May 1998 saw the end of Suharto's New Order. Real political opposition had surfaced, much of it centred around Megawati Sukarnoputri, the eldest daughter of the first president Sukarno.
Suharto had engineered her removal as the popularly elected leader of PDI, one of the three 'authorised' political groupings. On July 27th 1996 there was a raid on her party HQ in central Jakarta. The heavy handedness, orchestrated from on high
, resulted in deaths and disappearances
'Er Indoors was trapped in a taxi at the front of the traffic jam during those events.The raid led to demonstrations and rioting around Jakarta during which buildings and vehicles were burnt and further clashes occurred between the security forces and demonstrators.
The onset of the Asian Economic Crisis, known as krismon
(from krisis monetar
) in Indonesia, with punitive remedies recommended by the IMF, had further exacerbated the sense of unease and life under Suharto had become very precarious. Many expats left the country as they saw their earnings drastically reduced. Those of us with rupiah incomes and Indonesian famlies shrugged fatalistically and carried on with our lives.
As elsewhere and at other times, the students continued at the forefront of the protests. The military and police, who were then under the same overall command, caused the 'disappearances' of several student activists
. There is evidence that a rogue unit of Kopassus
, army special forces, led by a son-in-law of Suharto, General Prabowo Subianto, was responsible.
Such was the paranoia at that time that 'Er Indoors would whisper the latest gossip about Suharto and his family even when our doors were shut and I was playing an album loudly and the TV was on.
As the events unfolded in May, live on TV, radio and in phone calls, I had a computer but no internet access. I was handwriting a letter to Son No.1, then pursuing his university studies in New Orleans. My letter turned from a parental missive into a commentary on what we were living through here in Jakartass Towers. My account would have made a great series of blogging posts - it's not that often that anyone, apart from journalists, can say that for a short while "I was there - or abouts".
Following recent criticism
of journalist Richard Parry's witness account of events, it is only proper that those of us who have a longer term perspective should contribute to the 'oral history' of the downfall of a dictatorship.
This is the preamble to that account, an only slightly edited version of the ten foolscap pages that I wrote. Do read it in sequence and, perhaps, think of it as a mood poem. Also, please think of it as a work in progress as I'd like to add hyperlinks and photographs where appropriate.
Below is a list of links to others who were witnesses. If there are any similar blogger accounts, please leave the link in the comment box below. Also, those of you wishing to record your memories are welcome to email me so I can post them directly or, again, post directly in my comment box.Jakarta KidAs I was soothed by Canteloube and Puccini, I tried to come to terms with what was going on. Jakarta had seemed to be one of the world's safer cities; most kampung people were hospitable and did not tolerate theft; but now there were mobs on the loose. What had it felt like in Pompeii when the first tremors occurred?TreespotterThat night the city was engulfed in rage and the sky turned red. I remember driving across town and finding Gatot Soebroto (this is one of the two main arteries of Jakarta) completely in the dark. No more neon lights and pretty faces on the billboard. It was dark from end to end except for random groups of guys burning things here and there.A.M. Mora y Leon I was somewhere outside Yogyakarta on this day eight years ago, within sight of Mount Merapi volcano. One of the greatest democratic revolutions in history was about to erupt but I didn't know it then.
... those were the days of thousands of young student moving to defy the thuggish Soeharto regime all by themselves. I had been going to the first demonstrations in March, taking photographs, to see for myself. Something big was going to happen, but I did not know what or when. Would we get shot? Would we get caught? Would the students throw the tinpot out?
Ujang of Cafe Salemba
has commented: The respected author Marga T has a new novel coming out this weekend, in which one of the main characters found herself in the middle of a rampage during the May 98 riots.
If you're not familiar with her work, Marga T, who is a Chinese Indonesian, is one of the giants in the pop literature scene in the 80s. In the absence of official accounts or any closure about the tragedy, 8 years on, she said she's dedicating the novel to the victims.
More, in Indonesian, here