National Heroes Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 10. The date comes from the Battle of Surabaya in 1945 between pro-independence Indonesian soldiers and the Dutch, or Nederlandsch Indie Civil Administratie (NICA), troops with support from British troops. The battle is regarded as the heaviest single battle of the revolution and became a national symbol of Indonesian resistance.
One of the key figures celebrated on National Heroes Day is Sutomo, or Bung (elder brother) Tomo.
Bung Tomo played an important role in the Battle of Surabaya He was famous for his numerous impassioned speeches and radio broadcasts.
But only in 2008, 27 years after his death, the government bestowed the title of National Hero on Bung Tomo.
It is lamentable that national heroes frequently do not get the respect and recognition they deserve. To some of us, National Heroes Day is just one of numerous large celebrations or public holidays on the annual calendar. It is surprising that National Heroes Day is celebrated on such a scale, but sometimes for meaningless purposes.
Nobody denies the fact that National Heroes Day instills a heightened sense of patriotism and passion for the nation. But have we thought for even a moment how laborious and torturous it was to actually be there on the eve of the Battle of Surabaya 65 years ago?
Do we have any idea about the precious sacrifice by Indonesian soldiers and people, or the brilliant strategy and ingenuity of Bung Tomo in his speech to the people of Indonesia? Do we even have an inkling of remembrance for those people during the actual celebration of the day on Nov. 10? Frankly, we have not gone far or deep enough in our recognition and appreciation of the sacrifices of our unsung heroes.
At this moment, we need to be aware of other heroes who also deserve our respect and honor, such as senior citizens. Respecting them will help us to respect our own history. Abandoning them means leaving our history and identity behind.
The government, through the Social Services Ministry, could start off with a family program to care for senior citizens. It would ensure that senior citizens are constantly taken care of, while emphasizing the involvement of their families, the community and volunteers.
The program is in line with the Madrid International Plan on Ageing, which contains a number of goals, objectives and commitments such as ensuring that senior citizens receive sufficient financial aid and have the same rights and access to social services.
Another goal is the elimination of gender-based discrimination and the provision of opportunities for individual development, self-fulfillment and well-being throughout life.
This is through, for example, access to lifelong learning and participation in the community. People should recognize that older people are not a homogenous group, and ensure they get social protection.
It is hoped that a program such as this would give senior citizens the opportunity to mingle with each other and benefit from life experiences that are not available in books or through formal education, as they can be a valuable resource.
Any effort to honor other Indonesian heroes will be in vain without getting over a major stumbling block, that is, thieving and lying politicians. It is hard to find and produce heroes while people are busy politicking, especially in elections at the local or national level.
Heroes are not voted in. Elections will not give rise to heroes who will save our homeland. Times of crisis create heroes. Even reformers, if they “say yes” to running for office and campaigning with the hopes to be voted in, will become politicians by day and diminish as reformers along the way.
This is crystal clear as many of our political leaders have appointed their sons or daughters as candidates for the House of Representatives, and have deliberately put them at the top of candidate lists in order to secure their election.
Our politicians prefer building political dynasties to following people’s wishes.
Heroes strengthen others. They stir nobility in others and provoke heroism within them through their remarkable courage and sacrifice. Heroes are born out of war and great evil. They are not politicians. But even heroes will become politicians if they submit to the rules of politics.
There is still time for politicians to become heroes — thereby going from zero to hero. What they must do is adopt integrity as a collective standard and seek nobility and honor as the people’s birthright. The government, politicians and people need to realize that we have one enemy, an evil in many forms. We cannot turn against one another or there will be anarchy and more bad governance.
The spirit of heroism requires all members of the nation to find strength in our solidarity, in the common vision of the common good and common action that will demand compliance from all quarters. In doing so, hero after hero will rise from among us.
The writer is a lecturer at Andalas University, Padang, and a graduate of the University of Canberra.