This Karnoval’s not over
On 6 June in 1901, first president Soekarno was apparently born in Surabaya, though that’s contestable. He died 69 years later and is buried about 170 kilometers south of the East Java capital in the city of Blitar where his family once lived and where some believe he first saw the world.
In 1970 nervous authorities reckoned this resting place was far enough from Jakarta to ensure the tomb of the Proklamator of Independence could not become a shrine and rallying point for resistance against Soeharto, the man who grabbed the top job after a coup d’état five years earlier.
For a while the isolation tactic worked. But once Soeharto had been dethroned in 1998 the people of Blitar set about reinstating their favourite lad’s reputation as the nation’s founding father. Duncan Graham reports from Soekarnoville, aka Blitar.
There have been several standout decisions made during Indonesia’s Independence history.
Using Bahasa Malay (instead of Javanese) for the new nation’s language was a uniting masterstroke. So was the concept of accepting Pancasila (five principles) as a State ideology instead of a statement specific to one faith.
The third was not embalming the body of Bung (brother or mate) Karno and putting him in an icy mausoleum, like Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi. Had that happened Blitar would be in adulatory overdrive rather than third gear, though accelerating.
A grand museum has been built near the grave and for the past 15 years June has been proclaimed Soekarno Month. This year it started on the evening of 31 May with a carnival of weird and even weirder floats, like the one from the Archives Department that featured a flag of a filing cabinet, or the Water Supply Department’s phantom taps – hardly a turn-on.
The show then spilled into the next day with serious speeches, goose-step marches, a squadron of Roman legionnaire lookalikes carrying Pancasila tin shields, shouts of Tandyo! (high Javanese for Ready!) and dancers whose incendiary beauty could inflame a reception for Hollywood hots.
“The first of June should be a national holiday to recognize Pancasila Day when Soekarno first talked publicly about the five principles,” said Djoko Harijanto, the former creative director of the parade and still prominent in the organization.
“For us Pancasila and Soekarno are inseparable and this is the time.”
Inevitably many displays featured the first president punching the air, splendid in white suit and black glasses; this is the image that spooked the West fearing a red demagogue was leading the giant new nation leftwards.
Those slack on history, or blessed with enough imagination to fill the gaps, showed Soekarno as scarecrow, supernatural figure, blotchy-faced drunk and everything in between.
Soeharto’s paranoia was misplaced. His predecessor has been celebrated but not deified. A pop-eyed version with internal fluorescent lights braced by a big stick up his backside (which explains the pained features) can’t be taken seriously.
SMP 2 Blitar (Junior High School) teachers Mohammad Ashari, Nurul Purwandari and Suwarno bin Ruslan did better with a Chinese dragon to celebrate ethnic diversity. They followed this next day with a giant fruit and vegie salad of threaded carrots and drooping chilli cooking in the ferocious sun faster than on a gas stove.
“This is part of our studies and we all have to be here,” said science teacher Nurul.
“Pancasila is important, particularly to challenge corruption, though not all in the new generation are interested.”
And not just the students. Hundreds of grey-suited public servants were drafted to appear at the aloon-aloon, the great grass square that features a giant banyan tree at the center of a high-level gazebo.
From this vantage point The Jakarta Post clearly saw scores of bureaucrats sitting, smoking or lounging while a choir sang the national anthem and the Pancasila principles were barked out. Only the more serious and those closer to the official dais snapped to attention.
“I’d like to have P4 (see breakout) reintroduced so everyone understands how vital this document is to the development of our nation,” said Djoko Harijanto. “The principles should be used in everyday life.’
“By recognising and respecting ethnic and religious diversity. We need a nation free from fear where we can accept independent thinking. By building gotong-royong (community self help) so we work together – as we’re doing now.”
Saffron-jacketed Buddhists pushed their own barrow (literally) behind an Islamic group in dazzling white, strong enough to blind a detergent commercial. Their banner read: Pancasila Sakti (divine power).
One group had an unstable ogoh-ogoh (giant papier-mâché ogre). Unfortunately this tailgated a float that stopped suddenly in the heavy traffic as the police had failed to close the roads or control the huge crowds.
The great sabre-toothed monster toppled, and then savaged the nation’s founder with Styrofoam fangs before the fight was broken up. Make of that what you will – sinister symbol, fearsome prediction, or just another stuff-up and chance for a laugh.
There were several bands among the 50 odd (as in all meanings of the word) floats, performing brilliantly, badly and occasionally worse. No-one cared. Pancasila is esoteric stuff, but this night was never going to be cerebral.
Perhaps there were a few foreigners embedded in the five-deep crowds that lined the two kilometer journey from Mayor’s home to office, though none were reported by marshals.
“I regret this,” said deputy mayor Haji Purnawa Bukori, “we’ve got to attract the tourists. I agree this is a marvellously colorful and fun event that many visitors would love to see, but we’re not doing enough publicity. I promise, next year will be different.”
But before then there’s the rest of the month to fill with functions and speeches, culminating on 21 June, the day Bung Karno passed away – though not from Blitar.
Like many aspects of Indonesian history, the origins of Pancasila are the stuff of myth and magic. Some believe the document was dug up by Soekarno in a field behind Pegangsangan Timur in Jakarta, a Moses touch.
The less romantic credit medical doctor Radjiman Wedyodiningrat with the words and the Revolutionary Council with refinements.
These included shifting ‘Belief in One God’ to first place, and deleting a clause that would have made Indonesia an Islamic republic and Muslins subject to Sharia law.
Faith is represented by a star on the coat of arms. A chain symbolizes a just and civilized humanity, a banyan tree for national unity, a buffalo head for democracy with rice and cotton for basic needs.
In 1984 Soeharto imposed a Pancasila indoctrination program for all students called P4. This has now been scrapped, but like Djoko Harijanto, political historian Professor Hariyono (below) thinks the topic should be revived.
He teaches it at Malang’s State University; his latest book Ideologi Pancasila was published in February.
“The problem is that too many just pay lip service to Pancasila, like your disinterested public servants in Blitar,” he said.
“In the past P4 was taught uncritically. Pancasila is important and needed even more than before, but it must be applied to our daily lives. The rule of law must be respected. Why are we still tolerant of criminality?
“Our education is at fault because it relies on students memorizing, not analysing,
“Pancasila has been manipulated by governments. Now it’s time for it to be rejuvenated. Events like those at Blitar make people happy, but no-one is thinking.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 June 2014