Suharto & the People

Jan 18th, 2008, in History, Opinion, by

Suharto: Let the People Speak, Please Help Indonesia Matters do an informal poll.

Achmad Sudarsono

Suharto: Let the People Speak, Please Help Indonesia Matters do an informal poll.

Friend,

The alleged near-death of Indonesia’s former strongman President Soeharto has dominated the news and Indonesia Matters discussion in the past two weeks.

Was he a bloodthirsty despot or nation builder? Both? Were his economic achievements tarnished by corruption and human rights abuses? Were there any lasting economic achievements to balance against the reported human rights abuses?

Suharto

Is it disrespectful to the memory of alleged victims to the regime to even ask these questions? Some would say so.

I invite you all, (with a nod from Patung), to help with an informal poll of a near-silent voice in all of this: the Indonesian people.

I’m inviting all Indonesia Matters posters and readers to contribute to an informal poll. Here’s the idea:

Ask three Indonesian people in your everyday life these questions:

1. Enakkan hidup di Jaman Soeharto atau sekarang? Kenapa? (Was life better under Soeharto or now? Why?)

2. Kalau nilai Soeharto sebagai President bagaimana? (What’s your evaluation of Soeharto).

I’d call on people to focus on working class or poor Indonesians. The middle class and articulate have their outlets. The voices of the ordinary people in English language media are all too often drowned out by the ramblings of people such as myself and middle class Western commentators.

This is not a scientific poll, but the Blogosphere is supposed to liberate us from the tyranny of the “mainstream media” so let’s use it! We’re all busy people, but over the next few days or so, we should at least be able to manage a few questions to the sopir, maid, satpam, shop attendant, bus driver, tukang ojek, penjual sekoteng.

Please, if you’d like to join, try not to indicate an opinion one way or another, or ask leading questions. Just ask. Please also try to get names, ages, and professions, and if you change the name, please also indicate, just for transparency.

I promise to update after lunch.

Merdeka!

Achmad (temporarily returning from retirement).


88 Comments on “Suharto & the People”

  1. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Thanks, WP. Interesting point. Good to break the old Soeharto-was-a-bastard monologue and try to explain what peoples attitudes are, why they have them, and what it means.

    All, thoughts: why is an aging dictator apparently so popular ? Forgetfulness ? Did he just, overall, do a good job ? Grass is always greener ?

  2. Dragonwall says:

    All, thoughts: why is an aging dictator apparently so popular ? Forgetfulness ? Did he just, overall, do a good job ? Grass is always greener ?

    I had said before, that people forget what good he had done for them but fortunately most of them are regretting that thought and that is a good sign of a person still having a thinkable mind. And since the devils is out there now, the grass never always green.

  3. dewaratugedeanom says:

    My impression is that 1997-1998 people had enough of the repression, the ‘disappearings’ and the political status quo. Then came ‘Krismon’ which created the right circumstances for a change of regime. Reformasi however didn’t immediately deliver the expected results and wasn’t up to the rise of new problems caused by global change, mainly instability on the economic and security level. New world powers emerged and Indonesia is left behind. So the rakyat becomes kerinduan, remembers the good days and forgets about the bad ones.

    Assessing the leader of a nation who stays in power for too long is like a conundrum. The same goes for Soekarno.

  4. Bas says:

    What economic achievements? Just compare with Malaysia or Korea.

    Was the living was better during Soeharto’s time? Of course it was. Now in 20 years time ask the people who are destroying Indonesian forests now if the living was better when there still was forests. If course it was.
    The actual situation is Soeharto’s heritage. So saying the dictator Soeharto did any good to the country is totally wrong. He did good to himself and his near followers. Not to the nation. With someone else on commands the situation would probably be much better I think.

  5. Pena Budaya says:

    Totally agree with you Bas. We should have more working class (I meant here manufacturers) who had experiences the repression of freedom of association and worst working condition during Suharto’s era to talk in this forum to explain how the suffers they had gone through. Currently at least they enjoy the freedom to unionized and speak when the employers were not paying them based on regulation. Remember Marsinah case? or perhaps the missing Wiji Thukul or the detainment of Dita Indah Sari or Muchtar Pakpahan? It is only from labour condition aspect not yet of course numerous human rights violence in other aspects.

