“A national revolution is only the result of a democratic revolution, and nationalism should be second to democracy. The State of Indonesia is only a name we give to the essence we intend and aim for.” From: ‘Perdjoeangan Kita’ (Our Struggle), October 1945, Sutan Sjahrir.
IO, Jakarta – Every Independence Day I go to the Kalibata Heroes’ Cemetery and place small Indonesian flags, jasmine and roses petals on the graves of Sutan Sjahrir and other Indonesian leaders who fought for our independence. Then I strew roses petals and jasmine on the graves of the unknown soldiers near Sjahrir’s grave. I imagine that their families will not be placing flowers on their graves as they probably do not know which is the grave of their loved one….
After the arrival of the Dutch East India Company in the 16th century, Indonesians all over the Archipelago fought for hundreds of years to be free. We fought in Aceh, in Lombok, in the Moluccas, in Java, in Palembang, in West Sumatra, in Sulawesi – just to name a few of the places. The Dutch military cemetery in Aceh is the largest outside of the Netherlands. Their losses included four Dutch generals and many, many officers and men. Calculations vary but some estimate that over 60,000 Acehnese were killed during the Aceh War. In Bali the opposite occurred. Realizing that they would not be able to defeat the Dutch the Balinese carried out the great “puputans” or mass ritual suicides of 1849 (Buleleng), 1906 (Badung) and 1908 (Klungkung) in probably the greatest display of passive resistance in the world.
This was of course, resistance from the people of the Archipelago before Indonesia was created. However, even then there was a longing for “merdeka” or freedom. What many however, do not realize is that Indonesia was created through dialogue for the physical struggle to achieve independence and create a nation was preceded by discussions and debates about what type of a country, what type of a culture and society we wanted to create – both before and after the great cultural polemics of the 1930s. It was also preceded by the creation of an Indonesian language that was ready to become the national language to unify a nation and to communicate the 20th century to Indonesians. Indonesia’s spiritual birth was the Youth Pledge of 1928 where the “pemuda” or youth organizations from different islands gathered and pledged that we are one nation, one people and that we choose the Malay language to become our national language.
The physical struggle to achieve “Merdeka” (the rallying cry of our freedom fighters) is associated primarily with three names Sukarno, Hatta and Sjahrir who later became Indonesia’s first president, vice-president and prime minister. In 1942 Japan’s Imperial Army occupied Indonesia and during this time it was agreed that Sukarno and Hatta would collaborate with the Japanese whereas Sjahrir would form an underground resistance. The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August and on Nagasaki on the 9th of August 1945. On August 10th Sjahrir who was listening to the foreign news broadcasts began to spread the word that the second atom bomb had been dropped and that Japan had received an ultimatum to surrender. The information was followed by the instruction: “When freedom is declared support it.” One of those carrying this message was the young poet Chairil Anwar who brought it to Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana’s Language Office, one of the places where many of the “pemuda” or youths liked to gather. On August 8th Sjahrir had already begun pressing Hatta to declare independence.
Meanwhile, on the 7th of August the Japanese established the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence and on August 9th Sukarno and Hatta were flown to Saigon where they met Marshal Terauchi. A ceremony was held to inaugurate Sukarno and Hatta as respectively the head and the deputy head of the Preparatory Committee. They were told that Indonesian independence was only a matter of days and Sukarno understood that it was set for the 24th of August 1945.
On the 14th of August young Indonesians working at the Sendenbu (military propaganda and news department) reported that according to radio broadcasts from America, Japan had accepted their ultimatum and would surrender within hours. The same day Sukarno and Hatta returned to Indonesia where Sjahrir urged them to declare independence immediately and not to follow a Japanese agenda arguing that Indonesia should not be receiving its independence at the hands of a country that had lost the war but should have the dignity of declaring its own independence and that the Allies would be far more likely to recognize such an independence. Many of the “pemuda” or youths argued the same and went to the extent of kidnapping Sukarno and Hatta and taking them to the village of Rengasdengklok to try to force them to declare independence immediately. After negotiations between all parties including the Japanese, Sukarno and Hatta agreed to return to Jakarta and declare independence the next day namely the 17th of August 1945. Independence was declared at Sukarno’s residence and an Indonesian flag sown by Sukarno’s wife Fatmawati was raised for the first time.
However, declaring independence was not enough if the nation as well as other nations could not hear about it. So, this bring us to the second part of the story of Indonesia’s struggle to declare independence.
Muhammad Jusuf Ronodipuro was a young Indonesian journalist working at the Japanese military radio, Hoso Kyoku. The editor-in-chief was Bahtar Lubis, the older brother of the legendary journalist and writer Mochtar Lubis. Radio Hoso Kyoku not only broadcast to Indonesia but also abroad. At the time most Indonesians did own a radio and did not know that America had bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that Japan had declared unconditional surrender to the Allies. One day however, Ronodipuro found that for some unknown reason the foreign broadcast section of the radio had been closed down. Mochtar Lubis who was in charge of foreign news whispered to him that Japan had capitulated to the American demands for unconditional surrender.
