16.9.12

Echoes of the Javanese dictator former Indonesian President Suharto




Echoes of the Javanese dictator
former Indonesian President Suharto


by  :   Pramoedya Ananta Toer*


JAKARTA –  Javanese-style feudalism, laden with myth, hypocrisy and euphemism, was a major ingredient in the political concoction that kept Suharto and his New Order in power for 32 years. Suharto legitimized his reign as a Javanese dictator through his mastery at blending old palace traditions with modern politics.
Silencing his people, “disappearing” those who dared think differently, filling jails throughout the country, Suharto seemed no different from other dictators the world has known in the course of history from Mussolini to Mobutu.
Yet he could be even more cruel because he lacked the type of education that would have touched him with some ideas of the Enlightenment. His rule as a Javanese dictator was marked by extreme hypocrisy combined with extraordinary patience. He found it unnecessary to be frank. Coming from his mouth, the words “yes” and “no” might have meant the same thing; or they might have meant nothing at all. It was thus impossible to be sure of what he meant. His patience followed the Javanese saying: “alon-alon asal kelakon”, or “being slow is all right, the important thing is to get the job done.”
Mr. Camdessus, the IMF executive who witnessed Suharto sign the IMF conditions for an emergency monetary aid, personally experienced Suharto’s brand of Javanese wiliness. In the same week he made the deal with the IMF, Suharto astutely let his accomplices trash the agreed IMF conditions.

