Indonesia has 275 million people. It has the largest Muslim population in the world (87.0% of the country’s population; 239 million). Indonesia’s population is made up of over 600 ethnic types, with Javanese being the largest (40.0%; 110 million), followed by Sudanese (15.1%; 41 million). Indonesians of Chinese descent number about 2.8 million (1.2%), mostly of Hokkien and Hakka origin. A general belief is that the ethnic Chinese control a massive 70% of the Indonesian economy. These Chinese, when they are away from Indonesia, are known more as Indonesians than Chinese – such is their integration into the Indonesian society (mandatory use of the Indonesian language instead of Chinese in schools is a factor). Political power rests mostly with the Indonesian Javanese. The country with a total of 17,508 islands (of which about 6,000 are inhabited) was once ruled by Netherlands, which is 50 times smaller than Indonesia. In the 1600s, Netherlands (Dutch) first traded with the locals but over time, in competition with the Portuguese, Spanish and English colonial powers, the Dutch fully colonised Indonesia for themselves (Indonesia is then known as Dutch East Indies). Locals cowed by the Dutch modern firepower accepted them as rulers. Dissatisfaction by the locals of Dutch rule occurred early, and made headway when Japan overran the Dutch East Indies in 1942. Under the cruel Japanese occupation, millions of locals and Dutch died (in particular while building railways). Two days after Japan surrendered in World War Two, independence activist Sukarno on 17 August 1945 declared the Republic of Indonesia and became President Sukarno the following day. But it took four years of fighting against the Dutch before the Dutch finally left Indonesia in 1949. In 1965, internal government quarrel led to the killing of six generals, during which General Suharto became the powerful new ruler. Between 500,000 to 1 million people died when the government controlled by Suharto (and backed by USA) fought against the Communists in Indonesia. In 1968, Suharto took over from Sukarno as president. In the next three decades, under Suharto’s New Order Administration, the economy developed but dissent was crushed, and corruption raged. Amid the population rallying against ‘corruption, cronyism and nepotism’, Suharto resigned in 1998. Suharto’s own children became ultra-rich and received special treatment under the law. Since 1998, Indonesia has become more democratic, but a large percentage of the population remains poor. President Joko Widodo, of small business background and a former governor of Jakarta, since 2014 (now in his second term as president) has been implementing changes that is making Indonesia a more modern country.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Indonesia from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 – Indonesia, known as Dutch East Indies, has 38 million people.
  3. 1901 – Queen Wilhelmina of Netherlands announces an ‘ethical’ policy for Dutch East Indies, which differentiates from its former official doctrine that regards Dutch East Indies as a colony of conquest (region for making profit). The new policy is to raise the welfare of the population through better irrigation, education and health – but Europeans benefit most. The resultant growth of cities spawns a new Dutch East Indies middle class.
  4. 1903 – The region of Aceh in the Sumatra island is declared conquered by the Dutch.
  5. 1906 – The Dutch destroy the southern Bali island kingdom of Badung and Tabanan.
  6. 1908 – Budi Utomo is proclaimed as the first official nationalist movement in the Dutch East Indies.
  7. 1908 – On the island of Bali at Klungkung, Dutch machine guns slay the entire court of the last independent king, Dewa Agung.
  8. 1914 – World War One breaks out. Netherlands is a neutral country in the war.
  9. 1917 – Dutch East Indies’ trade with Europe is cut off by the war.
  10. 1920 – The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) is founded.
  11. 1927 – The Indonesian National Party (PNI) emerges, and is led by a young engineer, Sukarno. It grows quickly into the most powerful pro-independence organisation. In 1930, its leaders are jailed.
  12. 1929 – The Great Depression in USA affects the economy of Dutch East Indies.
  13. 1930 – Sukarno makes a famous nationalist speech (which he wrote while in prison – accused of overthrowing the colonial Dutch government) condemning international political conditions and the destruction of society under colonial rule. The speech became a landmark political document against colonialism and imperialism.
  14. 1941 – Netherlands declares war on Japan during World War Two.
  15. 1942 – Imperial Japanese Navy defeat Allied forces, overthrow the Dutch, and occupy Dutch East Indies in World War Two. Installing their Japanese imperial structure, Europeans are sent to prison camps. Locals initially welcome the Japanese as liberators, but sentiment changes due to the harshness of the Japanese occupation.
  16. 1943 – Sukarno tells locals that they must secure freedom for themselves.
