16 May, 2006

Eight Years Ago

As well as the Cultural Revolution, May marks another more positive anniversary for Asia - the fall of Indonesian dictator Suharto. It was eight years ago that he was driven from power. And while that is an odd number to commemorate an anniversary, Indonesia’s blogosphere has been remembering the riots that prompted his resignation.

Jakartass rounds things up and recounts his own experiences of the riots that brought down the dictator.:

250Px-Suharto Resigns-1Reports of hundreds dead, most trapped in the malls and supermarkets they were looting.
Americans, as usual the first, have initiated evacuation procedures. Our Kid’s in a good mood.
Just as the storm hit, we could see black smoke rising, not quite camouflaged by the clouds.
We made it to Bank Universal’s HQ ATM, one of only two in service in town. A long but patient queue as the machine was refilled. The bank itself was shut. So we’ve got enough cash for the duration (?).
A fleet of buses was parked outside the packed Malaysian Embassy but I only noted three cars in the Russian Embassy compound down the road.
Some shops are open, a few, belying the TV news of the city returning to ‘normal’.
We hear tell of officials at the airport charging Rp.5 million instead of the official Rp.1 million for the exit tax (fiskal). There are also reports of cars being sold to pay the extortionists. I’ve got cash so it’s a pity I don’t drive.
I’ve put a couple of beers in the fridge for tonight’s FA Cup Final.
A ring round. Two colleagues are heading off to Bali ~ and later for ‘home’?
Another is heading off, with his Indonesian wife, for the happy hour at Hard Rock Café
Most of us are settling in for a week’s siege.

Indcoup, also a 1998 veteran writes:

I’m in one of Jakarta’s huge office buildings, not far from the Semanggi cloverleaf intersection. With the office up on one of the upper floors, we have great panoramic views of this frantic city. This is usually a good excuse not to do any work and to just put your feet up and enjoy the view. But not today.
It’s about 11.00 in the morning. Someone shouts out something in Indonesian that I don’t understand, but I join everyone else by the huge window with views to the north of the city anyway.
Huge plumes of smoke are drifting upward. But these are not just normal fires that can often be seen in Jakarta. These fires are taking place in Mangga Dua, Glodok, Gadjah Madah. Chinatown.
So the rioting has finally started.
But it doesn’t come as a surprise. It was inevitable really. The economy’s going the drain; the rupiah’s crumbling; inflation’s soaring. And a dictator at the helm for Christ knows how many years. This is it. This is when the pressure cooker is finally gonna blow its fu#king top off.

And A.M. Mora y Leon recounts his story at Publius Pundit.:

I was at a mysterious Javanese graveyard of tombs outside Yogyakarta, where old and young many of them in traditional Javanese dress of batiks in ancient cinnamon and indigo dyes, alongside boulevards of tombs and walls, a lot of dark palms shading it all, mysteriously gloomy, even as amid the equatorial sun its shade made it all refreshingly cool. The old women, like the men, wore no shirts, in the ancient Javanese style of royalty. I was walking down a thousand tiny and ancient mildewed steps of some ancient palace, talking to an abangan military man who spoke English and who was there to pay his respects his ancestors. News had just broken of students shot dead by troops in Jakarta at Trisakti University. I asked him about it. Should I worry about returning to Jakarta tomorrow? He told me he did not have much information and I pressed him as to why. Then he said, “Have mercy on me, I am afraid to talk about it.”
That evening, I understood why. I went to the threadbare house of my warm, friendly Acehnese student friend who went to Gajah Madah University. He had a big picture of the Ayatollah Khoemeini on his wall of the rented house amid the leafy residences, where bikes and motorcycles were parked out front by the tropical greens and stone fixtures, and we talked about Indonesia’s currency crisis which interested me.
But what really interested him more was ‘demokrasi’ and the great political struggle for that that was rumbling and erupting in Indonesia. We watched dictator Soeharto on the television from a summit in Egypt and mocked the bastard on the television, sitting on the floor by the kitchen because there was no furniture, just him, the TV, two Achenese friends smoking kretek clove cigarettes with an ashtray, me, and the ayatollah.
I can’t tell you how pregnant that moment seemed as 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? My friend wanted to forge forward.

While Suharto has escaped prosecution for corruption he will be judged by history in a generally unfavorable light. While he did deliver some benefits, in comparison to fellow most of his Asian authoritarian contemporaries, he was a failure.
Suharto did not build the sustained growth that still supports the legacies of Lee Kwan Yew, Mahathir Mohamad, Park Chung Hee, Chang Kai-shek and Deng Xiaoping, Although he remains a notches above Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Mihn and Kim Il-sung.
AP, who has a bad habit of ranking dictators, would place Suharto just below Fidel Marcos.
Comments are open for readers who wish to contribute Top-10 lists of Asian dictators.

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by @ 9:37 pm. Filed under Indonesia, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia

One Response to “Eight Years Ago”

  1. Jakartass Says:

    Ta for the link Chris.

    Readers may like to know that I’ve archived my posts about May 98 ~ click on May 1998 (what else?) or copy the following.

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