Wiji Thukul disappeared 15 years ago this month, along with many others lost in the upheaval of the student-led protests that forced Suharto out of power.
But even before the tumultuous events of 1998, he was already an elusive figure, having been on the run from government forces since 1996 for his political activism with a wing of the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), a socialist-leaning party whose criticism of the New Order regime saw its leaders jailed and its members persecuted.
What made Wiji particularly dangerous to the authorities was the fact that he was a popular poet whose works were considered subversive.
His poems supplied two of the enduring rallying cries for the student protesters: “Satu Mimpi, Satu Barisan” (“One Dream, One Front”) and “Hanya Ada Satu Kata: Lawan!” (“Just One Word: Oppose!”).
As the country marks the 15th anniversary of the fall of Suharto’s New Order and the advent of the reform era, Wiji’s legacy is being revived with Tempo’s publication of an anthology of poems written by the poet during his two years on the run from authorities.
The 49 poems — never before published — were given by Wiji to fellow activist Yosep Adi Prasetyo, also known as Stanley, now a deputy chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
The anthology will be published this week with the title “The Angry Generals.”
The events of 1998 that led to Suharto‘s resignation on May 21 were fueled by widespread social unrest and economic turmoil as a result of the Asian financial crisis.
On May 12, security forces shot at student demonstrators in Jakarta, killing four.
Over the next three days, mobs burned and looted Chinese-owned homes and businesses, killing more than 1,000 people and raping nearly 500.
On May 16, thousands of student activists stormed the House of Representatives and called for Suharto to step down.
The strongman, however, issued a decree on May 18 giving himself the power to take all measures to restore security. But Gen. Wiranto, head of the military at the time, refused to enforce the decree to prevent further conflict.
Suharto was later compelled to announce his resignation in a televised address on May 21 and B.J. Habibie, who had just been named vice president in March, was subsequently named Indonesia’s new president.
In another event to mark the anniversary, the Muara Foundation, a group that advocates humanitarian values in education and culture, plans to hold a series of events under the theme “Literature and Art for Freedom” at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center in Central Jakarta on Wednesday. They will include readings and art exhibitions focusing on freedom and tackling injustice.
“Through this event, we hope to make the society at large aware that literature and art, as cultural products, have to speak for freedom and against injustice,” Okky Madasari, the founder of the Muara Foundation, said on Monday.
“Through the literature and the works of art that we will present, we also hope to raise awareness about the condition of our society.”
The series of events will culminate with the official launch of Okky’s latest book, “Pasung Jiwa” (“Soul Shackles”), which, like her three previous novels, addresses issues of humanity and social injustice.
A theatrical version of “Pasung Jiwa” will also be performed at TIM’s Teater Kecil performance hall.
“ ‘Pasung Jiwa’ looks at the question of individual freedom in the period before and after the start of the reform era. It talks about the discrimination and injustice faced by citizens from all backgrounds,” said Okky, a winner of the 2012 Khatulistiwa Literary Award for her book “Maryam,” which is focused on the persecution of the Ahmadiyah sect.