  17. 1944 – Start of the liberation of Dutch East Indies from the Japanese by Allied forces.
  18. 1945 – Japan surrenders – atomic bombs were dropped in Japan. Japanese overseas forces laid down their weapons.
  19. 1945 – Two days after the Japanese surrender, on 17 August 1945 the Republic of Indonesia is established by Sukarno in Jakarta and a constitution is adopted.
  20. 1945 – (to 1949) War of Independence between the Republic of Indonesia and the Dutch Empire.
  21. 1949 – International pressure leads Netherlands Government to transfer power to Indonesia. Indonesia finally gains independence.
  22. 1950 – (to 1960) Military articulation of the doctrines of Dwifungsi and Hankamrata. A military role exists in socio-political development as well as security – there is a requirement that the resources of the people be at the call of the armed forces.
  23. 1950 – Indonesia becomes the 60th member of the United Nations.
  24. 1953 – The Acehnese rebels revolt against Jakarta interference in the Sumatra island. The revolt lasts 10 years.
  25. 1955 – The city of Bandung (near Jakarta) hosts the Asia-Africa Conference. It is a meeting attended by world leaders including China’s Zhou Enlai, India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser and Yugoslavia’s Tito. At Bandung, Zhou Enlai reassures Southeast Asian states of the peaceful pacific intentions of China.
  26. 1955 – Indonesia holds general parliamentary elections; the last free national elections until 1999 (44 years later).
  27. 1960 – Indonesia severs diplomatic links with the Netherlands in protest over its refusal to hand over Netherlands New Guinea.
  28. 1960 – President Sukarno addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
  29. 1962 – The Mandala Command to “free” Netherlands New Guinea from the Dutch is established. Its commander is General Suharto. 
  30. 1962 – The New York Agreement, transferring Netherlands New Guinea to Indonesia, is signed at the United Nations.
  31. 1962 – Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, hosts the Fourth Asian Games.
  32. 1963 – Sukarno confronts Malaysia (known as Konfrontasi). Sukarno was vehemently against Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) joining Malaya to form Malaysia.
  33. 1963 – Parliament elects Sukarno ‘President-for-life’.
  34. 1964 – During his Independence Day speech, Sukarno for the first time publicly denounces USA, and over the following months an anti-American campaign attacks American interests.
  35. 1965 – Indonesia withdraws from membership of the United Nations.
  36. 1965 – The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) calls for workers and peasants to be armed.
  37. 1965 – A group of military officers known as the Movement set out to kill seven of the country’s generals. Three generals were shot dead in their homes. Another three generals were captured and executed. One general, Nasution, escaped with injuries. The most senior general after Nasution, Suharto, was not targeted. Suharto leading the military’s most elite units, seized control of the capital, and from there denounced the Movement as a coup. The military refers to the Movement as belonging to the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party).
  38. 1965 – The Jakarta Military Command temporarily suspends the activities of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) and its organisations in Jakarta.
  39. 1965 – President Sukarno appoints General Suharto, Minister / Commander of the Army.
  40. 1965 – (to 1966) A violent anti-communist purge headed by Suharto led to the killing of 500,000 to 1 million Indonesians.
  41. 1966 – Sukarno delegates key presidential powers to Suharto. The following day Suharto dissolves the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party).
  42. 1966 – Indonesia and Malaysia agree to normalise diplomatic relations.
  43. 1966 – Indonesia rejoins the United Nations.
  44. 1967 – Restrictions are introduced regarding the status of Indonesian Chinese, including their names and their religions. Chinese are forced to take up Indonesian sounding names and Chinese language schools are closed. Chinese shops are unable to use Chinese writing.
  45. 1967 – A Special Session of the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly strips Sukarno of his powers and appoints Suharto acting president. In a ceremony at the presidential palace, Sukarno hands over authority to Suharto.
  46. 1968 – Parliament confers full presidential title on Suharto; the founding president Sukarno is effectively under house arrest.
  47. 1969 – Netherlands New Guinea or West Papua formally incorporated into Indonesia, becoming Irian Jaya Province.
  48. 1970 – Sukarno dies.
