OPINION: Will Indonesia ever grow a Steel Orchid?

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - First we had Margaret Thatcher as the "Iron Lady". Now we have the "Steel Orchid", as Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is sometimes called.

For decades, she was one of the world's most famous prisoners of conscience. Virtually a modern-day saint, she is certainly a democracy icon. An embodiment of courage, grace and determination, she is a symbol of hope and freedom for her people.

But a warning is needed: If you watch The Lady - the sumptuous biopic and celebration of Suu Kyi, starring Michelle Yeoh - bring a towel. I had to make do with my shawl to wipe the tears streaming down my face. It's a very moving film and my own emotions were heightened due to the parallels I saw with Indonesia, as well as my deep empathy, as a woman, for Suu Kyi plight.

The Aug. 8, 1988, "8888" uprising in Myanmar was reminiscent of the May 1998 riots in Indonesia, when violence erupted across the country. These were a reaction to skyrocketing prices of basic necessities, food shortages and mass unemployment. They plunged Indonesia into the worst economic crisis since Soeharto took charge in 1966.

I remember the days before and after Soeharto's resignation on May 21, 1998, following decades of oppression. I was overcome by a gamut of emotions: Elation and jubilation, of course, but also grief at the violent destruction and the toll of human lives, coupled with a deep apprehension about Indonesia's future. Many in Myanmar must be feeling the same way now.

And as an activist who took to the streets in 1998 with the Voice of Concerned Mothers, participating in the first public demonstrations on February 23, I know how scary it is to face the threat of arrest by the military. Suu Kyi's courage, however, knew no bounds. She once even single-handedly faced down a line of armed soldiers trying to stop her holding a party meeting (a heart-thumping scene in the movie).

Suu Kyi (then 43) had until 1988 been living in Oxford, a devoted mother to her sons Alex (then 15) and Kim (then 11), and a loving wife to Michael Aris, a leading authority on Bhutanese, Tibetan and Himalayan cultures.

Returning to Myanmar to visit her ill mother, she was catapulted onto a tumultuous political scene, emerging as a vision of hope for a people at the mercy of a brutal military regime for decades. It was inspiring to witness Suu Kyi fight back, guided by her Buddhist philosophy and "Gandhian" principles of peaceful resistance.

The Lady is also the story of Suu Kyi's heart-wrenching choice between love and duty. The Myanmar general who offered her passage back to the UK told her she was "free to choose" between family and country. "What kind of freedom is that?" she retorted.

There are several poignant scenes in the film where Suu Kyi has to explain to her children why she is remaining in Myanmar, including when her husband was dying of cancer. Suu Kyi remained steadfast, even though it meant not seeing her beloved Mikey one last time.

Telephone calls - albeit made unreliable by Myanmar authorities - were the family's lifeline. Luc Bresson's camera captures minute and telling details of Yeoh's facial expressions during these calls: Her quivering lips and welled-up stare. In this era of SMS, emails and Skype, we forget the joy of receiving a spontaneous phone call from a faraway loved one - the next-best thing to being there in person.

My late husband Ami Priyono (1939-2001) was terminally ill for several years. I know only too well the sorrow of witnessing a once active, creative, charismatic man deteriorating into a ghostly shadow. Ami, like Aris, to use Suu Kyi's words, was "one of the most indulgent husbands who ever lived", selflessly supporting me in my studies (away for years in the UK and Holland), and also in my activism.

While it's painful to see your husband die, it's even more painful not to. Suu Kyi almost faltered, but even on his deathbed, Aris told her not to return to England. I was luckier than Suu Kyi. I was by Ami's side during his dying days - indeed years. In the end, he died in my arms. I'm not sure I could have made the sacrifice Suu Kyi made for her country.

The film could not have been released at a more opportune moment, as Myanmar seems on the brink of democratic reform and Suu Kyi has even managed to get a parliamentary seat. The Steel Orchid's struggle is, however, far from over. Indeed, her party is a tiny minority with internal divisions and no power in the legislature. It also has limited technocratic expertise and few clear policies beyond "democratise". It faces a real risk of being marginalised, or worse still, failing.

After 14 years of Reformasi, Indonesia's struggle is also far from finished. In fact, Besson's film about Myanmar left me wondering whether May 1998 was worth it for Indonesia.

Sadly, no Steel Orchid emerged from our political hothouse. We now lack even a single national leader who can claim real moral authority. The result is that Reformasi is fast becoming "Deformasi", as we slide back into the very same corrupt, power-mongering ways that Suu Kyi is trying to stop in Myanmar.

Let's just hope her supporters don't see Indonesia as their model for political transformation.

The writer is the author of State Ibuism: The Social Construction of Womanhood in New Order Indonesia.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February
    ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February

    Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) sustains its strong sales in its February performance. Toyota’s strong performance last month was due to the  high demand of the Vios, with sales of 2,012 units and of course the rest of Toyota’s line up such as the Fortuner, Innova, Wigo, Hilux, Avanza and Corolla Altis. Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, recorded 60 units last month. …

  • No apology, but Noy seeks understanding
    No apology, but Noy seeks understanding

    There was no apology, but President Aquino yesterday expressed regret, took “full responsibility” and appealed to the nation for “deepest understanding” for the Jan. 25 Mamasapano raid in which dozens died, including 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos. “To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation, it is with abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding,” Aquino said in a speech before the 246 new graduates of …

  • MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician
    MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician

    Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan is grateful for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s praise and presidential endorsement, but says he is not a politician. In an interview on the sidelines of the launch of the search for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines 2015 Wednesday night, Pangilinan dismissed the idea of running for president in the 2016 elections. “I’m not a politician, I’m just an ordinary business person,” he added. Santiago endorsed Pangilinan as a presidential candidate …

  • No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP
    No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not suspending its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, New People’s Army (NPA) and other lawless groups during the Holy Week, an official said yesterday. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said the AFP leadership is leaving it up to area and division commanders whether to raise the alert status in preparation for the Holy Week. Those deployed in areas where there are ongoing law enforcement operations against terrorist groups …

  • Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP
    Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP

    The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to investigate a human rights lawyer’s claim of harassment, including surveillance, by several military officers. In a 22-page decision, the former Special Sixth Division of the appellate court granted the petition for writ of amparo and habeas data of Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon. The CA ordered the AFP to identify the officers behind the surveillance and file charges against them. The CA ruling said …

  • Noy vows to dismantle bata-bata system in PNP
    Noy vows to dismantle bata-bata system in PNP

    President Aquino vowed yesterday to dismantle the culture of factionalism or the bata-bata system within the Philippine National Police as he continued the search for the next PNP chief. Speaking at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) commencement exercises here, the President said the country needed solidarity among leaders and members of the police force so that the policemen would be effective protectors of Filipinos. “Our challenge to the next chief of our national police force: …

  • Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl
    Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl

    Retire and invest in real estate in the Philippines, especially now that the country has made it to the top 10 retirement destinations in the world. This is the message being spread by the Philippine embassy in Washington, with Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. leading the refrain in meetings with various Filipino-American communities in the US. In his talks, Cuisia said that an affordable cost of living as well as warm climate and people are just some of the things that make the Philippines a top …

  • PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson
    PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson

    The stigma of being a namesake of the principal suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre did not prevent Cadet First Class Andal Ampatuan III from entering and graduating from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). Ampatuan III, now with a rank of police inspector, is a grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. The younger Ampatuan was among the 246 graduates of the PNPA “Lakandula” Class of 2015. Ampatuan III’s mother is Bai Rebecca Ampatuan, a daughter of the …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options