Outline of Modern Indonesian History


1830-    Cultivation System in Java – sugar, indigo, tea, coffee and spices for export replace rice as main crop.  The Dutch reap enormous profits while Javanese farmers suffer greatly under forced labor and taxation.  Local economy undergoes "agricultural involution."

1840-    Dutch rule extended to Outer Islands

1860      A novel Max Havilaar by Multatuli (Edouard Dreuwes Dekker) exposes the evils of the Cultivation System, shocking the liberals.  The Netherlands government declares slavery illegal and clamors for thoroughgoing reforms in the colony.

1873-1903    Thirty-years Acehnese War


1890-      Reforms instigated by Dutch liberals in Holland lead to conflicts with colonial officials, and to a revolution of rising expectations among the "Natives".  This is the setting for Pramoedya's  novels Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind), Anak Semua Bangsa (Child of All Nations), and Jejak Langkah (Footsteps).


1901-1920  The ‘Ethical Policy’ is formally declared by Netherlands government, despite stern opposition by the European business community operating in the colony.  Under the Ethical Policy, which collapsed in 1920, many Indonesians, including Sukarno and Hatta, attended Dutch-operated schools, as did the journalist Tirto Adi Suryo (alias Minke).

1911    Kartini's Letters published in Holland (in Dutch).


1908-1912    The first Indonesian organizations appear.  This is the setting for Pramoedya's novel Jejak Lankah (Footsteps).  

1908 - Budi Utomo movement was the first modern organization in the Dutch East Indies; BU promoted traditional Javanese education as the complement of Dutch-style Western education.

1909 - Sarekat Dagang Islamiah was founded by Jokomono Tirtoadisuryo, upon whose life the fictional character Minke is based.  SDI promoted business and political interests of Native people.

1911 -  Indische Partei became the first political party led by educated 'Indo' population.  

1912 - Sarekat Islam was established as the first Islamic political party.


1920    PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia) formed; Dutch Reform movement officially ends but expectations remain high; Balai Pustaka publishing house established by Dutch liberals; period of "modern Indonesian literature" begins.

1928    All Indonesia Youth Congress held in Bandung, declaring One Country (Indonesia), One People, (Indonesian), One Language (Bahasa Indonesia)


1933    Pujangga Baru (The New Poet), a literary magazine and publishing house, founded by Takdir Alisjahbana, Armijn Pane, and Amir Hamzah.  Aim was to escape Balai Pustaka censorship and develop "a new Indonesian language and culture."


1942    Japanese boot out the Dutch, establish "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."  Dutch language gives way to Indonesian under Japanese and nationalist impulses.

1945-1949    Indonesian War of Independence; literature dominated by Chairil Anwar and "Generation of '45".  Anwar espouses art pour l'art and rejects all other -isms.

1945    Allies return in 1945, attempt to retake Indonesia from the hands of the Resistance Fighters; Sukarno declares Independence on August 17.  Battle of Surabaya is fought Nov.-March, 1945-46; British assist the Dutch but U.S.A. sides with new Indonesian Republic.


1946    Amir Hamzah murdered in peasant revolt against wealthy landowners

1948    The Madiun Affair, a communist insurrection, is defeated by Republican (Siliwangi) troops loyal to Sukarno (cf. novella "Acceptance" by Pramoedya Ananta Toer).

1949    Dutch withdraw under pressure from the U.S.;  Indonesia finally recognized an independent nation.


1950    Gelanggang Testimonial espouses Universal Humanism in literature and society, rejecting both sterile traditions and blind acceptance of everything Western.


1950-59    Democracy fails; Dar'ul Islam opposes Sukarno; conflict of -isms acute; Mochtar Lubis in and out of jail for writing about corruption in government; inflation is rampant.   This is the setting form Mochtar Lubis' Twilight in Djakarta, first published in 1963 in English because the government banned publication in Indonesia.  The novel refers to factual events that occurred between 1950-1957 which contributed to the collapse of Parliament and civil war.


1958    General's revolt in Sumatra and Sulawesi, with clandestine assistance from the CIA headed by Alan Dulles and guided by Vice President Richard Nixon.  Sukarno's military forces strike back and quickly suppressed the rebellion, which is hardly even mentioned in the Western press.


 1959    Parliament falls; democracy declared unsuitable for Indonesian culture; Sukarno declares martial law and institutes "guided democracy" in attempt to reconcile three value systems:  Nationalism, Religion, and Commusism (NASAKOM) while steadfastly declaring neutrality in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile, the country is feared (by the US) of moving to the left:   Communist-inspired LEKRA Preamble declares that Indonesian art must serve "the people's revolution", and the Communist Party (PKI) is clearly gaining strength under NASAKOM policies of Sukarno.

1963    Sukarno's hand-picked delegates elect him "President for life" and he declares "I am the State"; Indonesia adopts Konfrontasi policy in opposition to the new Federation of Malaysia, especially its territories in northern Kalimantan (Borneo); inflation worsens; MANIKEBU is published by "centrist" artist and writers seeking artistic freedom and criticising the narrow political agenda of LEKRA..

1965    September 30 - "the night of the generals".  Attempted coup quickly suppressed by the military lead by General Suharto; in the next year, half a million people--supposedly all communists and suspected communists--are killed or jailed; Pramoedya imprisoned for fourteen years (1965-1979).


