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(en) Rising tide of Indonesian student unrest

From Platformist Anarchism <platform@geocities.com>
Date Tue, 31 Mar 1998 14:46:55 +0100
Organization http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/6170

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Welcome to Campus of Struggle 

Andrew Higgins on the rising tide of Indonesian student 

Tuesday March 31, 1998 
The Guardian

On a five-a-side football pitch commandeered as the 
headquarters of Indonesia's campus revolt, a huddle of 
student activists gathers around a television for a lesson on 
the tactics and terror of rebellion. 

The screen flickers with images of a disaster they hope to 
avoid as they challenge the now geriatric New Order that has 
governed Indonesia for 32 years. It shows tanks rolling into 
Tiananmen Square. 

"The students in Tiananmen are our brothers and sisters. But 
they failed. We don't want to fail," says Agus Gede, a 22-year-
old political science undergraduate and student leader at the 
University of Indonesia, "We want to learn from their 

Their goal is no less ambitious than that of Chinese students 
silenced by the People's Liberation Army in Beijing in 1989 - 
the end of President Suharto's monopoly of power, a political 
and business cartel as tenaciously guarded as that of the 
Chinese Communist Party. 

The trigger for their protests is economic, a crisis that has 
ravaged Indonesia's currency, raised the spectre of widespread 
hunger, turned a model of development into a wayward ward 
of the International Monetary Fund and left nearly every 
company on the Jakarta stock exchange technically bankrupt. 

Their ultimate target, though, is the "old man," as 
Indonesians call the 76-year-old master of the New Order and 
father to six children enriched by business concerns ranging 
from clove cigarettes and cars to condoms. 

Physically infirm but politically nimble, the former army 
quartermaster has just entered his seventh five-year term 
after being "re-elected" earlier this month by a handpicked 

A month of protest and sporadic clashes with police has put 
Indonesia's students in the vanguard of a movement for 
political change. In a country of 202 million people scattered 
over 17,500 islands, their numbers are relatively small. But 
the foment on campuses across the former Dutch colony 
could presage a wider campaign against the world's longest-
serving ruler after Fidel Castro. 

"People always look to our youth. This is a basic fact of our 
national life. Our modern state comes from the students," 
said Hariman Siregar, a medical doctor who spent three years 
in jail for leading an abortive student movement in 1974, 
"We have never had a change of government without the 
students. The students are a vital sign of our national life. If 
the students are protesting, the country is really in crisis." 

Their past role as a detonator for change, including a bloody 
convulsion that allowed General Suharto to oust Sukarno as 
president-for-life in 1967, makes students a potent force. Their 
fate, though, will depend not on their own strength but, as 
was the case in Beijing in 1989, on the military. 

"The military has to make a decision: to crush the students or 
support them... They used the students to overthrow 
Sukarno. In 1974 they crushed us. Now they don't know. 
They are buying time," said Dr Hariman. 

In the opaque world of Indonesian politics, where key actors 
move as obscurely as Javanese shadow puppets, senior 
generals are now manoeuvring for the trust of student 
leaders, though it remains unclear, possibly even to 
themselves, whether their aim is to silence or exploit their 

A newly installed commander of the armed forces, General 
Wiranto, has described the students' demands - which range 
from calls for cheap rice to coded assaults on Gen Suharto - as 
"normal" and invited delegates from 17 universities to a 
meeting on April 4 to discuss their movement. At the same 
time, though, authorities have cracked down firmly on all 
attempts to take protests off campus and into the streets to 
join forces with a swelling army of unemployed and 
impoverished, but so far unorganised, workers. 

The jobless now number 27 million and the suffering will 
increase with the scrapping of price controls deemed hostile to 
the free market by the IMF. 

"We realise that the most important factor is the army," said 
Mr Agus, the student leader. "What happened in China could 
happen here too." 

Like Chinese students in 1989, protesters appeal to soldiers for 
support, hoisting banners calling on the "people's army" to 
stand on the side of the people. But the Tiananmen video, 
showing how China's own "people's army" responded, has 
delivered a sobering message. "In times of chaos and panic 
good intentions mean nothing," said Yudi Yudewo, a 23-year-
old metallurgy student. 

Until last week the University of Indonesia greeted visitors 
with a sign celebrating its role as a centre for the 1960s protests 
that helped bring Gen Suharto to power: "Welcome to the 
Campus of the Struggle of the New Order". The sign was 
removed after a student used spray paint to produce an 
abbreviated message: "Welcome to the Campus of Struggle". 

So long as such mockery is confined to campus grounds 
authorities turn a blind eye. Outside, though, tolerance 
quickly evaporates. When a respected magazine, D&R, 
depicted the president as the king of spades on its cover, the 
editor was promptly removed. "Our openness is like a rubber 
ring," said Ikrar Musabhakti, a researcher at the Indonesian 
Institute of Sciences. "It can be opened quite wide sometimes 
but the government can also close it very quickly if it becomes 

Dr Hariman knows from experience how quickly the 
treacherous winds of Indonesian politics can shift. During the 
1974 protests he was invited to the presidential palace to 
discuss the students' demands with Gen Suharto. He was 
arrested five days later. 

"I think in the end they will crush the students," Dr Hariman 
said. "The military has no guts against Suharto. He survived 
the Japanese, the Dutch and Sukarno. He is a survivor. 

"He does not understand the economy but he understands 
how to buy people and how to kill people. He understands the 

 Copyright Guardian Media Group plc 1998 

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