RI exiles wish dearly to return

Features |April 26, 2006

| page: 20

The political turmoil in Indonesia in 1965 prevented hundreds of 
leftist Indonesians, who were abroad to study or attend 
conferences, from returning home. Many of these people live alone 
in Europe and many wish to regain their Indonesian citizenship.
The Jakarta Post’s Evi Mariani visited two exiles in the 
Netherlands to see what they have been doing.

Growing up in the time of revolution and ideological partiality did something to Fransisca Fanggidaj’s gaze and the way she speaks. The floating mass raised during the New Order would never have such qualities.

Sisca’s eyes are a fighter’s pair, whose sharp gaze has never worn away, despite 40 years of political exile. A former journalist for Sunday Courier, the Indonesian Communist Party’s Harian Rakjat, and later news agency Indonesian National Press Service, Sisca, 80, now lives alone in an apartment on the sixth floor in small town Zeist, 30 minutes bus ride from Utrecht, the Netherlands. 
“Living alone, the most important thing is being able to dial 101 for ambulance. I have never been in a situation where I have to call, but from what I heard, it’s fast,” Sisca says in her apartment scattered with books and papers.

“Sorry, it’s messy. The apartment is going to be renovated and 
we have to start packing our things now,” she says.

To survive in her retirement, Sisca relies on 800 euros a month the government provides for senior citizens and the unemployed. The amount is sufficient, but she has to be frugal. She translates articles and reads news mostly on Indonesia to fill her days.

Although she has been away from home since 1965, she still feels a strong connection with the homeland, which she helped fight for in the inception after 1945.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Papua. I think they deserve independence. They have abundant resources but most of the financial benefit goes to Jakarta,” she says. “The problem cannot be solved only by the Papuans. All people 
have to stand up for Papuans’ rights,” Sisca says with deep conviction and vigorous ardor.

With the same ardor, Sisca voice her belief: Only communism is good for the people.

Her belief stems from her long involvement with several leftist organizations. Her first in 1945 was Indonesian Socialist Youths (Pesindo), some of whose members were involved in a communist revolt known as “Peristiwa Madiun 1948”.

“I was in the first generation at Marx House (a Marxist educational program). I received education in Madiun in 1946,” she said.

Sisca was not born into a proletarian family. In fact she was among the patricians at that time. Sisca’s father, Fanggidaj, who came from Rote, worked in Java as a Dutch government official. Because of her father’s occupation she had a Dutch education where she learned Dutch and English. Her language skills enabled here to work as one of the international relations officials in 
Pesindo, which in 1947 sent her as a head of delegates to an international congress in India and to the first World Youth Festival in Prague.

Her first husband, Sukarno, was among the 11 people shot dead in the wake of the foiled revolt. “I was also registered as a member in Gerwani (the Indonesian Women’s Movement), but I was more busy with my job as a 
journalist so I was not really active in Gerwani,” she said.

In September 1965, a week before the Sept. 30 tragedy, she was sent to Chile to attend a meeting of the International Organization of Journalists.

At that time she was 40 and had remarried a journalist, Supriyo. She already had seven children, the youngest 1.5 years old.

“In Halim (Perdanakusuma airport), my second child hugged me and said, ‘Mom, please don’t go away long’, and I promised I would not,” Sisca said.

It turned out they only met 38 years later in 2003.

“My youngest child didn’t recognize me,” Sisca said. In the first 20 years of her exile, she couldn’t even hear anything from Indonesia and vice versa. “I was still in Chile when I heard from people that the government had revoked my passport. The announcement was aired on Voice of America radio,” she said.

Without citizenship, Sisca was taken to the People’s Republic of China by fellow journalists from the communist country, which she called Tiongkok.

For 20 years the Chinese government allowed her to stay as a political exile. “But I couldn’t send any letters from China. It would have been dangerous for my family. The government jailed my husband for 17 years in Salemba. So my sister took care of my children. She said, ‘please don’t send any letters from China’,” Sisca said.

During the New Order regime, intelligence agencies often ran an operation called litsus (an abbreviation of penelitian khusus, meaning special examination), on people and members of their families suspected to have links with communism or subversive actions.

“I couldn’t stand hearing nothing from my family. My friends suggested I move to Europe. I can speak Dutch and I once spent a year during my childhood in this country, so I chose Holland,” she said.

In 1985, Sisca, then 61, moved to the Netherlands. Making a phone call to her family was among the first things to do in the Netherlands.

It was the first time she had made contact with her children since 1965.

“My eldest child answered the phone,” she said.

After saying that mother had called, they went speechless. “I had so much to say. But I went speechless, and she did too. And then we cried,” Sisca said.

In 2000, President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid issued a decree for reconciliation with those who faced difficulties going home. “We (exiled people) welcomed the idea. We want our Indonesian citizenship back. We met with then Minister of Justice Yusril Ihza Mahendra at the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague. But afterwards, we never heard anything anymore,” she said, 

However, Gus Dur’s decree paved the way home for some people. The decree suggests that it is safe for them to come home and meet their families. They can apply for a two-month tourist visa to visit Indonesia.

“The problem is money. I cannot work here because of my age. I did only volunteer work. I have to save money from my allowance,” she said.

In 2003, after saving her allowance money, she managed to fly to Jakarta. She spent two months with her children and grandchildren. During the family time she had to explain her reasons for leaving her children that long.

“Of course two months were not enough. I want more time with them. Now my only concern is how to get them to accept me.”