Journal Province: DKI Jakarta Regency/City: South Jakarta Subdistrict: Jagakarsa

In Lenteng Agung, We Shared a Story about an Event 12 Years Ago

The people were sitting on the dome of DPR Building
Written by Otty Widasari
Where were the members of Forum Lenteng in the days before the Reformation 12 years ago? How far that Reformation has achieved its goal all this time according to them? I tried to ask them one by one…

The college student demonstration in May 1998

The college student demonstration in May 1998

Where were you on these days 12 years ago?

Jaka, 19 years old back then:

In Lenteng Agung and was jobless. I was hanging out at the roadside near IISIP Campus, Jakarta. I saw the college students protesting. And the interesting thing to me at that time, more interesting than the demonstration itself, was the fight between the college students who were protesting.

Diki, 17 years old back then:

In Depok, I wasn’t going to school on these days, my father didn’t allow me because he was afraid there would be a riot. And then my grandmother called me. Wearing white and gray uniform, I was told to look for my uncle who went to Gunadarma at that time. I went around! It was very crowded. I even went around the G and H Campus in Kelapa Dua.

What made my grandma very worried was, actually my uncle didn’t like that kind of thing. The demonstrations. But maybe because my grandma watched the news on TV about the demonstration in the days before the D-Day (Suharto’s resignation) and the fact that my uncle often came home late at that time, made her think that he joined the demonstration as well. He was a quiet person, uncomplicated, so maybe he didn’t talk about it. Suddenly there was something like that, it made me think that something was quite strange too.

Now he works at Astra International, in the ACC car credit division. He has already had a child. When he sees me, he thinks that…there were things he couldn’t get in the past. He is jealous. Well…it’s because I pursue whatever I want.

I thought the event of the mass demonstration at that time was really cool, just like when there was a gang fight between my school and STM. They went together, unified. And when they were together they became brave.


Fuad, 16 years old back then (Video Artist):

In Rangkasbitung, safe and peaceful. The most obvious thing was only the significant increase of the price of basic commodities so we had to search for the alternative food, such as vegetables. The event of the riot was just a television program for us, just like the other programs. I only focused on my study at school.

Hafiz, 27 years old back then:

In Cikini. I was jobless then because of the monetary crisis, very poor. Maybe I only had 3,000 IDR in my pocket. Even that, it was the rest of the money I’d got from Dolo (Dolorosa Sinaga, Hafiz’s lecturer when he was in college) a few weeks before. I’d relied on other people’s money before someone asked me to work at Indikator Magazine.

I saw the plunder in Cikini Market, seeing people broke into the stores in that place. And then I went to Kota with Wisnu (my old friend from college). I watched people burn many things. Jakarta was deserted at that time. I’d gone to other places too such as Slipi. There was almost no vehicle on the road. It felt so tense. When Soeharto resigned I was inside the DPR Building, in front of TV. After Soeharto announced his resignation, we all went out of the building yelling. Some were immediately going into the pond in DPR Building yard. I wasn’t one of them. And then we went onto the dome of the building. Some urinated on it. The most amazing thing was the sitting experience on that dome. That was an unforgettable visual and physical experience.

The people were sitting on the dome of DPR Building

The people were sitting on the dome of DPR Building

Acong, 15 years old back then:

In Bekasi, I was in third grade of Junior High School. It was after the national exam, I was gathering together with my friends in one of my friends’ house. He was my teacher’s son. Coincidentally, the center of Bekasi City was not far from my friend’s house. We’d just got the information that in the center of the town there was a riot. So we went to the center of town. We just walked for 200 m when there was a pedicab driver from the opposite direction carrying many clothes, yelling, “Boys, do you want clothes? Take these…!” There were about 10 pieces of clothing that he threw at us.

When we got to the downtown I thought, “Wow, why are these people going into the stores and taking everything? Can I do it too?” Since, at that time was…well, what do you call it? The mass action, right? So, I joined them. Since the nearest store was a badminton equipment store, so what I thought to be taken was… a racket. The brand was Carbonex. Why did I choose the racket? Well, because my friend took the shoes. They were all right shoes. It was impossible. The store was a mess. So, I took the easy one. I didn’t need a pair, right? So, I took the racket. At that moment, I thought, “Wow, this is a chaos.” Not long after that, my friend, the teacher’s son, was called by his parents. At that time, he had already had a cell phone. Finally, not long after that, we went back to my friend’s house. After we watched the TV, we just knew that there was an incident.

