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History of Indonesia

History of Indonesia

Table of contents
1 Prehistory
2 Historical times
3 Colonial era
4 Independence
5 Irian Jaya
6 East Timor
7 Sukarno
8 Suharto Era
9 Post-Suharto policies
10 External Links:


Geologically the area of modern Indonesia appeared sometime around Pleistocene period when it was still linked with the present Asian mainland. Areas' first known humanlike inhabitant was a Java man some 500.000 years ago. Current Indonesian archipelago was formed during the thaw of the latest Ice Age.

Indian scholars wrote about Dvipantara or Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra around 200 BC. Taruma kingdom occupied West Jawa around 400. 425 Buddhism reached the area.

Historical times

By the time of the Renaissance, the islands of Java and Sumatra had already enjoyed a 1,000-year heritage of civilization spanning two major empires.

During the 7th-14th centuries, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya flourished on Sumatra. Chinese traveller I Ching visited Palembang, capital of Srivijaya, Palembang, around 670. At its peak, the Srivijaya Empire reached as far as West Java and the Malay Peninsula. Also by the 14th century, the Hindu Kingdom of Majapahit had risen in eastern Java. Gadjah Mada, the empire's chief minister from 1331 to 1364, succeeded in gaining allegiance from most of what is now modern Indonesia and much of the Malay archipelago as well. Legacies from Gadjah Mada's time include a codification of law and an epic poem.

Islam arrived in Indonesia sometime during the 12th century and, through assimilation, supplanted Hinduism by the end of the 16th century in Java and Sumatra. Bali, however, remains overwhelmingly Hindu. In the eastern archipelago, both Christian and Islamic missionaries were active in the 16th and 17th centuries, and, currently, there are large communities of both religions on these islands.

Colonial era

Beginning in 1602, the Dutch slowly established themselves as rulers of what is now Indonesia, exploiting the fractionality of the small kingdoms that had replaced that of Majapahit. The only exception was Portuguese Timor, which remained under Portuguese rule until 1975 when it became East Timor. During 300 years of Dutch rule, the Dutch developed the Dutch East Indies into one of the world's richest colonial possessions.

During the first decade of the 20th century, an Indonesian independence movement began and expanded rapidly, particularly between the two World Wars. Its leaders came from a small group of young professionals and students, some of whom had been educated in the Netherlands. Many, including Indonesia's first president, Sukarno (1945-67), were imprisoned for political activities.

The Japanese occupied Indonesia for 3 years during World War II. On August 17, 1945, 3 days after the Japanese surrender to the Allies a small group of Indonesians, led by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, proclaimed independence and established the Republic of Indonesia, starting the Indonesian National Revolution. They set up a provisional government and adopted a constitution to govern the republic until elections could be held and a new constitution written. Dutch efforts to reestablish complete control met strong resistance. On December 27, 1949, after 4 years of warfare and negotiations, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to a federal Indonesian Government. In 1950, Indonesia became the 60th member of the United Nations.


Shortly after hostilities with the Dutch ended in 1949, Indonesia adopted a new constitution providing for a parliamentary system of government in which the executive was chosen by and made responsible to parliament. Parliament was divided among many political parties before and after the country's first nationwide election in 1955, and stable governmental coalitions were difficult to achieve.

The role of Islam in Indonesia became a divisive issue. Sukarno defended a secular state based on Pancasila while some Muslim groups preferred either an Islamic state or a constitution that included preambular provision requiring adherents of Islam to be subject to Islamic law.

Irian Jaya

At the time of independence, the Dutch retained control over the western half of New Guinea, and permitted steps toward self-government and independence.

Negotiations with the Dutch on the incorporation of the territory into Indonesia failed, and armed clashes broke out between Indonesian and Dutch troops in 1961. In August 1962, the two sides reached an agreement, and Indonesia assumed administrative responsibility for Irian Jaya on May 1, 1963. The Indonesian Government conducted an "Act of Free Choice" in Irian Jaya under UN supervision in 1969, in which 1,025 Irianese representatives of local councils agreed by consensus to remain a part of Indonesia. A subsequent UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia. Opposition to Indonesian administration of Irian Jaya, also known as Papua or West Papua, gave rise to small-scale guerrilla activity in the years following Jakarta's assumption of control. In the more open atmosphere since 1998, there have been more explicit expressions within Irian Jaya of a desire for independence from Indonesia.

