On Joesoef Isak

by Max Lane

14 September, 2006

On April 20 2004 in a gala ceremony in New York the American PEN Center honoured Indonesian publisher, Joesoef Isak, with the 2004 Jeri Laber Freedom to Publish Award. The award was given to Joesoef Isak in recognition of his long record of courageous publishing during the years of the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. Joesoef isak is not just a courageous publisher, he is one of Indonesia’s finest intellectuals who has been at the forefront of a cultural guerrilla war to win back for Indonesians their own history, stolen from them during the 332 years of dictatorship.

In April 2005, Joesoef was awared the Australia PEN Kenealy Award.

Joesoef Isak at the PEN Sydney event where he was awarded the Australian Pen Keneally Award, April, 2005. He is with authopr Thomas Keneally and publisher and broadcaster, Brian Johns. Brian Johns waspublisher at Penguin books and was responsible for Penguin decideing to publish This Earth of Mankind in English.

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A Singapore blog on UNFINISHED NATION: Indonesia before and after Suharto

First Singapore Blog comment on UNFINISHED NATION

10 July, 2008

07 July
“Unfinished Nation” has been released in Singapore for about a week now.



I just finished reading Max Lane’s Unfinished Nation –
a fairly concise recollection of Indonesia’s political
events including that of President Suharto who was
pushed out of power. Suharto was abandoned by
his close aides and generals at a time when he was
faced with unrests and demostrations by radicals,
students and workers under the banner of aksi and

Aksi resulted in everything and anything being
challenged by the people, and corrupt
officials were the main targets.

The mass protestors took up issues like social welfare,
price increases in the aftermath of the financial crisis
in 1997. In 1998 President Surharto finally stepped down
from a 33 years dictatorship.

Above all the rhetorics what impressed in the book
was this little inspirational poem that played a part
in aksi and reformasi. This extremely popular poem was
written by a trishaw rider, carpenter and later a poet,
Wiji Thukul.

Here’s the poem –

if the people leave
while the rulers deliver their speeches
we must be vigilant
perhaps they have lost hope
if the people hide away
and whisper
when discussing their problems
then rulers should beware and learn to listen
if the people dont dare complain
then things are dangerous
and if what the rulers say
may not be rejected
truth must surely be under threat
and if suggestions are refused without consideration
voices silenced, criticisms banned without reason
accused of subversion and of disturbing security
then there is only one word : fight!

I believe aksi reformasi is
still ongoing in Indonesia. It is there to ensure
that no President will run Indonesia with an iron fist again.
It reminds those in power that the
welfare of the people must come first.

It’s quite extraordinary that even a powerful
and seemingly unshakable President Surharto
was unable to counter the united people force
that was determined to fight and sack the

After reading the book I felt as if the poem
was referring to us in Singapore, because
there is this general perception that our
Government is disconnected from the people.
However, it’s unlikely we will ever see the
last line ‘fight’ ever take place (hopefully never)
because Singaporeans simply don’t have
the Indonesian type of courage to ‘fight’
the government.

footnote: aksi is a form of political action, protest
mobilization in the form of strikes hunger strikes,
rallies, marches and sit-ins which also eventually
affects existing social, cultural, political
and economic processes.

Timor Leste: No leaderships with a national-scale authority

13 August, 2007

No leaderships with a national-scale authority

The recent Presidential and parliamentary elections have been very revealing. They have showed that no political institution or figure from the period of the national liberation struggle has developed a political following based on program, ideology, ideas or leadership. No figure or institution scored more than 29% in either the first round of the Presidential elections or the parliamentary elections. In the parliamentary elections both CNRT, the umbrella organization the Resistance (and de facto the only operating structure) and FRETILIN, the organization that lead the movement in the 1970s and proclaimed Independence with the support of the majority of the people, scored less than 30%. FRETILIN scored 4% more than CNRT: 29 to 25%. The Democratic Party (PD) and the ASDT led by a pre-1999 student leader and a founder of FRETILIN respectively scored less than 20%.

