Thursday, November 30, 2023 | 22:03 WIB

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


Soetan Sjahrir (Source: Priv. Doc)

The diplomatic path becomes twisted again when the Netherlands took military action by attacking us on 21 July 1947. This act actually blasted a path for Indonesia to enter the United Nations’ forum! After Sjahrir ended his duties as the Prime Minister with the Sjahrir III Cabinet, he was sent out to represent Indonesia at the UN. With the assistance of Biju Patnaik, he and Agus Salim went to Lake Success, New York, through New Delhi and Cairo, to obtain support from India and Egypt. 

On 14 August 1947, Sjahrir made a speech before the UN Security Council. To the representatives of other nations across the globe, he described Indonesia as a centuries-old literate civilization annexed and exploited by Colonialists. Afterwards, he eloquently disproved each of the arguments submitted by Netherlands’ representative, Eelco van Kleffens, one by one. With this achievement, Indonesia won support for its position as a nation who fought for, and won, their own sovereignty in an international forum. With the UN’s intervention, the Netherlands failed to keep the Indo-Dutch conflict an “internal affairs” issue. 

Sjahrir became popular among the journalists who covered the UN Security Council Hearing, especially among those who were stationed in Indonesia during the days of the revolution. Due to his gregarious nature, some newspapers even called him “The Smiling Diplomat”! Sjahrir went on to represent Indonesia in the UN in two Hearings within a month. After him, the next leader of the Indonesian delegation until 1950 was Lambertus Nicodemus (“L.N.”) Palar. 

In 1948, Sjahrir established the Indonesian Socialist Party (Partai Sosialis Indonesia – “PSI”) to provide the citizenry with an alternative to another party that grew based on the international communist movement – the now-infamous Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia – “PKI”). Even though the PSI was based on the teachings of Marx and Engels, it was against the national system of the Soviet Union. This is because Sjahrir believed that “socialism” is a belief that strongly respects humanity, that acknowledges and respects the equality of all men – in direct opposition with the practices of communism. 

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In 1955, PSI failed to get any seats in Indonesia’s first General Elections. And after the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia/Universal Struggle (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia/Perjuangan Rakyat Semesta – “PRRI/Permesta”) conflict in 1958, the relationship between Sutan Sjahrir and President Soekarno worsened. Finally, PSI was disbanded in 1960. 

Exile and Death 

In 1962, Sutan Sjahrir was arrested and imprisoned without trial. He was only released in 1965 when he suffered a stroke and went to Zürich, Switzerland, to get medication. He died in that city on 9 April 1966, at the age of 57 years old, as a political exile. As a posthumous measure of reparation, as well as in memory of his services as a founding father of our country, the Indonesian Government at the time awarded him with the title of “National Hero” according to the Presidential Decree Number 76 of 1966 by President Sukarno. Sjahrir’s body was brought back to his Homeland, then interred in the Kalibata Heroes’ Cemetery in Jakarta.


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