New film brings to life Indonesian struggle
By Max Lane
On April 23 and 24, a new documentary film is being premiered in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Entitled Indonesia in Revolt — Democracy or Death!, it depicts the student-led popular movement's overthrow of the dictator Suharto as well as the current struggle for full democracy and social justice.
The release coincides with an escalation of the struggle in Indonesia and East Timor. On April 6, worker action committees led by People's Democratic Party (PRD) activists held protest actions in many cities, including Jakarta, Solo, Semarang and Menado.
At the same time, a massive propaganda attack by ultra-rightist "Muslim" forces on the PRD has started focusing on the recruitment to the PRD of Nobel-nominated revolutionary novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Well-known rightist figures have seized on the fact that Pramoedya was a part of the anti-imperialist movement before 1965 and aligned with Indonesian Communist Party to argue that the PRD is communist and therefore should be banned.
Student groups have begun protests again and plan another wave of national protests on April 14. PRD political prisoners Budiman Sujatmiko and Petrus Haryanto have gone on a hunger strike demanding democratisation of the coming general election. A national student assembly will also be held on April 14 to discuss future strategy.
In East Timor, the approach of possible independence has unleashed a class struggle as landlords, afraid of losing land and privileges gained through collaboration with the Indonesian occupation, launch a terror campaign against pro-independence activists. In response, Xanana Gusmao has issued a call for a popular insurrection against the terror gangs.
Indonesia in Revolt discusses all these issues and allows these political forces to air their views.
The film contains new footage of the massive student mobilisations during early 1998, when many direct confrontations with the military took place.
A major component concerns the role of the student movement in Suharto's overthrow and in future developments in East Timor. It also looks at the sacrifices and heroism of the student activists.
The film-maker, Sydney documentary producer and ASIET activist Jill Hickson, filmed extensive interviews with activists who were among those kidnapped and tortured in early 1998. They give testimony on their experiences as well as comment on strategy and tactics for the future of the movement. Hickson travelled to many cities in Indonesia meeting activists and filming activities.
The range of political figures from the people's movement who speak out in the film is extraordinary. The film also includes the only interview ever successfully recorded on camera with jailed PRD and union leader Dita Indah Sari. The interview was recorded under the noses of prison guards using a secret miniature camera.
The documentary includes an extraordinary line-up of Indonesia's political dissidents and activists. These include: Father Sandyawan, the Catholic priest fighting for the rights of Indonesia's Chinese population; Pramoedya Ananta Toer; Yusuf Isak, a political prisoner for 10 years; Dede Oetomo, prominent gay rights leader; Faisal Resa, head of the PRD leadership council; Maria Indra, head of the PRD's international work; Mugianto, PRD kidnap victim; and Daniel Indrakusuma, long-time PRD leader.
Budiman Sujatmiko and East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao also appear as they speak to supporters from the balcony of Cipinang Prison.
The real "stars" of the documentary, however, are the students and workers who are organising to change their situation. Many worker and student leaders explain their struggles. On the spot film of protest actions by textile workers from the Javanese town of Solo is a highlight. The mostly women workers have been waging a months-long struggle for the reinstatement of sacked workers and a rise in their wages.
Indonesia in Revolt is a rare film that allows the makers of social and political change in a society in turmoil to relate their experiences and explain their strategy as well as showing these forces in action. The sight of thousands of people facing down the military is an inspiring thing. To hear how the participants explain it, and what they think must happen next, is just as inspiring.
The documentary is being premiered publicly in Sydney and Melbourne on April 23, in Perth on April 24 and in Brisbane on May 7. There will be more showings in other cities in May. The film was made by Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) with the support of Art Resistance and Actively Radical TV.
The showings are a part of ASIET's campaign activities to build support for the popular democratic movement in Indonesia and the East Timorese resistance. It is also a part of building the May 22 International Day of Solidarity with Indonesian and East Timorese Students, initiated by Resistance and supported by ASIET.