Friday, August 20, 2010

Independence Day and the imagined enemies

Independence Day and the imagined enemies

Al Makin, Yogyakarta | Mon, 08/16/2010 9:26 AM | Opinion, The Jakarta Post

Every year, on the 17th of August, our history is glorified. We pay tribute to the national heroes who fought against “foreign enemies” for independence.

In various ceremonies, the speakers — be they the president, governors, heads of districts, sub-districts, villages, or school principals — remind us that Indonesian independence was paid for by the flesh, blood, and bones of our grandfathers and grandmothers who fought in bloody battles and wars. Some died, others survived.

Legs were amputated, hands were lost, villages destroyed and rice fields burned. We have inherited their sacrifice. Due to their courage and bravery, we can breathe this air.

Romo Mangunwijaya, a religious leader and prominent intellectual, said that many battles between the Dutch and Indonesians in the post-proclamation period could be described as “cat-and-mouse” skirmishes rather than real battles, as the sharpened bamboo sticks used as weapons by Indonesians were incomparable with the guns and rifles in the hands of trained Dutch soldiers. The Indonesian insurgents too busy finding safe places to hide from the Dutch to face their ostensible enemy.

In the 1950s and 1960s at various speeches at national ceremonies, former president Sukarno — with his thunderous voice, stylish grey suit, elegant sunglasses and magnetic oratorial style — always said that the climax of our struggle was the 17th of August, which he had many names for — the milestone of Indonesian history, the climax of the Indonesians’ struggle, the sacred day, the blessed day and so on.

For Sukarno and his generation, colonialism and imperialism were real. The old generation often belittles our difficulties, which, for them, are far not comparable to their suffering, to their imprisonment and battles. They often say: “Nowadays children are spoiled with high-tech gadgets and junk foods. There are no serious challenges in their lives.”

For them, independence meant that this country was free from any alien enemies, e.g. the Dutch, Japanese or other foreign powers. These enemies never gave up in their fight to conquer this piece of paradise where coconut trees grow tall, paddy trees bear yellow fat rice seeds, and spices can be harvested easily. So ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to raise your weapons whenever the enemies intend to march upon our land and water.

During the 30 years of Soeharto’s regime, the story of heroic struggle remained. The echoes of wars and rumors of war were embedded in the visions of the army generals who dominated the political landscape at the time.

Soeharto was also proud of his achievement in building the economy of this nation. He once boasted that despite his background as a village boy who was raised in paddy fields, he shouldered the responsibility of filling the mouths of more than 130 million Indonesians.

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