Monday, December 16, 2019

Politics is filthy mud

‘In politics morality doesn’t exist. As far as I’m concerned politics is something that’s utterly dirty, it’s filthy mud. But at a certain moment where we cannot restrain ourselves any further, then we will leap into it. Sometimes the moment arrives, as it did previously in the revolution. And if by some chance this moment comes I’m going to leap into this mud.’ This is from the diary of Soe Hok Gie, a young Indonesian political activist who died, all too young, 50 years ago today. His diary was first published in the 1980s, and led to much national interest in the young man, and, some time later, a bio-pic. Detailed information about him in English can only be found online thanks to an Australian PhD student, John R. Maxwell, who wrote a thesis on Soe’s life, which includes many translated extracts from his diary.

Soe Hok Gie was born into a
 Catholic Chinese family in 1942 in Djarkata. After several years at the Jesuit school Kanisius, he entered the University of Indonesia in 1962. He became an active dissident protesting against President Sukarno and the PKI (communist party), and wrote articles for many newspapers. He helped found Mapala UI, a student environmentalist organisation. He finished his studies in 1969, and became a lecturer at the same institution. However, that same year, on 16 December, he was hiking up the volcanic Mount Semeru and died from inhaling poisonous gas.

Wikipedia has a short entry on Soe, otherwise there is very little further biographical information online - with one exception. A biography of Soe Hok Gie written by John R. Maxwell was submitted to the Australian National University in Canberra for his PhD in 1997; the 350-page long paper is freely available online as a pdf. The primary source for much of Maxwell’s paper is Soe’s diary - indeed without this diary, it is likely Soe’s name would have long been forgotten. Maxwell refers to the diary early in his introduction: ‘Soe died prematurely, with an academic career scarcely begun and before he had achieved much either personally or politically in the course of his short life. Nevertheless, Soe was a passionate and intense observer of his nation’s affairs, even from his teenage years. And fortunately - almost uniquely - many of his innermost thoughts and reflections about the world around him, as well as his forcefully argued commentaries on unfolding political and social problems, have survived in a substantial body of private and public writings. In this regard, the existence of Soe’s private diary, an unusual and rare document in Indonesian literature, has been of special importance.’

Soe’s diary consists of six manuscripts covering the following years 1957-1958, 1959-1964, January 1966, 1968, 1968-1969 and 1969. Shortly after his death, Soe’s brother and a group of friends tried to have the diary printed but the project ran into opposition and was stalled. It was not until 1983 that the edited diary was finally published, as Catatan Seorang Demonstran, loosely translatable as Diary of a Demonstrator. Subsequently, this was used by the Indonesian director Riri Riza as the basis for his bio-pic Gie. But, Maxwell says, the published diary presents a number of problems: ‘It was not very literary and many of the entries were obviously written in haste. It was also quite fragmentary in its coverage of his life, leaving many large gaps in his experiences unaccounted for. Moreover, in the later years it was especially preoccupied with the small world of the Rawamangun campus that must have been almost incomprehensible for many outsiders. Yet in spite of these drawbacks many readers would have been attracted by the diary’s frankness and authenticity: it was clearly a highly personal record that had obviously not been written with an eye to future publication.’

Maxwell’s biography is liberally sprinkled with his own translations of extracts from Soe’s diary (with dates and annotations). Here are several of those extracts, ranging from the very first to the last.

10 December 1959
‘Earlier today when I was looking after my monkey, I met a man (not a beggar) in the middle of eating mango skins. It appears that he was starving. This is just one of the signs that are beginning to appear in the capital. I gave him 2.50 rupiah. It was all I had at the time. (15 rupiah in reserve.)

Yes, two kilometres away from this fellow eating peelings, ‘His Excellency’ is probably laughing again, feasting with his beautiful wives. And when I see incidents like this fellow eating peelings, I feel proud that our generation has been given the task of overcoming the older generation that has created such a mess. Our generation has to be the judge of the old corruptors - men like Iskak, Djodi, Dahjar and Ibnu Sutowo. We will become the generation that will make Indonesia prosper.

Those in power now grew up during the era of the former Netherlands Indies. They were the stubborn fighters for independence. Look at Sukarno, Hatta, Sjahrir, Ali and the like. But now they have betrayed what they fought for. Sukarno has betrayed Independence. Yamin has falsified - or at least romanticised - Indonesian history. Hatta rarely dares to speak the truth. And as time passes our people are suffering more and more.

‘I’m on your side, all you unfortunate ones.’ Indonesia is sinking, sinking, and if the challenges of history remain unanswered, it will be destroyed. ‘My unfortunate country.’ The prices of goods are rising, everything is becoming increasingly difficult. Gangs terrorise. The army terrorises. Terror is everywhere.

Who are responsible for all this? They are, the older generation - Sukarno, Ali, Iskak, Lie Kiat Teng, Ong Eng Die - all of them leaders who should be shot at Lapangan Banteng.

We can still only hope for truth. And the radio still screams out, spreading lies. Truth only exists in the heavens. The world is false, false.’

9 March 1958
‘I said there is no such thing as love (my firm belief) - Marriage is morally nothing more than prostitution by contract every night. Love is nothing more than sexual desire made to appear as something beautiful... Pure love might as well be put in the rubbish basket. It doesn’t exist. It’s just something that is imagined.’

27 May 1960
‘Marriage for me is identical with sexual relations, so it’s also identical with lust. Human beings are conscious of this, but they are embarrassed and are reluctant to admit this phenomenon. They are embarrassed about being compared with their ‘nephews and nieces’. So for me, marriage has no purpose for what is called love with its ridiculous variations. Marriage is driven by biological instincts... For me love is not marriage. About a year or two ago I was sure that love = lust. However, I doubt the truth of that now. I think that there is something called pure love. But this is defiled by marriage. I have already experienced falling in love with certain individuals, and I’m sure this wasn’t lust.’