  49. 1974 – ‘Malari’ uprising in Jakarta. It is an uprising against Japanese penetration of the economy, Chinese Indonesian influence, and government officials. Disillusionment with the government rises – the elimination of corruption, once hoped to be a priority of the New Order, was not worked towards; corruption instead became more institutionalised. Critics disagreed with the “financial generals” army staff who used their relationships with the ethnic Chinese Indonesians to become rich. The Malari incident is triggered by protests of the opposition and students, who rioted from 15 to 16 January 1974. It coincided with a state visit by Japanese prime minister Tanaka. The demonstration protested against corruption and high prices. Eleven protestors were killed, and hundreds of cars and buildings destroyed. In the aftermath, Suharto’s New Order government enacted a series of economic reforms to improve Native Indonesian representation in partnerships with foreign investors.
  50. 1975 – Civil war breaks out in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. Portugal grants East Timor independence; but Indonesia launches an invasion of East Timor.
  51. 1976 – Suharto signs a bill integrating East Timor into Indonesia as its 27th province.
  52. 1977 – United Nations General Assembly rejects Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor.
  53. 1978 – Suharto appoints B J Habibie as state minister for research and technology.
  54. 1979 – Jakarta hosts the 10th SEA (South East Asian) Games.
  55. 1983 – Probowo Subianto, a major in ABRI (Indonesian National Armed Forces), marries Suharto’s daughter Titiek.
  56. 1984 – Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) is elected chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, a position previously held by both his father and grandfather.
  57. 1987 – Sukarno’s daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri becomes a member of parliament.
  58. 1987 – Jakarta hosts the 14th SEA Games.
  59. 1989 – The Free Aceh Movement re-emerges following its 1976 founding. Suppression of its guerilla activities leads to 2,000 deaths in Aceh by 1991. 
  60. 1991 – ABRI (Indonesian National Armed Forces) troops fire on demonstrative funeral procession in Dili, East Timor. Television images of the killings put East Timor high on the international human rights agenda.
  61. 1994 – Suharto shuts down Tempo and two other publications for critical reporting of Habibie’s purchase of the former East German navy.
  62. 1996 – The Free Papua Movement kidnaps 14 scientists and foresters in Iran Jaya garnering international attention. After four months, the abductees are rescued in a bloody operation led by Prabowo Subianto.
  63. 1996 – Military-backed thugs burst into headquarters of PDI, Megawati Sukarnoputri’s party, and evict her supporters in a violent climax to government efforts to vitiate her party’s popularity.
  64. 1997 – Asian financial crisis – Indonesia’s economy is badly affected.
  65. 1997 – (to 1998) The Asian currency crisis savages Indonesia’s economy. Severe social unrest breaks out across Indonesian cities, where mobs target Chinese Indonesians, Christians, symbols of wealth, the Police and the bureaucracy.
  66. 1997 – Jakarta hosts the 19th SEA Games.
  67. 1998 – After being deserted by his cabinet, Suharto resigns the presidency (amid cries of ‘corruption, cronyism and nepotism’). B J Habibie assumes the presidency; where he releases political prisoners and relaxes censorship – but the army kills at least 12 in a Jakarta student protest. Christian vs Muslim violence erupts in Jakarta and Maluku. Rioting and looting cause an estimated 1,200 deaths.
  68. 1998 – General Wiranto announces the discharge of Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto from active duty, with full pension benefits – and without court-martial for allegations of abduction and torture of student activists.
  69. 1999 – A petty argument in the city of Ambon triggers Christian-Muslim clashes that last for three years across Maluku (a province of Indonesia). As many as 10,000 are killed and 700,000 (one-third) of the region are displaced.
  70. 1999 – Indonesia’s first free and fair national elections since 1955 take place with almost no disruption and wide participation. Votes however are distributed across forty-eight parties with no party achieving a majority.
  71. 1999 – East Timor votes to secede from Indonesia in a referendum conducted under UN auspices. Four-fifths of voters choose independence for East Timor over integration with Indonesia. Pro-integration militias trained and paid by ABRI (Indonesian National Armed Forces) immediately resort to a scorched earth policy that leaves 1,000 dead and most of the territory’s infrastructure ruined.
  72. 1999 – President B J Habibie relents to international pressure and allows a UN peacekeeping force to enter East Timor and restore order.
  73. 1999 – The Indonesian parliament rejects President Habibie’s accountability speech. Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) whose party received one-eighth of the popular vote is elected president. Megawati whose party received one-third of the vote (the highest) is elected vice president.