All governments in the world use some form of hypocrisy as a means of justifying power, but none could match the hypocrisy of Suharto’s Javanese dictatorship. In Suharto’s mind, poverty did not exist in Indonesia; rather, the people were in a state of “pre-prosperity.” In the midst of the economic crisis, banks were not liquidated; rather, enterprise had to be halted. Workers were not fired; rather, they submitted to a “break in the work relationship.”
Indeed, I myself was not sentenced to 10 years incarceration on the prison-island of Buru; instead, for my own well-being, I was transmigrated to a new settlement area after four years of “guidance at a rehabilitation center” in Jakarta. Truly a creative piece of hypocrisy!
The Javanese dictator, Suharto, was at last forced to step down, leaving Indonesia in the worst economic-monetary crisis since the proclamation of the republic. But the moment he left, I knew that no substantial change in the Indonesian political situation was to follow. His “new order” stands intact even without Suharto. All his supporters, and all the institutions he set up, remain firmly in place behind the visage of Mr. Habibie, the new president.
There is, of course, no denying the fact that the heroic youths and students undermined Suharto’s repressive power and forced him out. Yet the victory is incomplete. And even now, months later, the people fear the threat of neo-Suhartoism. It would be a mistake for the world to believe the situation is settled.
This threat will surely become reality if those young people who command the future of Indonesia are lulled into a false sense of security by their “victory.”  Though neo-Suhartoist factions cannot in the end win, they may yet  prove to possess a counteroffensive capability. This means more blood may yet be spilled.
Today, in the midst of a deep monetary and economic crisis, Indonesia seems to be stuck in a dark tunnel with no glimmering of light at the end. In actuality, we have been in this dark tunnel for a very long time proclamation of the republic. But the moment he left, I knew that no substantial change in the Indonesian political situation was to follow. His “new order” stands intact even without Suharto. All his supporters, and all the institutions he set up, remain firmly in place behind the visage of Mr. Habibie, the new president.
There is, of course, no denying the fact that the heroic youths and students undermined Suharto’s repressive power and forced him out. Yet the victory is incomplete. And even now, months later, the people fear the threat of neo-Suhartoism. It would be a mistake for the world to believe the situation is settled.
This threat will surely become reality if those young people who command the future of Indonesia are lulled into a false sense of security by their “victory.” Though neo-Suhartoist factions cannot in the end win, they may yet prove to possess a counteroffensive capability. This means more blood may yet be spilled.
Today, in the midst of a deep monetary and economic crisis, Indonesia seems to be stuck in a dark tunnel with no glimmering of light at the end. In actuality, we have been in this dark tunnel for a very long time.
For more than 30 years – for the entire reign of Suharto’s “new order” – we have been in the clutches of a crisis no less devastating than the current economic and monetary crisis. That crisis is an intellectual one, a crisis of the mind.
The economic-monetary crisis was unwanted: the intellectual crisis, by contrast, was a deliberate creation. It was funded by billions of dollars over the year through a formal indoctrination body  – the P4 – an institution created to spread the doctrine and guarantee the continued existence of the “Panca Sila” ideology – the Indonesian state philosophy (originally instituted by Sukarno) that believes in one God, the unity of the nation and “consent” under the “wise guidance” of the leaders. The P4 is an institution intended to produce “Pancasilaist human beings” and takes pride in proclaiming itself as creator of “the complete Indonesian being.”
Suharto succeeded gloriously in fashioning this “complete human being” as a person with but one thought, one language, obedient to but one commander: the leader of the New Order, General Suharto. Because so many intellectuals were involved in and contaminated by this crisis, there exists in Indonesia today no pluralism of thought and no democracy. The rape of human rights is a natural product of the vaunted uniformity. “The complete human being” a la Suharto is, in essence, a one-dimensional being, much like a horse that has learned only to follow the single route determined by its coachman.
It is far more complicated to overcome the intellectual crisis than it is to solve the economic one, which needs but money on the table.
During Suharto’s power, he banned newspapers and books, and the jails were filled – at one time holding well over a million political prisoners.
It was exactly during that time that concocted abstractions were pounded into the mind of society as concrete facts. People believed them as truth. Some examples: Indonesians are indolent, they simply do not have the political capacity to rise up in rebellion; Indonesian politics and government are nothing without military involvement: the military is the agent of progress and development, and thus Indonesia cannot survive without it.
All sheer nonsense, of course. But it seems the West came to believe these “truths” even more than the Indonesian people. After all, it was very convenient for Western investors and governments to believe during the Cold War that only the military and Suharto stood between the Indonesian people and communism. In the name of containment and the right to exploit Indonesia’s enormous natural wealth and cheap labor made available by Suharto’s open-door policies, the West feigned ignorance of the most venal corruption and brutal violations of human  rights.
The Cold War has come and gone, but the old calculus has a new mission. Then the military leaders in developing countries became the politicians in order to keep communism at bay now the military’s role is to guarantee the political stability needed for “globalization.”
As a result of this Cold War legacy, United States foreign policy, in particular, has followed the pattern of betting on the wrong horse in Asia, realizing its mistake and hurrying to choose a new horse. But the US always makes the mistake of waiting too long. This happened with Suharto. The US was still holding on as the Indonesian students pushed the Javanese dictator out the door.
Will President Clinton, as leader of the West, continue to make the same mistake as he bets on Habibie, the shadow of the Javanese dictator? Like Suharto after Sukarno, Habibie may make a good impression in the beginning, but economic development is sure to collapse if, in the name of development, he continues to preside over a system that tramples on democracy and the sovereignty of the people.
It is time for the US and the rest of the West to rethink its policy toward Third World countries in the post-Cold War period. In the new era, using generals and the military to undermine civil society has proved counterproductive because the military can never be the means to create democracy.
It may well be that the US feels that it is enough to have democracy at home, even if developing countries require military power to secure the gains of “globalization.” Indonesians today know that such a double standard was the hallmark of America’s foreign policy during the Javanese dictatorship.
If the US and the rest of the West want to be “on the right side of history,” to use President Clinton’s phrase, they should embrace Indonesian civil society and let the military go.
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*   Pramoedya Ananta Toer has been called Indonesia’s greatest writer by the New York Times. He is best known for the Buru Quartet, a narrative of the birth of Indonesian nationalism, composed when he was imprisoned on the island of Buru for 10 years by Suharto. His latest work in English, published by Hyperion East in April 1999, New York, is The Mute’s Sililoque.

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HASTA MITRA Updated at: 9:54 AM

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