1966    "New Order" government under President Suharto declares bankruptcy; receives $5 billion World Bank loan; poet and playwrite W. S. Rendra (The Struggle of the Naga Tribe) leads a new generation of artists and writers (Angkatan '66) favoring new synthesis of traditional values and modern science.


1974    Portugal pulls out of East Timor after 400-year colonial domination; Indonesian government intervenes under pretense that celebrations of freedom by the inhabitants of East Timor are instigated by communists; Suharto's military invades East Timur, apparently supported by U.S. President Ford and Secretary Kissinger, who met with Suharto in Jakarta the day before the invasion.


1974-75    Suharto government again declares bankruptcy owing to waste and mismanagement in National Oil Company (Pertamina); Again World Bank comes to the rescue by providing loan guarantees of 10 billion dollars.


1986    Suharto's wife and sons criticized in the foreign press for monopolizing business in Jakarta; in response, Suharto dissolves seventeen monopolies but leaves most of those owned by his own family untouched.


1991    In October, 422 East Timorese civilians petitioning peacefully for self-determination in Santa Cruz were massacred by Indonesian government troops.  52 U.S. Senators (including now Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee) signed a letter to President Bush protesting the massacre and questioning the pretext of "communist threat" given the recent collapse of communism in East Germany and the Soviet Union.


1992    U.S. Congress cuts off military aid to Indonesia against the wishes of President George H. W. Bush


1993    On March 11, the U.S. under Clinton administration reverses a 10-year policy at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva (UNHRC) and supports a strong resolution criticizing Indonesia over East Timor.


1994    Three major news media (Tempo, Detik, and Editor) are shut down for criticism of official corruption.  Numerous students are arrested and several jailed for a year for criticizing President Suharto.

1997    GOLKAR sweeps elections; Suharto remains President despite crashing economy.  Average per-capita income remains at $500 per year, the second lowest in SEA (just ahead of the Philippines).  Official sources in the US and elsewhere continue to declare Indonesia an "economic success" based on GNP statistics.


                            (And everything is about to get worse ...)


1998    Economy collapses.  Anti-Chinese riots beak out.  IMF promises relief to the tune of $45 billion, but only on the condition that corruption end and many modern reforms are implemented.  Suharto balks.  March 9, 1988, Suharto is re-elected President by unanimous decision of People's Consultative Assembly; B. J. Habibie becomes Vice President.  However, after months of violent rioting and mass demonstrations, Suharto resigns on May 21.  President Habibie assumes power in accordance with 1945 constitution.  This year provides the setting for Seno Gumira Ajidarma's Jakarta At a Certain Point in Time.

1999    Election year.  Habibie attempts to reform the government, and frees some political prisoners.  Violence erupts in East Timor, Ambon, Aceh and elsewhere, but the parliamentary elections are generally considered peaceful, and fair, by most observers.  Golkar is defeated, winning only 22% of the vote.  The party headed by Sukarno's daughter, Megawati, is victorious with 32%; however, with so many parties getting 5% to 10% of the vote, no clear majority is possible.  This means that no mandate emerges in parliament, which must elect a President in November.

November 1999    A religious leader and head of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization (Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)), Gus Dur is elected President by act of Parliament; Megawati is chosen as Vice President.


2000-July 2001    Gus Dur proves an extremely ineffective leader, managing to get himself accused of corruption and scandalous sexual adventures.  His only response is silence; he refuses to offer a single word in his own defense.  Meanwhile the economy worsens.  Finally, after months of drama, Parliament impeaches Gus Dur and removes him from office.  Characteristically, Gus Dur refuses to accept the procedure, claiming he is still the rightful President of Indonesia.


August 2001.    The former Vice-President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, assumes power.  She promised greater autonomy for Aceh but did not encourage Aceh's hopes for independence.  The rupiah rebounds, becoming the strongest it has been since Soeharto fell.  In most respects, however, Megawati is considered a "do-nothing" and "say-nothing" President.  She loses the 2004 election to a former Army general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).


October 20, 2004.  President Yudhoyono (SBY) takes office vowing to end corruption.  He moves quickly to implement a "pro-growth, pro-poor, pro-employment" economic program. He appoints a strong group of economic ministers who announced a "100-Day Agenda" of short-term policy actions designed to energize the bureaucracy.


December 2004.  President Yudhoyono announces an ambitious anti-corruption plan. 

December 26, 2004.  Tsunami in the Indonesian (Indian) Ocean strikes Banda Aceh killing perhaps 200,000.  March 28, 2005.  Earthquake strikes the island of Nias.  Although these events did not significantly change Indonesia’s macroeconomic outlook, the impact in Aceh province was severe and according to the World Bank’s damage and loss estimate, amounted to about $4.5 billion or 97% of Aceh’s GDP. The overall impact on the national economy, however, is expected to be small, only 0.1-0.4% of GDP. Some economists even believe that the large amount of assistance and the beginning of reconstruction may even contribute to additional GDP growth of up to 0.5% in 2005. The large amount of donor funds from both private and public sources is still being calculated, but it is hoped that it will cover a large proportion of Aceh’s reconstruction needs as the government implements its plans. Overall GDP growth for 2005 is expected to be between 5-6%, with steady increases in exports and investment.


February 2005.  The State Ministry of National Development Planning (BAPPENAS) releases a Medium Term Plan focusing on four broad objectives: creating a safe and peaceful Indonesia, creating a just and democratic Indonesia, creating a prosperous Indonesia, and establishing a stable macroeconomic framework for development.