Book Review: Indonesia – Russia Relations

Book title: Sahabat Lama, Era Baru: 60 Tahun Pasang Surut Hubungan Indonesia-Rusia.

Book language: Bahasa Indonesia

Author: Tomi Lebang

Publisher: PT Grasindo Widiasarana Indonesia

Year: I, Juli 2010

Pages: 180 + xx pages

Price: IDR 55.000,-

The Russian Federation is one of a respected superpower and leader of the Eastern Bloc countries in the cold war era (1947-1991). Geographically, Russia is the largest country in the world (17.8 million km), consisting of 11 time zones (compare with Indonesia which only has three time zones). Politically, Russia is a permanent member of UN Security Council, members of Group 8 (D-8), G-20 and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), an alliance of powerful nations in the world besides the United States.

With all its potential and the predicate as a superpower, Russia plays an important and strategic role in various parts of the world, including in Southeast Asia. In this area, Russia played a role in various regional forums and sub-regional Asia-Pacific region such as Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN+Russia, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

With dynamic Russia politics and foreign relations, diverse interactions occur with all partners, including the Republic of Indonesia. Officially, the Indonesia-Russia relations began in 1950 when Russia opened diplomatic representative in Indonesia. Since then, relations between the two countries continue without ever experiencing termination of diplomatic relations. Off course the Indonesia-Russia relations are not always smooth, there are ups and downs.

In this regard, not many people in both countries knew that at one time the relationship between Indonesia-Russia ever so closely, but at other times had cooled. Not too many people know that if Indonesia-Russia relationship has actually been pioneered since the Dutch East Indies era when Russia established consulates offices in Batavia in 1894. Relationships develop when Russia supports the independence of Indonesia in 1948 and opened diplomatic relations two years later.

In order to describe the up and down the Indonesia-Russia relations and to commemorate 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Tomi Lebang, former Tempo journalist, which is fully supported by the Indonesian Embassy in Moscow published a book in Indonesia language “Sahabat Lama, Era Baru: 60 Tahun Pasang Surut Hubungan Indonesia-Rusia  (Old Friend, New Era: 60 Years Up and Down Indonesia-Russia relations).

Three periods Indonesia-Russia Relations

To illustrate the Indonesia-Russia relations, Tomi Lebang mapped up and down Indonesia-Russia relations according to the stages mentioned by Indonesian Deputy Ambassador to Russia Agus Sriyono in his article “60 Years of Indonesia-Russia Relations” which was also published in this book. There are three periods described by Agus Sriyono namely the pairs (1950-1965), the lowest point (1965-1991) and revival era (after 1991).

With such division, so when we read this book we like to see a photo album with pictures placed in a trace. Plus four articles from Hamid Awaludin, Indonesian Ambassador for Russia, which is also a former journalist and Justice Minister, and Agus Sriyono, this book invites readers to see the Indonesia-Russia relations from a broader perspective.

Readers can see that the period of 1950-1965 is the most intimate moment in the Indonesia-Russia relations, marked by personal ties between leaders of both countries, President Soekarno and Russian Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, and the amount of cooperation between the two countries.

How close personal relationships between Sukarno and Nikita Khrushchev can be read from the article’s Ambassador Hamid Awaludin “Old Friends New Era.” Ambassador Awaludin mentioned that in 1955 Sukarno visited the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). In the city which is known for its natural beauty and historic, Sukarno saw blue domed mosque with Central Asian architecture serve as the warehouse by the Russian Communist Government. But when Khruschev asked about Soekarno’s impression, Sukarno said none of any beauty in Leningrad.

In the beginning, Khrushchev was surprised by the statement of Sukarno, how could Leningrad underestimated by Sukarno, who was known love for beauty. But after knowing the reason, Khrushchev understood the attitude of Sukarno, who was disappointed with the transfer function of a blue domed building into a warehouse. After Soekarno returnedg to Indonesia, Khrushchev ordered to restore the function of the building as a mosque.

Besides the proximity of its leaders, the Indonesia-Russia friendly relations are also more colorful and high cooperation in various fields, not only military but also education and culture.

In the military field, Indonesia has been obtained from the Russian military equipment and sending its military personnel to be trained and educated in Russia.

In education, many Indonesian students who receive scholarships from the Government of Russia (known as the official bond or Mahid students) studied various disciplines at various levels of education.

While in the field of culture, some universities in Russia established Indonesian language course and culture. Not a bit of Indonesian literary works are then translated into Russian. Some of them are “Si Kabayan” by Utuy Tatang Sontani, “Siti Nurbaya” (Marah Roesli) or collection of Rendra poems entitled “Stanzas, Psalams, Pamphlets and Other Songs.”

Through this book we can also learn that the historic buildings and monumental in Indonesia, built on Russian aid. The buildings, which until now remains a matter of national pride, among other National Monument (Monas), which became landmarks capital of Jakarta, Bung Karno Sports Center in Senayan and the Statue of Tugu Tani in a triangular park in Menteng.

The intimacy of the Indonesia-Russia relations was disrupted when G-30-S/PKI uprising in 1965. The Government of Indonesia under the New Order, although it was not until broke off diplomatic relations, stopped most of the cooperation with Russia and repatriate all military personnel and Mahid who were studying in Russia. Not only that, all the smelt was branded communist Russia and frightening the people of Indonesia.

Through this book we can also learn that the historic buildings and monumental in Indonesia, built on Russian aid. The buildings, which until now remains a matter of national pride, among other National Monument (Monas), which became landmarks capital of Jakarta, Bung Karno Sports Center in Senayan and the Statue of Tugu Tani in a triangular park in Menteng.

Indonesian communist party revolt in 1965 ended intimacy Indonesia-Russia relations. The Government of Indonesia under the New Order, although it was not until broke off diplomatic relations, to stop most of the cooperation with Russia and repatriate all military personnel and Mahid who were studying in Russia. Not only that, all products from Russia was labeled as communists and frightening the people of Indonesia.

The end of the cold war and the process of globalization brought winds of change in each country. Russian Communist Party collapsed and Russia became more democratic. While in Indonesia the New Order regime shifted during the reform in 1998. These changes re-glue the Indonesian relationship with his old friend Russia. Gesture both marked increase rapport with Megawati’s visit to Russia and the resumption of Russian military equipment purchases. Then a visit to Russia by President Yudhoyono and Russian President Vladimir Putin to Indonesia confirmed  the resumption of a new era of Indonesia-Russia relations.

The future of Indonesia-Russia relations

Tomi Lebang book should be greeted warmly by the international relations observers and society in both countries. In addition to providing comprehensive information about Indonesia-Russian relations, this book also marks the beginning of efforts to strengthen bilateral relations. Various entries contained in this book, for example the need to increase cooperation in the field of education, culture and tourism, can be used as a basis to formulate a more concrete cooperation.

Nevertheless, for finishing this book, especially if the author will publish revision edition, then several improvements would be necessary. For example, in this book are not mentioned Russia’s involvement in the issue of Irian Jaya.

Besides the discussion of the achievements of four Indonesian President Sukarno, Soeharto, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Yudhoyono. President BJ Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) was not mentioned. The writer may thought that due to the short term Habibie and Gus Dur’s presidency, resulting in a lack of achievement worthy of relations with Russia delivered. But a more in-depth exploration of the RI-Russian relationship during President BJ Habibie and Gus Dur will provide added value to this book.

Finally, as an old friend, Russia’s role in the global arena cannot be excluded. This is also in line with President SBY policy to create a million friends and zero Enemy. Russian proverb says Net druga-ishi, a nashol-berogi (If you do not have a friend, find it. If you’ve got, keep it).

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