30 September 1919 – 27 January 2008
Jusuf Ronodipuro in 2006
On 27 January 2008, while the Indonesian media was consumed with the death of former president Suharto, another less well known national figure, Mohammad Jusuf Ronodipuro, also passed away. Pak Jusuf was a man of many accomplishments. He was one of the founders of Radio Republik Indonesia and it was his voice that broadcast the Indonesian proclamation of independence to the world in August 1945. In later years he was a press officer and friend of President Sukarno, then Indonesian Ambassador to Argentina during the New Order era. He passed away in Jakarta at the age of 88, after a long illness.
Though he was not a military man himself, Pak Jusuf was accorded a funeral with full military honours at the Heroes’ Cemetery in Kalibata, South Jakarta, a small token of gratitude from the country he loved so much, and served so well. Critical of the lack of media attention to his passing, Effendi Choirie, a member of parliament from the PKB (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa), wrote: ‘Pak Harto was a great man, but let us not forget that his misdeeds were also great. He left us a debt of Rp.1500 trillion [A$177 billion]. Pak Jusuf had few misdeeds. He was a national hero who first broadcast the news of Indonesian independence through RRI.’
Pak Jusuf was a friend of my family, and I remember vividly as a child, sitting on the floor of his house in Central Jakarta with my sisters, waiting excitedly for him to tell us about his experiences on 17 August 1945. He told us the story as though he was reciting a fairy tale, while in fact, he was reminiscing about one of the most significant events in our history. He told us of his excitement at hearing the news of the Japanese surrender, when he was working at the Japanese Military Radio Station in Jakarta. He described how, after the reading of the proclamation on the morning of 17 August, Japanese soldiers and secret police immediately barricaded the building and took control of the recording booths, to stop news of the proclamation spreading to the world.
In this tense situation, Pak Jusuf and his friends conceived a plan to thwart the Japanese intentions. The Foreign Service section of the radio station had been idle since the surrender, and although the domestic program was still being broadcast in the normal manner under Japanese supervision, the foreign section was left without a single Japanese soldier on guard. Pak Jusuf took up position in the recording booth of the foreign section, and with the help of the radio’s technical officers, his reading of the proclamation was broadcast to the outside world, in place of the program being read over the domestic network under Japanese guard.
...it was his voice that broadcast the Indonesian proclamation of independence to the world...
The Japanese response was swift and brutal. The guards and other Japanese personnel were beaten, but Jusuf Ronodipuro and Bachtiar Lubis were singled out for special punishment. They were both beaten mercilessly, and when a Japanese captain drew his samurai sword above their heads, they thought they were going to die. Suddenly, the Japanese head of the Military Broadcasting Service intervened on their behalf and ordered their release. They were sent home, with torn shirts, aching limbs, and a broken knee and some missing teeth between them. Pak Jusuf always believed that it was his good relations with the head of the Broadcasting Service and their shared interest in opera and classical music that had saved his life.
When the Japanese Broadcasting Service was closed down, Pak Jusuf and his friends managed to steal enough equipment to set up Suara Indonesia Merdeka (The Voice of Free Indonesia), which began broadcasting to the world (in English) on 23 August 1945. On 25 August, they broadcast a speech by the new Indonesian president for the first time. Then, on 11 September, Jusuf, along with Dr Abdulrachman Saleh, Maladi and Brigadier General Suhardi, founded Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI). It was Pak Jusuf who coined the famous RRI slogan, ‘Sekali di udara, tetap di udara’ (‘Once on the air, always on the air’).
As a child I was always fascinated by his stories from this time. Whenever he spoke to us, I had the feeling of being in the presence of a great man, who had played an important part in our nation’s independence struggle. But as an adult, I only met him again a little over a year before his death, when I arranged to interview him about his role in Indonesian history for my PhD research. We met in his modest home in Jakarta in November 2006, and once more I found myself overawed by his ability to bring history alive, and draw me in to the events of the past that he remembered so well. He told me of his experiences in the youth movements of the 1940s, as well as his later career in government, acting both as Sukarno’s press officer, and Suharto’s ambassador to Argentina, which encompassed responsibility for Chile and Uruguay.
On the same occasion, and with much enthusiasm, he also showed me his collection of paintings. The most compelling was one of Bung Karno, painted by his friend Basuki Abdullah in the mid 1940s. ‘Revolutionary,’ was Pak Jusuf’s comment. ‘This is the only one of Basuki Abdullah’s paintings that looks like this. The rest of his works are smoother. This is the only one in the impressionist style.’ The painting shows Bung Karno in a revolutionary pose, dressed in a light brown jacket, red necktie and his signature peci cap. He has his right arm raised in a gesture of defiance, while his eyes gaze to one side, full of courage, power and spirit. To me, it was indeed a revolutionary picture.
Towards the end of the interview, I noticed that Pak Jusuf had the famous 1998 photograph of President Suharto and Michel Camdessus of the IMF displayed on one of the tables in his living room. It shows Suharto signing the agreement with the IMF while Camdessus looks on with his arms folded. I asked him why he kept the picture and displayed it in his living room. Pak Jusuf replied with his characteristic warm smile, and the words, ‘Warning... To remind us. Not to do it again.’ ii
Yosef Djakababa (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is researching the construction of Indonesian history in the New Order period.