MERDEKA : The Proclamation of Independence 17 August 1945

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Raising the flag after the Proclamation of independence. (photo: Frans Mendur)

IO – On the 17th of August 1945 at 10 am with a very simple ceremony in the garden of his residence at Jl Pegangsaan Timur no 56 in the Menteng area of Central Jakarta Soekarno read out the Indonesian proclamation of independence. Afterwards the Indonesian flag was then raised for the first time. Probably not more than a hundred people witnessed the actual ceremony. This was not however, the end but rather the beginning of the actual physical struggle for independence.

A proclamation read out to several dozen people is not greatly effective. So, the first step was that the message be spread out as widely as possible which at that time meant that it had to be broadcast by radio! Fortunately, this was understood very clearly by the pemudas or Indonesian youth who were the great moving force of Indonesia’s struggle for independence. One young man in particular took it upon himself to see that the proclamation was actually sent out that day – and in this he risked life and limb.

After Soekarno had read out the proclamation of independence, a young journalist for the Japanese news agency Domei named Adam Malik  (later became Indonesian foreign minister and vice-president) took a piece of paper from his pocket and wrote down the text of the proclamation. He then added a note in which he wrote, “Bung ‘Karno just proclaimed independence for Indonesia. We are free. You must spread the word!”

Adam Malik then handed the note with the text of the proclamation to some students who were present at the proclamation and asked them to find Muhamad Jusuf Ronodipuro and give them to him. At the time Indonesian was governed by the Japanese occupying forces who also controlled the military radio station known as the Hoso Kyoku. Jusuf Ronodipuro was a journalist there. He was 26 years old and very much involved with the pemudas many of who were students. The pemudas liked to gather at what used to be the old Hotel Schomper at Jl Menteng Raya no 31 which since the Japanese Occupation had become a students’ hostel where they liked to gather for discussions and plan independence (it is now the Museum Djoang). There they had agreed that independence should be declared immediately and they discussed taking over the Japanese radio stations all over Indonesia. Jusuf was one of them and working for the radio he immediately understood what was being asked of him.

A few days after the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9th 1945 except for the Jakarta studio the radio station had been secured by Japanese soldiers and shut down. The staff who were in the complex were not allowed to leave and those who happened to be outside were no longer allowed to enter it. When Jusuf received the message he and several friends went to the heavily guarded radio complex, they had to wait till the beginning of night at around 6 pm  and climbed its back wall with help from the Indonesian staff who signaled them when it was safe to enter. Once inside Jusuf realized that the only possibility would be to broadcast from the international broadcasting studio which had been shut down and disconnected from the radio transmitter and therefore was not under heavy guard like the Jakarta studio. He found a brave technician able to connect the international studio to the national studio’s broadcast system making a simultaneous national and international broadcast possible. At 7 pm on the 17th of August 1945 Muhammad Jusuf Ronodipuro courageously read out the Indonesian Proclamation of Independence to Indonesia and the world, “Here is an important announcement. At 10 am this morning Bung Karno read out the Proclamation of Independence as follows…..”

Jusuf’s broadcast was immediately picked up by the BBC, Radio America, Singapore and many other countries whose radio stations broadcast the news around the world. His announcement also signaled the start of the war for Indonesian independence. In Japan his broadcast was promptly picked up and the Japanese government immediately telephoned the Jakarta military command to question them about the broadcast. It did not take the Kempetai or Japanese military police long to storm the radio station and discover who had read it out on radio. Jusuf and those who had helped him were badly beaten. Finding him seated in front of the microphone Jusuf was beaten the worst with his face and all his teeth smashed as well as his knee cap broken. What saved him was the head of the military radio station, Lieutenant Colonel Tomo Bachi with whom he used to listen to classical music and smoke cigarettes together, arrived and stopped the soldiers and later that midnight ordered to release everyone. Jusuf went to his friend’s house near Gambir train station, Basoeki Abdullah, the painter who was a good friend and who bathed and dressed his wounds and brought him the next day to the RSCM central hospital. There a doctor named Abdul Rachman Saleh treated him and after hearing the story said, “So we need a radio station?” Jusuf asked if the doctor’s house could be used but he said it was too risky as there were many Japanese imperial soldiers nearby. He offered them the use of one of the labs in the hospital which became Suara Indonesia Merdeka or The Voice of Free Indonesia. With the indomitable spirit and enthusiasm of youth Jusuf created a broadcasting station from used electronic equipment removed from the Japanese military radio station. Sukarno used to ask if it could not be moved elsewhere as they had to go through the morgue to reach it but that was the best camouflage. It was from here that on the 25th of August 1945 Sukarno broadcast his first speech as the President of Indonesia and Hatta made his maiden broadcast four days later. After this the pemudas slowly took over all the Japanese military radio stations in Indonesia and eventually the Jakarta radio station was moved back to the former Japanese military radio broadcasting complex. On the 11th of September 1945 Radio Republik Indonesia was established there.