At that time, I didn’t think of anything. I just knew that there were people who made riot. I didn’t understand what it was because all I could see was they were angry because of unclear reason. Suddenly they came to the stores, also threw many things at BCA Bank, took everything. I just realized, and this was the clearest one, that there was an employee of BCA upstairs. He had already asked for help, but people locked the front door instead, and then threw many things at the glass windows from outside the building. I didn’t know about his final condition. People still burned the ground floor even though he had already made a gesture with his hands to ask them not to do it.

I just realized about everything when Soeharto resigned. But all I knew was, just that, the president had resigned. What did I see? Since I had not understood yet, had not known the term corruption either, well, I only thought this just came from the people who held grudges.

My parents only said on the phone, “OK, you just stay overnight there, don’t come home” because it was impossible to go home. There was no public transportation, nothing. So I spent the night at my friend’s house. Maybe I started to be aware of politics when I was in high school, when I started to participate in the election.

The mass arrived in great numbers to plunder the shops owned by the Chinese people

The mass arrived in great numbers to plunder the shops owned by the Chinese people

Abe, 16 years old back then:

In Pamulang, at that time I just got home after losing a gang fight against kids from another high school. And then I saw the Ramayana building was very crowded. Many people climbed that building wall. I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought they were also in a gang fight. Later I knew that it was a plunder. I just watched without knowing what happened.

Gelar, 11 years old back then:

In Karawaci. It was in the afternoon, no, morning…my house was still near the village. There was no concrete partition between my housing complex and the village. They were only bamboo trees. In front of the complex, there was Lippo Karawaci Supermall. It had been there for about only a year. My friends there were playing football. I went outside, my friend approached me and said, “Let’s go to Lippo, to plunder!” I got a part as the person who had to wait in front of Islamic (Islamic Center Hospital), so I only had to put the things on the pedicab. I’d gone inside, there was a watch counter. I broke the glass, scooped the watches, put them in the basin. My friend was so stupid. His hand was bleeding because of the broken glass. I played with the high school students, maybe only one or two friends of mine who were my age in my complex. I got football shoes. I’ve worn them for a while. The right and the left shoes were different. I still had those shoes when I played football on the Independence Day. Children in my neighborhood had the different shoes, left and right. It was because of the plunder in that 1998 tragedy.

Some of my neighbors took the refrigerator, some took the magic jar. The most expensive thing I got was a Casio watch, a white Baby-G, which I wore until I was in the high school. After that, my mother didn’t allow me to go outside again. After I came home in the afternoon, I couldn’t go outside the next day. She asked, “Where did you get this?” I answered, “Someone gave me.” His name was Kodir and he was my friend. He also my mother’s student, “Your student gave me this, Mom. He was from Lippo, plundering.”

The pedicab and ojek drivers were a mess. The Chinese people were beaten. There was my friend, Harun. He came from Kalimantan, a Pontianak Chinese. He had a store that was thrown at. A week after that he didn’t show up at school. I’ve never heard about him again. Apparently, his store was scratched. The things inside it were broken. We’ve never heard about him again since then. Nobody knew where he was until today. People said that his older sister, my senior in school, was raped.

Andang, 15 years old back then:

In Pasar Minggu. I just got the yellow card as a proof that I passed the national exam. I was playing basketball behind my house. It was near Pasar Minggu Terminal. There were Robinson and Ramayana. Well, my housing complex was near that place. First, I saw smoke. And then we went there (Ramayana). People had gone outside. They brought mattresses and refrigerators. I didn’t join them, I just watched. I wanted to, but, well, just didn’t. What I felt was I wasn’t afraid just that I thought it was strange. My feeling was flat. My friends from my neighborhood didn’t join them either. Maybe I was a good boy. Strangely, my friends did the same. So maybe my environment didn’t teach me to be naughty considering we lived near a market.

I didn’t watch too much TV. The riot, I didn’t know what it was. But I knew it was the time when people were protesting against President Soeharto. The situation was crowded after that. Everyone woke up and guarded the complex because they were afraid of the plunder. The security post became crowded. Finally, I concluded that there was a connection between Soeharto who was speaking (on TV) and the activity around me. After he spoke, all people cheered. Maybe before the resignation people had still been mad, but I didn’t know what the connection it was with the plunder. However, if the demonstration was at the Palace (DPR) I could understand. I’d already had a little political awareness at that time. But all I thought was about entering the high school. When I was in college I started to understand.


Hmm…there was a riot, there were many victims, you must have a horrific story…

Gelar, 24 years old now (Video Artist):

There was a horrific story in my neighborhood. Children were afraid to pass through that street.

