Comment by Helen Jarvis
SYDNEY — More than 100 people, mainly Indonesians, packed into Burwood Community Centre on May 9 to hear Indonesian sociologist Arief Budiman speak on the topic "Can Suharto survive democratisation?" in a meeting organised by Warta (Warung Nusantara).
For years Arief Budiman stood for principled and radical political positions, at a time when few Indonesians dared to publicly oppose the New Order government. He was denounced by the government and dismissed from his position at the University of Satyawacana in Central Java. He is now professor at the University of Melbourne.
Arief said he was optimistic, yet he presented a very pessimistic perspective. He sees only two choices: Suharto or the IMF — crony capitalism or market capitalism — and he chooses the latter.
Arief does not see that Indonesians are struggling for a future that meets the needs of the people, not struggling over which capitalists will take the profits. The IMF's program is only a different brand of poison, shifting the profits to multinational companies and banks rather than to Suharto and his cronies. It will bring no joy to the common people to remove subsidies on food, fuel, public transport and electricity.
Arief is pessimistic about the road to change as well. In his view, the Indonesian people have to await a military leader to come forward and "politely" ask Suharto to take a rest.
He was surprised that the students are still on the streets. He does not expect Megawati or Amien Rais to emerge and lead the struggle, and he sees no other force.
He did not even mention the People's Democratic Party (PRD), let alone give some attention to its program and actions, which are considered serious enough by the authorities to warrant jailing 20 of its leaders. Neither did he or the chair acknowledge the presence in the audience of the PRD's international representative in Australia, Edwin Gozal, who had his hand up wanting to speak in question time.
Arief's views are not unusual — this is the position being put by the US government and echoed by Australian government and establishment press: the problem is corruption and nepotism, and what Indonesia needs is a more modern and efficient and international economy.
What is surprising is that Arief Budiman is joining the chorus. It is depressing to see him now turn away from the possibility of real change just as it seems within grasp.
It is depressing to hear him speak nostalgically of the student struggles of the 1960s, without any discussion of their social and political cost, and the hundreds of thousands of killings and jailings, and to look to a comeback by those of the 1966 generation who gave intellectual cover to the brutal New Order regime.
Two other speakers and a musical interlude by Orkes Melayu Warta (Yos Suprapto and Stevie from the Black Brothers) preceded Arief on the program.
Justice John Dowd, president of the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists, spoke about his experiences in Indonesia since 1975 and introduced the ICJ's recent Report on the anti-subversion trials in Indonesia. He called on the Australian government to support the people rather than automatically supporting the government of the day.
Akiko, a postgraduate student at Sydney University, had just returned from a short visit to Jakarta in which she was able to meet Indonesia's two women political prisoners, Dita Sari and Ratna Sarumpaet.
Akiko reported that she showed Dita photographs of ASIET's April 24 demonstration in Canberra, and that Dita was thrilled to see them and encouraged by our continuing support for her.
Akiko described the current atmosphere in Jakarta as one where the slogan demokrasi is being replaced on the streets by the call for revolusi, and she called for us to work harder to help change the Indonesian government and get the prisoners out.