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Indonesia Debates Possibility of Honor for Suharto

The New York Times
25 October 2010

 

Indonesia Debates Possibility of Honor for Suharto
By AUBREY BELFORD
Published: October 22, 2010
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JAKARTA, Indonesia — To millions, Suharto, the military strongman who ruled Indonesia for 32 years, was a tyrant, a thief and a murderer.
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Anwar Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Family members and supporters of Suharto gathered before his tomb, second from right. He is on the shortlist for an honor.
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But more than 12 years after his fall from power in a popular uprising, and two years after his death at age 86, an effort is under way to redefine his legacy: as a national hero.
The Indonesian media have been filled with heated debate since it emerged this month that Mr. Suharto’s name had made it onto a Social Affairs Ministry annual shortlist of candidates to be added to Indonesia’s official pantheon of 138 national heroes.
The move, initially proposed by the leader of the Central Java district that houses Mr. Suharto’s mausoleum, has angered political reformers and many Indonesians, who see his rule as a time of unrestrained corruption and repression.
For many others, however, including the thousands of Indonesians who showed up at special prayer services for Mr. Suharto that culminated Friday, 1,000 days since his death, the move taps into nostalgia for a time of order and stability that contrasts with today’s messy democracy.
It also creates a political time bomb for the country’s first directly elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will have to vet the shortlist before it goes to an expert committee, and then award the honor on Heroes’ Day, Nov. 10.
“This is an insult to common sense and humanity,” said Fadjroel Rachman, a prominent activist who was jailed for three years by Mr. Suharto’s government. The objective of the student-led protests that forced Mr. Suharto’s resignation in 1998 “was the overthrow, the stepping down of Mr. Suharto as a dictator, as a corrupter and a human rights violator,” he said.
“We’re urging Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono not to make Suharto a national hero,” he said, “or we’ll have to call him a traitor to reformasi,” the 1998 democratic reform movement.
Mr. Yudhoyono, a former general who rose up the ranks during Mr. Suharto’s New Order government has, true to his reticent public style, not indicated which way he is leaning.
The president has seen his popularity, while still high, steadily slide since he was re-elected for a second term last year. Rowdy protests across the country this week marking the first year of that term criticized, among other concerns, a lack of progress on promised reforms including corruption in government institutions. Honoring Mr. Suharto, who is believed to have pilfered billions of dollars from the state and jailed and killed tens of thousands of opponents, would hardly bolster the president’s reformist credentials.
But Mr. Suharto’s legacy has always been mixed. Despite his notorious brutality, he was widely credited with bringing stability and economic growth to Indonesia.
And the proposal to proclaim him a hero has powerful backers. This week, the national conference of the Golkar Party, the former political vehicle of Mr. Suharto and now a key coalition member in Mr. Yudhoyono’s cabinet, threw its support behind the move. Across Indonesia’s political party system, business elite and state institutions, a generation of former Suharto loyalists still holds sway. The committee that will make the final decision on the national hero honor is dominated by former Suharto-era functionaries.
According to Akbar Tandjung, a senior Golkar politician, Mr. Suharto deserves to be honored for “saving Indonesia as a nation from destruction, conflict and crisis” by seizing power after what officials portrayed as a Communist coup attempt in 1965. At least half a million people suspected of being Communists were massacred in the aftermath.
As for the widespread rights abuses that marked Mr. Suharto’s rule, including the jailing, killing and exile of opponents, Mr. Tandjung said in an interview that they were necessary evils for national stability and development. “A leader has to make decisions in any situation,” he said, “and they won’t make everyone in the community happy.”
Although the honor is symbolic, it could have real consequences as a repudiation of Indonesian democracy, said Wimar Witoelar, a political analyst who was a spokesman for the late Abdurrahman Wahid, who was elected president by Parliament after Mr. Suharto’s fall and is also on this year’s shortlist of heroes.
As the heir to Mr. Suharto’s political legacy, Golkar would gain from a rehabilitation of his name and the rebuke of democracy as it has developed under Mr. Yudhoyono, Mr. Witoelar said. In particular, Aburizal Bakrie, the billionaire tycoon who is chairman of Golkar and a 2014 presidential hopeful, stands to benefit, Mr. Witoelar said.
“I think it would just devaluate the title of national hero, would make it a very cynical label for political convenience,” he said. “Because there’s nothing really more unhealthy for the nation’s self-perception than to name the biggest corruptor, despot, human rights abuser of recent times as the nation’s hero.”
Public opinion on the proposal is divided. Many Indonesians are deeply ambivalent about Mr. Suharto’s record.
A common refrain here is that the man also called “the father of development” was a stabilizing force who was nevertheless capable of destructive excess.