East Timor

From 1596 to 1975, East Timor was a Portuguese colony on the island of Timor known as Portuguese Timor and separated from Australia's north coast by the Timor Sea. As a result of political events in Portugal, Portuguese authorities abruptly withdrew from East Timor in 1975, exacerbating power struggles among several Timorese political parties. An self-proclaimed Marxist political party called Fretilin achieved military superiority. Fretilin's ascent in an area contiguous to Indonesian territory alarmed the Indonesian Government, which regarded it as a threatening movement. Following appeals from some of Fretilin's Timorese opponents, Indonesian military forces invaded East Timor and overcame Fretilin's regular forces in 1975-76. Small-scale guerrilla activity persisted after Indonesia declared East Timor its 27th province in 1976, following a petition by a provisional government installed by the Indonesians for incorporation into Indonesia. The UN never recognized Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor and later brokered negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal on the territory's status. In January 1999, the Indonesian Government agreed to a process, with UN involvement, under which the people of East Timor would be allowed to choose between autonomy and independence through a direct ballot.

The direct ballot was held on August 30, 1999. Some 98% of registered voters cast their ballots, and 78.5% of the voters chose independence over continued integration with Indonesia. Many persons were killed in a wave of violence and destruction after the announcement of the pro-independence vote. In October 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) revoked the 1976 decree that annexed East Timor, and the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) assumed responsibility for administering East Timor until it became independent.


Unsuccessful rebellions on Sumatra, Sulawesi, West Java, and other islands beginning in 1958, plus a failure by the constituent assembly to develop a new constitution, weakened the parliamentary system. Consequently, in 1959, when President Sukarno unilaterally revived the provisional 1945 constitution, which gave broad presidential powers, he met little resistance.

From 1959 to 1965, President Sukarno imposed an authoritarian regime under the label of "Guided Democracy." He also moved Indonesia's foreign policy toward nonalignment, a foreign policy stance supported by other prominent leaders of former colonies who rejected formal alliances with either the Western or Soviet blocs. Under Sukarno's auspices, these leaders gathered in Bandung, West Java, 1955, to lay the groundwork for what became known as the Non-Aligned Movement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, President Sukarno moved closer to Asian communist states and toward the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in domestic affairs. Though the PKI represented the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China, its mass support base never demonstrated an ideological adherence typical of communist parties in other countries.

Sukarno opposed the formation of in the Malaysian Federation (Sukarno complained that it was a "neo-colonial plot" to advance British commercial interests). This led to battles between Indonesian troops and Malaysian and British soldiers.

By 1965, the PKI controlled many of the mass civic and cultural organizations that Sukarno had established to mobilize support for his regime and, with Sukarno's acquiescence, embarked on a campaign to establish a "Fifth Column" by arming its supporters. Army leaders resisted this campaign. In September 1965 six senior generals within the military were murdered. Major General Suharto, the commander of the Army Strategic Reserve, blamed the PKI. Suharto proceeded to exploit this situation to seize the control of the country. The army killed tens of thousands of alleged communists in rural areas. The number of those murdered by 1966 was at least 500,000. The violence was especially brutal in Java and Bali.

Seeing the nationalist Sukarno as a threat to their interests, the West was keen to exploit the situation to its advantage. Suharto's portrayal of events as 'communist carnage' was the official version promoted in the West. Christopher Koch's popular novel The Year of Living Dangerously later helped cement this view. Yet a large body of evidence has since emerged that the killings were encouraged by the US and UK governments. According to a CIA memo, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and President John F. Kennedy had agreed to "liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities". In 1990 the American journalist Kathy Kadane revealed the extent of the secret American collaboration with the massacres of 1965-66 that allowed Suharto to cease the Presidency. She interviewed many former US officials and CIA members, who spoke of systematically compiled lists of PKI operatives, which the Americans ticked off as the victims were killed or captured. They worked closely with the British who were keen to protect their interests Malaysia. Sir Andrew Gilchrist cabled the Foreign Office in London saying: "...a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change". According to Australian historian Harold Crouch, "the PKI had won widespread support not as a revolutionary party, but as an organization defending the interests of the poor within the existing system". It was this popularity, rather than any armed insurgency that alarmed the American government. Like Vietnam in the North, Indonesia might 'go communist'.

