Demonstrations are being conducted in the cities every day now by small groups of a great variety of people: students, workers, intellectuals, artists. They always go onto the streets in small groups so that they can disperse quickly and perhaps reappear in a different combination elsewhere. Sometimes with banners and slogans, sometimes silently, with black banners, in order to indicate how everyone has been made dumb.
Tense. The army is on the streets every day. Especially our son Gideon (11) is sensitive to the resulting atmosphere. But there is also a feeling of relief. A feeling of 'at last, something is happening'. Worry too: 'Can they keep it free of violence?'. Apprehension and fear. Everyone thinks of the years 65-66. But also hope and courage.
Among others, people are protesting against price rises. The price of milk powder for babies and infants has become two or three times what it was. Many mothers do not breastfeed because their workplace does not offer the facilities to allow it. Contraceptives also seriously hinder breastfeeding. You do not choose your own contraceptives here, they are assigned to you (although you do pay for them).
The women are stuck. Contraceptives, like other medicines, are becoming scarce and/ or expensive. Some say the number of (attempts at) abortions has increased since the crisis began because women especially in the city no longer know how they will feed their children. Especially women from the poorer families bear all the responsibility for their children. In the middle and upper classes the man is expected to earn enough to maintain the whole family.
In villages outside the city Catholic priests are trying to set up a kind of barter system in order to prevent malnutrition or worse. It is fairly successful. People use their plot of land to grow food crops they can eat themselves or exchange for others. They no longer rent it out to large companies to grow sugar cane or some other cash crop. For this the priests are likely to be labelled communist.
Small farmers clearly lose more than they gain when they make their land available to a sugar factory. They get far too little compensation. And afterwards the ground is exhausted. So they only agree to rent out their land for sugar cane more or less under pressure. If they refuse, the age-old recipe of 'suspected communism' is brought out once more. It is hard to believe that people who are simply trying to avoid a disaster can find themselves being denounced in this libelous way, instead of being supported for their initiatives.
This is just a small picture of the worries among the people.
In Solo a number of social organisations held a market with low prices for the most important foodstuffs. The 1600 parcels made available were by no means sufficient. Among the people who came were some who had clearly not eaten for days.
In the midst of this situation more and more people are standing up and opening their mouths. Demanding justice, food for their children, openness, honesty. They want to hear the truth, do not like to see others made scapegoats on the basis of their race or religion.
Last Monday there was an inter-religious prayer meeting. Leaders from all the religions (the five recognised ones as well as those not recognised such as Confucianism and Javanese religion) offered their prayers in words that left little to the imagination.
They exposed the injustices in crystal clear terms, expressed their fury, and their anxieties. But they also painted visions of peace and justice, dreams of a society where people will have room to move in the midst of their differences. Everyone in their own way, in mutual respect.
This all took place in the royal palace, the kraton, that is, under the protection of the sultan of Yogyakarta. It was good to be together as Javanese and Chinese, as Muslims and Christians, people from the kraton and from outside. Everything was played out in an atmosphere of Javanese mysticism, amidst the smoke of incense, candles, the fragrance of flowers, the sounds of the gamelan.
With many others we look to the coming months with apprehension. We shall certainly be needing the unity we experienced at that meeting in the kraton as we support one another in a search for justice and peace, and as we look after those who are suffering the greatest hardships.
We are all well. Until now most of the demonstrations in Yogyakarta have taken place on the university campuses (not on ours), so that the city has been little troubled by them and often does not even know about them. For the moment at least, we have no concerns about our own safety.
Yogyakarta, 28 February 1998.
Trijnie Plattje and her husband Jan Post Hospers teach theology at Duta Wacana Christian University. They are from the Netherlands.