Opinion

Who are real heroes of
Indonesia?

Every year on Nov. 10, people of Indonesia celebrate National Heroes Day. Today it is less solemn and more festive day. People may have forgotten the chain of events collectively known as the Battle of Surabaya in 1945, but heroes continue to appear on life’s stage today.

Each day has its own hero, and everyone perhaps is a hero in his or her own way. Despite facing the difficult times, people still have possibilities to shape history.

One may be viewed a hero or heroine due to their extraordinary courage and sacrifice in their attempts to defend the truth. Others may say a hero is a valiant warrior. Those definitions remind us of the late Munir, who was killed on a plane en-route to the Netherlands, or Wiji Thukul, who suddenly disappeared. His poems expressed endless criticism against the government.

Most people who have been enshrined in various pantheons are indeed worthy of the greatest respect, since one’s willingness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country, race, deity, or other institution is testament to a great human quality, whatever the cynics may say.

Hero cults are carefully manipulated and maintained by manifold political and social forces. In Indonesia, for example, heroes have been limited to those officially recognized by the state, although not all of them deserved such a high honor.

The questions now are who are the real heroes in Indonesia? Whose names are Indonesian children supposed to know and which great deeds brought them to fame?  We have past great heroes like Bung Tomo, Mohammad Natsir, Mohammad Hamka, Ignatius Slamet Riyadi, Yos Sudarso and many others. How about now? At the moment, I think the late poet and playwright W.S. Rendra and scientist Yohanes Surya, to mention just two, suit the tag of hero due to their extraordinary work.

Rendra was a genius and exemplary poet. With his social poems, he dared to criticize president Soeharto at the peak of his power during the New Order regime.

When the anti-Japan movement popularly known as the Malari incident broke out in the capital in 1974, Rendra was accused by the government of partly provoking the protest and sowing hatred against the regime.

His play was officially banned. For the next 30 years, Rendra was firmly committed to his clarity of thought and speech, which is rarely found in the behavior of modern politicians.

His heroic attitudes were not merely marked by his courage to express dissent. He is also missed by creative communities in Indonesia since he was a dedicated mentor who was always willing to help younger artists. To him, it was a super team instead of a super man or super woman that would change the world.

We can also find heroism in the life of a respected and well-known Indonesian physicist, Yohanes Surya. For more than a decade, Surya has guided Indonesian students to achieve wonders in science Olympiads. Under his tutelage, Indonesian students have won no less than 80 gold medals since 1999.

Surya accounted for the country’s young burgeoning physicists, urging students not to fear math and physics. While many people scoffed and accused him of being a dreamer for his vision of Indonesian students becoming world champions or winners of the International Physics Olympiad, not only did he succeed in making his dream come true, but also, in developing the so-called semesta mendukung approach, which meant that the universe comes together to support you.

Despite overseas job offers from the US and Singapore, Surya decided to return to Jakarta after finishing his PhD degree in the US.  He wanted Indonesians to become champions at physics and every child in this country to love science and math.

He trained students from Papua who ultimately became world champions at The First Step to the Nobel Prize in Physics, a competition involving scientific research in physics or chemistry. The achievement suggests that Papuans do not lag behind and necessarily leave for Jakarta or Java for a better education so long as they have equal opportunity.

We may seek and look over the lists of people regarded as heroes due to their great contributions to this country, such as national singers, Olympic gold medalists, actors in Indonesian movies, and many others.

They have something in common, that is to say, ordinary people who lived an extraordinary life. They possess virtues, such as courage, that are obtainable by all who are willing to work for them and struggle for goals that all right-thinking men and women desire: peace, prosperity and justice.

Though the ruling authority may not agree with everything that heroes did and the means they utilized to pursue their goals, it cannot be denied that they gave all they had in an effort to do what they thought was right and that their grievances were real.

Too often, national heroes do not get the respect and recognition they deserve, but it is also good to be reminded that there are other heroes who also deserve our respect and honor. When we get to know our heroes, we will be infected by their courage and enthusiasm.

The writer, a graduate of the University of Canberra, Australia, is a lecturer at Andalas University, Padang.

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