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I Just Don’t Believe in Her

4 minute read

I don’t blame President Sukarno for my arrest in the early 1960s. I blame the army. But being a political prisoner in the early 1960s was very different from being a captive of later regimes. Sukarno’s political opponents were free to visit their families, to go out walking within a limited area if they wanted to. We were at least treated with respect.

Under Suharto there were no rules, nothing. You could be thrown into prison without first going to court. If you were found with anything to read, even a piece of torn newspaper, you could be killed. If you were a prisoner in Jakarta you could receive visitors?but for that you had to pay.

In 1979, when I left prison on Buru Island, all my papers were taken from me. I was in a group of 40 who were separated from the others. When our ship was north of Madura, my group was taken off the boat. It looked like the authorities were planning to hide us away somewhere. But by chance, someone from the Catholic church in Buru heard we were going to be exiled and he spread the news. So when we were put ashore in the Madura Straits and found a vehicle there ready to take us to Nusakambangan, the notorious prison, the world was already watching. And as a result, with numerous foreign ambassadors as witnesses, the government was forced to give us our release papers.

During Suharto’s New Order regime, Megawati, Sukarno’s daughter, served in parliament. After her father was overthrown, the New Order government gave her a house and salary as a member of parliament. But did she ever say anything about the way her father was treated? Did she ever protest when her fellow countrymen were imprisoned? Never. Did she ever call Suharto to task? Never! But then she’s not alone. Even after Suharto resigned, no one would take him to task, no one dared to bring him to trial. Silently, through his New Order protEgE, he still holds power in this country.

Megawati came to power on the crest of a wave of youth rebellion. Those kids didn’t really think about it; they didn’t have any other figurehead, so they adopted her because she was Sukarno’s daughter. That’s all she is.

Maybe Megawati hasn’t read her father’s books. I don’t see that she has inherited any of his better characteristics. She has no experience. There is no evidence that she can resolve the country’s problems. Yes, she might visit places where conflict has occurred, but for no other reason than to show her tears. Her heart goes out to the people, she says, but that’s the most they get. The villagers praise her, but that’s because of ignorance. They don’t know her.

No one seems to realize that Indonesia is entering a period of social revolution. The signs are there. It can be seen in the farmers who, having had their land stolen from them during the New Order, are now taking it back by force. It can be seen in the protests by farmers outside regional parliament buildings. It can be seen in the attacks on hundreds of police and military posts. In the past, these very same people would have let themselves be robbed of their voices, but now they are fighting back. Whether they realize it or not, they are the vanguard of a social revolution. Now the nation needs a leader. We’ve fallen behind; Indonesia is exhausted.

People like to say that Indonesians are so friendly and polite, but that kind of view seems to be nothing more than a leftover tourism slogan. There is a struggle going on, and it is being controlled by people in Jakarta?by the very same people who have done such things in the past. As I see it, there is no real leadership at present; there are just people with power. That students are now part of the democratic process is a sign of progress; indeed, the change we have seen can be credited to the younger generation. This is not what Megawati fought for. She didn’t do anything. The kids, the students, did the fighting and she is here now to enjoy the results of their sacrifice.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of The Buru Quartet and The Mute’s Soliloquy, is a former political prisoner

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