Their hero: Journalists Tarman Azzam (second right) and Bambang Wiwoho (right) give copies of 34 Journalists Speak About Pak Harto to former Pertamina chief AR Ramli (center) and former ministers Maftuh Basyuni and JB Sumarlin during a ceremony on Thursday. Antara/Ali Anwar
More than 15 years after the downfall of Soeharto, the nation’s authoritarian leader for 32 years, his family is pressing ahead with plans to remember the glory days of the so-called “smiling general”.
In their latest push, Mercu Buana University, run by Soeharto’s half brother Probosutedjo, published a book entitled 34 Palace Journalists Talk About Pak Harto, about reporters on the presidential beat during Soeharto’s rule.
Senior journalists from outlets including the Sinar Harapan daily, Tempo newsweekly, Angkasa Magazine, TVRI, RRI, and Antara, contributed to the 355-page book, reminiscing about Soeharto at the peak of his power.
The launch coincided with the 46th anniversary of Soeharto’s rise to power on March 27. Unsurprisingly, nothing controversial was revealed.
“The decision to publish this book is not solely based on the emotional connection and personal interest between Mercu Buana University and Pak Harto,” Soeharto nephew and Mercu Buana University rector Arissetyanto Nugroho said. “We have a nobler cause. We want to tell the backstory that people have never heard before.”
Cosmas Batubara, who was appointed to several ministerial appointments during the New Order, said that the book shed new light on Soeharto, who he said had often been portrayed as villain following his resignation in May 1998.
“The palace journalists never wrote the news about Soeharto as a party adviser — he clearly separated his tasks as a national leader and as an adviser for Golkar,” Cosmas said in an apparent jab at President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who recently took over the Democratic Party that he founded.
The book is only the latest in a series of efforts from Soeharto’s family to present their view of history. On March 1, the family inaugurated a monument to the president on a 3,800-meter plot of land in Kemusuk Lor hamlet, in Bantul,
The inauguration coincided with events to commemorate a famous and daring six-hour assault on Dutch forces in Yogyakarta on March 1st, 1949, led by Soeharto, then a lieutenant colonel.
At Kemusuk Lor, there are dozens of photographs and other pieces of memorabilia showing Soeharto’s life from his birth to his death in 2008.
Probosutedjo was reportedly behind construction of the Rp 10 billion monument and has announced plans to establish more monuments to Soeharto, including one at his former residence on Jl. Cendana, in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
According to Arissetyanto, it’s about time that Soeharto had his own dedicated memorial.
“Bung Karno already has his own museum in Blitar, Arissetyanto told The Jakarta Post, referring to founding president Sukarno and his burial place in his East Java hometown.
“I think its time for Pak Harto to have his own memorial, so the public can see the house where he was born in the small village in Kemusuk.”
Things would not stop there, Arissetyanto said. “We have a plan to renovate and if possible place monuments in several places, including some of schools where he was educated,” he said.
“We have no priorities as to which places would be renovated first, and we have not set any targets for when the museums and monuments should be finished,” Arissetyanto said.
“Our aim is to inform the public that Soeharto spent a lot of his time at these places, and that could take quite a while to accomplish.”
Separately, Asvi Warman Adam, a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said that the family’s edifice complex was part of a campaign to bestow the title of National Hero on Soeharto, something for which they petitioned the Social Affairs Ministry in 2010.
“The series of events, extensively organized by Soeharto’s family members, have been aimed at telling the government that Soeharto was the country’s father of development. Their goal in the short term is to force the President to grant him a national hero title,” he told the Post.
“Their long term goal is political, as Tommy has been preparing himself to join the country’s politics,” he said, referring to Hutomo Mandala Putra, the youngest son of Soeharto.
Tommy was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in July 2002 for hiring two men to kill a Supreme Court justice. (nad)