In his Year 501 - The Conquest Continues Noam Chomsky writes:

In a 1964 RAND memorandum, [Guy] Pauker expressed his concern that groups backed by the US "would probably lack the ruthlessness that made it possible for the Nazis to suppress the Communist Party of Germany... [These right-wing and military elements] are weaker than the Nazis, not only in numbers and in mass support, but also in unity, discipline, and leadership".
Pauker's pessimism proved unfounded. After an alleged Communist coup attempt on September 30, 1965 and the murder of six Indonesian generals, pro-American General Suharto took charge and launched a bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, were slaughtered. Reflecting on the matter in 1969, Pauker noted that the assassination of the generals "elicited the ruthlessness that I had not anticipated a year earlier and resulted in the death of large numers of Communist cadres."
The scale of the massacre is unknown. The CIA estimates 250,000 killed. The head of the Indonesia state security system later estimated the toll at over half a million; Amnesty International gave the figure of "many more than one million." Whatever the numbers, no one doubts that there was incredible butchery. Seven-hundred-fifty-thousand more were arrested, according to official figures, many of them kept for years under miserable conditions without trial. President Sukarno was overthrown and the military ruled unchallenged. Meanwhile the country was opened to Western exploitataion, hindered only by the rapacity of the rulers.

Throughout the 1965-66 period, President Sukarno vainly attempted to restore his political position and shift the country back to its pre-October 1965 position. Although he remained president, in March 1966, Sukarno had to transfer key political and military powers to General Suharto, who by that time had become head of the armed forces. In March 1967, the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) named General Suharto acting president. Sukarno ceased to be a political force and lived under virtual house arrest until his death in 1970.

Suharto Era

President Suharto proclaimed a "New Order" in Indonesian politics and dramatically shifted foreign and domestic policies away from the course set in Sukarno's final years. The New Order established economic rehabilitation and development as its primary goals and pursued its policies through an administrative structure dominated by the military but with advice from Western-educated economic experts.

In 1968, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) formally selected Suharto to a full 5-year term as president, and he was re-elected to successive 5-year terms in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998. In mid-1997, Indonesia was afflicted by the Asian financial and economic crisis, accompanied by the worst drought in 50 years and falling prices for oil, gas, and other commodity exports. The rupiah plummeted, inflation soared, and capital flight accelerated. Demonstrators, initially led by students, called for Suharto's resignation. Amidst widespread civil unrest?, Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998, 3 months after the MPR had selected him for a seventh term. Suharto's hand-picked Vice President, B. J. Habibie, became Indonesia's third president.

Post-Suharto policies

President Habibie quickly assembled a cabinet. One of its main tasks was to reestablish International Monetary Fund and donor community support for an economic stabilization program. He moved quickly to release political prisoners and lift controls on freedom of speech and association. Elections for the national, provincial, and sub-provincial parliaments were held on June 7, 1999. For the national parliament, Parti Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle led by Sukarno's daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri) won 34% of the vote; Golkar ("functional groups" party of the government) 22%; Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP, United Development Party led by Hamzah Haz) 12%, and Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB, National Awakening Party led by Abdurrahman Wahid) 10%. In October 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly, which consists of the 500-member Parliament plus 200 appointed members, elected Abdurrahman Wahid as President, and Megawati Sukarnoputri as Vice President, for 5-year terms. Wahid named his first Cabinet in early November 1999 and a reshuffled, second Cabinet in August 2000.

President Wahid's government has continued to pursue democratization and to encourage renewed economic growth under challenging conditions. In addition to continuing economic malaise, his government has faced regional, interethnic, and interreligious conflict, particularly in Aceh, the Moluccas, and Irian Jaya. In West Timor, the problems of displaced East Timorese and violence by pro-Indonesian East Timorese militias have caused considerable humanitarian and social problems. An increasingly assertive Parliament has frequently challenged President Wahid's policies and prerogatives, contributing to a lively and sometimes rancorous national political debate. During the People's Consultative Assembly's first annual session in August 2000, President Wahid gave an account of his government's performance. On January 29, 2001 thousands of student protesters stormed parliament grounds and demanded that President Abdurrahman Wahid resign due to alleged involvement in corruption scandals. Under pressure from the Assembly to improve management and coordination within the government, he issued a presidential decree giving Vice President Megawati control over the day-to-day administration of government. Megawati Sukarnoputri assumed the presidency soon after.

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