Sutan Sjahrir

Sutan Sjahrir (5 March 1909 – 9 April 1966) was an Indonesian revolutionary independence leader and prime minister, described as an idealistic Indonesian intellectual.[1] He became the first prime minister of Indonesia in 1945, after a career as a key Indonesian nationalist organizer in the 1930s and 1940s. From there, Sutan worked hard as Prime Minister to ensure Indonesia was living up to its name. He was considered an idealist and an intellectual who despite his political interest, put his country first before his own needs. Unlike some of his colleagues, he did not support the Japanese and worked to gain independence for Indonesia.

Sutan Syahrir
Sutan Sjahrir, Pekan Buku Indonesia 1954, p246.jpg
Sjahrir c. 1954
1st Prime Minister of Indonesia
In office
14 November 1945 – 3 July 1947
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byAmir Sjarifoeddin
2nd Interior Minister of Indonesia
In office
14 November 1945 – 12 March 1946
Preceded byR.A.A. Wiranatakusumah
Succeeded bySudarsono
2nd Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia
In office
14 November 1945 – 3 July 1947
Preceded byAchmad Soebardjo
Succeeded byAgus Salim
Personal details
Born(1909-03-05)5 March 1909
Padang Pandjang, Dutch East Indies
Died9 April 1966(1966-04-09) (aged 57)
Zurich, Switzerland
Cause of deathIntracerebral hemorrhage
Resting placeKalibata Heroes Cemetery
Political partySocialist Party of Indonesia
Spouse(s)Maria Duchateau
Siti Wahyunah

Born to a Minangkabau family, he studied at the University of Amsterdam and later becoming a law student at Leiden University. He became involved in Socialist politics, and Indonesia's struggle for independence, becoming a close associate of the older independence activist Mohammad Hatta, future vice-president of Indonesia.

Sutan Sjahrir was imprisoned by Sukarno in 1963, and then released by Sukarno in 1965 so he could seek medical treatment. Sjahrir went to Zurich, Switzerland, where he then died after a stroke at age 56.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Sjahrir was born in 1909 in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra. He was born to a Minangkabau family from Koto Gadang, Agam.[2][3] His father was the chief public prosecutor in Medan and advisor to the Sultan of Deli. His eldest half-sister Siti Rohana (nicknamed the Minangkabau Kartini) was an advocate for women's education and a journalist with the first feminist newspaper of Sumatra. He studied (ELS and MULO) in Medan and in 1926 (AMS) in Bandung. During his school years in Medan, he was a violinist in Hotel de Boer at night. In Bandung he became co-founder of the 'People's University', battling illiteracy and raising funds for the performance of patriotic plays in the Priangan countryside.[4]

Nationalist Student activist in the NetherlandsEdit

Sjahrir arrived in the Netherlands in 1929, enrolling first at the University of Amsterdam and later becoming a law student at Leiden University where he gained an appreciation for socialist principles.[5] He was a part of several labor unions as he worked to support himself. He was briefly the secretary of the Perhimpoenan Indonesia (Indonesian Association), an organization of Indonesian students in the Netherlands. Sjahrir was also one of the co-founders of Jong Indonesie, an Indonesian youth association in lieu of the need of an association to assist in the development of Indonesian youth for further generations, only to change within a few years to Pemuda Indonesia. This, in particular, played an important role in the Youth Congress (Sumpah Pemuda), in which the association helped the congress itself to run. During his political activities as a student in the Netherlands he became a close associate of the older independence activist Mohammad Hatta, future vice-president of Indonesia. While he spent years in exile in the Banda Islands, he taught the local children to love their country and inspired them in many ways.[citation needed]

The Perhimpoenan Indonesia came under increasing communist influence, and Hatta and Sjahrir were both expelled in 1931.[6] In a reaction to the intrigue by communist cells in the PI against Hatta and himself Sjahrir stayed calm and in character. In his memoirs their Dutch associate Sol Tas recalls: "He was not intimidated for one minute by official or quasi-official declarations, by communiques or other formulae, not afraid for one second of the maneuvers directed against him, and still less concerned for his reputation. That mixture of self-confidence and realism, that courage based on the absence of any ambition or vanity, marked the man."[7]

Nationalist leader in the Dutch East IndiesEdit

Sjahrir had not finished his law degree, when Hatta sent Sjahrir ahead of him to the Dutch East Indies in 1931, to help set up the Indonesian National Party (PNI). Sjahrir was heavily involved in the Daulat Rajat, the newspaper of the new PNI.[8] Within a relatively short time he developed from a representative of Hatta into a political and intellectual leader with his own standing. Both leaders were imprisoned in the Cipinang Penitentiary Institution by the Dutch in March 1934 and convicted for nationalist activities in November 1934, exiled to Boven-Digoel where they arrived March 1935, then to Banda a year later, and just before the Indies fell to the Japanese in 1941, to Sukabumi.

