Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Challenging a Home Country: A Preliminary Account of Indonesian Student Activism in Berlin, Germany

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Challenging a Home Country: A Preliminary Account of Indonesian Student Activism in Berlin, Germany

Article excerpt


The political position of students (mahasiswa/i) in Indonesia has been a determining factor at key junctures since the colonial era. This was most evident in the course of the downfall of Suharto in 1998 (Aspinall, 2005; Botz, 2001, p. 39; Eklof, 2004, p. 297), as Indonesian students not only played a critical role in their home country, but some of them living abroad also contributed remarkably to this change in leadership. Already during Dutch colonial rule, Indonesian student associations in the Netherlands were engaged in struggling for the independence of Indonesia. For instance, Mohammad Hatta through Perhimpunan Indonesia (Pi, Indonesian Student's League), Syahrir, and many others who studied in the Netherlands were active in persuading the international community to lend their support to the independence of Indonesia (Mrázek, 1994; Rose, 2010).

This paper seeks to highlight the activism of Indonesian students in Berlin from the 1960s until today. in order to do so it poses the following question: How have Indonesian students abroad organized their political activism, built networks, and sustained consistency in order to express their critical stance towards events at home? in particular, the article focuses on Indonesian student activists in Berlin-based campaigns between the 1970s and today: What issues have been preferred, what media used, and what networks established? Finally, this paper also illustrates nuances between the activism of secular student movements and religion-based student activism. The current capital of Germany is the center of this article's analysis since most Indonesian students in Germany, estimated to number perhaps a thousand, currently reside in Berlin.1

This study is based on written documents (published and unpublished), interviews and conversations with former and current student activists, and on personal participatory observation with former and current students who lived and studied in Berlin from 2010 to 2013. This set of written material and oral histories allow for a closer insight in the activism of Indonesian students abroad.2


Student activism refers to a series of collective actions outside learning and educational undertakings, which are oriented towards contributing to the change of unjust political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding them. in many countries, the targets of their opposition are the entrenched, ruling regimes (Weiss, Aspinall, & Thompson, 2012, p. 1). The political and historical position of student activism in the process of social and political change of any country is of utmost importance. in the Republic of China, for example, students in the 1990s spearheaded protest movements against the authoritarian ruling regime, while in Indonesia, student demonstrations successfully forced Suharto to step down from presidency in 1998 (Aspinall, 2005; Eklof, 2004; Vatikiotis, 1994; Wright, 2001). Similar to the student movements in their home country, Indonesian student activists in Berlin remained focused on and critical of the politics in their home country. This section highlights the activism of Indonesian students in Berlin, Germany, between the 1970s and the fall of Suharto in 1998. Prior to this, especially in the post-colonial era of Indonesia, many student organizations were established abroad, but their activism did not have any discernible impact on the domestic politics of their home country.

The information regarding the first Indonesian students who arrived in Berlin is both scarce and not particularly clear; several names have been mentioned as the early generation of Indonesian students who came to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the 1960s. Regardless, there certainly was an Indonesian student presence in the GDR, most of whom were sympathetic to the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI, Indonesian Communist Party), such as Soebronto K. …

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