 

By AUBREY BELFORD

 

JAKARTA, Indonesia — To millions, Suharto, the military strongman who ruled Indonesia for 32 years, was a tyrant, a thief and a murderer.

But more than 12 years after his fall from power in a popular uprising, and two years after his death at age 86, an effort is under way to redefine his legacy: as a national hero.

The Indonesian media have been filled with heated debate since it emerged this month that Mr. Suharto’s name had made it onto a Social Affairs Ministry annual shortlist of candidates to be added to Indonesia’s official pantheon of 138 national heroes.

The move, initially proposed by the leader of the Central Java district that houses Mr. Suharto’s mausoleum, has angered political reformers and many Indonesians, who see his rule as a time of unrestrained corruption and repression.

For many others, however, including the thousands of Indonesians who showed up at special prayer services for Mr. Suharto that culminated Friday, 1,000 days since his death, the move taps into nostalgia for a time of order and stability that contrasts with today’s messy democracy.

It also creates a political time bomb for the country’s first directly elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will have to vet the shortlist before it goes to an expert committee, and then award the honor on Heroes’ Day, Nov. 10.

“This is an insult to common sense and humanity,” said Fadjroel Rachman, a prominent activist who was jailed for three years by Mr. Suharto’s government. The objective of the student-led protests that forced Mr. Suharto’s resignation in 1998 “was the overthrow, the stepping down of Mr. Suharto as a dictator, as a corrupter and a human rights violator,” he said.

“We’re urging Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono not to make Suharto a national hero,” he said, “or we’ll have to call him a traitor to reformasi,” the 1998 democratic reform movement.

Mr. Yudhoyono, a former general who rose up the ranks during Mr. Suharto’s New Order government has, true to his reticent public style, not indicated which way he is leaning.

The president has seen his popularity, while still high, steadily slide since he was re-elected for a second term last year. Rowdy protests across the country this week marking the first year of that term criticized, among other concerns, a lack of progress on promised reforms including corruption in government institutions. Honoring Mr. Suharto, who is believed to have pilfered billions of dollars from the state and jailed and killed tens of thousands of opponents, would hardly bolster the president’s reformist credentials.

But Mr. Suharto’s legacy has always been mixed. Despite his notorious brutality, he was widely credited with bringing stability and economic growth to Indonesia.

And the proposal to proclaim him a hero has powerful backers. This week, the national conference of the Golkar Party, the former political vehicle of Mr. Suharto and now a key coalition member in Mr. Yudhoyono’s cabinet, threw its support behind the move. Across Indonesia’s political party system, business elite and state institutions, a generation of former Suharto loyalists still holds sway. The committee that will make the final decision on the national hero honor is dominated by former Suharto-era functionaries.

According to Akbar Tandjung, a senior Golkar politician, Mr. Suharto deserves to be honored for “saving Indonesia as a nation from destruction, conflict and crisis” by seizing power after what officials portrayed as a Communist coup attempt in 1965. At least half a million people suspected of being Communists were massacred in the aftermath.

As for the widespread rights abuses that marked Mr. Suharto’s rule, including the jailing, killing and exile of opponents, Mr. Tandjung said in an interview that they were necessary evils for national stability and development. “A leader has to make decisions in any situation,” he said, “and they won’t make everyone in the community happy.”

Although the honor is symbolic, it could have real consequences as a repudiation of Indonesian democracy, said Wimar Witoelar, a political analyst who was a spokesman for the late Abdurrahman Wahid, who was elected president by Parliament after Mr. Suharto’s fall and is also on this year’s shortlist of heroes.

As the heir to Mr. Suharto’s political legacy, Golkar would gain from a rehabilitation of his name and the rebuke of democracy as it has developed under Mr. Yudhoyono, Mr. Witoelar said. In particular, Aburizal Bakrie, the billionaire tycoon who is chairman of Golkar and a 2014 presidential hopeful, stands to benefit, Mr. Witoelar said.

“I think it would just devaluate the title of national hero, would make it a very cynical label for political convenience,” he said. “Because there’s nothing really more unhealthy for the nation’s self-perception than to name the biggest corruptor, despot, human rights abuser of recent times as the nation’s hero.”

Public opinion on the proposal is divided. Many Indonesians are deeply ambivalent about Mr. Suharto’s record.

