Tuesday, October 3, 2023 | 21:46 WIB

Soetan Sjahrir, Republic of Indonesia’s first Prime Minister – The Smiling Diplomat who defended RI sovereignty through diplomacy


Jakarta, IO – Soetan Sjahrir, a great man who contributed immensely to the Independence of the Republic Indonesia and became its first Prime Minister in his prime at 36, was a March-born man. 

He was born on 5 March 1909 in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, from Mohammad Rasad titled Maharaja Soetan bin Leman and Soetan Palindih of Koto Gadang, Agam, West Sumatra, and his wife, Puti Siti Rabiah of Natal County, Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra. 

Thanks to his parents’ wealth and standing, Sjahrir had the luck of getting top Elementary and Middle School-level education in the best Dutch-run ELS (Europeesche Lagere School – “European Elementary School”) and MULO (Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs – “Expanded Elementary Education”) of Medan. This privilege allowed him access to thousands of expensive foreign books, including hundreds of Dutch novels and storybooks, from his school library. For extra pocket money and to satisfy his curiosity, he used to busk in the Hotel De Boer (now Hotel Natour Dharma Deli), playing music for the European clientele of the exclusive hotel. 

The Socially Active Scholar 

In 1926, he graduated from MULO and entered a prestigious AMS (Algemeene Middelbare School – Dutch-run High School) in Bandung. 

Sjahrir is not the kind of scholar who buried his head and heart in his books and homework. There, he joined the Bandung Theatrical Association (Bandoengsche Toneel Vereeniging van Indonesische Studenten – “Batovis”) as a director, scriptwriter, and actor. He used his earnings from the Troupe to finance his own school, Tjahja Volksuniversiteit (“Ray of Light People’s University”), where he provided free education for poor children. He also spared time to join his High School’s Debate Club. 

Sjahrir’s social activity gradually became political. While his peers were still stuck in their regional associations, on 20 February 1927, he became one of the ten founders of the nationalist youth association, Jong Indonesië or Young Indonesians. This association then changed its name into the Indonesian version, “Pemuda Indonesia”, later the legendary association that organized the Indonesian Youth Congress, which generated the monumental Sumpah Pemuda, or Indonesian Youth Pledge, in 1928. 

Sjahrir continued his education by entering the Faculty of Law in University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There, he became introduced to socialism and decided to pursue it further, seriously and constantly making indepth analyses of its theories. He became close to Salomon Tas, Chairman of the Social-Democratic Student Club, and his wife, Maria Duchateau. Later on, Sjahrir would marry her briefly, before ending up with Poppy, the eldest sister of Soedjatmoko and Miriam Boediardjo. 

In order to know more about the world of proletariats and their organizations, Sjahrir worked for the International Transportation Worker Federation’s Secretariat. He was also an active member of the Indonesian Association (Perhimpunan Indonesia – “PI”), at the time chaired by Mohammad Hatta. 


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