Sunday, August 16, 2009

Soekarno, the first President of Indonesia

Sukarno, born Kusno Sosrodihardjo (6 June 1901 – 21 June 1970) was the first President of Indonesia. He helped the country win its independence from the Netherlands and was President from 1945 to 1967, presiding with mixed success over the country's turbulent transition to independence. Sukarno was forced out of power by one of his generals, Suharto, who formally became President in March 1967.
The son of a Javanese primary school teacher, an aristocrat named Raden Soekemi Sosrodihardjo and his Balinese wife named Ida Ayu Nyoman Rai from Buleleng regency, Sukarno was born as Kusno Sosrodihardjo in Blitar, East Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Following Javanese custom, he was renamed after a childhood illness. He was admitted into a Dutch-run school as a child. When his father sent him to Surabaya in 1916 to attend a secondary school, he met Tjokroaminoto, a future nationalist. In 1921 he began to study at the Technische Hogeschool (Technical Institute) in Bandung. He studied civil engineering and focused on architecture.
Atypically, even among the colony's small educated elite, Sukarno was fluent in several languages. In addition to the Javanese language of his childhood, he was a master of Sundanese, Balinese and of Indonesian, and especially strong in Dutch. He was also quite comfortable in German, English, French, Arabic, and Japanese, all of which were taught at his HBS. He was helped by his photographic memory and precocious mind. Sukarno once remarked that when he was studying in Surabaya, he often sat behind the screen in movie theaters reading the Dutch subtitles in reverse because the front seats were only for elite Dutch people.
In his studies, Sukarno was "intensely modern," both in architecture and in politics. Sukarno interpreted these ideas in his dress, in his urban planning for the capital (eventually Jakarta), and in his socialist politics, though he did not extend his taste for modern art to pop music; he had Koes Plus imprisoned for their allegedly decadent lyrics despite his reputation for womanising. For Sukarno, modernity was blind to race, neat and Western in style, and anti-imperialist.
In early 1929, during the so-called Indonesian National Revival, Sukarno and fellow Indonesian nationalist leader Mohammad Hatta (later Vice President), first foresaw a Pacific War and the opportunity that a Japanese advance on Indonesia might present for the Indonesian independence cause. In February 1942 Imperial Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies quickly overrunning outmatched Dutch forces who marched, bussed and trucked Sukarno three hundred kilometres to Padang, Sumatra. They intended keeping him prisoner, but abruptly abandoned him to save themselves.
The Japanese had their own files on Sukarno and approached him with respect wanting to use him to organise and pacify the Indonesians. Sukarno on the other hand wanted to use the Japanese to free Indonesia: "The Lord be praised, God showed me the way; in that valley of the Ngarai I said: Yes, Independent Indonesia can only be achieved with Dai Nippon...For the first time in all my life, I saw myself in the mirror of Asia."

Subsequently, indigenous forces across both Sumatra and Java aided the Japanese against the Dutch but would not cooperate in the supply of the aviation fuel which was essential for the Japanese war effort. Desperate for local support in supplying the volatile cargo, Japan now brought Sukarno back to Jakarta. He helped the Japanese in obtaining its aviation fuel and forced labor conscripts, called sukarela in Indonesian and Romusha in Japanese. Sukarno was lastingly ashamed of his role with the romusha. He also was involved with Peta and Heiho (Javanese volunteer army troops) via speeches broadcast on the Japanese radio and loud speaker networks across Java. By mid-1945 these units numbered around two million, and were preparing to defeat any Allied forces sent to re-take Java.
On November 10, 1943 Sukarno was decorated by the Emperor of Japan in Tokyo. He also became head of Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI), the Japanese-organized committee through which Indonesian independence was later gained. On 7 September 1944, with the war going badly for the Japanese, Prime Minister Koiso promised independence for Indonesia, although no date was set. This announcement was seen, according to the U.S. official history, as immense vindication for Sukarno's apparent collaboration with the Japanese. The U.S. at the time considered Sukarno one of the "foremost collaborationist leaders."

Following the Japanese surrender, Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta, and Dr. Radjiman Wediodiningrat were summoned by Marshal Terauchi, Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Southern Expeditionary Forces in Saigon. Sukarno initially hesitated in declaring Indonesia's independence. He and Mohammad Hatta were kidnapped by Indonesian youth groups to Rengasdengklok, west of Jakarta. Finally Sukarno and Hatta declared the independence of the Republic of Indonesia on August 17, 1945. ( )

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