of the gaps, the failings or worse, in the period under consideration. Lucidity is not the privilege only of those who view an event from another planet, and empathy is not accessible only to patriots. In the Internet age, both categories are expected to demonstate -more and more- similar qualities of awareness and fairness.
Your article goes in that direction, in making a local or regional event comprehensible to a larger community.
Thank you.

Retty N. Hakim said...

Thank you for your comment. It was difficult to write a piece for an international cit-j website. Perhaps not all of the readers are familiar with Indonesian history.

The international media has been stressing the negative exposure although some tried to be balanced. I have to be very careful in writing this one as a balance view. It is difficult to present it as news, not merely a personal opinion. It is more difficult for an "amateur journalist" like me to compress the abundant of facts into a short article.

I have to thank you also for helping me to see through foreigner's eye which facts are ambiguous (or have the possibility of misinterpretation). You've shared your precious time to help me as your fellow blogger. I would take this as a special note for the function of an editor to a citizen reporter. Merci beaucoup! Amities, Retty