If I could recall any political event that changed the entire Indonesia when I was in my teen age, it would be the event in 1998, in which the second president of Indonesia, Soeharto, after 32 years of ruling, was forced to step down.
I live in a small village in one of Yogyakarta’s municipalities. When I was a kid, this village was so remote that it was so difficult to find any bus going from the city center to this place after 5pm in the afternoon or during the holiday. It is almost impossible to imagine that the event outside this village could affect the people in so many ways.
A year before he stepped down, monetary crisis had hit many countries in all over Asia and my country, Indonesia could not get away from it as well. Everything turned to be really expensive and after years living in a corrupt government, this crisis had found its way to become a momentum to fight for freedom.
A demonstration was started by the university students around their campus in Jakarta and finally spread in all over Indonesia. For almost a week, huge numbers of students in my city, Yogyakarta, went to join the movement as well. For days, if you passed the streets in the province, you could see hundreds of university students were demonstrating. My sister had just started her university life and lived in a boarding house in town and I just started my senior high school year when the demonstration when it happened. I remember my dad seriously asking my sister not to join the movement and checking her almost every single day just to make sure that she was okay.
Few days after the demonstration begun, it decided to break into the parliament. It was when 4 university students were shot in their way to the parliament that everything turned ugly.
After so many years of frustration living under a corrupt leader, the shooting accident seemed to be a momentum for people to release their anger. From the tv, we were watching in horror when people broke into stores, stealing and burning everything in our capital city, Jakarta. Many Chinese people were forced to leave the country to save themselves. The masses seemed to need somebody to blame and they decided to blame the Chinese because most of them were rich and owned many important business.
It was in the morning of May 21, 1998 that Soeharto finally decided to step down. Hundreds of students from all over Indonesia who were still in the parliament building during the announcement, hysterically jumping into the fountain in front of the parliament to express their happiness while many others were shouting in unison, crying, waving Indonesian flag and singing the Indonesian anthem. It was as if the freedom was finally come. ‘Hidup Indonesia! Merdeka!’ (long live Indonesia! Freedom!) were things I could hear from tv.
For people in my village, though, there is no such a thing. Nothing changed much for them except the fact that life is getting more difficult afterward. We were in recession for years and everything are getting more and more expensive every single day. If you asked them now, they would tell you that they like to get back in Soeharto’s era.
For me, though, I could barely remember what I felt during that day. If you ask me now, I think I am relieved that it happened. I am relieved that my country could finally lift the first curtain of oppression. Yet, like so many occasion where you remove one curtain, you get to see many things hidden beneath it coming out and it does not always interesting to watch. We are nowhere to get close to have good governance. For some reasons, the corruption is getting worse. Yet, I could see hope as well. A Hope for one day, like those students in the parliament in the morning of 1998 felt, freedom! And I hope, one day, I could really feel that ‘ long live Indonesia’ finally has its meaning.