Ivany Atina Arbi, Jakarta – It could be love, or it could be nostalgia. Social media went abuzz last week when an image of an old man that looks like Soeharto, the country's longest-serving president, appeared on Twitter.
The photo captured the man who was sitting on a priority seat in a commuter train from a distance. It first appeared on the Twitter handle of senior Kompas photographer Arbain Rambey, @arbainrambey, on May 30 – a post that, as of today, has been retweeted more than 900 times users and garnered over 500 likes.
Just like other memes that have circulated about Soeharto on social media, they were welcomed with jeers and cheers for the leader, who has often been called a dictator for his strong military grip and links to human rights abuses to keep his long tenure, also known as the New Order era.
Some said they missed Soeharto for "advancing the country". Propelled by government officials during the New Order era, he was once dubbed Bapak Pembangunan (Father of Development).
A Twitter user who commented on the latest post on Soeharto, Paulus M. Pangau, said Soeharto was unlike today's leaders who could only impoverish their people. Soeharto was a father of development who contributed a lot to the country.Another user, @Dani_er, said Soeharto deserved to be remembered for his leadership. Only during his tenure "could the people feel safe, staple food prices be stable and the development run smoothly".
Talks continued to speculate on the identity of the man on the picture. Some guessed he was Koeswali Somadihardja, 69, who was already known as Soeharto's look-alike.
Koeswali said he had been told by his niece that he was suddenly famous on the internet at a time when the country was commemorating two decades after the former president's fall and the political and economic crises that surrounded the event.
But the Pamulang resident said it was not him. "The last time I was on a train was in 2011," Koeswali said.
Asvi Warman Adam, a historian with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said it was normal for the public to still be fascinated by the late president for he did appear, in many history books, as a figure who could deliver justice, security and welfare.
"But these people might be unaware that it cost a lot to let the dictator lead the country for decades. Many human rights violations occurred back then," Asvi said on Sunday.
Soeharto was allegedly involved in several human rights abuses, such as the Tanjung Priok massacre in early 1984 and the 1989 Talangsari incident in Lampung.
He was also linked to a series of mysterious shootings between 1982 and 1985, known as Petrus, in which 2,000 people were reportedly killed across the country, with the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police deemed responsible for the killings, according to reports by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in 2012.
Due to the controversy surrounding his legacy, the government has rejected naming Soeharto a national hero.
Nicky Aulia, 25, said she did not miss the former president one bit. "I am lucky that I could learn history from sources other than textbooks taught in school when I was a little kid," Nicky said.
The media company employee said she had learned a lot of alternative narratives about Soeharto when she was studying communication sciences at Padjadjaran University.
Narendra, a University of Indonesia (UI) student, also shared Nicky's experience of learning the other side of historical events after starting university.
The 21-year-old admitted that he learned about "the real" Soeharto after he entered university, where he was introduced to books and movies about various human rights violations in the country allegedly initiated by the dictator.
"Before that, the only thing I knew wass that Soeharto was the father of development." (ami)