    Anyway, Suharto just passed away this Sunday afternoon. What a tragic history Indonesians have – unable to bring justice to those who were hurted and suffered during his regime.

  6. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Pena,

    It’s funny. You seem to think the poor people quoted here gave the “wrong” response. Is your response the right one ? Or are the poor unable to think for themselves ?

    Are they stupid, gullible, moronic ? In that case, why have democracy ? Why not a wise, benign, dictator, one who pursues economic growth and spends money on the poor for development.

    Um, damn, isn’t that why the poor like Soeharto ? Nah. Can’t be. They’re dumb. They give the wrong answers. Anyway, as a mere Ukuele player, I don’t understand politics.

    Achmad

  7. Pena Budaya says:

    Achmad, I did not make any statement that the poor are stupid. Manufacturer/ labourers or buruh are poor too. They were living in very poor condition and worked without proper OSH equipment during New Order. I can say this because I worked with them.

    Well, if that is the way you see what I said, then, I can say as well that your informal survey is trying to undermine the human rights violation organised during the New Order by trying to proof that as long as the poor were happy during Soeharto’s regime, it is ok to supressed people’s fundamental rights.

  8. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Pena,

    I’m not saying anything about anything with the interviews. The only question was the one that I asked. More importantly, several other people asked the same thing and got the same answers.

    More interestingly — why did the poor say that ? Why don’t you ask some of the Buruh about life under Soeharto ? I actually spoke to some Nike Buruh who said what they really wanted was higher wages and were sick of activists trying to force Nike out.

    I’m interested to hear what the Buruh have to say about Suharto. More to the point, I want to know whythey say it. Whyis Soeharto getting a state funeral, whydid SBY, who’s facing a tough election in 2009 go and visit his coffin, and whyif Soeharto was such an evil bastard could he live so peacefully at Cendana ?

    Sometimes the only security seemed to be a sleepy soldier or satpam with a fag hanging out of his month. There’s more security at Plaza Indonesia. Hated dictators tend to flee.

  9. Johan says:

    Good evening panel,

    After having read this past thread, I wonder what the purpose of it is?

    Is it to ask Hitler’s pet how life was with Hitler?

    “He fed me and I always had a home.”

    A pity to compare Indonesians to pets, but imagine all of the other animals undesirable to the sociopathic dictator that were slaughtered in order to offer a few crumbs for the house pets along with a large reward for themselves? Does the pet know about mass slaughters and insane corruption and whether ‘master’s children’ are also benefitting from that which affords them crumbs? Should the pet care?

    With all due respect, this Achmad has designed questions to support his hopeful answer.

    This leads me to question Achmad’s motives in such an undertaking… Doesn’t it raise the same curiosity in all of you?

    Pak Harto is the same as Pak Oga. It’ll seem as though he’s helping you, but, if you don’t have anything to add to his agenda, you’re worth nothing to him; and you’ll be hard pressed to get any help at all.

    Yesterday, he died. Now, may his family have their veil of ignorance and arrogance lifted from their green eyes once they have mourned their (God)father.

    Pak Oga-Harto gave his family and his cronies many ‘offer[s] that they couldn’t refuse.’

    As for the house pets, once the master stepped away from the killing field and home, they felt less secure since as the crumbs disappeared, life wasn’t so easy now. Isn’t that obvious?

    I feel a deep pity for the folks who were interviewed and who were used as pawns in Achmad’s conscience lacking effort (game). Even though he was not connected to them personally, his disservice to them by exposing their forced ignorance under Godfather Harto(ga), shaming them for not wanting to have been murdered…if they too “really” wished to think for themselves.

    Good day to you all, and long live January 27th! A day of celebration that will only be shadowed by Godfather’s incrimination in the civil suit.

    Yesterday, a murderer died. Tomorrow, his children will pay.

    Pass the salted nuts, please.

    j

  10. Anita McKay says:

    Now that he passed away, what’s going to happen in Indonesia?