A common refrain here is that the man also called “the father of development” was a stabilizing force who was nevertheless capable of destructive excess.

 

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8 Comments:

  1. From adi dzikrullah on 26 October 2010 04:11:34 WIB
    oho....nice...
  2. From Shadiq Pontoh on 26 October 2010 09:12:16 WIB
    Many German People acknowledge "Hitler" contribution in developing the infrastructure of modern Germany especially for "die Autobahn". But They are not fool enough to make him "Hero" though. It is a simillar case for Mr Soeharto where his legacy of Corruption, Collusion, Nepotism (KKN) has a much greater effect to our Nation than his self claimed “the father of development” title. So why make Hero?
  3. From riris on 27 October 2010 08:58:19 WIB
    Terlalu banyak kontroversi pada kepemimpinan Soeharto selama 32 tahun. Kemiskinan, korupsi, kekerasan yang masih juga ada di Indonesia saat ini tak bisa dilepaskan dari andil Soeharto. Meski jasanya jelas ada. Jangan bilang salah itu manusiawi. Pemimpin harus seminim mungkin melakukan kesalahan, apalagi sifatnya fatal. Soeharto pernah diberi gelar Bapak Pembangunan, dan itu CUKUP. Pahlawan nasional? Apa kita rela anak cucu kita mencontoh Soeharto?
  4. From sen on 27 October 2010 09:21:22 WIB
    I think the pilot who made it to CNN heroes list is true hero.

    There are others like him.

    But I think we do not really need to officially name people as heroes so let us end the debate by stopping to name anymore person as heroes.

    What we really need is for media to highlight more humanity acts, especially done by non-famous people.


  5. From fianita on 29 October 2010 17:34:48 WIB
    Daripada akhirnya dicabut kembali karena di demo ;-), sebaiknya memang nggak usah.. :(
  6. From Mundhori on 01 November 2010 12:06:02 WIB
    Pahlawan adalah personal paripurna. Bintang terang benderang di langit yg dapat dilihat oleh semua orang dlm view sejuk, tenang dan damai. Dua titik lemah rezim Suharto selama 32 tahun adalah masalah HAM dan korupsi, yg kedua duanya menimbulkan persoalan negative kemanusiaan. Dan rakyatlah yg menjadi obyek penderita. Kalau sekarang ribut ribut pemberian gelar pahlawan kepada Suharto, maka harus memelototi seberapa suramnya bintang terang benderang itu. Rakyat banyak yg nggak tahu kaitan masalah HAM dan korupsi dg dirinya. Yg dirasakan adalah lancarnya kehidupan Karena itu mereka memandang sosok Suharto dlm keakraban. Karena itu pemerintah harus hati hati dlm pemberian gelar pahlawan. Kalau saat ini susana tidak kondusif, muncul pro dan kontra apa salahnya ditunda. Karena sejarah tidak bias diulang apabila ada kesalahan menilai Sebaiknya tunggu terkkuak kondisi obyketif tentang sosok Suharto. Supaya rakyat benar benar sebagai pelaku sejarah.
  7. From Sam on 03 November 2010 22:39:13 WIB
    Waktu yang akan menentukan jalannya SEJARAH ...
  8. From Richard Mayne on 18 December 2010 09:42:56 WIB
    The notion of bestowing hero status on Suharto leaves one with mixed feels; mostly rage at the atrocities committed during his rule, sadness for the victims of his tyranny but also a reluctant sense of inevitability. Indonesia in 1965 was a failed state and Sukarno a failed leader, yet I won’t dismiss Sukarno’s legacy out of personal distaste.

    Suharto’s crimes cannot be mitigated and yet Indonesia does owe the New Order a debt. You cannot walk around Senayan City enjoying a Coffee Bean iceblend caramel without appreciating the breadth and depth of those 30 years of the New Order and its impact on Indonesia. Suharto was corrupt beyond measure, his regime was murderous and yet Indonesia benefited greatly through this pain; a lot more so than if the KPI had managed to come to power through Sukarno. Suharto doesn’t deserve hero status but he does deserve a note in the history books as a strong violent and corrupt leader who helped carry Indonesia from 3rd world status to rapidly developing economy.

    The Chinese generally refer to Chairman Mao as ‘mostly good’ despite the millions who perished under his rule, despite the persecutions and his very questionable personal motives. I would refer to Suharto as a mixed blessing, partly beneficial but largely bad; a personally flawed human being who by circumstance happened to reach the highest office and carry a nation forward. No hero status but maybe a new airport could be named after him.

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