Ronodipuro did not hear the declaration of independence as the staff of the radio station had not been allowed to enter the station since the last Wednesday. Adam Malik who attended the proclamation and raising of the flag immediately sent a message via some students to find Jusuf Ronodipuro. It was the Indonesian Declaration of Independence and a message informing him that Bung Karno had already read out the Declaration of Independence and that they had to spread the word.
“When my father read it,” explained Jusuf Ronodipuro’s son, Irawan Ronodipuro, “he thought how he could spread the word. Then he told the others that there was only one way to do so and that was by using the Japanese military radio station to broadcast it.”
Jusuf Ronodipuro knew where his duty lay. Despite his youth Ronodipuro was a newsman and he understood the importance of broadcasting the proclamation. Without being broadcast on the radio it would be almost as if the proclamation had never been made for who would know about it? Indonesians needed to know that the struggle had begun and other countries needed to know the decision of the Indonesian people. How was he to broadcast the proclamation however, when all the studios at Hoso Kyoku were being heavily guarded by the Kempetai or Japanese military police.
“My father, said Irawan, “sneaked into the radio complex via the back. He waited till evening to do so then climbed over the wall and entered. The studio broadcasting domestically was on air but heavily guarded by the Kempetai. Then he suddenly remembered that the studio used to broadcast abroad was no longer in use and therefore not under guard. The studio was no longer connected to the sound transmitter. After discussing the matter with the Indonesian technical staff, they connected the domestic transmission cable to the foreign transmission cable so that the transmission would come out sounding like a normal domestic transmission.”
At 7 pm on the 17th of August 1945 at only 26 years of age Muhammad Yusuf Ronodipuro read out the Indonesian Proclamation of Independence to Indonesia and the world. He broadcast it in Indonesian and then in English. His broadcast was immediately picked up by the BBC, the Voice of America and other international radio stations who continued to broadcast the news around the world. His act required tremendous courage because it did not take the Kempetai long to know of the broadcast and discover who had read it out on radio. Ronodipuro and the technicians who had helped him were imprisoned where they were tortured and beaten by the Kempetai.
“My father would have died if the head of the radio station had not come and stopped the Kempetai. He had a sympathy for my father for they both used to love listening to classical music together in the studio and smoke cigars. Afterwards my father could barely struggle back. He managed to reach the house of Basoeki Abdullah (the artist) a friend who gave him shelter for the night. The next morning he went to Dr Abdurachman Saleh for medical help. After discussing what happened with the doctor they decided that they must build a radio station for the Republic to continue broadcasting. Dr Saleh offered the use of one of his labs which was an excellent hiding place for one had to go through the morgue to reach it,” reminisced Irawan Ronodipuro with a smile.
Jusuf Ronodipuro established Radio The Voice of Free Indonesia. His motto was: “Sekali di udara tetap di udara” or “Once on the air always on the air”. With the indomitable spirit and enthusiasm of youth he created a broadcasting station from used electronic equipment. On the 25th of August 1945 Sukarno broadcast his first speech as the president of Indonesia and Hatta on the 29th of August 1945.
“Sukarno and Hatta did complain about always having to go through the morgue though,” added Irawan with a chuckle.
So many of those who struggled for Indonesia’s independence were terribly young. Sjahrir was only 36 years old. Ronodipuro was 26 years old. Sjahrir spent his life fighting for a free Indonesia and died a prisoner of free Indonesia as did Sukarno who had imprisoned him. Hatta lived to a ripe old age and died greatly honoured although he refused to be buried at the Kalibata Heroes’ Cemetery.
His daughter Halida Hatta explained, “My father wished to be buried in a public cemetery in the midst of the people he had spent his life fighting for. My sister Meutia says that later he wanted even less to be buried in Kalibata after he saw so many who had corrupted government funds being buried there. He felt that if he allowed himself to be buried at Kalibata it would have been as though he condoned the corruption.”
So, Hatta was buried in Tanah Kusir Cemetery. Later many others who had struggled for the Republic were buried there close to him including such figures as Ali Sadikin, Hashim Ning and Soedarpo.
“When my father came to the end of his life, he called me and told me that it should be left to my mother where he would be buried otherwise the nation would seek to bury him in Kalibata as she might like him buried in a place where she could also be buried. I tried to protest but he cut me short saying that it doesn’t matter where he is buried because God would always know what he did for his country. What is important is what you do and not what people see you doing. In the end however, my mother chose to have him buried in Kalibata Heroes’ Cemetery for the sake of the country.” eroes’ Cemetery. She felt that
Most of those who died during the physical fighting for our independence were very young. Many did not live long enough to marry and have children. I always think that on Independence Day someone should remember them even if only for a moment. They gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy now – and at times take too lightly. Every year it is as though for that moment I am with the dead and I can feel their sadness, their regrets but also their pride. They once were alive like you and I and they gave up that most precious gift.
I say a little prayer. “God bless Indonesia. Protect our democracy and our diversity; we have fought so hard for them for they are our greatest wealth. Guide Indonesia’s people in the days to come next year. Let them choose wisely.”
Afterwards, I usually call one of the gardeners and sing the Indonesia Raya. Sometimes I sing alone with only the birds to accompany me… (Tamalia Alisjahbana)