In 1947 the Dutch Netherlands Indies Civil Administration and military arrived along with the allied forces and in 1948 Dutch troops ordered all radio personnel out of the building into the station compound (now Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat No.4). As head of the station Jusuf was ordered to lower the flag in front of the building. When he refused he was beaten to the ground and with a boot at his neck and a gun pointed at his head he was twice ordered to do so again. Jusuf spat back, “This flag will be lowered over my dead body.” For this he was imprisoned by the Dutch for over a year but in the meantime, a famous Indonesian song writer Saridjah Niung (better known as Ibu Soed), heard of his courageous act that day and was inspired to compose what has become one of Indonesia’s most popular independence song i. e. Berkibarlah Benderaku or Fly my Flag Fly.

When Jusuf’s son Irawan was a callow youth of 15 he once asked his father why did you put your life on the line like that? What did you get out of it?”

His father stared at him and then replied, “Because I love my country. Our motto was freedom or death – and we were prepared to die for independence.”

“His voice was so emotional –  it was then that I first understood how sincere he was and how prepared he was to die for his country.”

Indonesians from many different walks of life, risked their lives and fought for freedom. If Jusuf Ronodipuro was a civilian filled with the idealism of youth, a more unlikely person was HRH Prince Djatikoesoemo of Surakarta who was referred to by some as the Revolution Prince. “It probably sounds strange to the ears because princes are usually brought up in the lap of luxury and amongst the strict old traditions of the palace. Very few are inclined or even consider taking part in a revolution,” mused Prince Djatikoesoemo’s daughter HRH Koosmariam Djatikoesoemo.

Indeed, by the 20th century most Indonesian royalty were inclined to side with the Dutch rather than the revolutionaries for they had become little more than resplendent colonial officials who received a regular stipend and enormous privileges from the colonial government. Pangeran Djatikoesoema was born in 1917 as the son of  Susuhunan Pakubuwono X of Surakarta. Prince Djatikoesoemo’s niece Sasmiyarsi Sasmoyo says that Pakubuwono X was very sympathetic to the Sumpah Pemuda or Youth Pledge of 1928 (which is frequently seen as the spiritual birth of Indonesia) and a united Indonesia and tells the story of how in 1933 it was decided to build a monument to commemorate 22 years of the Budi Utomo movement and how Pakubuwono X gave land where the monument celebrating the awakening of a national consciousness could be erected. He also believed in the prophecies of Joyoboyo, a 12th century king of Kediri who predicted that the Javanese would be ruled by whites for 3 centuries and the by yellow dwarfs for 1 crop cycle of corn, and after that Java would be freed from foreign domination. With this in mind Pakubuwono felt that it was important that some of his sons have a military education.

Prince Djatikoesoemo was raised in such an environment. He also went to Dutch secondary school and later stayed at the home of a retired Dutch officer in Bandung. “Know your enemy,” he was told. Later his father offered to send him to the Dutch military academy in Breda but he refused after he heard that upon graduation, he would have to swear allegiance to the Dutch Queen and Constitution. So, he went to Delft to study engineering. When the war broke out in 1939, he was sent back to Indonesia and finished his studies at the technical school in Bandung. In 1941 however, he was forced to leave his studies and join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or CORO. After the Japanese Occupation, the PETA or Homeland Defense Corps was formed and when Soekarno sent a message asking that the Surakarta palace send members of the royal family to join, Prince Djatikoesoemo was one of those sent. It was a far more thorough than at the CORO.

