Memories of Independence from Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of the first President of the Republic of Indonesia

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Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of the first President of the Republic of Indonesia. (photo: IO/Yoga)

“Soekarno eats satay on the street after proclaiming independence”

IO, Jakarta –We are a peace-loving people, but we love independence more, said President Soekarno in a speech commemorating the First Anniversary of our Independence in 1946. Bung Karno believed – he was aware and certain – that peace would be impossible without independence as the most basic requirement of justice. When independence is achieved, having peace would be just a matter of time and there is only one more step to take.

The above quote of Bung Karno opened Independent Observer’s talk with Rachmawati Soekarnoputri at the Bung Karno University campus on Jalan Kimia, Central Jakarta, on Tuesday (13/08/2019). That afternoon, Rachma, as she is more familiarly known, wore a black pantsuit with a matching black hijab. She stated that the independence of Indonesia is naturally inseparable from the nation’s Proclamator, Ir. Soekarno. He was Indonesia’s first President and the one who freed his people in 1945.

Rachma told us an intriguing side tale about Indonesia’s independence regarding her father. Following his appearance, when he read out the momentous Proclamation of Independence, at Jalan Pengangsaan Timur 56, Jakarta, Bung Karno went outside to relax and have chicken satay for brunch. “Can you imagine that dignified leader standing and eating such common food by the roadside right afterwards?” Rachma laughed. “At the time, he was sick, too! His malaria was acting up on him.”

Bung Karno’s struggles to secure independence for Indonesia were quite colorful. Among other burdens he had to bear, he was banished from the capital and was ordered to move from place to place, all over Indonesia. “Bapak (“daddy”) was banished many times: to Ende, Bengkulu, Parapat, and even Bangka,” Rachma said.

Ende town in East Nusa Tenggara was the first site of Soekarno’s banishment. Its remote location was deemed to be a perfect place to isolate him from political life. With this in mind, the Netherland Indies Government banished him there for four years, from 1934 to 1938. “There were no cinemas, libraries, or other means of entertainment on the entire island. They had no telephone or telegraph office there. Their only connection to the outside world was two postal boats that came once a month each. We received letters and newspapers from outside twice a month,” Soekarno said to US journalist Cindy Adams in his autobiography, Soekarno: Penyambung Lidah Rakyat Indonesia (lit. “Soekarno: The Voice of the Indonesian People”, known in the English language as Soekarno: His Autobiography as told to Cindy Adams).

Bung Karno’s place of banishment was then moved to Bengkulu in Sumatra. “My father became a teacher at a school belonging to Muhammadiyah, and he met Bu Fat (Fatmawati Soekarno, his third wife) a.k.a. mom,” Rachma smiled. As Soekarno wrote in his autobiography, “I am fond of Fatmawati. I taught her to play badminton, and I took her walking along the coast of Bante Pandjang.”

North Sumatra contains many elements of Bung Karno’s struggles, especially in Brastagi and Parapat.He was banished to these towns. However, he was not alone: Sjahrir and Haji Agus Salim were also banished to the same remote sites. Their banishment was the origin of Brastagi. However, all three were soon moved to Parapat. Soekarno was afterwards banished to Bangka Island, specifically the town of Muntok, in 1949. He followed his dear friend Hatta, who had been banished there earlier.

The Meaning of “Independence”
For Bung Karno, independence was non-negotiable. As a nation, we must never lose our identity. We may live in the middle of globalization, but we must never get carried away by the flow of globalization. Therefore, Bung Karno emphasized three items in order to exercise independence: First, political sovereignty. Soekarno succeeded in fighting to have Pancasila set as Indonesia’s own ideology to ensure its freedom. Bung Karno said that the Republic of Indonesia does not belong only to one group, one religion, one tribe, or one tradition: it belongs to all of us from Sabang to Merauke. As a sovereign country, RI must never be dictated to by any other country in the world, including superpower countries. With our political philosophy of active freedom, we must be able to contribute to the lives of the other nations of the world and participate in generating world peace.

Second, economic independence. Soekarno believed that it would be better for us to leave the potentials of Indonesia’s natural resources alone – at least until the nation’s children are able to manage them. He refused to let foreign powers exploit us again for the second time. He asked that Indonesian people be more confident and not have a “mentality of tempe” (tempe: soybean cake, it is soft and easily destroyed or broken). A nation that does not believe in its own power as a nation cannot stand as an independent people. Bung Karno stated in his speech during the celebration of RI Independence in 1963 that we are a huge nation, not a tempe nation. We will never grovel or beg for help. We will never accept conditional help! It would be better for us to eat gaplek or mashed cassava every day as an independent nation than eating beefsteak as slaves.

Bung Karno’s spirit of independence did not mean total rejection of foreign investments, products, or services. On the contrary, it meant only that we need to rely on ourselves in providing for our own basic needs, such as food and energy. The spirit of independence is more relevant now, as Indonesia’s current economy depends too much on foreign power. True, we need foreign investments and imported goods, but they should be complementary to our own products and services. We must be able to process and develop our abundant natural resources by ourselves, through the labor of our educated workers. We should be able to create markets for our own products and services, instead of allowing our country to degenerate into a mere market for foreign goods and services.

Third, having a good socio-cultural character. We need to grow and develop this characteristic in order to keep ourselves from getting carried away and dazzled by anything foreign that we forgo our own. We have amazing socio-cultural wealth and diversity, and we must be able to develop them as the expression of our nation’s characteristics. Indonesia should prioritize the nation’s character-building. We must become a big and strong nation, and this is how we do it.

Rachma wound up her talk with the Independent Observer by stating her hope that our nation would return to the ideals of Bung Karno. He was convinced that national integrity is the most important thing. He always warned everyone to stand up against colonialism. “We don’t want to become what Bung called “a nation of coolies and the coolie among nations”,” she said. Rachma hopes that Indonesia can get back on track in the future, and we can take the first step by faithfully implementing the Constitution of 1945. “It is the least we can do – to implement the original Constitution of 1945 before it was amended. Our nation amended it even before we could implement it properly,” she said. “We must not prioritize physical construction – that is mere project-grubbing.” (Dessy)