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The Struggle for Independence

The political task of the 20th Century was the construction of a new Indonesian nation the size and scope of Srivijaya and Majapahit. At least some Indonesians became highly educated and familiar with western ideas such as liberalism and socialism. As a result in the early 20th century nationalist movements were formed in Indonesia. They began clamouring for independence.

National consciousness emerged gradually in the archipelago during the first decades of the twentieth century, developed rapidly during the contentious 1930s, and flourished, both ideologically and institutionally, during the tumultuous Japanese occupation in the early 1940s, which shattered Dutch colonial authority. As in other parts of colonial Southeast Asia, nationalism was preceded by traditional-style rural resistance. The Java War, joining discontented elites and peasants, was a precursor. Around 1900 the followers of Surantika Samin, a rural messiah who espoused his own religion, the Science of the Prophet Adam, organized passive resistance on Java that included refusal to pay taxes or perform labor service. Militant Islam was another focus of traditional resistance, especially in Sumatra.

Indonesian nationalism reflected trends in other parts of Asia and Europe. Pilgrims and students returning from the Middle East brought modernist Islamic ideas that attempted to adapt the faith to changing times. Other influences included the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885; the Philippine struggle for independence against both Spain and the United States in 1898-1902; Japan's victory over tsarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), a major challenge to the myth of white European supremacy; and the success of Kemal Ataturk in creating a modern, secularized Turkey after World War I on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Revolution of 1917 also had a profound impact, reflected in the growth of a strong communist movement by the late 1920s.

Then in 1940 the Germans occupied Holland. In 1942 the Japanese invaded Indonesia. The last Dutch troops surrendered on 8 March 1942. At first the Indonesians welcomed the Japanese as liberators. However they soon grew disillusioned. The Japanese were brutal and they ruthlessly exploited Indonesia's resources. Yet when the Japanese were losing the war they started to favor Indonesian independence, hoping to make the Indonesians their allies.

National consciousness was not homogeneous but reflected the diversity of Indonesian society. Dutch repression and the shock of war from 1942 to 1945, however, forged diverse groups into something resembling a unified whole.

Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945. Young Indonesian nationalists were determined to assert the countries independence before the Dutch could return. A group of them kidnapped two nationalist leaders Sukarno and Hatta. On 17 August Sukarno declared Indonesian independence. He became the first president and Hatta became vice-president. The Dutch were not willing to let Indonesia go so easily. At first British troops landed in Indonesia. They tried to remain neutral although there were armed clashes between the British and Indonesians in places. By November 1946 the British were gone and the Dutch had landed many men in Indonesia.

In November 1946 the Indonesians and Dutch signed the Linggarjati agreement. The Dutch recognised the new republic, but only in Java and Sumatra. They still claimed the rest of Indonesia. Furthermore the agreement stated that the republic would join a federal union with Holland in 1949. Not surprisingly neither side were happy with the agreement. The Dutch built up their strength in an attempt to retake all of Indonesia. In the summer of 1947 they invaded the independent areas. However they were forced to withdraw, partly because of Indonesian resistance and partly because of strong international condemnation (especially by the USA).

In December 1948 the Dutch tried to retake Indonesia. This time the Indonesians turned to guerrilla warfare and they were successful. The Dutch faced strong condemnation from powers like the USA and they realised they could not win the war. Finally on 2 November 1949 the Dutch agreed to recognise Indonesian independence. Their troops withdrew in December 1949.

At first independent Indonesia was a parliamentary democracy. However in February 1957 President Sukarno introduced a new political system, which he called 'Guided Democracy'. The power of parliament was reduced and his own power was greatly increased. His opponents formed a separate 'parliament' called the PRRC (the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia). However the army remained loyal to Sukarno and he stayed in power. In October 1957 the army took over the remaining Dutch companies in Indonesia. As a result the army grew wealthy.

In the early 1960s the economy faltered. There was very rapid inflation. In September 1965 the Communists attempted a coup in Indonesia. They murdered a number of generals. They also seized strategic points in Jakarta. However General Suharto quickly took action. The coup was crushed. Suharto was granted powers by President Sukarno to restore order. After the coup Suharto arrested and executed a large number of communists. However Sukarno lost support and on 11 March 1966 he signed over his presidential powers to Suharto. From 1966 Suharto ruled as a dictator (although there were elections held every five years democracy was a facade). However Suharto brought stability and under him the economy of Indonesia recovered.

From the 1960s reserves of oil in Indonesia were exploited. After 1973 Indonesians benefited from the high price of oil. Agriculture also became far more productive. However most Indonesians remained poor and in 1997 Indonesia was hit by a financial crisis. As a result the economy contracted. Indonesia was hit by riots and Suharto resigned in May 1998.

Democracy returned to Indonesia with elections, which were held in 1999. In 2004 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno was elected President of Indonesia. At the beginning of the 21st century the Indonesian economy began to recover and by 2007 it was growing by as much as 6% a year. So there was reason to be optimistic about the future of Indonesia.

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Page last modified: 18-04-2012 19:22:34 ZULU