On April 19, 250,000 Indonesians paid public homage to the memory of Sutan Sjahrir, the Sumatra-born socialist leader of the early Indonesian Republic and its first premier. He had spent the last four years of his life as a prisoner of President Sukarno, that sinister, aging buffoon, because he had opposed the authoritarian spirit of Sukarno’s “guided democracy.” Released in 1965, his health broken by a series of imprisonments under the Dutch, the Japanese, and then his compatriots, Sjahrir was a stricken man who had already lost his power of speech. A few weeks later he died in a Swiss hospital.
How bitter a commentary the parallel careers of Sjahrir and Sukarno form upon the destiny of Indonesia! Both had been leaders in the nationalist movement, and when Indonesia achieved independence, the two men were for a brief moment collaborators in trying to create a new nation. But soon it became clear that they were utterly different in spirit and quality. Sjahrir believed in the validity of Western political and cultural values as these would be adapted to an Indonesian context; he opposed the mindless xenophobia which Sukarno made into his special mark and which is often a prop for the authoritarianism tha...
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