By Lisa Lines and Stuart Munckton
On the morning of July 5, Dita Sari, Indonesia's longest serving female political prisoner and a leading member of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), was released from prison. Dita, who was jailed for organising workers campaigning for their rights, was not due to be released until 2002. That the Indonesian regime has freed Dita is a major victory for the Indonesian democracy movement.
From the day Dita was arrested, Resistance waged a campaign demanding that she, and all the other political prisoners in Indonesia, be released. The campaign to free Dita Sari was taken up by the international labour movement, Amnesty International and even the Body Shop, amongst others. In Indonesia and around the world, meetings were held, demonstrations organised and pamphlets written demanding her release.
Dita's release is a direct result of this persistent campaigning, which made Dita's imprisonment for "subversion" too embarrassing for the Indonesian government. Her release is proof that international solidarity does work and that we in this country can play an important role in struggles for justice wherever they take place.
International solidarity has always been a crucial factor in all struggles against oppression. The international solidarity campaign against apartheid in South Africa was essential in isolating the South African government internationally and forcing that regime, finally, to hold free elections.
The solidarity provided by Australian maritime workers in the 1940s, when they refused to unload Dutch ships during Indonesia's fight for independence, played an important role in the Indonesian people's victory against Dutch rule.
Young people have always been a significant part of solidarity campaigns. Students were the driving force behind one of the most successful solidarity campaigns in history, the mass movement in support of the Vietnamese people and against the United States (and Australian) invasion of South Vietnam.
The Vietnamese National Liberation Front acknowledged that, alongside the Vietnamese people's own heroism, the worldwide movement against the Pentagon's barbaric war was central to Vietnam's victory. By the time Saigon was liberated on April 30, 1975, millions across the world had marched and protested for the withdrawal of US and allied troops.
Despite these obvious successes, there are some in the student movement who still fail to see the importance of solidarity. Concerned only with their own struggles, these students don't have an internationalist perspective and don't identify with students overseas.
At the May 19 anti-VSU rally in Adelaide, for example, when Resistance activist Jo Ellis spoke about the situation of students in Indonesia and East Timor and the need for solidarity with their struggles, some students, mainly Labor Party members, commented that this was irrelevant. One even wrote to On Dit, the Adelaide University newspaper, with the incredible claim that Ellis's speech compromised the integrity of the rally!
Any idea that the struggles of the Indonesian or East Timorese people are irrelevant to Australian students is dead wrong. The very government which is trying to silence students by introducing "voluntary student unionism" (VSU) is also a crucial ally of the brutal Indonesian regime.
Australia's is the only government in the world to officially recognise Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. The Australian government continues to aid to the Indonesian military, training its officers, supplying military equipment and conducting joint naval, air and land exercises.
The people of Indonesia and East Timor need our solidarity now. Despite the June 7 elections in Indonesia, the military continues to dominate Indonesian society and the people's determined struggle for democracy is continually thwarted by the violence and repression of the regime.
In East Timor, hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands forced from their homes by the Indonesian military backed death squads. This is a deliberate campaign to systematically destroy the organised independence movement and to intimidate the population into voting against independence in the August referendum.
The Australian government cries poor to justify cuts to education funding but manages to spend millions of taxpayers' dollars each year in collaborating with a military which is guilty of widespread human rights abuses. The people of Indonesia and East Timor and Australian students have a common enemy: the Australian government. This makes our struggle a common one and solidarity with each other logical and necessary.