TO construct and reconstruct is a basic human activity. We build physical things, they deteriorate and get destroyed, we reconstruct and build them up again.
But when we talk about social constructs, they exist only in people’s minds to interpret the world. In no field is this truer than in history and politics where interpretations of events and figures can be distorted and manipulated, and you can even kill someone more than once.
This happened to Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president who served from 1945 to 1966.
In his obituary in The New York Times in 1970, American journalist Alfred Friendly Jr noted that “he gave the 110 million inhabitants of Indonesia’s 3,000 islands a common language, a sense of shared identity and a vision of exuberant destiny”.
Indeed Bung (brother) Karno, as he liked to be called, achieved the incredible feat of leading Indo-nesia’s independence from Dutch colonialism. He spent a decade under Dutch detention.
Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, his soon-to-be vice-president, declared Indonesia’s independence on Aug 17,1945. On June 1 of that same year, Sukarno formulated the five pillars of state ideology, the Pancasila, which remains until now a blueprint for Indonesia and its Constitution and laws.
On July 18,2020, a statue of Sukarno was erected in Algiers to celebrate Indonesia’s historical connection with Algeria. The North African nation had attended the Asia-Africa conference in Bandung in 1955, which inspired its struggle for independence from France in 1962. Algeria is the second country to erect a statue of Sukarno. The first was Mexico, which unveiled one on Sept 26,2019. He has been recognised in other ways, as the name of a street and building and even a tree in Saudi Arabia. This affirms his iconic status in the world and its continued respect for and recognition of Sukarno.
What about in Indonesia? As the founder of the Indonesian nation state, he must have unquestioned hero status, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward. Despite the struggles and sacrifices he made, Sukarno ended his life in relative obscurity. After the alleged Communist coup in 1965, “the right -wing military leaders consolidated their power and dethroned Sukarno”.
From the start of the Suharto New Order military dictatorship (1966-1998), there have been various attempts at “de-Sukarnoisation”. In 1967, the People’s Provi-sional Consultative Assembly stripped him off his powers and put him under house arrest. During that time, he was denied healthcare, which led to his death from kidney and heart problems, as well as the isolation and mental torture he suffered. This was the first time Sukarno was killed. The way he was treated then was effectively slow murder.
Monuments and places named after Sukarno were changed – and if this was not a killing, it was certainly an erasing.
In 1981, he experienced this deletion again, this time in relation to his political-ideological legacy: the Pancasila. Nugroho Notosusanto, the New Order military right-wing historian, claimed that it was Mohammad Yamin, another politician, lawyer, poet and national independence leader, who was the founder of Pancasila and that Sukarno merely used the term. Nugroho also said that June 1 can’t be considered the birth of Pancasila. Instead, the version of Pancasila that became the official state ideology was formulated on Aug 18,1945, by the Indonesian Independence Preparatory Committee.
You get the picture? This “reconstruction” of history became the official version taught in schools.
It is now 22 years since the so-called end of the New Order, but the attempts to further reformulate the Pancasila are still going on in the form of the controversial Bill on Pancasila (RUU HIP) that aims to reduce the five principles to three and even one. Who knows what the motive is behind this Bill? Luckily, deliberations have been postponed.
But only postponed? Why not scrap the Bill altogether?
The brouhaha over Sukarno’s legacy, including the Pancasila, is a clear indication of Indonesia’s immaturity as a nation – certainly that of its lawmakers. What with the Covid-19 pandemic still going on unabated with its long-term effects such as poverty, decline in education and the health system, and the rise in domestic and sexual violence, don’t our House of Representatives members have a better sense of priority of the nation and people’s needs? — The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network
Julia Suryakusuma is the author of Julia’s Jihad (2013).
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