Wimar, I missed you at Trisakti this morning. Anyway if you have a minute or two I'd appeciate either talking to you on the phone or getting an e-mail from you on what the death of the students means and where Indonesia goes from here. Is is still possible for Suharto to maneuver and even do the right thing. Or is it simply a matter of keeping up public protests to drive him from power? I'll give you a call. Regards Ron
Last month at a seminar-cum-protest rally on the UI campus, a speaker said in a burst of graveyard humor that "the only thing we need now is a student martyr. Who wants to volunteer?". This remark, which actually sent chills up my spine, was met with a roar of approval from the students. What they approved was not the prospect of death, but the anticipated vistory which would come after the sacrifice. In 1966, the student movement rolled into its final victory lap after the death of Arief Rahman Hakim on February 24, culminating in the March 11 handover of power from Sukarno to Suharto.
Standing on the site of the shooting yesterday at Trisakti, I got a very different sensation. I felt very sad and very lonely, although there were thousands of us sharing the horror and grief. Thirty-two years after standing shoulder to shoulder, the campus and the army are no longer "components of the New Order". The shooting pounds home the message that today's Indonesia is run by a very exclusive power elite, and students are not even in the outer orbits. The elite is so small that even a person like the Minister of Mines and Energy has no support from the President in the timing and damage control of the oil price hike, that not even the Chief of Police and the Commander of the Armed Forces are in control of security forces. We feel General Wiranto is a good guy, but what is he going to do? The Trisakti shootings, like the kidnappings, will remain mysteries for a long time. Nobody knows who they are, these people who do these things for no understandable reason.
So what does it mean for the student movement? On the positive side, it defines the movement even more clearly as representing the attitudes of the public at large. We have seen numerous small groups emerge as protest and empowerment movements. Mothers, university professors, business people, securities analysts, young graduates, what have you. Political groupings are made more active and even the Big Three (Amien, Gus Dur, Megawati) are being brought together this week to try to provide umbrella organizations for the smaller activist movements. What does it mean for President Suharto? Clearly the shootings destroy his public support, with even the television channels (except the government-owned TVRI) providing detailed, emotional coverage of the killings, highly supportive of the students. In contrast, Habibie's TV address last night fell flat because of its coldness and implicit denial of responsibility. Even Ali Alatas in a joint G-15 Press Conference in Cairo shown on TVRI last night, blamed the students for engaging in movements "outside of campus", a blunder of misinformation and government defensiveness. The students were shot INSIDE campus by long distance sharpshooters, some in the back and one in the head as they ran for cover.
But let me tell you the main cause of my sadness and loneliness. We know that death is always tragic, even for a cause. Now there is doubt that even these killings will bring about quick change, even as the student movement gains support and the government loses legitimacy. We feel now that the government is ready to cling to power on the basis of brute force. People are talking about larger mass movements being the only recourse to bring about political change and subsequent economic relief. But that is a process many will not survive. Suharto has no more room to maneuver but the people have no power to move him aside. It is a stalemate. Indonesian politics has become keyed to power and the only hope is a change of hearts within the military. We know many of its leaders are pained by their lack of control over the brutality, but it is very difficult to change years of doctrine, loyalty and vested interest.
Public protest will escalate and continue, the students will keep the fires burning. But somebody has to use the fire to cook the soup, and no one wants to take the heat of cooking even as they wait hungrily for the food to be served. To use a different metaphor, the students are creating earthquakes and we must have faith that these will open the cracks in the "Berlin Wall".
Ron, you asked in March whether the student movement will grow. You have your answer.
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