Warkop Pitulikur and Football Activism

*by Fajar Junaedi and Andy Fuller

**an earlier version of this article was published on Football Fandom Indonesia.

***photos by Husin Ghozali

Resistance towards injustice can appear anywhere. The resistance to the political forces that have sought to kill off the Persebaya football club emerged at an informal coffee house (warung kopi) known as Warkop Pitulikur (pitulikur, is 27 in Javanese).

Warkop Pitulikur is in the city center of Surabaya – Indonesia’s second largest city. The warkop is a place where intense conversations take place between equals, eating and drinking simple food and beverages.  The cafe itself is very simple. There are scraps of metal all over the place; this is because, nearby there is a metal recycling facility. The floor is earthen and the tables and chairs are wooden. It is quite large; probably capable of holding a hundred or so visitors. If all the chairs are occupied, recycled banners are laid out on the ground, so that it is possible to sit on the ground. As the name of the cafe suggests, most people drink coffee at Warkop Pitulikur. As for food, people can choose from simple rice dishes, instant noodles, fried foods and crackers.

In contrast to this basic set up and food, visitors to Warkop Pitulikur have access to decent technology. There is a large plasma television and a digital projector for watching football games. Most of Warkop Pitulikur’s regulars are mad football fans. The coffee house also has an excellent wi-fi connection. Most of the fans are aligned with Persebaya (1927). Some are active in the Bonek supporter group, others, are more casual fans. But, it is hard to be neutral: the politics of Persebaya is polarising and heated.

When I visited Warkop Pitulikur on Saturday 13th June 2015, a banner advertising the Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus was still hanging out the front. On this Saturday, Warkop Pitulikur was once again very busy – many of whom were still wearing their high-school uniforms, having come directly from school. They were talking about a whole range of matters, but the main topic of conversation was the football game that was taking place that night. The game was a friendly to be played at Gelora Bung Tomo in Surabaya, between ‘Andik and Friends’ and the ‘Team Amigos’. The first team was made of ex-Persebaya players, while the ‘Team Amigos’ was made up of some of the Latin American players who are currently playing in Indonesia. The Warkop Pitulikur coffee house was one of the places where fans could exchange their receipts for tickets for the game.

Apart from exchanging receipts for actual tickets, fans could also buy tickets for the game. But, these had sold out. The staff at Warkop Pitulikur told fans wanting to go to the game to go directly to the stadium, after getting the guarantee that tickets were still on sale.

On that morning at Warkop Pitulikur, a group of Persebaya fans (known as Bonek) had arrived by plane from Jakarta. In days gone by, the Bonek became famous for travelling in huge convoys by either train or bus.  They met up with groups of Bonek from Yogyakarta and other cities and of course, the local groups of Bonek from Surabaya. After the usual chit-chat and small talk, the conversation quickly started to focus on the current plight and struggle of Persebaya (1927).

Persebaya has suffered from ‘dualism’ (or, fragmentation) for the past two years. This is a result of the intervention of the PSSI (Indonesian Football Federation) regarding the ownership of Persebaya. The Persebaya that is officially recognised by the PSSI has not been able to gain support from the people of Surabaya and East Java more broadly. The team that has the public support has now become known as Persebaya 1927 – after the year of its founding. The Bonek from throughout the country who had gathered at this coffee house discussed the Persebaya’s future and, specifically, the legal certainty of their club that was now in the fate of the courts.

While drinking a cup of black coffee and listening to the debates of the Bonek at Warkop Pitulikur, I thought of Jurgen Habermas and his thinking about the culture of coffee houses. He wrote of how the European middle classes would meet at coffee houses and debate key issues about Europe’s future in an egalitarian manner. It was from there that ideas about democracy developed, in opposition to the absolute monarchies that were shackling freedom in Europe. These coffee houses were a kind of public sphere. One of the conditions of the public sphere was the ability of individuals to become involved in debates and have equal rights to put forward their own ideas and arguments. Another, was that there wasn’t any pressure from others who were involved in the debates. Finally, the debates would have to be carried out in a fair manner, without any participant seeking to impose his (or her) ideas.

Brian Cowan wrote an interesting book on this matter: The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of British Coffeehouses (Yale, 2005)   According to Cowan, with the introduction of coffee from the East to the West (England, in this case) by the Ottoman empire, brought with it the culture of the coffee house. Coffee, which had once only been experienced by English travellers, became a part of public life. At coffee houses, souvenirs and other exotic items were put on display in order to attract more visitors. The kind of public sphere as espoused by Habermas and that was evident in Europe, can also be found at Warkop Pitulikur. The people I met there were enlightened and well-educated. If in the past, the English who went to coffee houses were able to access newspapers, here at the Pitulikur, the visitors have free internet access. They would then debate the news while drinking coffee and sitting at their tables. Their conversations would be debated via social media.

On this day at Warkop Pitulikur, I met up with several friends and acquaintances who regularly contribute to discourses on football in Indonesia. Some of them are activists, others are journalists or post-graduate students. These included Arif Chusnudin (who is active in the Green Nord Bonek supporter group), Andhi M (a law graduate, who had come from Jakarta), and Oryza Wiryawan (a Bonek, journalist and author of the book, Imagined Persebaya). Others in attendance, included those who help to co-ordinate the chanting and tifos that are performed in the stadiums. One of the more well-known of these is Andie Peci, who is also a labour-rights activist. Other groups included the Joner – a subgroup of Bonek. They were mainly focused on discussing how Persebaya 1927 could once again perform at the national level of Indonesian football. Many of the Bonek we wearing Persebaya (1927) jerseys from different eras. They felt that the supporters of the current, officially recognised Persebaya has no real link to their own Persebaya (1927).

The reformasi movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s had no impact on the PSSI, which remains closely linked to the Golkar Party. Nurdin Halid has been able to direct the PSSI despite having been jailed on several occasions. Those who have sought to challenge the PSSI have been met with heavy handed action from thugs who carry out the dirty work of the political elite. One year ago, Andie Peci was stabbed in an unresolved case.

The latest transgression was the attack on Persebaya (1927) activists leading up to the PSSI congress of 2015. The attack occurred during the broadcast of a live debate involving Saleh Ismail Mukadar, the head of Persebaya 1927. The broadcast was stopped after members of the Pemuda Pancasila (a mass based social organisation/militia) threatened and slapped him. Their intimidating behaviour also had the effect of successfully shutting off the broadcast. (footage can be seen here)

The Bonek at Warkop Pitulikur paid no heed to social standing or status in these debates. The conversations were shaped only by rationality. Just as in Europe in the past, the Bonek were also strengthening their resolve in fighting against a a corrupt political regime. In their case it was the PSSI; a political entity that had split their club, Persebaya in two. At Warkop Pitulikur, politics and activism can’t be separated from discussions about football. The corruption of mainstream politics has lead to the fragmentation of a once great club; but its militant supporters continue to deny attempts at their silencing.

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