    I asked my ex tukang jahit (tailor) by SMS, and below are her answers:

    1. Enakkan hidup di Jaman Soeharto atau sekarang? Kenapa? (Was life better under Soeharto or now? Why?) Prefer Suharto’s era. It’s so difficult to make money now, everything is too expensive, no stability on market price (what she meant by ‘market price’, of course, is for fabric, buttons, etc). Too many ‘preman’. Too many disasters,

    2. Kalau nilai Soeharto sebagai President bagaimana? (What’s your evaluation of Soeharto). Suharto was too weak to his children, that’s his biggest mistake. How can they be so rich and powerful? But other presidents also did that (she mentioned the rumour about Megawati’s husband’s businesses). Suharto also liked to be ‘praised’ (diagung-agungkan), if he visited one village people were instructed to stand by the street with flags and said greeted him, he had question-answer session with farmers (remember Kelompencapir?) but all questions were pre-made and people were chosen beforehand.

  11. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Anita,

    Nice. Specially the second one. I’m a bit sad you never got to see my jaipongan moves at the malls in Jakarta, but there’s next year, Inshallah.

    Tom.

  12. Zainudin says:

    I feel said when I read at this article http://www.gusdur.net/indonesia/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2773&Itemid=1

    Compare the differences.

  13. Anita McKay says:

    Achmad,

    I’ve peeked into several blogs listed as Top Blog in Indonesia Matters, and I’ve found out generally they are forgiving and pray for Suharto and his family. To be honest I found it a bit surprising. I wrote it on my blog too, and as you’ve said at Unspun‘s, Indonesians look at Suharto differently (now, compares to 10 years ago), compares to what international press pictures him.

    PS: you have less than 6 months to practice, I’m coming back in June!

    Not important note: Patung, my gravatar doesn’t appear again 🙁

  14. tomaculum says:

    Suharto was too weak to his children, that’s his biggest mistake.

    Hmmm, this was not the (main) problem. If you know the origin javanese culture (without influence from “outwards”) then you will know that frequently the wifes/mothers/women are the real “masters” of the family/clan and they “navigate” the family matters and “business”.

    Btw: forgiving such misdeeds is not the right way, but in the same breath we shouldn’t forget one’s merits.
    And don’t forget: Suharto alone couldn’t do what he has done (the positive deeds as well as the negatives). So what about his supporters? Which still active in the politic and in the business world of today?

    Suharto also liked to be ‘praised’ (diagung-agungkan)
    Anyone knows someone doesn’t like to be praised? (except Gandhi maybe?)

    1. Enakkan hidup di Jaman Soeharto atau sekarang? Kenapa? (Was life better under Soeharto or now? Why?)
    I wonder how would Ex-Prisoners of Pulau Buru answer this question.

    2. Kalau nilai Soeharto sebagai President bagaimana? (What’s your evaluation of Soeharto).
    As a President he did good things, but he made also mistakes. As a dictator he repressed his country (again: with the help of his supporters). Was he good? Surely! Was he bad? Yes, off course.

    I’m a bit sad you never got to see my jaipongan moves at the malls in Jakarta, but there’s next year, Inshallah.
    In black lingerie under white skirt, Achmad? Nice!! 😉

  15. Oigal says:

    This leads me to question Achmad’s motives in such an undertaking”¦ Doesn’t it raise the same curiosity in all of you

    Oh little AS has been asked many times to declare his conflicts of interests…don’t hold your breath…Of course like many to acknowledge what happened, morally condemns themselves and their families as well.. tough to sleep at night for some

  16. Janma says:

    Achmad, while you’re busy trumpeting on about Soeharto’s economic successes that were so great as to eclipse any other things he did, think about that economic success…And I have some questions for you….
    did this economic success come at a price?
    Didn’t Soeharto sell off Indonesia’s natural resources etc to foreign companies (notably US companies..)?
    Do you think if Soekarno had done this he would have been the champion too?
    Do you think that was the right thing to do?
    What do you think Indonesia would be different now if he hadn’t done that?
    Do you think it’s the presidents job to advance the interests of the country under his patronage? Or do we consider ourselves lucky if they don’t eat all the rice and then smash the bowl?

  17. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Janma, Oigal, Others.


    Any Buruh island detainees, Acehnese, Papuan, former PKI victims, comments please publish them !

