In 1971, with a small group of writers and journalists I founded Tempo, the first magazine in Indonesia modeled after weeklies like Time, l’Express, and Der Spiegel. There were many reasons why we did it, but one of them had something to do with language.
The Indonesian language, of which the base is Malay, is unique in its political history. Since previous centuries, it has been adopted, albeit inconsistently, as a lingua franca by the Patanis in South Thailand, people of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Southern part of the Philippines and Timor Leste.
In other words, Indonesians’ national language is not an infixed legacy of colonialism — Dutch colonialism that is. Neither it is an expanded medium of communication generated by a majority culture. In fact, the beginning of Indonesian print-capitalism that spread the use of the language was led among others by the so-called “non-indigenous” minorities, the ethnic Chinese. In addition to that, Indonesian has never had an established centre of excellence preserved by a ruling class. The attempt to create a hierarchical standardization has never been a success.
In short, it is a democratic language par excellence, created by different paroles. It is no surprise that it becomes a natural part of the political. Hence, as early as 1920s, the language was not merely a medium of nationalist, or anti-colonialist, ideas; it was, in itself, a nationalist expression. It was chosen as an act against the residue of the colonial language policy and simultaneously a break-away from local forms of orality and literacy nurtured by provincial (“feudal”) aristocracies. In other words, it is part of the process of internalizing the idea of “Indonesia” which, as Benedict Anderson famously puts, is an “imagined community”.
The link between the Indonesian language and the political is, however, not always in a placid state. Especially when the political — or la politique, in Ranciere’s use of the word — is submerged by the need to stabilize political groupings and identities. This leads to the production of a reiterative (and persistent) lexicon, articulated in slogans, catchphrases, and empathic acronyms.
The decade between the 1950s and the 1960s saw such a trend in the Indonesian language — especially during the period of the “Guided Democracy” with its “Third-World” revolutionary fervor.
Sukarno, a charismatic orator addressed as “the Great Leader of the Revolution”, charged the language with words like “Manipol” (Manifesto Politik or “Political Manifesto”, the name of one of Sukarno’s doctrines), “Resopim” (Revolusi-Sosialisme-Pimpinan or “Revolution-Socialism-Leadership”), “kontrev” (kontra-revolusi or “counterrevolutionary’), “nekolim” (neocolonialism), “plintat-plintut“, a Javanese mocking phrase for an ambivalent political position — later to be abbreviated into a popular acronym, plin-plan..
Lanjutkan membaca Tempo, A Lingual Story