Indonesia Recent History

With this name which means “islands of India”, it indicates the set of those thousands of islands that are located between Southeast Asia and Australia. The largest island is Borneo.

Indonesia is divided geographically into three large groups:
– Large Sunda islands: Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes.
– Small Sunda islands: Bali, Sumbava, Flores, Sumba, Timor.
– Moluccas: Seram, Buru, Almahera.

According to Abbreviationfinder, an acronym site which also features history of Indonesia, the first news of contacts with the western part of Indonesia by Indian merchants date back to around 150 after Christ and are found in the writings of the astronomer Ptolemy.

It seems that the first European to reach Indonesia was the Byzantine astronomer Cosma Indicopleuste, who lived in the 6th century after Christ, who traveled on behalf of Justinian Emperor.

Around 1290 Marco Polo arrived safely there, who on his return trip to Venice landed on the island of Sumatra.

Around 1350 Indonesia was visited by the Florentine Franciscan Giovanni dei Marignolli. In 1430 another Italian, Nicolò dei Conti, a Venetian merchant, during a 25-year journey stayed for a long time in Sumatra, Java and touched Borneo. The “Report” of his travels is a very important document of the fifteenth century.

In 1509 the Portuguese navigator Alfonso Duke of Albuquerque, founder of the Portuguese power in India, of which he was viceroy, discovered the island of Zanzibar, conquered Ceylon, Goa, Malabar and the Malacca peninsula.

Indonesia Recent History

There were many states, erected in kingdoms, in these islands and throughout the 16th century there were struggles for dominance, especially between the kingdoms of Java and Sumatra.

In 1511 the Portuguese conquered Malacca and in 1522 Ternate. As the power of Java diminished, other important states were forming, such as that of Bantam, Djohore and Atjeh, where the sultans who had been driven out of the Malacca peninsula reigned.

And more and more European influence increased, especially after the arrival of the Spaniards. These suffered difficulties with the Portuguese. The contrasts were overcome with the Treaty of the Moluccas of 1529, by means of which both these and the Philippines were entrusted to the Portuguese. These, in 1573, were forced by the indigenous people of Ternate to leave the eastern part of the Moluccas. In 1596 the Dutch arrived, who also expelled the Portuguese from the western part.

At that point, only two European influences prevailed in the islands: the Spanish one in the north of the Philippines and the Dutch one in the south.
On December 13, 1799, Indonesia became a Dutch colony and remained so until 1949, when after various traverses, including the Japanese occupation during the Second World War, it was able to establish itself in the Indonesian Republic, with a totally autonomous government.

Relations with Holland gradually deteriorated also because Holland claimed to be able to maintain economic privileges in the country.

Another reason for disagreement was represented by western New Guinea, Irian, still under the aegis of The Hague.

Indonesia claimed to be able to exercise its sovereignty by having that territory always part of the Dutch Indies, which had become the Indonesian Republic. The Netherlands, on the contrary, claimed that Irian was certainly a land in its own right and was also a firm conviction of the Dutch government that the disputed area would not have been economically valued at the right point.

The negotiations, already started and suspended, resumed in 1950 and dragged on for two years at the end of which there was a definitive interruption. Also because the Hague did not accept the Indonesian proposal to appoint a provisional mixed administration, pending the final solution of the problem.

Subsequently the matter was brought before the United Nations but with little results since Australia had also intervened in the matter, as administrator of the eastern part of the island, and had expressed an opinion against the passage of the same to Indonesia.

At this point, even in adherence to the rampant Indonesian nationalism, Djakarta began to nationalize the various Dutch properties in Indonesia.

The Indonesian Republic had a very rough path also because of its many fragments, each of which considered itself a unit in its own right. Soekarno, president, and Hatta, vice-president, promulgated a new constitution which provided for a parliamentary regime. The Chamber of Deputies was composed of 231 members all elected by the president.

And the lack of trust in the government, unsupported by competent administrative cadres, caused many rebellions, especially in the northwestern part of Sumatra. In addition to the serious economic problems, religious problems brought about by the Muslims of Darul Islam contributed to this situation.

The first government formed was a coalition between the two most important parties: the secular nationalist one and the Muslim one, known as the Masjumi.

Continued crises also occurred because the two parties had completely different points of view also in the field of international politics.

In 1957, to try to overcome this critical situation, Soekarno proposed to appoint an advisory council capable of coordinating and controlling the actions of Parliament.

This experiment had a deleterious effect because in 1958 a secessionist rebellion occurred by some hostile colonels in Soekarno. They even attempted to create a government totally contrary to that of Djakarta. They were inclined to keep foreign property intact in the country and remain in a state of diplomatic neutrality. Despite the support of some western powers, including the United States, the rebels were knocked out by government troops.

Soekarno in 1959 took all power in his hands, dissolved the Constituent Assembly and restored the old constitution that entrusted the head of state with all executive and most of the legislative power.

In 1960 control over the parties arrogated, at the same time it formed a national Front in which all those who shared his political ideas could converge. In the same year he dissolved the parliament and constituted a “National People’s Council” which included, in addition to the representatives of the dissolved body, also 294 representatives of the professional and regional groups.
Thus he applied what he called “guided democracy”.