    Oigal — any comments from ordinary Indonesians around where you live ? No ? Silence ?

    The main point of this exercise was to hear a silent voice: that of the poor layer of society in Indonesia’s democracy. The chattering classes, including me, have had their say.

    No more no less. No financial interests, no connection at all to Suharto Inc. save that I’ve enriched Tutut by using the toll road to the airport.

    Janma,

    Ididn’t trumpet on about anything. That’s the point. Hate to break this to you, but these people are voters.

    On the question of “rights” and “wrongs,”.

    I think Soeharto offers very disturbing questions. I think he was ruthless, sometimes murderous, a Tony Soprano of 17,000 islands who ruled Indonesia like a mediaeval court.

    I think Soeharto was probably no better or worse than Julius Caesar, Elizabeth 1, Napoleon Bonaparte, specially the first two. Mark Antony his right hand mand, was by all accounts a sociopath, Caesar manipulated the Republic to stay in power, enacted economic reforms that alienated the Rome elite. Elizabeth 1 had her Walsingham, the Machievallian spymaster who ruthless murdered opponents.

    Then there’s Machiavelli, who said, “a prince must be feared.” Machiavelli was one of the founders of “realism” a philosophy dominant in US foreign policy for 45 years after World War Two and still healthy today. I think Soeharto, who is said to have hardly read at all, was a realist.

    I think the West, including the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. outsourced a dirty, nasty war to countries like Indonesia, happily allowing Soeharto to do their wetwork, knocking out a key domino in the chain from China to Vietnam to Australia. Time magazine, (yes, the one in the court case), called him “the West’s best news in decades” (something like that). Now I think the Western press is complicit in laundering their collective consciences. The blood of ’65-’66 is on the hands of Ford, Menzies, for East Timor, Gough Whitlam (‘we don’t want a Cuba on our doorstep’).

    I think Soeharto may well be guilty of war crimes for ’65-’66, Aceh, Papua, maybe East Timor. But I also think there was a lot of eager popular involvement by communal groups.

    Does he get a reprieve at the Pearly Gates because of a good performance in the UN’s human development index ? Don’t know Janma.

    I think, by the way, Soekarno was worse in many ways, chasing women and building statues whilst people literally starved.

    The public believes all sorts of stupid things. The world is flat, Witches are at work in Salem Massachussetts, the White Race is biologically superior, Kenny G deserves to live, Oigal doesn’t need Viagra.

    I just think that the voices of the likes of Sinthia, Pono, and Roka, need to be heard while we assess the legacy of Soeharto.

    Finally, the people overwhelmingly voted against Tutut, Prabowo and Wiranto, in the 2004 elections, choosing the candidate who promised democracy, human rights, as well as economic growth and poverty alleviation. I think that’s a stronger statement than this IM poll.

  18. Janma says:

    Of course you trumpeted dahling!…… that’s why you had the poll, because you knew the people would agree with you….

    First trumpet call….

    Suharto.
    The defender of Pancasila
    And builder of Indonesia
    His critic are too Westernized
    And do not know what it means to be a True Indonesia.
    The End.

  19. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ok, Janma, I recant. Whatever, moot point. Ordinary Indonesians said what they did — and not just from me, from you, Patoeng, Anita and others.

    On the record.

    I want to see a sophisticated discussion of Soeharto and his legacy. What’s my personal opinion ?

    I’d like to say I don’t have one. But I think the country – as a whole – was better with him than without him up until about 1990.

    The problem is you don’t experience reality as a whole. You experience it as an individual (personal nervous system), as a family, member, man, woman, Papuan, Acehnese, Javanese, whatever, Western internet ranter, whatever.

    Each of these groups have a different perception and experience of Soeharto. I wouldn’t have wanted to be Papuan or East Timorese or a Communist under him. I wouldn’t now.

    I just dont think he was worse than alot of nation-builders in the West. I’d like to see what Amnesty International would’ve said about Elizabeth 1, or even Abraham Lincoln.

