Shades of Grey
A Politic Memoir of Modern Indonesia 1965-1998
When this reviewer first read the title Shades of Grey by Jusuf Wanandi, I thought: this does not sound like him. Previously, I had thought that for Wanandi, it was all black or white, interlaced with a few lusty expletives. Grey just did not come into his color scheme.
On reflection after reading Shades of Grey, I thought: yes, I think I now understand this title. Being a Chinese Catholic growing up in mercantilist, Muslim Minangkabau, you had to see things in grey, to be flexible, to be ready to seek common ground but at the same time maintain personal focus and determination: just like his political activism and exactly like his tennis game which he regularly plays today agile and combative and deadly when up on the net.
This book is an essential read for anyone interested in modern Indonesian politics. It covers a span of over half a century and manages to remove some of the multitudes of wayang (shadow puppet plays) within the many wayangs of Indonesian politics over that period of 50 years. In fact, it is almost an impossible task to cover this period in 295 pages, but somehow Wanandi has done it.
It is the memoir of a remarkable Indonesian during remarkable times in Indonesia's history a mighty survivor! Wanandi covers six major epochs in which he was intimately involved.
Of course, there is a significant section on foreign relations, a favorite subject of Wanandi's, and his principal focus at CSIS. Inevitably, there are interwoven accounts of relations with the likes of General Ali Moertopo, and General Benny Moerdani and the key roles they played in this period. Also, there are a number of potted critical commentaries on various prominent players in the Suharto regime.
Prior to the 1965 coup, the direction of Indonesian politics was patently clear an accelerating move toward the communist left, massive workplace demonstrations, nationalization of foreign rubber plantations and oil companies, strong anti-western attitudes even in the streets, a totally wrecked economy with a raging black market and a life expectancy of 47 years.
On May Day 1965, Jalan Thamrin, Jakarta's main street was bedecked in red bunting and massive red hammer and sickle statues standing about 15 meters tall down the median strip from Monas to the Hotel Indonesia round-about a clear sign of what was to come. The only glimmer of hope was offered by President Sukarno's charismatic but nugatory speeches, while PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) membership grew to a claimed 20 million, making it the largest communist party in the world.
Reading Wanandi's book, one marvels at how events during the 1965 coup and its aftermath played out, with Suharto cautiously, calculatedly and gradually coming out on top of the political turmoil wanting to be seen as moving constitutionally with Wanandi's and his cohorts' counsel.
Wanandi is modest about his role in the MALARI riots in 1974, where this reviewer thinks he played a more active role in basically protecting Suharto against General Soemitro's grossly un-Javanese public presidential aspirations.
It was interesting to note Wanandi's initial early role in starting to direct Indonesia toward the release of the PKI detainees, which commenced in 1978, and helping to dull the Carter administration's criticism of Indonesia's human rights abuses.
One area where this reviewer would have liked to learn more was the relationship between Indonesian Catholics and the wider international Catholic church. In the mid-70s, as one critic put it "The Indonesian Catholic Church has become the conscience of the Indonesian Government and not the conscience of the Indonesian people."
On the Timor incorporation, Wanandi is gentle about Australia's conflicted position. On one hand, Australia pragmatically endorsed the takeover in geopolitical terms, but on the other hand internationally claimed to be a responsible member of the UN on colonial self-determination and domestically had to consider their many veterans who were bravely assisted by the Timorese escape from the Japanese invaders in World War II.
The estrangement of CSIS from President Suharto is well described and also explains Suharto's folly of no longer trusting those who supported him to gain the presidency. This ultimately led to his downfall in 1998. This reviewer feels this distancing probably started earlier than when Wanandi's states. In the early 1980's, palace officials were wickedly saying CSIS was an abbreviation for "Cina Senang, Indonesia Susah" the Chinese are happy and Indonesia is in trouble.
There is only one profanity in the whole book which Wanandi's editors did not expunge, probably on purpose, thus making it authentic and vintage Wanandi!
Shades of Grey is a good read and may require a follow-up. Equally, it challenges the likes of Wanandi's political mentor, Harry Tjan Silalahi, to put pen to paper and write his memoirs.
*The reviewer is a long-term resident of Indonesia and an observer of Indonesian affairs.
By T. C. Scott*
No. 49/12, July 31, 2012