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Standing majestically on the north side of the large Merdeka Square stands Istana Merdeka, or the Freedom Palace, the Official Residence and Office of the President of the Republic of Indonesia.
Facing the large Merdeka Square, here every 17th August on Indonesia’s Independence Day the State Ceremony is held on its steps and the palace gardens fronting it, attended by all dignitaries and Diplomatic Corps and watched by the public. 34 students representing Indonesia’s 34 provinces will march to the main stairs, then one of the chosen students will walk up the steps to receive the Red and White flag personally from the President to raise the national flag on the large flagpole, to the accompaniment of the National Anthem : Indonesia Raya.
Then the original Proclamation of Independence text is read out at exactly 10.0 am, the exact time it was announced on that historic day on 17 August 1945 by Soekarno, Indonesia’s first President. This will then be followed by 17 gun salutes.
Now that the original Red and White flag has become frayed, and the original flag can no longer be flown, it still “accompanies” the flag that is to be raised.
The gardens in front of the Merdeka Palace were witness to the historic moment when the Red, white and blue flag of the Netherlands was finally taken down for the last time on 27 December 1949, and Indonesia’s Red and White flag raised high into the blue sky, denoting the end of Dutch sovereignty over the Indonesian archipelago after 300 years of dire colonization. This historic moment was witnessed with unabashed tears and exhuberance by the thousands of people standing in its grounds around the flagpole, crying out : Merdeka, Merdeka - Freedom, Freedom!
For this reason, the Palace was henceforth called the Merdeka Palace.
The official recognition of Indonesia as an Independent State from the Netherlands, was also signed in this building in 1949 signed by Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX for Indonesia and the representative of the Dutch Crown, A.H.J Lovink, thus concluding the War of Independence (1945-1949), when even after declaring Independence, Indonesian youth fought and died in battles against Dutch troops for the nation’s Independence.
Merdeka Palace today stands in a large complex decorated with old shady banyan trees and manicured lawns that also include Istana Negara or the State Palace, Bina Graha - the Office of the President, a mosque, and the offices of the State Secretariat.
Merdeka Palace is, in fact a newer building, built between 1873-1879, the original palace building being the present Istana Negara – the State Palace – that faces the other side, to Jalan Juanda. This Palace is today used for banquets.
It was in the Istana Negara that the Linggarjati Agreement was signed in November 1946, temporarily ending armed hostilities between the Indonesian people and the Netherlands government, with the intention of making the Indonesian archipelago into a Federal Republic. The Republik Indonesia Serikat (or the Federal Republic of Indonesia) was born, but was later on 17 August 1950 unanimously disbanded to become the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia , in bahasa Indonesia named : Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia, or NKRI. which the country strongly upholds until the present day. (WS)
(Source: Historical sights of Jakarta, by Adolf Heuken SJ)