After the riot, the management of Lippo Supermall Karawaci informed us that people who could carry the body of the dead people would get paid 100,000 IDR per body. Since there were many bodies inside, I joined the activity. I went inside with my friends. It was a week after the event. The mall was closed, empty and had a smell of dead bodies. The whole building smelled like dead bodies. There were officers who opened the doors. Finally, all doors were opened and people would get paid if they could carry away the bodies, 100,000 IDR for each body. My friends joined the process. I was outside, afraid. It smelled so bad. I saw the bodies being pulled. They were all burnt. They were put in the cars. I watched the whole process because Lippo Karawaci was very close to my house. Inside that mall, there were bodies everywhere. They were black, burnt and they smelled so bad. Some hands of the bodies were broken when they were pulled. Horrible!

Since that time, there had been a story about ‘Seli’ or ‘Setan Lippo’ (Lippo’s Ghost). One of my neighbors was going home from work. His name was Mas Dabung. He always drove past that place on his way home. It still smelled like dead bodies even though it was more than a month since the incident. The Lippo was opened again a year after that.

He rode a motorbike. There was a smell of dead bodies and something burnt. It was in the evening. In the tunnel, suddenly there was another bike beside him. Mas Dabung didn’t turn his head. He kept going straight. And then, the person beside him spoke, “It still smells, right, Bro?”

Mas Dabung answered, “Yes, it still smells, even though it’s been a long time.” He kept riding. “Where do you want to go?” “Go home.” “What does it smell like, Bro?” asked the stranger again.

Mas Dabung answered, “Well, it smells like dead bodies!”

“Does it smell like me?” the stranger asked.

When Mas Dabung turned his head, the stranger’s face wasn’t clear. He instantly sped his motorbike home. When he arrived at home, his mother was chatting with my mother. He immediately got off the motorbike and ran to his mother, crying. Up until now, the story is still there, Seli…Setan Lippo.

Are there any changes you feel after the Reformation?

Diki, 29 years old now (Video Researcher):

The change I feel after the Reformation is in the people’s mindset and understanding. For example, at my house, my grandma strictly forbade us to say ‘communist’. Around 1995, I watched the movie G30S/PKI on TV at my grandma’s house. I forgot what I said, but I mentioned something about ‘communism’. Suddenly grandma snapped at me, “Don’t you ever say that thing again in my house!” But nowadays, she can chat and tell the story about the migration from Kalimantan to Surabaya, then her journey on the economy train to Jakarta in 1965. She and grandpa took my father. She was pregnant with my father’s brother. She told me how the situation had been scarier. I got the story after the Reformation. The condition in 1965 was so scary and she saw it happen. In 1998, she didn’t feel frightened, but the atmosphere as seen on TV what made her shock. That was why she said, “Find your uncle now, keep finding until you met him!”

She was also just fine watching the video I’d made in Tampere, and I told her that I went inside the Lenin Museum there.


Acong, 27 years old now (Picture Journalist):

The most obvious change? People are braver now. Before that, everyone was the same. Everything was cool, calm and stable. Before, there was only one media that participated. The others were limited and played cat and mouse with the government. Ah…well, that’s what I remember the most. I miss that program. Not exactly miss because, on one side, I am relieved. Because when I watched a movie and suddenly the program interrupted I was mad. One hour every day. Oh, right, Laporan Khusus (Special Report). The program didn’t continue after the Reformation, right?

Hafiz, 39 years old now (Art Curator):

Actually, the change should be systematic. We can’t say that it was failed. There are some changes, such as freedom of the press, multi-party, just like what the Reformation wanted, right? At least there are changes in freedom of the press, freedom of expression, political freedom and the direct election.

All changes in the world, anywhere, May Revolution, Bolshevik Revolution, any revolution, there was a kind of the intellectual movement that did the recording, political statements, the statement that touched the philosophical area which was discussed comprehensively. And that became a part of cultural history, history of thought. Now, the reformation I know doesn’t have the comprehensive academic study about it because, at that time, the intellectuals were busy becoming celebrities. They were busy protesting on the street but didn’t do or set it up into an event that we could read as an idea behind the reformation. I don’t say that I am fully sure about that, but until now, the idea about the reformation is still in the gray area. If we look at the Red May incident we can refer to the writings of Sartre and Foucault.

The Bolshevik Revolution, French Revolution, American Revolution, Revolution of Culture in China in Asia, which was done by Mao Zedong, they were all set up, had a concept, although  it killed thousands of people too. It also killed the intellectuals.


