Fri, 14 Oct 1994

Sukarno fell victim of his political vision

A recently launched book written by former ambassador Manai Sophiaan has sparked a controversy on the role of former president Sukarno in the 1965 coup. Noted historian Onghokham looks into this issue.

JAKARTA (JP): Recently there has been a renewed and heated debate on Sukarno's involvement in the attempted coup of the so- called Sept. 30 Movement and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

From the latest publications, including a book by Manai Sophiaan and the government's white book, Sukarno's direct involvement in the coup was never proven, nor is there any evidence of his direct involvement in the coup attempt itself. In fact both the White Book as well as Manai's book Kehormatan Bagi Yang Berhak (Honor for the One Who Deserves It) showed that Sukarno was not involved in the coup itself nor had any knowledge of it beforehand.

This non-involvement should not be confused with suspicions or prejudgments of Sukarno's involvement in the coup attempt. A prejudgment, probably strengthened by his pro-PKI policies after the coup, might be interpreted as pro the movement. I believe this latter part to be undeniable, these are the facts of history. Nevertheless Sukarno's different roles in September 1965 and after should be kept separate, at least seen from a historical and non-political point of view.

First of all, what was the Sept. 30 Movement of 1965? The coup leader, Lt.Col. Untung commander of the palace guards, usurped the power of the president and Great Leader of the Revolution, as he was called at the time. The coup declared the cabinet dissolved and formed a Revolutionary Council. The coup, however, claimed that it took action in order to save the revolution and its Great Leader Sukarno from a "Council of Generals" who planned a counter-revolution.

At the same time the Sept. 30 coup movement captured and killed six top Army generals including A. Yani, chief of the army, S. Parman, chief of intelligence, and others, while the defense minister, Gen. A.H. Nasution barely escaped. His young adjutant, Lt. P. Tendean was killed though and also Nasution's little daughter. The coup plot claimed that the action was necessary in order to clean the army of counter-revolutionaries.

Although the Sept. 30 Movement was a coup against the Sukarno government by its act of usurpation of power, public suspicions immediately fell on Sukarno because for months there had been tensions and conflicts between the palace and the army leadership. Since May there had already been the issue of the so- called Council of Generals whose existence as a policy making body was denied by the army. Then there were the rumors and gossip of the so called Gillchrist (British ambassador) letter to the American Ambassador, discussing "our local army friends".

Up to now there is no evidence that Sukarno had any knowledge or involvement of the Sept. 30 Movement. It is indeed unthinkable that a president would make a coup against himself, as his involvement in the Sept. 30 Movement would have meant. Sukarno was above all no adventurer, throughout his life he seemed even a bit wary of physical adventurism, as shown by his refusal to join the guerrilla forces in 1948, among others things, when the Dutch occupied Yogyakarta.

Sukarno's role in the Sept. 30 Movement became more pronounced when he tried to protect the air force high command and the PKI leadership from involvement or from being tainted by the Sept.30 Movement. And they certainly were, if not involved, then at least tainted in some way or another. Its historical truths are still heavily debated among scholars. More important as far as immediate politics were concerned was the army's wrath over Sukarno's policy of protecting the guilty and suspects of the Sept. 30 coup movement.

Where the air force was concerned, some compromise solutions could be found. The air force high command was dismissed and new acceptable commanders found. However, when youth demonstrators and the army demanded the dissolution of the PKI the president refused to do so, although it would have been politically wise to do so.

Since 1926 Sukarno had a vision of a united struggle of Indonesians, consisting of the three political forces of that time: Nationalists, Religion and Communists, against colonialism. In short the communists were an essential part of his revolutionary dreams. In his old age, in bad health and a policy of isolating his country from the west through his anti- imperialist confrontations, Sukarno chose to stand for his visions rather than being an opportunist. He disappeared in a tragic way from the national and international scene which was probably his moment of true greatness. Indeed the revolution ended without the realization of his vision.

In the current Cold War and post communist world one should be able to evaluate Sukarno's pro-communist attitudes dispassionately.

The writer is a former staff lecturer at University of Indonesia.

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