Let Freedom Ring - Indonesia

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Wed 28 Sep 2011 06:46

We were invited by the Regent of Larantuka to view the August 17, 2011 Indonesian Independence Day Celebration.
The celebration took place in the sports stadium which had a field large enough to hold the thousand or so participants, all standing at attention in the broiling heat, including a large band, representatives from the Indonesian armed forces, several student marching companies, martial arts teams of all ages, the winners of the various sports and academic trophies and even two prisoners who were pardoned as an act of amnesty on this special day.

The participants from Sail Indonesia sat with the dignitaries and military personnel under awnings.  Behind us were the viewing stands filled with a large chorus composed of students from many schools in the region and hundreds of general observers.


The day was a solemn, yet joyous, day for Larantuka.  It was clear that the population was eager to celebrate Indonesia’s independence because the national flag was flown proudly in front of businesses, modern city homes and even the most humble bamboo huts in the countryside.

The flag-raising ceremony was wonderful - full of pomp and circumstance, intricate marching maneuvers, colorful uniforms and time honored tradition. The Indonesian flag is simple in color. The red stands for courage and the white for purity.
After the flag was raised and the national anthem sung, the Regent, who is head of the government in a large portion of the island of Flores, yelled the word “Freedom” and the entire stadium reverberated with the full-hearted bellow of thousands of voices yelling “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom.”

The fact that this single word; “Freedom” could mean so much in Indonesia is a tribute to the people. It is a tribute because Indonesia has not been the ‘land of the free’ for most of its history.

 Indonesia’s history is quite complicated since it is nation composed of thousands of islands, many different cultures, different religions (Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist) and tribal languages.

For centuries, the inhabitants of Indonesia had, in fact, lost control of their own destiny.

In the early 1500’s, the Portuguese arrived in Indonesia. They brought modern weapons and soon dominated both the spice trade and the Indonesian people.  Then in 1605, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese.  The Dutch did some pretty nasty things such as force the peasants to cultivate selected crops such as Indigo and sugar (which they then shipped out of Indonesia) instead of the rice and food products they needed to survive. Famine occurred in certain areas. In 1811, the British forcefully occupied parts of the Dutch East Indies but control was returned to the Dutch in 1816. The Indonesians were far from happy with Europeans but definitely unprepared for the next invader.

 In 1942, the Japanese war machine rolled into Indonesia and with it complete military rule.   With the defeat of the Japanese in 1945, a hastily set up Indonesian government declared Independence.  The Dutch, however, refused to accept this independence declaration and mounted large scale offensives to retake what they considered their “Dutch Indonesia.”  Finally, with the help of the United Nations, the Dutch finally left Indonesia in 1949.

Now that Indonesia was officially an independent nation, did that mean that the Indonesian people had “freedom” as we know it?  The answer is, unfortunately, “No.”   From 1945 -1955, there were seventeen different government administrations with constant conflict.  It was chaos. 

Then, in 1956 President Soekarno, backed by the military, took over. This was to be the end of any pretence of Western-style, party-based democracy for the next forty years. President Soekarno dissolved the elected parliament and replaced it with a parliament appointed by and subject to the will of the President.  

A decade later, General Soeharto, the head of the military, arrested many of the members of Congress and replaced them with his own appointees who, not surprisingly, elected him as the new President.

Thus began a government know for its corruption, nepotism and even more repressive civilian rule.  One of President Soeharto’s first rulings was to ban governmental officials from joining any political party other than his Golkar party. Guess what?  He never lost an election for the next 32 years.

Finally, in 1998, President Soeharto stepped down.

In 1999, Indonesia’s first free election in over 40 years occurred.  While today many people say that Indonesia is on the “road to democracy”, it has proven hard to erase the decades of corruption and abuse of power both at a central and local level.  
Given the fact that Indonesia has been under some form of military control for centuries, the concept of freedom may differ from what many Western nations perceive.

So you might ask, what does the word “Freedom” mean today for Indonesians?

 We gained some insight into the answer when viewing the Independence Day parade which made its way through miles and miles of the city.  The parade went on for hours with thousands and thousands of participants.  The theme was “Our Children are the Future.”  It was fun to watch them dressed up as doctors, athletes,  nurses, teachers, soldiers, fishermen, carpenters, priests, politicians, rock stars, beauty queens and even fairy princesses.




Perhaps the word “Freedom” for Indonesians means hope. For parents, it is the freedom to hope for a better life for their children, for kids to hope their dreams come true and for everyone to hope that life can improve day by day.

 Isn’t that what we all hope for?

Let Freedom Ring.