Jaka, 31 years old now (Freelance Writer):

Reformation is just a ceremonial thing. The changes are not many in my opinion. Yes, maybe now it seems that we can talk more freely, but in principle, we are still repressed. The freedom of the press and expression actually may not be real. For example, we think we can be free in the internet world which seems unlimited, but the control of it apparently strengthens.

People can’t really push the government to do what they want. The easiest example is we don’t have the uniqueness anymore. What we talk about has been discussed by all people on Facebook.

For example, we now have the Century Bank case. It’s reported everywhere, but when there are other issues, which are not essential in my opinion, that case is neglected. So, the main goal is forgotten.

We know, other side knows, everybody knows that Century has everything to do with the Election and the present RI number 1. If that is disclosed, everything will be destroyed. What has been built by the present government will be destroyed. Ultimately, to overcome it everything is deflected. I don’t believe that the change has to be done systemically.

Soeharto delivered his resignation as President of Republic of Indonesia

Soeharto delivered his resignation as President of Republic of Indonesia

Then, what is the change felt by someone whose father is a civil servant?


In the past, in the Soeharto era, when there was an election, my father got a job to do the screen printing onto the Golkar T-shirts. From the flyers, T-shirts, to the jackets, all were done by my father. Now he doesn’t do it anymore. He will be quite prosperous if there is an event only. Until now, he still votes for Golkar. Now he doesn’t get that job anymore, maybe because he has been promoted. So it doesn’t have to do with the Reformation. But now, when he watches TV, he avoids talking about politics. For example, if my mother said, “Oh, this is just SBY…”, my father wouldn’t respond. Before, my father was very enthusiastic about Golkar. He looked very Golkar, very yellow. Now he is cool, doesn’t want to join or something like that. But I know he still votes for Golkar, maybe not for Soeharto, but for the ‘ficus tree’.

He is not really introvert. I mean it’s just for himself. Maybe he protects it inside. He doesn’t want to show that he is Golkar. Now, he is calmer. As for the problems of the present government, he still gives comments and criticism.

I always like my father before and after the Reformation. But about the situation in my house, I like it more after the Reformation because my father has a more flexible working hours now, not like before when he worked like a factory worker.


Abe, 28 years old now (Photographer):

Before the Reformation, in politics, well, just like what Gelar has said, my father was always yellow. But after ’98 until finally he didn’t have a job, about three years after the Reformation, he was still a civil servant, but he was released from BKN. Actually, his boss said that his name was on the list. But until the D-Day, his name wasn’t there. That’s why now he moves to DKP. But in speaking about politics, he is different from Gelar’s father. Now he’s very open. Even more than that…he can tell about the secret of ring one, the present RI number 1. Once, I was given a speech document before it was given to the President. He talks more freely to the family. He gives what the media can’t report about the real government system in Indonesia. In the media, not all them are covered. And now, maybe he’s not yellow anymore. In the last election, he was the one who even talked loudly about moving from yellow to another party.

For example, the treasure in Cirebon recently. Before it was exposed to the media, he had shown me that about 2-3 months before. Before the Reformation, he couldn’t do that. Before, my father was quieter and more careful to talk, even to the family. Maybe it was because of the very extreme paranoia in the Soeharto era. Maybe he was afraid his family would be monitored, not to mention that my mother was also a civil servant. There were many cases of missing persons at that time.

I am more comfortable with my father after the Reformation because he is more democratic. I can see the difference. Before the Reformation, we had to vote for the yellow, not to mention that my mother was also a civil servant. I saw that he was unhappy because he couldn’t choose what he wanted. But now he can give us direction and the comparison between the parties. He is more open now and more democratic.

Andang, 27 years old now (Visual Designer):

My father started to talk “…well, Golkar this, Golkar that…”, the negative things, was when I was in high school. My level and my parents’ were more equal then. After the Reformation, there’s the openness in technology in my house. Everything was from the internet. Before ’98, there was no internet, right? After the internet existed, well, my father was always in front of the computer. If before that he had always taken care of the pond, he didn’t do it again. But the family income has been increasing after ’98. Before, my father’s salary had been under 2,000,000 IDR. That was for supporting 5 people. After ’98, he has been getting more side jobs.

For the openness at home, I’m more comfortable after the Reformation. But maybe it has nothing to do with the Reformation. Maybe because I am older now. And maybe if I asked about something to my father before ’98, he might have answered because before ’98 I had seen the communist-free letter. So we have never had a concealment problem. Never. So it’s not because of the Reformation. Maybe there is, but I don’t know what.

