As Yogyakarta develops and becomes Indonesia’s second most-popular tourist destination after Bali, the city that is dubbed the heart of Javanese culture is also witnessing its service sector growing, as can be seen in the emergence of numerous nightspots.
Such nightspots have led to the birth of private security services, referred to as preman ( thugs ) or premanisme ( thuggery ).
“Indications are that preman groups are indeed here. Their existence is evident, especially in public places such as markets and bus terminals,” chief of the 0734 Military District Command ( Kodim ) overseeing Yogyakarta city, Lt. Col. Ananta Wira, said.
Following a recent raid on Cebongan Penitentiary by a group of commandos from the Army’s Special Forces ( Kopassus ), who assassinated four suspects that were detained for murdering a former Kopassus operative, criminal activities are sharply decreasing.
“We do not know for sure whether they are cooling down or perhaps preman just disappeared after the raid,” said Ananta.
Premanisme in Yogyakarta is believed to date back to the 1970s with the birth of gangs in a number of villages in the city. Such groups usually run businesses ranging from security, debt collecting to gambling. Their main customers are mostly the management of nightspots.
Years later, preman groups comprised of migrants also began to emerge. They are normally referred to according to their places of origin, leading people to cynically dub Yogyakarta “the city of preman”.
The New Indonesian People’s Movement ( GRIB ), which claims that many of its members are preman, refuses such labeling.
“GRIB was indeed established by Hercules, a former preman. However, we will not defend members who are involved in crime,” said Waljito, chairman of GRIB’s Sleman branch.
Admitting that some GRIB members worked as security guards, Waljito insisted that GRIB was not a group of preman but instead accommodated marginalized and suppressed groups.
Chairman of the Yogyakarta city branch of the Young Generation of the Communication Forum of the Children of Members and Retirees of TNI-Polri ( GM FKPPI ), Simon Nugroho, said that violence in Yogyakarta occurred simply because of friction among different groups of people, with Yogyakarta being a microcosm of Indonesia.
“There are students from various regions studying here, which sometimes lead to friction among them. It is not premanisme,” he said.
“Premanisme is mistakenly understood nowadays. Parking attendants and private security guards are considered to be preman, while they are just working for a living. ”
Chairman of the Security Core Command ( Kotikam ), Harun Al-Rasyid, concurred, saying that as a provider of security services, his organization always interacts with other mass organizations and NGOs.
“We routinely communicate with each other to prevent friction. That way misunderstandings that often lead to disputes can be avoided,” he said.
Separately, Aprinus Salam of Gadjah Mada University’s Center for Cultural Studies expressed disagreement that Yogyakarta has developed into a preman city. “I feel safe living here and so do other people,” he said.
He added that Yogyakarta had a strong culture that was still effective in preventing the people from easily committing violence. The fact that the NGO community was also active in the city could as well further prevent the birth of preman groups.
“If I may speak frankly, the most potential preman groups are the groups that use religion or political affiliation as covers,” Aprinus said.
Friction in the community, he said, was a consequence of the city’s being a microcosm of Indonesia.