Call of Longing
Throughout 2014-2018, the majority of our nation was amazed by the rejuvenated Indonesia’s noble aspirations. But it proved hurtful, with discourse later appearing to be nothing more than the manipulation of “longings”.
Aus dieser Erde quillen meine Freuden/Und diese Sonne scheinet meinen Leiden (From this earth grows all my longings/And the sun shines illuminating all my sorrows).
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808)
Like splashing cool water in the scorching heat of the Sahara were the first five verdicts of the panel of judges presided by Wahyu Iman Santoso handed down in the "mega Sambo case" at the South Jakarta District Court recently.
The extent of people's appreciation of the fulfillment of this yearned-for justice is inversely proportional to its near-depravation. Judge Wahyu’s verdicts provoked many of us to silently trace our aspirations and dreams as a nation. It is on those dreams the resilience of our Republic's existence has since continued to rest. Without it, a nation is doomed to succumb.
Ahead of the grand political competition on 14 Feb., 2024, we are required to delve into our aspirations corpus as a nation in the balance sheet of the Independence declaration.
Longing for founding fathers
In “Rewinding 'Back to the Future': The Left and Constitutional Democracy” (Bourchier and Legge, ed, Democracy in Indonesia 1950s and 1990s, 1994), Ben Anderson (BA) testified about his longing for the founders of our Nation. He said they were at odds with each other as politicians would usually be, but they all saw themselves as part of a group of emancipatory proponents.
He said perhaps that was why this era had produced throngs of leaders with quality and quantity never quite the same as before: “Sang Pemula” (Tirto Adhi Soerjo), Douwes Dekker, Tjipto, Semaun, Suwardi Surjaningrat, Marco, Misbach, Tjokro, Sutomo, Sukarno, Tan Malaka, Hatta, Natsir , Sjafruddin, Amir Sjarifuddin, Sartono, Sjahrir, Daud Bereueh, Yamin, Roem, Djuanda, Salim, Wachid Hasjim, Wilopo, Sarmidi and many more. “Don't we miss talking to them?”
BA's testimony of longing for our founding fathers can be interpreted in two ways.
First, the call for us to "talk" carries broad meaning. It entails a way to see the various possible dialectics of longing, consistency, challenges and betrayal, regarding independence as not necessarily "a one-way journey".
> The Sambo Case: Manipulation and Legal Construction
Under our typical geopolitical and historical conditions, it was projected since long ago that formally having the status of independence, there are not only opportunities for progress, creativity and work to build a future on independence, but also “opportunities” for betrayal of independence, even betrayers’ freedom, with the erosive longings for past aspirations and the nation being pulled back into the realm of colonialism.
Second, BA’s expression of longing was not simply about nostalgia. He looked back to an ever-progressing era, marked with struggles, with perceived broad horizons. He emphasized "flow" and found his fascination in the notion of "movement". “Shouldn't we revive these wonderful words?” he wrote.
BA expressed “his longings” like Pericles’ in eulogy to the Athenian martyrs, which more or less meant a hero must be honored with “heroic-mannered” behavior. So, the main thing is not narratives of praises for the founding fathers, but emulation of their deeds. In 1994, BA appealed for the notion of “longing” to be translated in a concrete manner.
There is another thing worthy of being remembered. Although BA did not mention it himself, his “longing” was hardly to desert him due to founding fathers’ nobility of aspired nationalism, which truly is the very essence of Independence messages. They were the figures blessed by God to move in unison in a converging flow of longing to impart to later generations their noble ideal of independence, for which they strived in collective asceticism without any forms of indulgence.
It was a shared convergence of longing among the leaders themselves and those on the fighting front, or between them and the people. And, the prevailing ascetic solidarity was a clear evidence of their sincere determination and noble aspirations to establish a Republic with dignity.
BA's longing was real and relevant, as Professor Kahin gave his testimony in his classic work Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (1952).
He stated the psychological impact [of the Indonesian Revolution] was enormous with fundamental change in the political status and character of the Indonesian people. During 1945-1950, personal and collective self-dignity increased immeasurably. The older generation was amazed. It was among many young Dutch people the change in character was prominently pronounced. They were staffed in several high administrative positions in the government. And the percentage of women in the parliament was greater than their peers in most Western European countries and the United States congress.
Herb Feith had his own testimony in The Decline of Constitutional Democracy (1962) through a study on the six characteristics of Constitutional Democracy implemented by the founding fathers after 1950. He said civil society had played a dominant role; political parties had been pivotal; contestants for power had respected the set of “rules of the game” being closely intertwined with the prevailing constitution; most of political elites had had some sorts of commitment to the symbols of constitutional democracy; civil liberties had rarely been violated and every government had been economical in resorting to coercion.
They put their lives at risks with determination to liberate our nation that had been colonized, exploited and humiliated excessively for hundreds of years by merciless colonialism.
These characteristics are still longed for by every aspirant of democracy, wherever they are. It is also from this paradigm that Power and Warburton (2020) voiced their concerns regarding democracy in Indonesia in the past year since 2019 and came up with criticism of what they saw as "the government's open repression and disempowerment of political opposition", pointing out "the Jokowi's administration was taking an 'authoritarian turn'".
We are moved to read the sincerity of "Mr. Ben's" longing. It turns out, from the first decades of the 20th century until the mid-1950s, our nation and homeland were blessed by God with the exemplary behavior of so many national figures. They put their lives at risks with determination to liberate our nation that had been colonized, exploited and humiliated excessively for hundreds of years by merciless colonialism.
It already became a proverbial story about Bung Hatta and fellow founding fathers’ resilience in living an austere life in order to maintain the purity of their aspirations and integrity of their struggle, which is also reflected in IJ Kasimo's motto, Salus populi suprema lex.