While press releases issued by the parties and appearing on blogs and distributed to the media did explain policy platforms in different areas, most reports appear to indicate that campaigning on the ground was personality based, with little ideological or programmatic content. The voting patterns indicate that local loyalties played a significant role. In Dili, where local clan, village and locality ties are weaker, the situation seems more fluid. Frustration with high levels of unemployment and housing problems produce higher levels of frustration with the incumbent government.

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About Aini Chalid

In Memoriam: Aini Chalid

8 February, 2007

In late January 2007, Aini Chalid passed away in Manila, the Philippines during a heart operation. Aini was a close friend since 1973.

Aini Chalid was one of three people put on trial by the Suharto regime in 1974-75 following the so-called MALARI incident. Aini was a student at Gajah Mada University in 1973-74, one of its best political science students. He was a key figure inhelping produce the first dissident newspaper under the New Order, called Sendi, and one of the most actice students on the ground during the wave of protests against dependence on foreign aid and against political authoritarianism in this period. HE was captured bythe New Order security apparatus in mid 1974 following Suharto’s repression of the student movement in January, 1974.

Aini close up.JPG
Aini Chalid

His trial was notable due to tge fact that he refused to be accompanied by a lawyer, stating that the whole affair was a political and nota legal act. He ended his defence at the end of his trial by withdrawing all statements he had made and declaring thatthe trialwas a political drama masterminded by Suharto’s Special Operations man, Ali Murtopo. His final defenc please lasted one minute. He was released after serving 3-4 years in gaol.

Below I print the Indonesian language speech read out on my behalf, by my partner Faiza, at the commemoration event held for him, organisded by Hariman Siregar, in the Jakarta Media Centre on 27 January, 2007

In Memorium Aini Chalid:

Bicara demokrasi blak-blakan

Saya menerima SMS jam 1 pagi dengan berita meninggalnya sdr Aini Chalid di Manila. Terkejut betul. Saya sudah kenal Aini sejak tahun 1972 dan orangnya selalu sangat bergairah dan rohnya hidup dan bergulat. Sulit membayangakannya tidur dan tidak bangun. Atau mungkin juga dia akan gelisah-gelisah menonton apa yang kami yang masih di bumi ini terus melakukan.

Saya pertama bertemu dengan Aini di diskusi-diskusi yang sering dijalankan di rumah W.S. Rendra di Ketanggungan, Jogjakarta tahun 1972. Kita cepat menjadi teman diskusi. Saya suka tajam dan blak-blakannya. Sering kami ketemua di warung-warung untuk berbincang-bincang panjang lebar tentang situasi Indonesia, ketergantungannya pada modal asing dan hutang dan repressi politik kediktatoran Orde Baru. Pada waktu itu kami berdua masih sangat muda, berdua mahasiswa, tetapi yang duluan maju sebagai aktivis adalah Aini.

Aini terjun di gerakan mahasiswa tahun 1973 di Jogjakarta dan juga sering berkunjung ke rapat-rapat di Jakarta. Dia menjadi bagian dari kelompok mahasiswa dan intelektual muda, termasuk Daniel Dhakidae dan Ashadi Siregar, yang terbitkan majalah SENDI. SENDIpun perlu dicatat dalam sejarah perlawanan terhadap Orde Baru – surat kabar opertama yang kritik dan yerang pemerintahan Orde Baru tak peduli basa-basi.

Dari Juli 1973 sampai Januari 1974 terjadi demonstrasi mahasiswa dan pemuda hampir setiap hari di berbagai kota. Ini semua memuncak dengan demonstrasi di Jakarta ketika kedatangan Perdama Menteri Tanaka dari Jepang. Gerakan mahasiswa, termasuk Aini, mempersoalkan dampak penjajahan dari modal asing dan hutang dan juga menuntut penghapus jabatan Asisten Pribadi Presiden. Pada saat demonstrasi mahasiswa memuncak, meledak kerusuhan massa. Ini terjadi di lain kawasan Jakarta daripada demonstrasi mahasiswa dan tidak berhubungan dengan mereka, tetapi mereka yang dituduh menyebabkannya. Dengan alasan mengakibatkan kerusuhan dan membuat makar ratusan mahasiswa dan beberapa intellektual ditangkap.

