For me, October is always about youth power.

Let me take you to walk down a memory lane. Nearly a century ago, Indonesian young activists assembled in Batavia (now Jakarta) with one single purpose: pursuing unity. It was precisely eighty nine years ago, in a European-style house in Jakarta, youth organizations and ethnic group associations from all across Indonesia came together. There were Jong Java, Jong Celebes, Jong Islamieten Bond, Jong Sumatranen, Jong Minahasa, Jong Ambon, and other associations that joined the youth gang. Youth had been establishing organizations since early 1900s under the inception of the young intellectuals and in twenty years period of time, they had showed an impressive progress in term of membership laverage and scope of movement. Fueled by the rising sense of nationalism and with the spirit of Le desir d’etre ensembl or a desire to assemble and become one,[1]  they agreed to formulate collective steps for the sake of the nation. The second youth congress was held in 1982 and its result, Youth Pledge, had become one of the most significant landmarks in Indonesian history.

Now let take a closer look to what happened in the congress.

Initially a headquarter of Jong Java, one of the most influential youth organizations in Indonesia at that moment, the house which was located in Jalan Kramat Raya 106 transformed into a meeting place during October 26-28 event where representatives from various organizations gathered. The tension was thick, and the Dutch authorities’ warning was clear in the atmosphere: no political discussion was allowed. However, all youth participants were well aware that they shared the similar thirst of freedom: “tida oesa bitjara kita soeda mengarti [without mentioning it we have already understood] had effects ten times more than kemerdekaan (Freedom, Independence).”[2] That day, October 28, was the culmination of the youth movement in responding to the long sufferance of the three-century Dutch colonization. The longing for freedom and sovereignty was eventuallly translated into Youth Pledge, a vow to recognize one motherland, one nation, and one unifying language, Bahasa Indonesia. Since then, Youth Pledge had become the soul and breath of the journey to Indonesia’s independence.

(photo credit: Evi B)

(photo credit: Evi B)

Youth Pledge was a tangible proof that youth movement played a pivotal role in the efforts to gain independence of Indonesia. Despite the various demographic characteristics, Indonesian youth successfully put aside the chauvinism sentiment and persistently propel the reinforcement of national identity. Although they couldn’t proclaim independence yet, Youth Pledge marked a milestone in the history of Indonesian struggle to achieve sovereignty by acting as a symbolic gesture of unity with one of the significant markers was the recognition of Bahasa Indonesia. Youth activists were fully aware of the importance of language as precarious part to achieve unity. It embraced the diversity of regional languages and acted as unifying factor where all people can communicate in the same language and in equal stances.

Words as Unifier not Divider

Now let’s fast forward to the recent time where most youth are likely to spend their time in front of the screen of their smartphones. Nowadays, Indonesian youth are dealing with completely different challenges and situations than what youth faced a century ago. Raided by the fast growing technology culture, the phenomenon of social media havocs and hate speech among youth seem in an upward trajectory. The heavy dependence on technology unavoidably triggers the relevant addiction to social media. In addition, social media has the power to relegate the value of real conversation and enable the flourish of practices pertain to hate speech, fake news, and provocative utterances under the premise of freedom of speech in public space.

(Photo credit:

(Photo credit:

This is the real challenge that youth face in every day life right now. We no longer need to combat colonizer with bamboo and sword. We can speak freely and stand independently, and most importantly we have every single bit of rights to be treated equally. However, those privileges come with the responsibilities that might be too heavy to bear for many of us. Many of us bully others with harsh languages, throw utterance full of hatred instead of constructive criticism, and share provocative news without doing simple checking mechanism. Indonesia National Police cybercrime chief stated that hate speech, especially concerning race and religion, was the most frequently reported internet crime in 2016. He said cases include defamation, harassment, slander, provocation and threats against individuals or groups.[3] This saddening fact tells us exactly that the role of language can evolve and morph from unifying factor into genuine threat to inclusiveness of the society. We care less about our social and cultural identity and pursue our selfish satisfaction instead.

Reflecting to this circumstance, it is definitely not the fault of language. Neither is social media. It is about the hand that handles those tools that will hold the crucial function and lead the main current. Language is a powerful tool for change and it is in our hand, the power to determine whether we will use it for greater good or for individual satisfaction instead. I believe that exercising freedom of speech and protecting the inclusiveness of society is not mutually exclusive if we share the same sentiment and spirit of Youth Pledge: that language is our cultural and social identity. With that principle in mind we will soon realize that the freedom that we enjoy right now is constituted by the foundation of language as unifier, not divider.


[1] Djon Pakan Lalangi, “Kembali ke Jati Diri Bangsa:Menegakkan Sumpah Pemuda, Pancasila, Proklamasi, UUD 1945”, Kompas, August 2012

[2] Quoted in Leo Suryadinata, “Indonesian Nationalism and the Pre-War Youth Movement: A Reexamination”, March 1978, pp 99-14, Cambridge University Press on behalf of Department of History, National University of Singapore:



By Evi BAITUROHMAH, ASEAN Correspondent from Indonesia