> The Sprouting “Tree of Authoritarianism”
With integrity and dedication being intact, the majority of the nation’s founding fathers, and mothers, proved immune to hedonism and temptations to corruption. For the sake of building a great Indonesian nation, they never let themselves be hooked into worldly pleasures amid the suffering of the majority of the people who were desperately struggling to recover from the rubble of colonialism. They stubbornly wrested their greed and ego. The restrained from greed-motivated instant gratification. It is not our aim to depict our founding fathers selectively for “white” over “black”, who were vis-à-vis with state administrators in the later periods. Nation’s founding fathers were human, with imperfections, after all. And in the period after them, there were also many figures with integrity. So, longing for role models actually applies across regimes.
Mostly already passing away, the following names are hard to forget: Djoeanda, Prijono and Maladi from the Guided Democracy era; Ir Sutami, Hoegeng Iman Santoso, M Jusuf, Widjojo-Emil-Sadli, Soemantri Brodjonegoro, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, Mukti Ali, Ali Sadikin and Mohammad Noer from the New Order; and Baharuddin Lopa and Abdul Malik Fadjar from the Reformation Era.
The following is a list of the deceased figures who may deserve to be longed for by people, given their exemplary deeds: Maria Ulfah, Slamet Iman Santoso, St Takdir Alisjahbana, Rasuna Said, Koentjaraningrat, Soedjatmoko, Hamka, Sartono Kartodirdjo, Yap Thiam Hien, Mrs. Kasoer, WS Rendra, Nurcholish Madjid, Gus Dur, PK Oyong and Jakob Oetama, the latter two being commendable pioneers in the press industry.
Sports heroes are no exception. Some are still alive but have been recorded as sporting immortals: Ramang, Tan Liong Houw, Ronny Pattinasarani, Iswadi Idris, Sarengat, Minarni, Rudy Hartono, Ade Chandra-Christian Hadinata, Susi Susanti, Taufik Hidayat and legendary badminton-trainer Tahir Djide.
They have all set beautiful moments in the long span of our “longing” as a nation. After all, the distinguished characteristics have not changed. In terms of survival in the four decades (between the 1910s and 1950s) marked with the solidarity of asceticism and convergence of longing, the steadfast integrity and brotherhood of the founding fathers proved instrumental in overcoming obstacles, followed by the notable figures during the Guided Democracy, New Order and Reform Era.
In the context of today’s era, there is a sharp contrast between Constitutional Democracy and the "Reform" Regime. In one era, there was asceticism, solidarity and convergence of longings, while in the other, there is an epidemic of corruption and betrayal. In one era, the principles of independence and people's sovereignty continued to shine; in the other, the state is increasingly shunning both.
In one era, the state was truly aware of upholding the nation; on the other, it appears the state has abused it more and more under cover of oligarchic practices. We are entering the cynical cycle of betrayal of independence; even freedom is betrayed. As Ruth McVey's dictum puts it: "The nation-state is a chimera.”
It is imperative to raise the essence of the 2014-2018 Nawa Cita discourse put forward by the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-M Jusuf Kalla administration with a pledge to bring about the aspired longings to emulate past deeds. There has never been a campaign discourse as beautiful as the nine points of Nawa Cita.
To decipher the weight of Nawa Cita, let’s take a look at five of the nine points: bring back the state in capacity to protect the entire nation; build a strong nation with dignity-spirited legal reforms free from corruption; improve the quality of life of Indonesian people through education, housing and land reform; increase people's productivity and international competitiveness; revolutionize the nation's character through restructuring the national education curriculum.
> Where Are We Heading With Independence?
Throughout 2014-2018, the majority of our nation was amazed by the rejuvenated Indonesia’s noble aspirations. The nine-point Nawa Cita was seen as a feasible, up-to-date and convincing restatement of the bulk of Pancasila ideals, which aroused a great wave of “longings”.
But it proved hurtful, with discourse later appearing to be nothing more than the manipulation of “longings”. Coinciding with the start of the second term of Jokowi's administration in 2019, the Nawa Cita discourse seemed to have been swallowed by the Earth.
Instead, our nation was suddenly hit hard by four legislative products that lacked legitimacy and stifled reform, namely the Information Technology and Electronic Transaction (ITE) Law, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law, Mineral and Coal (Minerba) Law and Job Creation Law, the first three being the products of revision.
It did not stop there. All levels of national education, including universities, which are the seedbeds of character building first promoted by founding fathers, were also hit by the offending bureaucratization, which had a killing effect on the enthusiasm and initiative of Independence.
We do not know whether the activation and emulation of “longing” will be able to straighten the course of our Republic again.
The same was true of research institutes that for decades of autonomy had respectable reputations. All of them were forcibly dissolved into the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN). Now there is also the possibility of insulting the integrity of the nation by forcing liberalization via the Health Bill (omnibus law). Then the House of Representatives moved to revise the Constitutional Court Law with the motivation to castrate the principle of checks and balances in our democracy.
Previously, we were shocked by the noisy demands of the village heads to be given a term of nine years! Everything has been motivated by greed, power and poor legitimacy.
When the public is repeatedly not allowed to guard the inevitability of procedural-substantial legitimacy for each legislation and all its derivatives, independence turns into subservience. It is hard to deny in the last four years we have felt the symptoms of how our nation is being led back into such a state of desolation by the rulers.
“Longing” as a concrete notion was proven four years after Mr. Ben's article, namely when Soeharto was overthrown on 12 May, 1998. We do not know whether the activation and emulation of “longing” will be able to straighten the course of our Republic again.
Mochtar Pabottingi, Thinker of Nationalism and Democracy
This article was translated by Musthofid.