Sun, 11 May 2003

Heroes of reform sad, let down by current govt

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In Jakarta and other cities across the country, five years ago this month, loud, massive street rallies organized by students were the order of the day.

With students claiming to be the vanguards of the democratic reform movement, and taking the position as the pivotal engine leading to the downfall of Soeharto, many people saw the repetition of the student movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Romanticism returned for a heroic moment after more than 30 years under a repressive regime.

As if they had no time for fatigue or boredom, the students rallied night and day, even under heavy downpours and scorching sunlight.

The protests were considered much more widespread compared to the demonstrations in previous decades. They peaked on May 12, when security personnel shot into a protesting crowd of students outside Trisakti University in West Jakarta.

Four students were gunned down and died as martyrs. The shooting triggered widespread anger. Dreadful riots with thousands killed plagued most of the country, in the days that followed.

Most students who were involved in the 1998 movement, condemned the ugly violence and now look back in despair today at the high price paid for Reformasi, or Reform. In addition to the political and economic recoveries that have yet to really happen, improvement in social order and people's welfare has also been going at snail's pace, despite the tenures of the three, supposedly reform-minded presidents, who have succeeded Soeharto.

When first asked for an interview, Rama Pratama, former chairman of the University of Indonesia (UI) Student Senate, said former activists were fed up with the whole reform issue.

"Year by year we can only talk about it. Why don't you just find a copy of the statement I made last year," he remarked.

He humbly refused a lighter interview for the profile page by stating, "This movement, with all its success and failures, is a collaborative work. I don't deserve it."

Rama was not the only one irked by the progress of reform. Haris Rusli Moti -- formerly chairman of the People's Struggle for Reform (KPRP) in Yogyakarta -- could only ask, "Is this (subject) a must?"

"I believe that none of my friends feel they were the heroes or winners of the 1998 struggle ... most of us are just plain saddened with the way it's all going now. Many of today's politicians and bureaucrats still need to make good on their promises."

Both Rama and Haris have since graduated, from UI and Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University respectively, and now lead "normal and very ordinary" lives.

They shared the opinion that the 1998 movement had its success and failures, both of which they must now live with.

"Reform has merely become a buzz word now. It used to mean something quite powerful. Now I feel it is hollow inside whenever I hear it. Only a few people really can understand how hard it was to start such a mass movement at that time, and have to deal with seeing friends being beaten and shot," said Haris who was born in Ternate, North Maluku in 1975. His mother suffered a stroke when she heard that he had joined the movement, and his father stopped sending him money.

"We have failed because we couldn't safeguard the result of our movement. We trusted in many of our elders, who we now see are, in fact, political amateurs. We put our trust in the wrong people. They were supposed to fix the system for a better nation ... not simply bicker over their own interests," Haris said in reference to the supposedly reform-minded politicians who are currently in power.

Rama, however, refused to blame his fellow activists for the current shortcomings, but made it clear that they did their part in the whole process.

"As a moral force, students can only pressure until the initial objective is achieved. But after that we can do nothing. In a practical sense, we must keep our distance from the power holders to maintain neutrality," he explained.

"Status as a student is not an everlasting one. We must face the reality that we must also go on with our lives. We can't stop at that point just for our idealism and become a student forever," said Rama, who is now establishing a private firm with some of his colleagues.

While Haris continued his "political career" as the chairman of the Democratic People's Party (PRD), Rama only maintains limited contact with others in the movement, including many current student activists.

Meanwhile, political expert Hermawan Sulistyo said a review of the reform movement would not be complete if everyone forgot the heroes outside the capital, but nonetheless added that the current results of it all were still far from satisfactory.

"It's sadly ironic that we were defeated -- not only politically, but we've also been morally marginalized ... People now say reform is bad and that it has made people suffer."

He predicted that the country probably would not experience another phenomenon like the 1998 movement, mostly because there were no more common enemies.

"The movement's romanticism has faded away. It's gone," Hermawan said.

"Now student demonstrations are safeguarded by police. Romanticism in the movement is just not there. We just don't have anymore adrenalin," he said.