Activism Indonesia

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Indonesia, May 1998: Students at universities across the country are holding demonstrations, protesting the rule of President Suharto, then in his 32nd year of power. This opposition movement, primarily student-based, began earlier in the 1990’s as government corruption and oppression led to increasing discontent among the population. Shortly after these mass demonstrations took place, Suharto resigned from presidency.

Members of the student senate at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia were gathered to discuss their next course of action when they saw Suharto’s televised announcement that he would be resigning from power. According to Muhammad Chozin, the senate members were shocked by the news. Representing Indonesia’s largest University, these individuals had been a leading force in the student movements that had spread throughout the county.

Chozin, now a first year graduate student at Ohio University, spent almost 5 years as a leading figure in the student opposition movement. He first became involved as an activist in his second year at an Islamic boarding school in Central Java province. To Chozin, fifteen (I’m not sure, but I think It was 16 or 17 years old) years old at the time, it was obvious that changes needed to be made to the current power structure. Looking ahead, Chozin said, he saw little hope in his future. Coming from a peasant family, it would have been difficult for him to attend college, and the hopes of finding a decent job also held little promise. Instead of focusing on a future that seemed hopeless, he channeled his energy into what he could do now to make things better.

(After finished high school) In 1996 Chozin was accepted at Gadjah Mada University to study Fisheries Technologies. However, he admitted that until Suharto’s resignation, he was more focused on his activism than his studies. During his first year of college, Chozin joined the splinter of Indonesian Moslem Student Association (HMI) called HMI-MPO. It is described by Chozin as “a radical, underground student movement established in 1985 against the “New Order” regime under Suharto’s dictatorship.” The organization had a national headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia and several regional and local branches throughout the country. At the low end of the hierarchy were branches within Universities. Chozin joined his University’s branch in 1997, and in 2004 was appointed General Secretary of the National Board in Jakarta. This required him taking some time off from school to fulfill his duties. It also required that Chozin pass through three levels of training: basic, intermediate, and advanced. By doing so, Chozin was then able to train other members. As General Secretary he also spent time traveling to other Universities across Indonesia, speaking to other campus branches.

To compliment the work Chozin was doing within HMI, he also joined student senate during his second year of college. With the backing of the university, Chozin was able to extend his message to a much larger number of people. As he explained to me, if he were only involved in HMI, his audience would be limited to Moslem students who were also members of the organization. As a student senate member Chozin could not only reach a larger body of students, but also represented a much larger and more diverse population when he spoke outside of school. Working within the senate, Chozin was also able to receive funding for his activities and gain valuable media coverage.  In 1997 Gadjah Mada’s student senate organized a mock election at the university. Students were polled and asked only whether or not they would like to see Suharto continue in power. Eighty-two percent of students voted “No,” and the results were picked up by Indonesia’s largest media corporation, Kompas, and broadcast across the country.

According to Chozin, at this time the media was very cautious about publishing any news against the government, but because these results represented the views of students at the country’s largest University, they were given national coverage. Following the reports of this mock election, universities across the country joined in the protest movement, and by May of 1998, demonstrations were being held nationally.

Students, Chozin said, were good candidates for this movement because they did not have the same ties that bind adults. They are without families of their own to support, have no career to walk away from, and therefore, have little at stake in a worst case scenario, compared to their parents. Chozin, who had not seen his family for some years now, said that if he were killed for this cause, there would be no one to miss him.

Insert somewhere:  Chozin said that during the years he was involved as an activist he never held a real job. Traveling from city to city to give speeches, he took a backpack with him and sold Batik clothing. Doing this he was able to make enough money to survive.

Written by Julia Flint

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