  74. 2000 – President Abdurrahman Wahid’s administration is marred by: failures to stabilise the economy; patterns of political favouritism; economic corruption (although Wahid himself is not accused of corruption); inability to reform the military; personal eccentricity and pettiness; ineffectiveness in dealing with major religious violence in Maluku and Sulawesi; and major ethnic violence in Kalimantan and separatisms in Aceh and Irian Jaya.
  75. 2001 – President Abdurrahman Wahid is impeached chiefly on grounds of incompetence. The parliament elects Megawati Sukarnoputri president by 592 votes to 0.
  76. 2002 – Tommy Suharto (Suharto’s son) is sentenced to 15 years jail for illegal possession of arms, contempt of law, and masterminding the assassination of a Supreme Court judge who had convicted him for graft. Tommy Suharto was released after five years in jail.
  77. 2002 – Bombs in the Kuta nightclub district in Bali island kill 202 people, the world’s deadliest terrorist attack since 11 September 2001. Indonesian police, aided by ten nations, track down Jemaah Islamiyah operatives.
  78. 2002 – Irian Jaya province granted greater autonomy, and allowed to adopt the name of Papua, by Jakarta.
  79. 2003 – Jemaah Islamiyah bomb Jakarta Marriot Hotel killing 12. All but one of those killed are Indonesians.
  80. 2004 – More than 220,000 people are dead or missing in Indonesia after a powerful undersea earthquake off Sumatra island generates massive tidal waves. The waves devastate Indian Ocean communities as far afield as Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Somalia.
  81. 2004 – Parliamentary and local elections: Golkar party of former President Suharto wins greatest share of vote, with Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-P coming second.
  82. 2004 – Anti-corruption group Transparency International puts Suharto at the top of its all-time world corruption table, with an alleged embezzlement figure of between US$15 billion and US$35 billion from his 32 years in power.
  83. 2004 – A bomb blast outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta kills 11 and injures up to 100 people.
  84. 2004 – Indonesia’s first direct presidential election elects Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) (former general regarded as a liberal), following popular disillusionment with incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri.
  85. 2004 – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) sees progress against B-list corruption. The army is edged away from politics and most of its business enterprises.
  86. 2004 – An earthquake-triggered tsunami kills an estimated 170,000 in Aceh and causes widespread devastation.
  87. 2005 – Government and ‘Free Aceh Movement separatists’ sign a peace deal providing for rebel disarmament and the withdrawal of government soldiers from Aceh province. Rebels begin handing in weapons and government completes troop pull-out.
  88. 2005 – Bombings in Bali island kill 20 people.
  89. 2008 – Suharto dies.
  90. 2009 – Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) wins Indonesian presidential election.
  91. 2011 – Palembang opens 2011 Asian Games.
  92. 2011 – Two churches are set alight in central Java during a protest by hundreds of Muslims about blasphemy.
  93. 2014 – Indonesia holds presidential elections. In a quick count, Jakarta’s Governor Joko Widodo won against former military general Probowo Subianto – however both sides claim victory. Later, the Indonesian Election Commission announces Joko Widodo wins the Indonesian presidential election with 53.15% of the vote with his rival, Probowo Subianto, on 46.85%.
  94. 2017 – Jakarta’s Christian mayor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is jailed for two years for blasphemy.
  95. 2017 – Joko Widodo signs a decree giving the government the power to ban or disband radical Islamic groups.
  96. 2018 – Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang host 2018 Asian Games.
  97. 2018 – A group of suicide bombers, including two children, attack churches and the Police headquarters in Surabaya, Java island’s second biggest city, resulting in 28 fatalities.
  98. 2019 – Joko Widodo is re-elected as Indonesia’s president.
  99. 2019 – Joko Widodo appoints as his defence minister, his former bitter election rival, Probowo Subianto.
  100. 2020 – (to 2021) COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 37,000 deaths in Indonesia.
  101. 2021 – Indonesia has 275 million people.

© Comasters March 2021.

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 15:17h, 10 March

    Australia’s largest near neighbour (counting PNG and Timor L’Este) we should know its history and its national Bahasa language – but it is as if a huge blank space exists to our north and north-west – shameful! Thanks for this brief sketch Jeff – you are doing the work of the Education Departments’of Australia and states!

    • comasters1
      Posted at 19:51h, 10 March


      I speak, read and write Bahasa Indonesia (and Malaysia). My three children, born in Australia, also speak, read and write Bahasa Indonesia – thanks to a very good BI language teacher in their high school. In Bali, these youngsters ordered restaurant or cafe food like a local!