After the Proclamation of Independence, the Prince immediately set up a Surakarta branch of the Badan Kemanan Rakyat or Peoples’ Defense Force which consisted of youths with military training whether from the Dutch or the Japanese who fought together with the people. This later became the Tentara Rakyat Indonesia or the Indonesian Peoples’ Army. Meanwhile, many militia bands were set up by various groups such as for example the tobacco plantation workers. In an effort to unite such groups and bring them under one command the TNI or Indonesian National Army was created. This is what was called the Reorganisasi dan Rasionalisasi (Reorganization and Rationalization) of the military – a project of the former PETA and former Breda/Bandung trained officers.

“My uncle,” commented Sasmiyarsi Sasmoyo, “was very close to people like Abdul Harris Nasution, Alex Kawilarang, T.B. Simatupang, Oerip Soemohardjo etc. who all became generals later. He was also very close to Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX to whom he was still related and who was instrumental in the creation of the TNI and later became Minister of Defense.” 

“These were all key thinkers and movers of the Reorganization and Rationalization of the military and Pangeran Djatikoesoemo was one of their key organizers, added her husband Aristides Katoppo former editor of Sinar Harapan and later Suara Pembaharuan.

At first the Prince and his men were stationed at Fort Vestenburgh in Solo where they were involved in skirmishes with the Japanese military and later in a four-day battle in Semarang. By November 1945 he had been sent to Jogjakarta where he was made the Commander of Infantry Division IV in Salatiga and given the rank of Major General. This maybe why the foreign press often referred to him as the Boy General.

Later he became commander of Infantry Division V Ronggolawe. He and his troops carried out guerrilla warfare from 1946 till February 1948 from the Pekalongan Residency to Tuban in the Surabaya Residency. In 1948 he was made the first Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Army and not much later he was appointed Governor of the Military Academy. For a time he served as both.

“He fought hard to establish a military academy but he met so much opposition that he established an academy for army engineers first. When they saw how successful this was, he was allowed to establish a military academy in Jogjakarta,” revealed Sasmiyarsi Sasmoyo.

When the Dutch commenced their Second Military Aggression and captured the President and the cabinet in Jogjakarta, Prince Djatikoesoemo immediately organized 92 troops of cadets, young officers and military instructors and formed the MA (Military Academy) Division handed them the arms in the munitions warehouse and carried out guerilla warfare until Jogjakarta was returned to Indonesian hands. He served in the military after independence and his motto was, “Our business is war but our interest is peace.” Later he served as ambassador and as a cabinet minister.

Prince Djatikoesoemo had the air and bearing of an aristocrat, he was well educated and spoke several languages. General Sudirman who was commander of the armed forces came from a simple village background where he had been a teacher. Nevertheless, the Prince had the humility to serve loyally under him and accept his command. It is said that when there were foreigners present or officers and politicians who had been Dutch educated Soedirman liked to have the Prince at his side to deal with them.

“My older brothers Saswiyanto and Sasmiyarso (Tjoti to his friends) also fought in the Revolution and Tjoti was my uncle’s aid, remarked Sasmiyarsi Sasmoyo.

Saswiyanto was a graduate of the naval academy in Delft and was stationed with the Indonesian navy in Tegal when his ship was bombed and he was killed. Tjoti graduated from the military academy in Breda and joined the Indonesian army with the rank of captain in the Ronggolawe Division as adjutant to Prince Djatikoesoemo during the guerilla warfare. In 1947 Tjoti was wounded. Despite not being properly recovered he returned to his unit east of Semarang and later disappeared.

“He was never heard from again. My father went to look for his missing son in all the places the Ronggolawe Division had fought along the north coast of Java but found nothing. My uncle was also very sad. Tjoti never even had the chance to have a girl-friend. He was so handsome. Every time he entered the keraton all the princesses were in a state of excitement and awe. So, well educated and with a military posture. He and the Prince looked a lot alike and like the Prince he was also very reserved and serious, almost a little haughty. They both served their country as best they could,” said Sasmiyarsi Sasmoyo softly. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)