  20. Janma says:

    I actually agree with you. He was in many ways good for Indonesia. Well at least he stopped the downward spiral….
    I just think that it’s a bit of a case of ‘he was ok compared to *insert name dictator/ruler,despot from hundreds of years ago here*, which i feel is not entirely helpful. Indonesia is so used to atrocious leaders they feel they are lucky when they get one who does the bare minimum of keeping rice in their bellies. Is that a standard that should be adhered to? shouldn’t (in this day and age) we be looking above not below…
    it’s like women who put up with an asshole husband because ‘well at least he doesn’t beat me….’
    If you don’t expect more, you’ll never get more…
    Soeharto, if he had done what he did, all the way for Indonesia, not spreading it out amongst his cronies, his children and his patrons (western powers) could have taken Indonesia much much further than he did. In a lot of ways it was just a bubble. It was a nice bubble, but just a bubble.

    Sorry if I’m not sophisticated enough to bring something more profound to this discussion, I just don’t think that the measuring stick of ‘the best out of a bad lot’ is something helpful to the future.

  21. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Hi Ibu Janma,

    Is it any more sophisticated than “half full, half empty,” which one’s better ?

    Is that a standard that should be adhered to? shouldn’t (in this day and age) we be looking above not below”¦
    it’s like women who put up with an asshole husband because ‘well at least he doesn’t beat me”¦.’
    If you don’t expect more, you’ll never get more”¦

    That’s a fair enough, point though. So’s this:

    Soeharto, if he had done what he did, all the way for Indonesia, not spreading it out amongst his cronies, his children and his patrons (western powers) could have taken Indonesia much much further than he did. In a lot of ways it was just a bubble. It was a nice bubble, but just a bubble.


    Anyway, many, many thanks all for participating in the discussion and poll.

  22. Oigal says:

    Tis an endless source of amusement (?)..watching the slip change from one position to other. Of course the trouble withI winding up nut cases is you are responisble for what they do, not that would trouble parasites of this world.

    Any Buruh island detainees, Acehnese, Papuan, former PKI victims, comments please publish them !

    It’s strawman exercise from start to finish..

    Oigal “” any comments from ordinary Indonesians around where you live ? No ? Silence ?

    Actually by accident yes..Had to drop into the local toko yesterday and the ol man was sprouting to the other kerb smokers how great things were under the the big S..you know, the usual guff, cheaper, more secure etc…that lasted until dear IBU stopped and gave them a serve like you would not believe….and the best was saved for all the little anaks of the S… Yep there was silence then by jeez..

    I think you will see a lot more of this as time goes by, the S had his mystic powers alright but I think things will get interesting for those he left behind now the magic is gone.

  23. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Oigal,

    Mate,

    You say you’re a democrat, but you’ve dodged this issue from start to finish.

    One of the cases against Soeharto was over people killed in Aceh, Papua and especially East Timor (the latter also due to famine and dislocation during the war). East Timor at over 170,000.

    * Casualties in the American Civil War: 970,000 soldiers (both sides, about 1/3 of the situation). Abe Lincoln on the record said it wasn’t about freeing slaves.

    Is Abe Lincoln a war criminal ?

    * Fire bombing of civilians in Japan during World War 2: ??? very high six figures, according to Robert McNamara.

    Is FDR a war criminal ?

    * Vietnam War: 3 million civilians died in the North and South, probably about 1.5 million in the North in Vietnam, not to mention use of Agent Orange and Napalm.

    Are LBJ, Ford, Nixon, and JKF all war criminals ? Menzies ?

    * Civilian casualties in Iraq War: 150,000 and counting.

    Is George W. Bush a war criminal, like Soeharto ?

  24. Ytre says:

    Achmad, two more questions should be added:

    Do you know that problems we have in this country now is the result of the corruption and misadministration during the Soeharto era?

    I bet the answer will be 100% NO

    Next question:

    Do you know that part of Soeharto policies were also to make you keep uneducated so that you answer NO to the previous question?

    I bet the answer will be 100% NO

    Then I am afraid the result of your poll will definitely against your hidden agenda.

  25. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ytre,

    That’s fine. Did you do it ? Why don’t you ask some people those questions — or even open up another line of discussion ?

    The problem is question 1 is loaded and presupposes a conclusion. “Did you know…” ? I personally think a lot of Indonesia’s problems come because of poverty, overpopulation, and underdevelopment well before Soeharto.