Aini Chalid juga dicari tetapi menolak menyerahkan diri begitu saja. Dia bertahan menikmati kebebasan selama beberapa bulan sesudah penangkapan-penangkapan aktivis dan politikus lain. Tetapi pada akhirnya ketangkap juga (beserta surat-menyurat pribadi kami berdua.)

“Ini sandiwara!”

Aini termasuk diantara tiga figur MALARI yang diadili. Selain Aini, Hariman Siregar dan Syahrir juga diadili. Kasus pengadilan Aini berkembang agak lain. Pertama, dia menolak ditemani pengacara dengan alasan bahwa yang sedang terjadi bukan proses hukum melain proses politik.

Kedua, sikap ini memuncak ketika Aini harus sampaikan pidato pembelaan terakhir dia di pengadilan. Ternyata hanya satu kalimat. Saya lupa kata-kata persisinya tetapi saya selalu ingat jiwanya. Saya berada di ruang pengadilan pada waktu itu. Kira-kira: “Pengadilan ini hanya sandiwara untuk membela kekuasaan yang diatur oleh Ali Murtopo.” Sudah, selesai. Kebenaran ketangkap dalam satu kalimat yang berlangsung kurang dari satu minit. Saya masih ingat keheranan para jurnalis, termasuk mereka yang karena terlambat sedikit tak sempat dengar sehingga bergerombal di luar ruang meminta pegawai pengadilan untuk mengulang kembali rekamannya.

Pada akhirnya Aini juga harus menjadi tamu negara Orde Baru selama beberapa tahun. Sesudah bebas di bekerja sebagai wartawan untuk surat kabar Jepang. Pada tahun 1980an situasi politik sudah berbeda, Aini pindah ke Singapura kemudian ke Manila untuk membuka usaha bersama isterinya, Vicki, seorang pengusaha Filipina.

Tetap Aini tak pernah lupa pada Indonesia dan sejarah perjuangannya. Ketika mahasiswa mulai bangkit kembali pada awal tahun 1990an, adalah Aini yang ikut menfasilitasi berdirinya majalah PROGRES yang beredar dikalangan aktivis radikal pada tahun 1991-1992. Pada waktu kepresidenan Gus Dur, ketika dia lihat ada kemungkinan perubahan, dia balik ke Jakarta untuk ikut serta.

Adalah sudah beberapa tahun saya tidak ketemu dengan Aini yang tinggal di Manila itu. Tetapi dia adalah satu bagian penting dari perjalanan saya menjadi kenal dengan Indonesia. Perjalanan hidup kita semua sangat penuh variasi dan berbeda-beda, begitu juga Aini. Tetapi sumbangan dia terhadap jiwa perlawanan mahasiswa dan aktivis Indonesia sepantasnya dicatat dan tidak dilupakan. Di zaman ketika semua orang bicarakan “apa yan taktis, ya?” contoh “ke-blak-blak-an” Aini menghadapi pengadilan perpanjangan kekuasaan pada waktu itu bisa menjadi peringatan tentang betapa menyegarkan mendengar orang bicarakan kebenaran tanpa basa-basi.

Saya akan merasa kehilangan seorang Aini ini. Saya kirimkan salam belasungkawa saya pada isterinya di Manila dan keluarganya. Semoganya namanya tak akan hilang dari sejarah perjuangan demokrasi Indonesia.

Terima kasih.

ARCHIVAL: Early articles on dissent in Indonesia, 1982

12 September, 2006

One of the first publications to publish information on the early opposition to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia was New Internationalist. In an October, 1982 issue it published an issue with the theme Dissent in Indonesia The issue included articles on thefall of Sukarno, on Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Hasta Mitra publishing house, on Rendra, and gave a selection of quotes from dissenting voices in Indonesia at the time. Click here to see the issue on the web.