24 February 1963
‘Throughout the course of the conversation whatever seemed inviting was taken up by Bung Karno, Chaerul Saleh and Dasaad (and Hardjo also it appears) with complete freedom. I felt rather strange...

As a human being I think I like Bung Karno, but as leader, no. How can there be any social responsibility with the state led by people like that? Bung Karno, like Ariwijadi, full of jokes with obscene mobs and with such immoral interests. Especially seeing the pot-bellied Dasaad who is still attracted to pretty girls. He declared that he would also have married a Japanese if he had still been young. Bung Karno said that he wanted something (a helicopter?) as a present and Dasaad said, everything will be fine when the papers are clear...

I only have one impression, I cannot believe in him as a leader of state because he is so immoral.’

16 March 1964
‘If we accept the notion that [Sukarno] is in fact nothing more than a traditional ruler, the problem now is whether we can put the entire future of Indonesia in the hands of a person like this. As far as I’m concerned, clearly not. I also accept Pancasila and Manipol in an honest fashion. However I think these are things that have to be fought for as Indonesia’s ideals. If Pancasila and Manipol are just slogans then it’s a different matter. The problem now is that we must give meaning to these aspirations to achieve the objective of the revolution. Previously Wiratmo had said to Peransi that we are committed to the aims of the revolution but not to the leadership of the revolution. And as members of the younger generation we have to provide it with some content. Wiratmo really tried to do this with his Cultural Manifesto.

When I spoke with Peransi this afternoon, he was also feeling the same way I was. We have grave doubts about whether there is still any point studying, discussing and so on, while the people are starving everywhere. He was gripped by a powerful urge to act, to take an action.

I told him that these problems had also been bothering me several weeks ago. The important thing is to gather together the necessary forces, because if we don’t look after our forces and just continue to study, we will be wiped out by the opposition group. I have already accepted Soedjono’s principles that now we must really marshal our forces. In politics morality doesn’t exist. As far as I’m concerned politics is something that’s utterly dirty, it’s filthy mud. But at a certain moment where we cannot restrain ourselves any further, then we will leap into it. Sometimes the moment arrives, as it did previously in the revolution. And if by some chance this moment comes I’m going to leap into this mud.’

13 January 1966
‘I told the students quite firmly that they were only allowed to drink tap water. Nothing more. From the kitchen I only took the dregs of some coffee. Everything was designed to prevent the impression that we, the students, were thieving drinks. And I wanted to show the Wisma Nusantara staff that in addition to the dancing ‘crocodiles’ that are always throwing their money around in bars, there was also a layer of student society that was idealistic and honest. I think they were impressed. The lemonade that was offered I rejected. We are only drinking tap water, I announced firmly.’

20 January 1966
‘Suddenly the group of students and labourers in the lead circled around behind and led by one big tall fellow, attacked the KAMI line with sticks and stones. The students, unprepared for this, were startled. Several small groups of students outside the line were surrounded and beaten. Furthermore they didn’t hesitate to hit the women. From Letters, Ibu Hendarmin (Archaeology IV) was surrounded and ordered to remove her yellow jacket. She refused and was kicked until her legs turned blue. Elvira Manopo (Elok) was stoned by Kosasih, a Letters student from GMNI-ASU. Judi was also stoned. His head was slightly wounded. From Psychology, Pudji, an ASU member, punched Kartini, a fellow first-year student. I could imagine what would have occurred if at that moment I had met one of the GMNI-ASU from Letters; I would have been beaten for sure, because they really hate me. The ASU supporters shouted out ‘Crush KAMI’, ’Crush the yellow jackets’, ‘KAMI - Kesatuan Aksi Maling Indonesia’, KAMI - rightists’ and so on.’

26 October 1968
‘Father Art Melville mentioned a total of 400 peasants who had been murdered. I was reminded of the 300,000 who died without protest of any kind. For many people this is just a number. For me too. I don’t know the face of one of those victims. But I will always endeavour not to depersonalise this ‘number’. I will always imagine them coming to me. Speaking to me like the soldiers slain in the Civil War spoke to Walt Whitman...

What a lot of injustice there is in this world. Not just in Indonesia but everywhere. In Guatamala, in Vietnam, in the United States, in the Soviet Union, in Czechoslovakia, in Africa and elsewhere. It’s as if the world is a rubbish heap of the lust and greed of mankind. Sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to blow the world up so that it all comes to an end.

But as well as all this we also find people struggling for ideals. Some succeed and become widely respected - Gandhi, Kennedy - but millions sink in the rubbish and are swallowed by time. But more distressing are those who experience disappointment and become consumed by hatred of their opponents. Determined to destroy their enemy’s world and brutal towards all of them. I think the great idealists whether communists, fascists, Black Power activists, or any others are fired by the same ideals. Revulsion against the world’s obscenity and devotion to those who are oppressed. How many are able to survive in defeat? I don’t know about my own future. A successful person? A person who fails in his idealism? And who sinks with time and old age? A disillusioned person who then attempts to terrorise the world? Or a person who fails but who gazes at the setting sun full of pride. I want to try to love it all. And hold firm in this life.’

8 December 1969
‘I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Since I heard about the death of Kian Fong from Arief last Sunday I have the feeling of being constantly aware of death. I want to say goodbye before leaving for Semeru. With G ---- and H ------, and I also want to spend some time alone with I -----. I suppose this is the influence of Kian Fong’s strange and sudden death.’

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