    Did you Ytre, know, Java’s population growth rate according to economic historian Anne Booth started under the Dutch colonial government ? I bet the answer will be 100 % no.

    But look people – other respondees — Janma, Patung Anita gotvery similar results to me. Explain that, Ytre.

    Or do you think the rakyat are dumb ?

  26. Oigal says:

    East Timor (the latter also due to famine and dislocation during the war). East Timor at over 170,000.

    You really are a revolting piece of work if you are going to try tell us that the East Timorese died due to famine..I was there before and after so try that piece of crap with your mates down the palace.

    As for the rest, I know you are trying desperately and failing to defend the indefensible but do try to stay on topic..

    I must admit I do love this tho..

    *Casualties in the American Civil War: 970,000 soldiers (both sides, about 1/3 of the situation). Abe Lincoln on the record said it wasn’t about freeing slaves

    Wow serious..let me guess it was to stop the PKI and grow the economy by 7% per year..
    …….Sorry ..I had to stop writing ..it suddenly occurred to me you were comparing the Big S to Ade Lincoln…ah ah help its just too bizarre even for you.

    Nice one Tommy

  27. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Oigal,

    Firstly: Why did the ordinary people — including the curb smokers say what they did ? In your opinion ?

    Secondly, check out the East Timor truth & reconciliation commission statement. Not all of the 170,000 died due to famine. Famine & disease, as well as civilians killed in combat, of course, created by the war.

    You were there ? So what. Getting drunk at the Hotel Dili doesn’t mean anything.

    What do you think about Vietnamese civilians killed by U.S. troops in Vietnam at about the same time as Indonesia ? Is Ford a war criminal ?

    On Abe Lincoln — that’s the point. ALOT of Southern soldiers died — where they ‘murdered’ by the North ?

    Point is, people like you are willing to treat Western history with nuance and complexity, but not Indonesia, where it’s black and white, or should I say, brown and white.

    I thought I was a sarung-wearing Dyke westerner sucking off the public teat ?

  28. Janma says:

    i’m sure there must be criteria to decide what constitutes a war crime…. if the dead are civilians killed by armed forces, then its a war crime. In a civil war….? I think all wars are criminal.
    There are plenty of stories by people who suffered under the soeharto regime you just have to read them….

  29. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Hi Janma,

    Yes, there’s a legal definition of a war crime. But you get into complex territory. I just think if YouTube and CNN were on hand to chart the nation-building of Rome, the U.K., and the U.S.A, you’d get a different picture. Like you said, academic question in some ways.

  30. Ytre says:

    Achmad:

    The problem is question 1 is loaded and presupposes a conclusion. “Did you know”¦” ? I personally think a lot of Indonesia’s problems come because of poverty, overpopulation, and underdevelopment well before Soeharto.

    Me:

    Many countries were poor, overpopulated and underdeveloped during that era, but they are much better now than Indonesia. Please explain.

    Achmad:

    Did you Ytre, know, Java’s population growth rate according to economic historian Anne Booth started under the Dutch colonial government ? I bet the answer will be 100 % no.

    Me:

    Wow, so you know that I am dumb? If yes then what? India and China were also overpopulated since the past century.

    I hope smart Achmad also read Ricklefs and able to make a conclusion on how similar was Soeharto with Javanese kings in selling this country to the coloniser (and modern colonsers).

    Ahmad:

    But look people – other respondees “” Janma, Patung Anita gotvery similar results to me. Explain that, Ytre.

    Me:

    You don’t need to ask poor people, you can ask me and I will give the same answer. Why? Because it’s not the issue. You know the real issue but you hide it, for your personal hidden agenda, you misslead the poll.

    Achmad:

    Do you think the rakyat are dumb ?

    Me:

    They are uneducated and uninformed. And it was planned to make them that way. You look smart, but you just refuse to see what you should see with your smartness. You choose to use your smartness to bring the uneducated and uninformed become dumb for the sake of your personal hidden agenda. What happen in the past so that you have a very deep emotional attachment to the Smiling General? Pity it makes you lose your objective judgement.

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