But within his party Soekarno could not count on a prepared basis, so he always found himself at the mercy of the military who at the time had helped him to defeat the opposition.

To escape the power of the military, he approached the Communist party which then had more than three million members.

And all taken by political problems, he had totally neglected the economic ones and did not notice, therefore, the appalling drop in agricultural production and the increase in inflation.

Parallel to his approach to the Communist Party, he did the same in foreign policy with China and the Soviet Union.
In the meantime, the diatribe concerning the Irian that Soekarno had decided to occupy militarily in 1962 had continued with Holland. The Dutch government accepted the challenge and sent commandos that immediately sank two Indonesian torpedoes.

The conflict was resolved with the intervention of the American mediator E. Bunker, a former United Nations diplomat who took the western part of Iran under their jurisdiction, proposing the gradual transfer of the territory from 1 November 1963 to Indonesia who, however, undertook to call a plebiscite by June 1969.

Once this situation was resolved, another one immediately appeared, relating to Malaysia. In September 1963 Great Britain had granted independence to its Malaysian colonies which, in addition to Malaysia and Singapore, also included some territories of northern Borneo. Soekarno denounced the “Imperialist Conspiracy” and threatened to resort to arms and, in the meantime, made landings of guerrillas on the coasts of Borneo and Malaysia.

On September 30, 1965, the unknown colonel Untung attempted a coup that failed and a bloody repression struck the country. About 700,000 people, left-wing suspects and colonel collaborators, were massacred. Power passed into the hands of General Suharto. He first declared that he wanted to collaborate with Soekarno but then, instead, he deprived him of all the power he had in Parliament, accusing him of a union with the coup leaders. On March 12, 1967 Soekarno was completely dismissed. He lived almost prisoner in his palace until his death on June 21, 1970.

Suharto, who became President of the Republic in 1968, ruled with the help of the military and technicians, such as Foreign Minister Adam Malik.

The President resumed a pro-western policy and resolved the question of Malaysia with a collaboration agreement within ASEAN, an economic cooperation body between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.

In 1969 the problem of Irian finally found the solution which, after a referendum, definitively passed to Indonesia.

After that the problems of the economy, which was in a truly disastrous state, had the best attention of the government.

Suharto obtained aid from western powers, including Holland, and was more concerned with agriculture than with industrialization.

In January 1974, during a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka, students staged demonstrations in Djakarta.

The 1977 elections had the same outcome as the previous ones. They assigned an absolute majority to a government-created organization called Sekber Golkar.

A real opposition, non-existent within the parliament, was actually exercised by the students who demonstrated in different circumstances: for the claim of independence of the southern Moluccas and for the island of East Timor.

Meanwhile, the economic situation had improved and stabilized. In 1984 rice production reached self-sufficiency and this was a very important event for the country. Suharto himself made the announcement in Rome on November 14, 1985 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of FAO.

At the beginning of 1988 the then Italian head of government G. Goria, accompanied by the then Foreign Minister G. Andreotti, paid a visit to Indonesia to find out how positive the Italian economic presence would have been in the dominated South-East Asia by the rampant Japanese production. And in that same year FIAT opened a factory in Java.

And also in 1988 Suharto, for the fifth time elected president, officially declared that he did not want to be president for life and chose his deputy who in 1993 would take him over. The chosen one was the former general Sudharmono, not very well seen by the majority of the population.

In August 1990 Indonesia made a rapprochement with China and Vietnam, where Suharto also went to visit.

The issue of Timor, already militarily occupied by Indonesia, returned to the fore. On November 12, 1991 a demonstration was wiped out in the blood and a hundred Timorese found death. Various countries in the world took critical positions towards Indonesia, first of all Portugal.

The 1992 elections once again awarded victory to Golkar but also decreed a sharp increase in votes for the two major opposition parties.

Suharto’s policy, however, manifested all its limits of democracy, despite appearances.
In June 1994, following unrest provoked by students and working masses for economic claims, strict control was also re-established on information and some newspapers were suppressed.

On an international level, relations with China and Australia were good, but not with Portugal.

In October 1996, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Bishop of Timor, CF Ximenes Beco, sparked serious protests from the Indonesian government.

In May 1997 the new elections had the same result as the previous ones. The great drought in that year resulted in a massive drop in rice production and the global financial crisis had heavily affected all of Southeast Asia. Between the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 there was a very strong increase in unemployment and this time the middle class of the population was also involved.

In March 1998 Suharto had been confirmed president for the seventh time. Far from granting more democratic rights to the people and by continuing the demonstrations led by the students, international pressure, especially the United States, was growing stronger and Suharto was forced to resign.


BJ Habibie became president. The June 1999 elections awarded victory to Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Parjangan, the Indonesian Democratic Party of struggle.

In August 1999 Habibie called for a referendum for East Timor. The result was the desire for independence which triggered a repression on the island against the pro-Indonesians.

Habibie, unable to handle the situation, accepted the UN decision to send an international peace contingent to Dili in September. In October, the presidential election handed over the victory to moderate Muslim candidate Abdurrahman Wahid.

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