11/07/2012, 00.00
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Independence leaders Sukarno and Hatta become 'national heroes'

by Mathias Hariyadi
After 67 years, the two leaders were recognised today at the presidential palace. Different in personality but united in their desire to achieve independence for the nation, Bung Karno and Bung Hatta promoted and defended the secular character of the state. However, one of the darkest pages in the history of modern Indonesia hangs over the first president, who died under house arrest.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Sixty-seven years after the proclamation of independence, Indonesian authorities have decided to recognise President Sukarno, better known by his nickname 'Bung Karno', and his vice president, Mohammad Hatta, also known as 'Bung Hatta" as the founding fathers of the nation. The announcement came yesterday afternoon at an air force base in East Jakarta but the official proclamation is set for today at the presidential palace.

Djoko Suyanto, Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, yesterday welcomed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, back from a mission to Great Britain and Laos, where he took part in this year's Asia-Europe Meeting.

During the welcome ceremony, Minister Suyanto with the president's approval announced that the government had decided to grant the first two leaders of independent Indonesia the title of fathers of the nation.

Sukarno, father of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, was born in 1901 in a Javanese-Balinese family. He died in 1970 after spending his last years under house arrest with limited contacts with the outside world, including his family in the wake of one of the most controversial decisions taken by his successor, General Suharto.

A Muslim, Sukarno had studied civil engineering. He had a strong and flamboyant personality and was a good speaker as well as a notorious Don Juan, as evinced by the women in his life, including many wives.

Like the president, Vice President Mohammed Hatta was a Muslim. Born in West Sumatra, he graduated in economics from a Dutch university. Unlike his leader, he always took a low profile. He was not talkative but was smart and had a sharp mind.

Both were patriots and nationalist. Although devout Muslims, they both were in favour of a secular state, which was reflected in the first draft of the nation's constitution, the Jakarta Charter (Ind. Piagam Jakarta).

Their view was shared by Christian nationalist leaders, including Catholics, from the eastern provinces of the country, who also played an important role in formulating the country's basic values and drafting its founding charter.

However, 50 years ago in 1965 one of the darkest pages in the history of modern Indonesia unfolded when a number of generals accused of planning to overthrow President Sukarno were arrested and executed .

Their failed coup stemmed from Sukarno's increasing megalomania and despotism as well as his growing sympathy for Communist movements and states like the Soviet Union, mainland China and North Korea, adversaries of the United States during the Cold War.

On 30 October 1965, President Sukarno had seven army generals executed by his loyal followers and members of the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI).

A few months later, general Suharto overthrew Sukarno's government and took over the government, becoming the new president in 1967.

The new regime carried out a bloody crackdown against Communists, killing some two million Communists and leftwing supporters between 1967 and 1971. He also consolidated Indonesia's alliance with the United States.

Some historians believe that the current government's decision to grant Sukarno and Natta the title of "national heroes', which as some well-informed sources suggest could be extended to General Suharto, is part of a strategy to put to rest old animosities and divisions and boost national unity.

However, why former President Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur and a friend of the country's Christians, has not been equally recognised as 'national hero' is unclear. Even though no one has taken such a step, the late president is someone who clearly deserves it.

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