He once said, “I could’ve been rich.” Maybe he didn’t talk before ’98 because I was still a child back then. After I went into the university, my father talked because the administration for the new students at the place where he taught was handled all by him. People could give him millions. He refused that thing. And it seems that now that thing happens a lot because, in the past, only a few families could pay millions. And now, there are more people with money. My father has never been accepting that thing before and after the Reformation.

FOTO 10_reformasi-1998-470x313

Oh, by the way, what is Reformation actually?


What is reformation? Hmmm, reformation can only be developed with big power. If it is only thought by a small group of people, it will be difficult to be achieved. I mean, only a few people fighting for it. However, if the mass action starts to get bigger, the reformation will be more possible to happen. After 12 years, the mission of reformation may happen, but the vision is unclear. I mean, after that people are confused about what to do next.

At that time too many figures appeared, either to use that moment or just a social engineering, well, there were four very vocal figures at that time. Gusdur, Megawati, Amien Rais and Sri Sultan. I didn’t know if it was only for their interests. They were old figures. I didn’t know, maybe they had resentment, right?


The reformation agendas were eradication of corruption, nepotism and so on, right? They have been being done until now. The agendas are still difficult to be realized, of course, because all get the consequences of Soeharto’s actions.

Now the most essential thing is disclosing the May riot because it has never been revealed who the mastermind was and who did it. Imagine, thousands of people died, but we never knew the people behind it and the people who did it. There was no confession from the government. There was no State’s Confession that the May riot was a set-up. KOMNAS HAM (The National Commission on Human Rights) had already made a statement that it was a serious human rights violation but in DPR it wasn’t said as a serious human rights violation.

If you want to see how it was 12 years ago, it should be opened again as the main agenda to see the reformation.


What we can do is how to change ourselves to be better and more aware, and that’s the difficult thing because changing ourselves is not from the top to bottom but from those persons. And it can only be done by the persons, not a group. What the communities that have the political awareness do, well, they can only do that. Just like what akumassa is doing now.


And me, I was trying really hard to finish college while my heart was not in it anymore. I was taking the KKL (Kuliah Kerja Lapangan – Internship Program) as a reporter in quite a famous daily newspaper in Jakarta. So, in the days before that change in Indonesia happened, I had been everywhere. I was in the front yard of Goro wholesale center, Pasar Minggu, when all people started the plunder. I was in Lenteng Agung when the students of my campus protested with the military helicopter above them in the campus yard. I was in DPR Building with thousands of college students who didn’t want to go home, waiting for Soeharto to resign. And I was in tears in Trisakti campus yard because of the tear gas that was shot by the military personnel when there were the shootings of Trisakti students. Until now, the case has never been disclosed.

The Trisakti students brought the pictures of the victims of 1998 May riot

The Trisakti students brought the pictures of the victims of 1998 May riot

Twelve years ago, another major event had changed the governance structure in this country. It left a wonderful story about the fall of a corrupt regime which apparently many people still miss. However, the wonderful story was always followed by the tragic story about the fall of thousands of victims, the slaughter of a certain ethnic, the rapes and the physical destruction that required too much of its success, if that could be called successful.

I fully realized at that time that I was one of many college students who didn’t care and was apathetic, spending the day just to finish the college assignment without realizing the real goal. I was sorry.

FOTO 13_deplu4-470x316

And today, May 14, 2010, I talked to a friend who said that actually there was a recording about the Reformation, but it was not comprehensive. That’s a phenomenon of a developing country, right?

The New Order is not destroyed. It just recedes to the back because there is nothing in this country that can fight the military power. So I think actually the Reformation cannot, or at least has not been able to destroy the New Order and its military power, just like 44 years ago when the New Order with its military power destroyed the Old Order.

If this was a chess game with the pawns, then who was the military opponent? Of course, it was the democracy. But still, just like in 1965, the college students were only pawns that were moved by that big power, which we could not really call a representation of the democracy.

So, is it true that the changes happen? Are there any changes of latent things? Even now, we all know that the government entrusts the control of democracy to the radical powers in the society.

Twelve years is a piece of short duration of a nation’s process (and mine too) to develop itself. For me, Reformation should have become a point of departure for Indonesian youth to change themselves from the apathy, becoming the Indonesian human beings that have higher quality because there’s a political expert who says that the change in this country can only be achieved by eliminating one generation, so there is no remnant of mental depravity from the past.

How about that? Isn’t that scary?

About the author


Otty Widasari

OTTY WIDASARI is an artist, writer, director and curator. Currently, she is the Director of the Media Education and Empowerment Program (AKUMASSA) at the Forum Lenteng.

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