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Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, former raja of Gianyar, former Prime Minister of the State of Eastern Indonesia, and Former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Indonesia, has been named in this year's round of 'National Heroes'. This elevation has sparked great controversy in Bali (and elsewhere in the Republic), since his role in Indonesia's achievement of independence was mixed. On a national level he took a pivotal action that brought the Dutch to the negotiating table, but on a local level he was involved for a while in the active suppression of nationalists, and according to the memoirs of Tjokorda Agung Sukawati (Memoirs of a Balinese Prince), the Anak Agung was involved in the torture, and possibly responsible for the deaths, of a number of independence fighters.

The most important action taken by the Anak Agung was in his role as Prime Minister of the State of Eastern Indonesia, which was a Dutch-sponsored state set up as part of their attempt to maintain an Indonesian Federation, in competition with the move to independence of the Republic. After the Second Police Action, a military action that saw the capture of the Republic's leadership and the independence fighters forced into guerilla warfare, Anak Agung brought down the State of Eastern Indonesia as a way of exposing the Dutch Federation as a sham, and thus undermining Dutch attempts to gain legitimacy in international forums. Most importantly this meant the Dutch could no longer maintain US support. From the reports I have seen, this move, which led to the final negotiations for Sovereignty, was what was recognised in the award.

The announcement has seen letters of support from some in Bali, but outcry from others, according to reports in Jawa Pos and the Bali Post over the last two days. Although no one has cited the evidence of Tjokorda Sukawati's book, or other similar accounts such as that of Nyoman S. Pendit, the criticism from surviving veterans of the struggle for independence and their family members has been very strong, and there are even calls to have the President revoke the award.

The controversy shows that the Revolution still raises strong emotions in Indonesia, especially Bali, where divisions into pro- and anti-NICA (the Dutch administration set up to retake Indonesia) are still remembered, and run into other conflicts (some of these divisions, for example, reemerged during the post-GESTAPU/GESTOK killings). But then puik, or feuding, is an important element in Balinese values.

The arguments raised, and similar discussions on a couple of blogs about Dr Djelantik, show that there is still a very simplistic rhetoric around the Revolution, and little account taken of the complexities of the time. As always in these matters, writers declare that Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch for 350 years (South Bali was colonised for less than 40), that everyone except a few traitors was in favour of independence, and that any sign of friendship with Dutch people showed disloyalty to the Republic.

As with any political rhetoric, such statements are good for encouraging nationalism, but life is more complicated. Prior to 1942 the Nationalist movement in Indonesia was very small, and was kept small by Dutch tactics which banned gatherings of more than 4 people, and used a combination of spying and patronising control over education to keep the population in the dark. Memoirs and oral histories show that any more people were indifferent to the cause of independence than is portrayed in triumphal accounts of independence (which makes the achievements of the nationalist leadership all the more remarkable).

In the case of Anak Agung Gde Agung, prior to his sponsorship of actions against Republicans, he had himself been kidnapped and treated badly by one Republican group. There are indications that his actions against Tjokorda Sukawati (and probably some of the others involved) drew on long-standing feuds and personal rivalries, since Sukawati's half-brother was Gde Agung's father-in-law, and they seem to have been arguing over various matters. From reading his memoirs of the Dutch and particularly Japanese periods, Anak Agung Gde Agung played a very wily game of survival. He did what he had to do because he recognised where the power lay, but he was also primarily out to safeguard the interests of his family, and, by his account, his subjects. His memoir shows a very ambivalent attitude towards Dutch authority, and tells of some very amusing strategies by his father to win small victories over the Dutch. During the Japanese period Anak Agung was thrust into major administrative roles at the age of 21, in situations where wrong decisions could have meant his own death and those of many others. In the uncertainty of the early Revolution, it was hard to know which way political events were going to run, and the Dutch easily gained the upper hand in Bali.

For those of us for whom the end does not justify the means, it is easy to criticise such things in retrospect, but then, as he said to me when discussing my raising of these issues in my first book, "You were not there, you do not know what it was like."


Dear Prof Adrian,

I don't have a chance to see AA Gde Agung as you had. But my father has. From my father I had acknowlegded that AA Gde Agung was a very kind of person, bright and inteligent, regardless what he did in the past.

Balinese people actually accepted him as is. He has the right to live among the Balinese side by side without having significant disturbance.

As you know Balinese people does not like to investigate or to propositioning people's wrong doing in the past. As they have a value to mind their own business and not mind any other's business.

(de ngaden awak bise depen anake ngadanin)

But seems like there are some of people taking advantage of this gracefull attitude to take their own personal benefits by promoting AA Gde Agung as national hero silently.

I'm sure that AA Gde Agung will refuse the national hero status on behalf of his name.

Because he knows it will brings up the old memory and lead to the unhealthy controversy.

We can see this attitude by examining what he said about anything related to his role in the past during struggle for independence in years 45-47.

He said :

"You were not there, you do not know what it was like."

This is mean that he knows and we don't. He got the poin. We did not involved with the struggle for independence.

Will he says the same expression if he encountered people that involved with the struggle for independence?

I'm affraid not. He knows what will happen.

During the Japanese period Anak Agung was thrust into major administrative roles at the age of 21, in situations where wrong decisions could have meant his own death and those of many others. In the uncertainty of the early Revolution, it was hard to know which way political events were going to run, and the Dutch easily gained the upper hand in Bali.

Yes indeed Sir. No one knows the situation precisely. But people has to make a decision. People must chose a choice of life.

And he has chosen his way with all the consequences and so does the warriors like Gusti Ngurah Rai. IGN Rai meet his destiny in death. He deserved National Hero for that.

Meanwhile in the opposite side AA Gde Agung was awarded the same status as National Hero.

For me Sir, it just not make any sense. Beside that it would make more negative image about AA Gde Agung's personality. He is so sad now. He do what he got to do, the trait, the diplomacy, the book and everything.

And we do what we got to do as well, to respect what he did for this country. Awarded him with a National Hero status is what we shouldn't do, as it will make disintegration among Balinese people.

Hi Adrian,

You may be interested to follow how a young observer from Bali reads this controversial event:

Regards, Amanda

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