'I wish I could get married next year'
Young and rebellious, Budiman Sudjatmiko, is the founder of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), a political party controversially declared during Soeharto's authoritarian administration. The former student of Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University, now 30, has paid for his daring dissenting ideology. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 1997 for subversion and rejected amnesty offered by former president B.J. Habibie in 1998. He was released last year by President Abdurrahman Wahid. He talked about his personal life with The Jakarta Post's Emmy F. Hastuti.
Question: What would you like to change in yourself?
A: I want to less shy. I'm a very shy person. I also want to relate to people on a more emotional and not rational basis. I have this ability but I think I need to use it more.
Q: What do you wish in your personal life?
A: I wish I could get married next year. People have been asking me about it, like, "I hear you are married already" or "When are you getting married?". It's surely not a plan because a plan means preparing resources. I'm still at the level of thinking about getting married.
Q: What type of person would you choose as a soul mate?
A: For sure she has to be mentally healthy. She doesn't need to cognitively understand my struggles but she has to understand my spirit and appreciate my efforts in all what I am doing right now.
Q: Which trait do you most like about yourself?
A: I like my loyalty to what I believe in and my sensitivity and concern toward my surroundings, these are maybe the two traits that have helped me a lot in enduring all the things that has happened to me.
Q: And dislike?
A: If I am in my routine, I sometimes become down. So I have to recharge myself and get busy with other activities. I often run to my books to refresh myself or just talk to my girlfriend, that is surely over a different aspect.
Q: Whom do you admire?
A: My grandfather maybe, and also my childhood playmates.
Q: Do you believe in God?
A: I believe in God, but He who works through people and not through religious leaders. God has worked through the history of people, the nature of laws and also the people's restlessness. God also works as a voice for the mute.
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: Spanish Civil War by Huge Thomas. It is a book about the people of a nation who got their freedom and independence after a long period of oppression.
Q: What is your favorite music?
A: I didn't enjoy rock and pop music in my youth. I like classical music but I also like Eros (Djarot) and Chrisye.
I enjoy listening to keroncong very much and my favorite songs are Anggrek Bulan (Moon Orchid) and Di Tepinya Sungai Serayu (On the Serayu river bank). The latter is about a river (in Cilacap, Central Java) which gives life to farmers and the people. I like that very much, it always reminds me of my hometown in Cilacap.
I also admire Victor Jara, a Chilean musician, who produced a lot of folk songs about his people's struggle against the dictatorship of Pinnochet. His music has inspired the young revolutionists.
Q: What was the last movie you watched?
A: It has the same theme as the last book I read. The film is called The Spanish Girl. A very good film on the people who are in political euphoria, confused people with euphoric norms. There was also a pair of lovers who wanted to get married but the priest was found dead. He had committed suicide...but they decide to marry themselves anyway.
Q: What three things would you take with you to a desert island?
A: My books, cassettes and letters from my girlfriend.
Q: Do you ever think about changing your appearance?
A: Absolutely not. The way I dress is always like this. I don't need a tie, even for official functions I prefer this look. I enjoy how I look right now. Except if I am looked for (by security personnel) then I will let my hair grow and probably sport a moustache.
Q: What makes your life worth living?
A: I have spent 15 years of my life now struggling for other people. I have planned, designed and arranged steps to make changes, not only to my life but also to my surroundings. I really want to get involved in and not only witness the changes. Yes, it is my spirit and my struggle that make it worth living. Some (wishes) have been attained, including to topple Soeharto. But we still have to push hard for the better.
Q: Which famous person, dead or alive, do you admire?
A: A Filipino activist, Edgar Jopson. An activist in the 1970's, he was from a well-to-do family, religious and antiviolence. He was once the chairman of the Philippines People Council. During Ferdinand Marcos' era, he was chosen as the most outstanding young man. He believed that a change could be attained peacefully through gradual steps. His efforts failed though. Being a political dissident, he was wanted by the regime, so he ran away with his wife to a mountain. He then organized labor and struggled as a guerrilla. He was shot near his hideout. He died as a martyr.
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Sayur asem and satay Padang
Q: Is there anything you regret about your life?
A: No, my life is a process of understanding circumstances and situations. In my childhood, I mingled with farmers and children whose parents worked in factories but later I moved to a bigger city in Bogor. There I got along with middle class children. I realized the social gap but I am able to live in both totally different situations. I wish I can bridge the two different lives, so my experience will not be wasted as a personal experience as others can also learn from mine. From the books on geography, history and politics that I read at that time, I began to understand this situation was a product of the injustices by the power holders.
Q: What would you do if you have the power to change things for others?
A: The first thing I will do is cut ties with the past, meaning our predecessors who were corrupt and unjust. I'll bring them to justice. I will also take sides with the victims, all victims of the past.
Q: What are the qualities of a good friend?
A: Genuine friendship is always followed by sharing common and mutual concerns. My fellow jailed activists are those among the category. It is a process, a long one.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
A: I want to be remembered as a person who was loyal to the end. As a person who remained on his track to attain his dreams and wishes. The dreams may not all come true, as some may fail.