Maryke Silalahi, Female Revolutionary
MAY 27 — Virtually the only female student revolutionary leader who helped rally thousands against Suharto’s regime, 22-year-old Maryke Silalahi now wants to topple President Bacharuddin J. Habibie.
Wearing blue-tinted contact lenses over her brown eyes — “just for fun” — along with dark lipstick and plucked-and-pencilled eyebrows, Silalahi shrugs off her unique presence amid the rebellious students’ male leadership.
She insists together they inspire their usually obedient classmates to swarm past barbed-wire barricades and confront security forces who threaten them with tanks, armored personnel carriers, assault rifles and other weapons.
“We have a collective leadership of four or five in each group, and we are the ones who organize the action,” Silalahi said in an interview.
“If we want to make a decision, it is not only me, but also my other friends.”
Asked about the role of female students during the recent uprising which ousted Suharto from the presidency, Silalahi replied, “I think there were many females, but mostly they didn’t hold any position like me.
“They came to the discussions, but kept quiet. They don’t have the main role in the movement.
“I don’t know why. In this protest, it is against the government, and maybe it is because everybody thinks it is risky.
“It is dangerous. Even the boys think twice to join the protests. So when the boys think twice, maybe the girls think 10 times.
“Some were singing and reading poetry though,” she added.
Silalahi said her father was her role model.
“My father was a former activist in the 1966 student movement, but not a leader, just part of the students who came to the demonstrations.
“So when he found out I was involved now, he said, ‘It is good. Maybe you can make my dream come true.’
“At Parliament, I made some speeches,” to rally thousands of male and female students who occupied the sprawling complex for nearly a week.
Troops, backed by armored personnel carriers, forced the unarmed students to end their occupation in the pre-dawn hours of May 23.
“Before I made a speech, I discussed it with my dad. And he would give me some advice such as, ‘You should make this point.’ He helped me a lot, to not only speak bullshit.”
Her father, now retired, was a former government employee in the Department of Public Works.
“My mother, at first, was afraid, especially about the missing activists,” who disappeared during the final months of Suharto’s repressive regime.
Detained victims, and human rights groups, said the regime often imprisoned, tortured and executed people who were deemed a threat to the disgraced president during Suharto’s 32-year reign.
“My mother said, ‘Be careful, be careful.’ She always called me, to make sure I am OK.”
Silalahi is currently an undergraduate student at Jakarta’s prestigious Atmajaya University, majoring in law. She expects to get her degree in November.
“I already wrote my thesis, about arbitration and mediation as alternative dispute resolution,” she said, smoothing back her long, brown hair.
“I hope to go to graduate school if I have money, but I don’t think so. The economic crisis has affected us all. I want to be a lawyer, in financial law.”
Silalahi said began as an activist against Suharto in September 1997, and was soon contacting other universities to organize demonstrations demanding he resign.
Asked about her most fearful experiences during the months of confrontation, she replied, “I am not saying it was when the armed forces came, because the most dangerous time was when I was in Parliament and we rejected Habibie.”
On May 21, Suharto had suddenly stepped down so his lifelong friend, Habibie, could be upgraded from the vice-presidency to become the new president.
Simultaneously at Parliament, Silalahi continued helping to rally thousands of students, immediately denouncing Habibie as Suharto’s puppet.
Two days later, the mood turned ugly when hundreds of pro-Habibie supporters gained access into the Parliament complex and briefly skirmished with anti-Habibie students.
“I was afraid there would be a clash. I was completely, wow-wow!” she added, fluttering her hand in front of her heart to indicate extreme anxiety.
“Before, when I made a speech here at Atmajaya University and the police came, I wasn’t really afraid.”
After all these months of helping to organize and lead student protests, Silalahi said she has yet to meet another female student leader.
“I don’t know about all the universities in Indonesia, but when we make a meeting, I am the only female usually.
“But I don’t feel anything about that, because the male students listen to me. They give me the right to speak.”
Silalahi’s views include sharp criticism of the formerly inexperienced, anti-government student movement.
“The weakness of the movement is we don’t have a real concept for the long term. The students only think of the short time.
“We only thought to make Suharto step down. But we were surprised and confused after Suharto stepped down, because we had no plan after that.
“Another weakness is that not all the students are involved in the movement.”
Now that Habibie rules this Southeast Asian nation of Equatorial islands, the student revolutionaries must unite to topple the new president and rewrite the nation’s political and economic laws, she said.
“Suharto symbolized the bad government, with all of his cronies, and Habibie is one of his cronies. And we don’t like Habibie.
“I want Suharto be prosecuted, and also all his family,” the law student added.
“It hurts so much to know one family owns so much money, while all around people are so hungry. And it continues.
“Now Suharto is no different from me. Now he is a civilian.
“I talked to some of the leaders. I, and some of my friends, are planning to have a special gathering of all the activists in Indonesia, to list the details of what the students want, what laws we want to reform, and what political and economic reforms we want.
“Each university will send a representative, one or two, to Jakarta. I don’t know when. We are making the proposal now.”
Asked if her recent experiences on the front lines has made her interested in becoming a politician in the future, she grinned and replied, “Yeah, yeah, I want to. But not to be the president.
“A woman won’t be able to be the president, not in my generation. It is very hard to change tradition.”
When not on the front lines of Indonesia’s revolution, Silalahi enjoys playing the organ at her local Protestant church.
“I play organ for the church mass, and have been playing since I was in primary school.
“My father always said that by playing the organ, I am giving charity to God.”
Similar to many young women in Indonesia, she also wants to eventually marry and have children.
“Sure, because it is a part of life. Isn’t it beautiful to have someone to share life with you? But it’s sentimental,” she said, blushing.
Silalahi has a boyfriend, but she lamented, “He is far away. He’s in America. Working and studying. In New Jersey.”