Resistance leader during the Japanese occupationEdit

During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia he had little public role, apparently sick with tuberculosis, while he was actually one of the few independence leaders that was involved in the resistance movement against the Japanese occupation. Sukarno, Hatta and Sjahrir had in fact agreed that Sjahrir would go underground to organise the revolutionary resistance while the other 2 would continue their cooperation with the Japanese occupier.[9]

Prime ministerEdit

Our Struggle book cover, 1945

At the height of chaos and violence during the early Bersiap period of the Indonesian revolution Sjahrir published an epoch-making pamphlet named 'Our Struggle'. Originally published in Dutch as 'Indonesische Overpeinzingen' ('Indonesian Musings'), it was soon thereafter translated into the Indonesian language as 'Perdjoeangan Kita' in 1945, and was then translated into the English language by Charles Wolf Jr. and named 'Out of Exile' published by John Day, New York, 1949. The English version contains a considerable amount of additional text.[10] "Perhaps the high point of his career was the publication of his pamphlet 'Our Struggle'. Whoever reads that pamphlet today can scarcely comprehend what it demanded in insight and courage. For it appeared at a moment when the Indonesian masses, brought to the boiling point by the Japanese occupation and civil war, sought release in racist and other hysterical outbursts. Sjahrir's pamphlet went directly against this, and many must have felt his call for chivalry, for the understanding of other ethnic groups, as a personal attack." Sol Tas.[11]

Sjahrir in 1946

After writing his pamphlet he was appointed Prime Minister by President Sukarno in November 1945 and served until June 1947. Professor Wertheim describes Sjahrir's early accomplishments as Prime minister as follows: "...Sjahrir knows what he wants and will not be distracted by popular sentiment or circumstantiality. He is able to overturn a ministry fabricated by the Japanese and establish a new ministry of honest, fairly capable, fairly democratic and social minded men under his leadership. No small feat in revolutionary circumstances..."[12][failed verification]

Due to his non-cooperative stance during the Japanese occupation he was one of the few Republican leaders acceptable to the Dutch government during the early independence negotiations. In 1946 Sjahrir played a crucial role in negotiating the Linggadjati Agreement. Because his thoughts were ahead of his time he was often misunderstood and started to acquire internal political adversaries.[13][14]

If we determine the value of Indonesia's freedom by its genuinely democratic quality, then in our political struggle vis-a-vis the outside world, it is for this inner content that we must strive. "The State of the Republic of Indonesia" is only a name we give to whatever content we intend and hope to provide. In 'Perdjoeangan Kita' (Our Struggle), October 1945, Sjahrir.[15]

Political leaderEdit

Sjahrir speaking at a PSI election rally in Bali in 1955

Although Sjahrir was one of the most significant Indonesian politicians of his time, he did not engage in politics through a sense of vocation nor out of interest, but rather through a sense of duty to his country and compatriots and commitment to his democratic ideals. Described as an omnivorous intellectual Sjahrir had education at the heart of his passion. When he was appointed Prime Minister in 1945, he was the youngest prime minister in the world only being 36 years old.[16]

"I really find teaching the greatest work there is, for helping young people to shape themselves is one of the noblest tasks of society." Sutan Sjahrir.[16]

Sjahrir founded the Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI) in 1948 to politically oppose the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Sutan's socialist party ultimately failed to win support and was later banned in 1960.[17] Already in the mid 1930s Sjahrir warned for the tendency of socialists to be dragged into the notions of the extreme political left. Sjahrir described his fear of the trend of socialists to adopt ideas of communist absolutism as follows: "Those socialist activists, with all good intentions, suddenly and unnoticed become 'absolute' thinkers, 'absolutely' discarding freedom, 'absolutely' spitting on humanity and the rights of the individual.[...]They envision the terminus of human development as one huge military complex of extreme order and discipline [...]"[18]

Although small, his party was very influential in the early post-independence years, because of the expertise and high education levels of its leaders. But the party performed poorly in the 1955 elections, partly due to the fact that the grassroots constituency at the time was unable to fully understand the concepts of social democracy Sjahrir was trying to convey.[19] [1] It was banned by President Sukarno in August 1960 because of its support for a rebellion in Sumatra and his opposition to the president's policies.[20]

Final yearsEdit

In 1962 Sjahrir was jailed on alleged conspiracy charges for which he was never put on trial. Instead of fighting back and creating more conflicts, he chose to step back from politics and accept the consequences. During his imprisonment he suffered from high blood pressure and in 1965 had a stroke, losing his speech. He was sent to Zürich, Switzerland for treatment and died there in exile in 1966.


