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Indonesia Bids Farewell to Suharto

3 minute read
Jason Tedjasukmana / Karanganyar

The breathtaking view from Karanganyar’s Astana Giribangun mausoleum, the final resting place of former President Suharto, was fit for a king — and the reception of Indonesia’s longest-serving leader no less royal. Tens of thousands of Javanese came out to pay their last respects today in this small town in central Java, lining the steep hills overlooking the spectacular rice fields that feed this nation of more than 230 million people. Beneath hundreds of banners that read HAVE A SAFE TRIP FROM THE PEOPLE OF SOLO, old ladies walked for miles under the sweltering midday sun just to catch a glimpse of the ambulance carrying the Javanese native to his family cemetery. “When he was around you could feel his presence,” said Endah, a local housewife that had been waiting for three hours on the side of the road for Suharto’s caravan to arrive. “He had a charisma unlike any other Indonesian leader.”

As the convoy of diplomats, officials and family passed, the crowd roared and waved and blew paper trumpets. Sellers hawking all kinds of goods set up shop early on the roads in anticipation of the journalists, well-wishers and curious onlookers that would show up. “I knew this would be a good chance to make some money,” says Rizky, a motorcycle taxi driver who had been ferrying passengers up and down the mountain from points where the police had blocked off traffic. “That’s the only reason why I came.”

While security was not that tight getting up the mountain, few were allowed to enter the burial ground where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was leading the ceremony. His voice was full of emotion as he offered words of condolences for the five-star general who was once his superior officer in the military. “We have lost one of the nation’s best sons, a loyal fighter, true soldier and honorable statesman,” he said. “We say thanks for his great contribution and meritorious service to the nation during his life and forgive his faults.” Those who could not get in were forced to watch the proceedings on small televisions set up by the news crews covering the event, which was being broadcast live on national television. Those prominent businessmen and officials who could not make it at all sent ornate wreaths with messages of condolences, their names signed in hundreds of flowers.

When Suharto’s body arrived, his coffin, draped in the Indonesian flag, was pulled from a simple, silver caravan by regular soldiers with little other security around the vehicle. There was no mad rush, no wailing or rending of garments, just a quick escort into the area where VIPs and family members were waiting. For such a historic moment, the feeling was subdued — less sadness than respect. “Suharto ruled with an iron fist but he also managed to create a mystique and aura around him,” says Sujiwo Tejo, a well-known Javanese playwright and musician who made the trip to Karanganyar. Tejo admitted he was one of many who wanted to get one last look at the aging autocrat who had rarely been seen in public since being deposed ten years ago. “I guess you could say that most are here to show their respect,” he mused, “but also because for us this marks the passing of an era.”

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