The cover is of a painting by Permadi Lyostra. Permadi was an artist active in the Left-wing artisst organsation LEKRA. He was arrested in Bali in 1965 and eventually imprisoned on Buru Island concentration camp, where he painted this picture. He was allowed to paint in retuirn for painting portraits on order for the prison guards who arranged them for clients back in Jakarta or other cities. The painting is in the possession of Max Lane.

Continue reading “ARCHIVAL: Early articles on dissent in Indonesia, 1982”

Jamilia dan Sang Presiden (Jamilia and the President)

29 July, 2006

Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s and up until now, the form of literarture that has been at the forefront of art’s role in political and social renewal has been drama. The playwright Rendra has played the most important role acting as the vanguard of socially and politically committed art in the 1970s at a time when it had been suppressed and was almost non-existent. The price he paid for reviving committed poetry and theatre in defiance of state policy suppressing that kind of arts was almost one year in gaol without trial in 1978. His pioneering work of that period included Mastadon dan Burung Kondor, Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga and Sekda. (His Indonesian adaptation of Lysistrata was also a masterpiece of comic satire.) His poems Pamflet Penyair (A Poet’s Pamphlets), also published as Portret Pembangunan dalam Puisi (A Portrait of Development in Poetry) was the poetic supplement to these works. These works, combined with Rendra’s politico-literary praxis, acted together as not just the vanguard of socio-politically committed art, but as the vanguard of public opposition to the New Order dictatorship itself after the suppression of the student movement in 1974. Rendra has remained a prolific writer of drama, and especially poetry. He retains a large constituency of supporters and fans. See Rendra website

 Other prominent theatre artist who ran afoul of the New Order dictatorship, was Nano Riantarno who produced a number of political plays, most well known being Suksesi (Succession) and Opera Kecoa (Cockroach Opera).

 But there have been many others, including those who have introduced satire into traditional theatre or traditional comic performance.

 Jamilia dan Sang Presiden (Jamilia and the President)

Last week, we went and saw Jamilia and the President written and directed by Ratna Sarumpaet and performed by the theatre group she leads Satu Merah Panggung. The play was being performed for four nights before the group was to move on to Surabaya, Medan, Bandung and Palembang. The play was commissioned by UNICEF as part of its support for public campaigning against the trafficking in women.

 Since the early 1990s, Ratna Sarumpaet has emerged as one of the most prominent social critics among artists. She has also just finished a period as head of the Jakarta Arts Council.

 In recent time her plays have covered the topics of the repression of women labour activists, the situation in Aceh, and the victims of the 1965 anti-left repression.

 Jamilia and the President was very well acted and very well staged. Satu Merah Panggung has obviously developed as a professional and artistic theatre group.

 The political depth of the text, however, was disappointing, despite the play being a strong and form statement of condemnation of social hypocricy. There was little comprehensible story to tell us about the fate of Jamilia, a young women sold into prostitution and who at some point and for some reason killed a cabinet minister, was tired and sentenced to death. Why, how, and how she developed in that direction is absent, subdued by a series of set-piece scenes where different characters, in a very declamatory form, make their critiques or condemnations, or act out well-known stereotypes.

 We are left with little more than everybody already knows, namely, that some poor women can be forced into prostitution and that many “community”, and especially religious, leaders old hypocritical views about these women. Sometimes a woman may driven to kill (although exactly how this happens seems to remain posed as a logical outcome of the general situation rather than as the result of a specific person’s journey. It is rare that a prostitute kills a cabinet minister, or anybody for that matter. Such an event cannot be simply read as the inevitable outcome of the general situation.

 The heroine, Jamilia, is depicted as a strong personality, not a defeated, cowed victim, but she is strong only in her angry bitterness, not in any other respect. In this way, she is returned to the state of a victim.