Soeharto in The Eyes of A Young Indonesian
Posted February 5, 2008on:
I remember how I used to idolize Soeharto and all his ministers when I was a child. I remember how my friends and I were so much in love with the government and we thought Habibie was the smartest guy on the planet, he was my second most favorite by the way. I guess it was the whole situation that made me love Soeharto so much. Literally, he and his government was all over us. Although I hated it, but it was a fact that we had to watch this news program by TVRI called Dunia Dalam Berita every nine o’clock in the evening regardless what TV station we used to watch. I remember how I hated the program because every time I was watching a good movie it made me wait for thirty minutes in the middle of the movie. But, my parents always reminded me that it was somewhat important for me to watch the news program and how I should respect the government for giving us important and updated information about what was happening in Indonesia and around the world. In this matter, I was forced to love.
But it was really my own decision to love Soeharto and his government when I found out in my books that my teachers wanted me to read that Soeharto had been the savior of our economics thefore he deserved the title of Bapak Pembangunan, Father of Development. I found out that it was Soeharto who had helped this country rise from an economic recession after a mismanagement from the previous government. The books told me that during the previous government people had not had any food to eat despite the fact that Indonesia had been a rich country. The books also blamed the communists for this condition and it was Soeharto, our Father of Development, who then came to rescue. I remember how hard it was for me to memorize all the goals of each Pembangunan Lima Tahun (Pelita) for my History class, Soeharto’s five-year economic strategy. Although I did not really like the details because my teachers made me memorize all of them, but I felt the proudness of being an Indonesian. I was proud to know that Indonesia was considered The Sleeping Tiger of Asia that soon would wake up and be as good as other Tigers such as Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. And according to one of my teachers, it was Soeharto and his government who had formulated the best economic strategies for Indonesia.
I became more proud when I found out that we were the only Southeast Asian country that was able to make sophisticated airplanes, or at least that was what the government wanted me to think. It was an uplifted moment in my childhood to see IPTN was able to fly its N-250 for the very first time. I was staring at my TV and saw Soeharto’s trademark smile while he was listening to the explanation of his minister of technogy, B.J. Habibie. I was just so proud of being an Indonesian. In my mind, Indonesia would someday be so prosperous and respected by other countries. When I was thinking about how advanced our technology was, depicted by IPTN’s success at that time, at the same time I was remembering how Soeharto had been so generous to poor Indonesians by improving our agricultural sector. I remember the video song that every TV station had to play before they wanted to end all of their programs: A scene would show up showing Soeharto wearing a farm hat while holding cereal grasses surrounded by smiling farmers with, like always, his trademark smile. The combination of our country’s humbleness depicted by one of the government’s jargons “Indonesia adalah Negara Agraris” and our technology and promising economic development was perfect. Plus, Indonesia was number one at SEA Games. I, a young Indonesian, just could not ask for more.
Although as a child I did not really understand what Pancasila was all about, but somehow I felt it was important since my teachers made it sound so important to understand for me as an Indonesian. Therefore, I thought memorizing the five principles of Pancasila was so crucial. But, it was not really a difficult thing to do, because every Monday I had to join the flag ceremony which forced me and my friends to shout out loud the five principles. I guess schools still perform the flag ceremony today. Although I did not fully understand the essential significance of the five principles of Pancasila, my environment told me that they were important. But, it was when I was having my first week at my new junior high school in a small city in Central Java that I got really confused with Pancasila and its whole system and what Soeharto’s government was trying to make us understand. My school required me to take a one-week seminar of P4, Pedoman Penghayatan dan Pengamalan Pancasila. Frankly, I did not understand what my teachers were trying to say. I was there, sitting in my new class room with my eyes wide open trying to concentrate and understand what Pancasila was all about. But, it was too hard. I found out that Pancasila was much more complicated than I had thought before, and I started wondering if my friends had the same problem.
As I was growing old, I discovered that there were some people who actually disliked Soeharto and his government, in fact they hated him. Something that astonished me. I then realized that Soeharto was not everyone’s favorite and a lot of people in Indonesia were accusing him for terrible things they said he’d done in the past and present. They accused Soeharto for creating an unfair political and economic condition in Indonesia. They gave me evidence of how Soeharto was oppressing his protestors and giving priviliges to his children and cronies. Sadly, this happened just after I was starting to admire Tommy Soeharto for his achievement to produce the first national car. They told me that Soeharto was a dictator. I finally lost the feeling of admiration when Soeharto arrogantly manipulated the political election in 1997 and made himself president. I became more furious to know that he had made his daughter Siti Hardianti Rukmana as one of his ministers. I said to myself, “No wonder, people kept reminding me not to insult Soeharto and his government in the past.”
I was living abroad when the economic crisis hit Indonesia. At first, I still had the confidence that Indonesia would be able to overcome. I had my fingers crossed and prayed that God would help my country and its government. I prayed that Soeharto would save Indonesians once again from an economic crisis, like he had done before although I was already part of Soeharto’s antis at that time. I kept my eyes open on the news and hoped that a miracle would emerge, but unfortunately it never happened. I remember I saw Soeharto helplessly sign the economic agreement with IMF. For me, it was the first time to see Indonesia’s longtime hero defeated. The IMF agreement obviously did not help his damaged reputation and as the protestors kept rallying on the streets Soeharto decided it was his time to resign.
Soeharto died a few days ago. It had been more than nine years since he admitted that Indonesian people did not want him to lead this country any more. It was clearly not the kind of ending that Soeharto would have thought he wanted to have. His family might have been glad that Soeharto was never put into jail, but I’m sure it did not make Soeharto happy. It must have been a painful truth for him that he was no longer considered a national hero and Babak Pembangunan and was called a dictator instead. I keep wondering what would it have become and what would it be right now if Soeharto had not taken the chance to be the president of Indonesia in 1997: The debate of whether or not the government should give Soeharto a hero status would probably not exist.