Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Indonesia: Rise of the student democracy movement

Indonesia: Rise of the student democracy movement (1997)

Green Left Weekly's JO BROWN talked to ROBBY HARTONO, an activist with the People's Democratic Party (PRD) in Indonesia who recently toured Australia, about the role that students are playing in the struggle for democracy in that country.

Question: What issues are important for students in Indonesia?
They are the basic everyday issues such as the need for affordable education. State universities cost students around 180,000 rupiah for one semester, while a private university is even more expensive, maybe 1 million rupiah a year. [Workers in Indonesia earn about Rp4000 or A$3 per day].
We also protest against the commercialisation of education, and against military intervention on campus. If we have a political discussion or a demonstration, the military or the police will intervene, sometimes even ban the discussion and disperse the group.

Question: How do students organise on campus?
It is difficult for us to form independent organisations on campus because of the repressive "five political laws", one of which states that in every sector of society there is only one organisation that is recognised by the government. For students, that is the government-appointed University Student Senate (SMPT).
Independent student councils existed until 1978, when they were banned. We are trying to form them again now. The formation of the student council at Gajah Mada University in December 1994 was the first, then other universities like Diponegoro University in Semarang and University of Indonesia in Jakarta formed student councils. The government still doesn't recognise these organisations, but the most important thing is the recognition from students themselves.

Question: After Suharto came to power in 1965, student political activity was restricted. How did the new student movement grow?
Early in the 1970s, there was a radical student movement and independent student organisations. The government considered these organisations very dangerous because they voiced the people's problems, so they banned them, declared the "normalisation of campus life" and established a "campus coordination body". After this, there was no political activity among students. Students became apolitical and focused only on their studies.
In 1989, the government formed the SMPT, saying it would provide a forum for student political activity. However, it was not a real student organisation, and students continued to be very apolitical. They formed some discussion circles or study clubs, but never held public protests.
In the early 1990s, we began to encourage students to form small committees on some campuses and organise small actions around local issues like student welfare.
We began to link together individual student activists and student organisations on many campuses across Indonesia. In 1995, representatives from these organisations held a congress in Bogor and established a national student organisation, Students in Solidarity with Democracy in Indonesia (SMID).
SMID now has 11 branches in big cities in Indonesia, and is preparing to establish more branches. The political aim of SMID is a popular, multiparty democracy in Indonesia.
To achieve this, we mobilise students and the broader masses around local issues like school fees, military intervention or the need for independent student organisations. SMID also demands the repeal of the Five Political Laws and the dual function [public political role] of ABRI, the armed forces, and a referendum for East Timor.
There are a few other student organisations that are openly critical of the government, but these don't demand radical change in Indonesia; they only want democratic reforms.

Question: What sort of alliance is there between students and workers?
Before the 1990s, the student movement isolated, only taking up issues related to students. We encouraged them also to take up the people's issues, to form alliances with workers and peasants and other oppressed sectors of society. We realised that the student movement will change nothing otherwise.
In 1994 we had an action in Bogor in West Java in alliance with workers, mobilising 14,000 workers from Great River Industries. We also had an action with the peasants in East Java in 1994. In 1995 we made alliances with workers in other industrial areas like Jakarta, Bogor, Tanggerang, Bekasi and also in Sritek factory in Solo.

Question: What was the role of the student movement in starting to build organisations among workers?
We consider that the combination between students and workers is very good, because the students have political knowledge, the background in political theory and other questions, while the workers are militant and radical. These two forces are very strong when they are united.
We sent some students from SMID into workers' communities. It is impossible to have ongoing strikes and demonstrations if they don't have organisation to unite their struggle around common demands.
Most workers' demonstrations are spontaneous, with only immediate economic demands. So we explain to the workers that they also need political demands -- the right to organise, to form an independent union, to a free press and to popular multiparty democracy; and this means that they need organisation.
Finally, with this understanding among the workers we can form the PPBI, the independent trade union affiliated to PRD.

Question: What role do students have in the movement for democracy?
We respond to the government's suppression of democracy. Recently the student movement focused its activities to support Megawati [Sukarnoputri, ousted leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party], especially during June and July last year before the government crackdown.
After July 27, about 20 members of SMID were arrested. Five members are facing the charge of subversion [carrying the death penalty] because of their involvement in PRD. SMID is one of the mass organisations affiliated to PRD. After the crackdown, the government accused PRD of being behind the riots, although a week later they changed the accusation by saying that SMID and PRD are communist.
The government have no proof. But the government accusations are due to SMID and PRD support for Megawati.

Question: After July 27, is it more difficult for SMID to organise?
The government began hunting down members of PRD and its affiliated organisations. All members of SMID were forced into hiding to avoid capture, but we still organise the students on campus underground.
Most students and Indonesian people in general are sympathetic towards PRD and don't believe the government accusations that PRD is communist. They don't believe it, or if they do, they still support PRD.
Recently, there are many new students who apply to be members of SMID. We are more popular than ever! It is difficult for SMID to work openly. In many cities we form new student organisations. In Yogyakarta we form PPD or Youth Fighters for Democracy, and in Jakarta we have the FBMD or Forum for Student Democracy Fighters, which can continue the political program of SMID.
These new organisations have already held demonstrations, and had members arrested, then released. The first demonstration after July 27 was in November in Yogyakarta at Gajah Mada University (UGM), around the issue of freedom of the press, which doesn't exist in Indonesia. We mobilised around 1000 students. A week later another demonstration was held about military intervention on campus. Around 3000 students attended out of 30,000 at UGM.

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