Sukarno, appointed Indonesia’s first president 71 years ago today after declaring independence from Dutch colonial rule, is celebrated as a national hero in Indonesia to this day. The man, who was deposed in a U.S. and British-backed coup, was also a prominent leftist thinker and revolutionary.
A leader of the country’s nationalist movement during the Netherlands' colonial occupation, he spent nearly a decade under Dutch detention for his activities. Sukarno was appointed president of Indonesia when the Proclamation of Independence was read in August of 1945.
Signalling the beginning of diplomatic and armed resistance in what became known as the Indonesian National Revolution, the event was the first of many in Sukarno’s aspirations for a world without colonial and imperial rule.
In 1955, Sukarno organized the Bandung Conference, which was attended by the leaders of several newly independent African and Asian states. Set up in response to the U.S.-created Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, which was established in order to “contain communism," the conference united the countries of the global south in their resistance to neocolonialism.
“For many generations our peoples have been the voiceless ones in the world. We have been the unregarded, the peoples for whom decisions were made by others whose interests were paramount, the peoples who lived in poverty and humiliation,” Sukarno addressed the crowd at the conference. “Then our nations demanded, nay fought for independence, and achieved independence, and with that independence, came responsibility.”
The conference resulted in the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of states that didn’t align themselves with any major power bloc in order to ensure their national independence and fight imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation and domination.
The formation of NAM, Sukarno’s trips to the Soviet Union and China, his move to nationalize many Dutch private holdings, and his support of the Indonesian Communist Party—which was the largest communist party outside of communist countries—triggered Washington’s drive to intervene. And thus began the CIA’s concerted effort to stamp out any communist influence in Indonesia.
On Sept. 30, 1965, after the kidnapping and murder of six army generals by rebellious Indonesian officers, Major General Suharto launched a counterattack accusing the PKI of orchestrating the killings. With the economic, technical and military assistance of the CIA, as well as the instigation of a British covert operation and psychological warfare strategy, Suharto began a mass purge of PKI members, sympathizers and their families. Known as one of the biggest “bloodbaths” of the 20th century, one that killed nearly 3 million people, it was regarded by Washington as a victory over communism.
Soon after the purge, Sukarno's presidency ended in 1966 with the military coup takeover by Suharto, whose pro-Western military dictatorship ruled the country till 1998.
Although Sukarno’s efforts were thwarted by imperialist's maneuvers that sought to destroy him, he is still remembered as the defiant leader who sought to create a world without oppression. The NAM still exists today and Sukarno has undoubtedly become synonymous with the independence of Indonesia.