Yudhoyono’s family: Politics of history


Preparations have been underway for Kristiani Herawati, better known as Ani Yudhoyono, to take over from her husband President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2014.

The truth about this issue will not be clear for the next three years. It is true, however, that a presidential candidate will need to be introduced to the public as early as possible.

Involvement in organizations and public appearances are important, but historical factors should not be left out, particularly when it concerns a daughter of a prominent military officer who led the operation to cleanse the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and its followers back in the late 1960s.

As far as the law is concerned, a daughter cannot possibly be punished for an offense committed by his or her father. It is interesting, however, to note how the mass killings following the 1965 coup attempt are portrayed in the biography of Ani titled Kepak Sayap Putri Prajurit (Wave of the Wings of a Soldier’s Daughter), written by Alberthiene Endah. The book tells us how Ani felt about the biggest mass murder ever in Indonesian history.

It turned out that her father, Sarwo Edhi Wibowo, did not come home on Oct. 1, 1965, when he led military operations in Jakarta, Central Java, East Java and Bali. Communication at the time was not as easy as it is today. There was no news, and her family had to spend many long nights worrying, although her mother remained strong. After a couple of months, Sarwo Edhi finally came home, thin and tired, with skin darkened from days of duty as a soldier.

In the following months, Sarwo Edhi was sent on both domestic and overseas assignments. Ani went to study at the Indonesian Christian University’s School of Medicine in Jakarta. She was a hard-working student and kept organized notes she wrote with her four-color pen. Taking very seriously a task given to memorize the characteristics of the human head, she once borrowed a skull from the university lab and took it home. Her father was shocked when he saw the skull in his daughter’s bedroom.

The fact that Sarwo Edhi was assigned by Soeharto to eliminate the PKI is already part of history.

Sarwo Edhi became an officer with huge popularity after the abortive coup attempt. However, as there must never be twin suns, he was to be given tough assignments away from the center of power.

How could you make a naturally-flowing historical plot? Just include the event of Oct. 2, 1965 as a starting point. That day Air Marshall Sri Mulyono Herlambang took off from Medan to Halim Perdanakusuma to meet Sarwo Edhi and asked him to fly with him on a helicopter to Bogor’s Presidential Palace to meet president Sukarno for an account of the tragedy. Instead of landing at the palace, they headed for Atang Senjaya Air Force Base and took a car to the palace. Sarwo Edhi decided to go to Bogor without asking for Soeharto’s permission, then the Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) chief. Soeharto felt offended because Sarwo Edhi reported to him only after the Bogor visit.

Before the 2009 general election, it was also evident that SBY took advantage of history for the purpose of building his own image. In months leading to the 2009 presidential and legislative elections, Yudhoyono built a monument of history. This project clearly had to do with historical factors and values of the struggle for independence, which the individual behind this grand scheme wanted people to remember, preserve and (purposely) connect him to.

Inauguration of the monument took place on Dec. 15, 2008, in Pacitan, East Java, his birthplace.

Expansion of the Great General Sudirman monument was a historic project. In mid-2008 the President instructed the public works minister, the culture and tourism minister and the commander of
the Indonesian Military (TNI) to start a crash program that had to be completed by the end of 2008.

Heavy machines were procured and army engineers were sent to finish all jobs on scheduled. The Public Works Ministry prepared the necessary infrastructure. The Culture and Tourism Ministry worked with the Center for Armed Forces History to gather historical data to be used for making the relief, as well as for the installation of dioramas planned for the second stage of the project.

In August 2008, a seminar workshop was held in a prestigious hotel in Jakarta to discuss the historic struggles led by Sudirman (1916-1950) and the installation of reliefs depicting the struggles at the expanded monument site. All the reliefs had been scientifically examined and accounted for. The message that the monument wanted to convey was that the capital Yogyakarta was under attack.

Both the president and vice president were detained, but Sudirman would never surrender. Despite his deteriorating health and with only one lung, he waged guerrilla warfare against the Dutch. What would have happened to the Republic if the TNI had not decided to take action at that most critical time?

Why expand the monument in Pacitan? Why not the ones in Purwokerto or Ambarawa? Why feature Sudirman, the founding father of the Indonesian armed forces? SBY’s contenders in the 2009 presidential election included retired generals, but SBY was the candidate who paid the highest respect for the great general. Commemoration of Indonesian Infantry Day on Dec. 15, 2008, in Pacitan, led by the Army Chief of Staff, implied that the military was in support of the President. The project was a success, despite poor coverage as the media were busy reporting other issues.

The politics of image-building also require historical narration, and attempts have been made with greater sophistication than those of the New Order.

The writer is a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.

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