For Indonesia, the wave of student protests in 1998 that ousted Suharto from the presidency and ushered in the Reformasi Era was a ground-breaking event that brought about sweeping changes over the following decade.
These changes included freedom of the press, a more open and dynamic economy and society, and strides toward democratization, like direct elections and greater regional autonomy.
On the other hand, Indonesia has had to deal with problems like escalating sectarian conflict, rampant corruption and increasing public disillusionment with the country’s proliferating political parties.
One of the most consistent chroniclers of those times is Indonesian documentary filmmaker Tino Saroengallo, whose acclaimed 2002 documentary “Tragedi Jakarta 1998 — Indonesian Students Movement” is regarded as one of the most definitive accounts of those times.
Time hasn’t changed his commitment to the cause of Reformasi, and he has revisited the subject in his recent documentary “Setelah 15 Tahun” (“After 15 Years”).
“The film reflects the necessity of constantly reminding the Indonesian public about the events of 1998 and our aspirations for change,” said Tino, who has released the movie in cities including Jakarta, Makassar and Solo.
“The movie will do wonders for, among others, [the 1998 student activists] who sold out the cause [for jobs as legislators]. Hopefully if they see it, it will remind them of their lost idealism.”
Hosted by actor Tora Sudiro, “Setelah 15 Tahun” assesses the progress of Reformasi to date.
The film employs contrasts to get its point across, making good use of Tora’s tongue-in-cheek delivery, shocking newly released footage of policemen and soldiers brutally quelling student riots, new data and anonymous sources. These elements make the film a powerful and scathing indictment of how the struggle for change stalled following Suharto’s downfall.
“The students failed to consolidate their movement after Suharto fell. Only he fell, but not his government. As a result, the present day is merely the second part of Suharto’s New Order regime,” said one source, an anonymous economic analyst.
“The government also failed to take action against Golkar, Suharto’s political machine. This, more so than any other measure, enabled the old political elite to hijack Reformasi and take over once more,” said another source, a former student activist.
“Many parties that will contest next year’s presidential elections, like Gerindra [Great Indonesia Movement Party], Hanura [People’s Conscience Party] and the National Democrats [NasDem], are merely Golkar’s offshoots.”
Other sources, including a labor activist and the mother of a student shot and killed during a protest in Jakarta, see complicity from the political elite in problems including sectarian conflicts and appropriating Indonesia’s gross domestic product, which stood at nearly $1 trillion last year.
Tino defended his use of anonymous sources. “I chose to convey the sources’ professions instead of their names, as they represent wide sections of Indonesian society,” he explained.
“The [sources] do not feel threatened in any way, all the more so as much of their data are well-known facts. I just want to make them more generic. Specifically for the student activists, I want to emphasize their current professions, whether they be academics, journalists and so on, so as to highlight their idealism.”
One of the sources who kept their faith is defense attorney Rizki “Kiki” Rahmawati.
“I’m not surprised if the perpetrators of human rights violations like the Trisakti and Semanggi massacres were not brought to justice. After all, the court system here is extremely defective,” said Kiki, a Trisakti University alumnus.
“In my line of work, I have to deal with the police, prosecutors, judges and the whole legal apparatus. All I can say is that I only deal with them, but I won’t be as corrupt as them.
“My work [as a defense attorney] also helped me retain my idealism, no matter how much of an uphill climb that it can be sometimes. It also helped me move on from the events of 1998 in following years,” added Kiki, who was wounded during the May 1998 riots that killed four of her fellow students, an event that proved a catalyst for Reformasi.
For his part, Tino defended his decision not to include those suspected of complicity in the Trisakti and Semanggi massacres.
“ ‘Setelah 15 Tahun’ is a forum for those who saw or suffered from state-sponsored injustices, and are idealistic enough to do something about it. If Prabowo [Subianto] and Wiranto disagree with me, they can make their own film response. They have enough funds to do so.”
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on June 9, 2013