Although a revolutionary opponent of Dutch colonialism his intellectual prowess was recognised by his adversaries and he remained highly respected in the Netherlands.[21] After his death in 1966 the former Dutch Prime-Minister Professor Schermerhorn commemorated Sjahrir in a public broadcast on national radio, calling him a "noble political warrior" with "high ideals" and expressing the hope that he will be recognised as such by next generations in Indonesia.[22]

In the 21st century Sjahrir's legacy in Indonesia is being publicly rehabilitated.[23][24][25][26]

In 2009 Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said: “He was a thinker, a founding father, a humanistic leader and a statesman. He should be a model for the young generation of Indonesians. His thoughts, his ideas and his spirit are still relevant today as we face global challenges in democracy and the economy.”[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Dotulong 2010.
  2. ^ Azizah Etek et al 2007, p. 131.
  3. ^ Cribb & Kahin 2004, p. 393.
  4. ^ Legge 1988, p. 36.
  5. ^ Tas 1969, p. 135.
  6. ^ Legge 1988, p. 34.
  7. ^ Tas 1969, p. 143.
  8. ^ Legge 1988, p. 35.
  9. ^ All 3 biographies (Sukarno, Hatta, Sjahrir) confirm this. See: Mrazek, Rudolf Sjahrir: politics in exile in Indonesia (SEAP Cornell South East Asia program, 1994) ISBN 0-87727-713-3 P.222
  10. ^ Kousbroek 2005, p. 233.
  11. ^ Tas 1969, p. 150.
  12. ^ Wertheim, W.F."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 July 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)"Nederland op de tweesprong." (Publisher: Van Loghum Slaterus, Amsterdam, 1946)
  13. ^ Anwar, Rosihan (2010) Sutan Sjahrir: Demokrat Sejati, Pejuang Kemanusiaan (“Sutan Sjahrir: True Democrat, Fighter for Humanity”), Jakarta : Penerbit Buku Kompas : KITLV Press, 2010 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ One of his opponents was Subandrio who became Sukarno's right hand man and was later on involved in Sjahrir's imprisonment. Mrazek, Rudolf Sjahrir: politics in exile in Indonesia (SEAP Cornel South East Asia program, 1994) ISBN 0-87727-713-3 P.464
  15. ^ Sjahrir (1945)
  16. ^ a b Tas 1969, p. 148.
  17. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  18. ^ Sjahrir, Soetan "Indonesische overpeinzingen" (Publisher: Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 1945)
  19. ^ Anwar, Rosihan (2010) Sutan Sjahrir: Demokrat Sejati, Pejuang Kemanusiaan (“Sutan Sjahrir: True Democrat, Fighter for Humanity”) Jakarta : Penerbit Buku Kompas : KITLV Press, 2010
  20. ^ Ricklefs 2008, p. 420.
  21. ^ In the Netherlands there are even streets named after Sjahrir. See image of Sjahrirstraat in Leiden:[1][permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Historical Audio Archive: Schermerhorn, Willem In Memoriam: Soetan Sjahrir, (RNW, 1966). Full audio file: [2] Archived 27 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Image of Schermerhorn & Sjahrir: [3]
  23. ^ Newspaper article, Jakarta Post 2009 'Sutan Sjahrir, teacher of the nation.'[4] Retrieved 23 September 2010
  24. ^ News article, Jakarta Globe 2010 'Remembering Sutan Sjahrir' "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Retrieved 23 September 2010
  25. ^ (in Indonesian)Article Tempo 2009 'Manifest of an anti-fascist.' [5] Retrieved 23 September 2010
  26. ^ 'Sjahrir 'a model for the young.' Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Jakarta Post 2009
  27. ^ Quoted in a news article by Multa Fidrus in The Jakarta Post, 3 November 2009.


External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Position created
Prime Minister of Indonesia
14 November 1945 – 20 June 1947
Succeeded by
Amir Sjarifoeddin