Indonesia’s founding father and first president, Soekarno was known for his smoking habit. There are many photos of him smoking spread across the internet. Most of photos depict Soekarno smoking with other world leaders. On those photos, a form of intimacy can be seen between Soekarno and other leaders captured in those photos.
By looking the photos and the intimacy depicted, for Soekarno perhaps smoking was not only a recreational activity but also a social and interactional move that brought up closeness in individual relation and statehood diplomacy. Considering the long and prevailing history of tobacco and cigarette in ancient trade world far before World War I era, it is no wonder that the cigarette could be a supporting feature in enhancing relationship between two or more people.
John Player and Son Cigarette
John Player and Son cigarette or simply known as Player’s cigarette was one of Soekarno’s cigarette choice. It is documented on Dunia Dalam Genggaman Bung Karno (World is in Bung Karno’s Hand) when he was once visiting Havana, Cuba on May 1960 to meet Fidel Castro. Both Soekarno and Castro are smokers, thus Castro offered Soekarno a cigar to enjoy together. In the book it is mentioned that Soekarno also offered Castro his favorite cigarette, Player’s.
Castro was a bit shocked by the cigarette offered by Soekarno since Player’s is a British made cigarette. Castro asked why Soekarno offered him cigarettes made by imperialist. Then Soekarno replied, “right, those imperialists and capitalists shall be burned to smokes and ashes” followed by their laughter. What a contextual joke. Hence, Cuba is a communist state and both Soekarno and Castro share their belief on anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism.
Besides Castro, Soekarno had a good relationship with the Soviet Union’s Prime Minister, Nikita Khrushchev. Their mutual belief in anti-imperialism enhance their close relationship that affected Indonesia and the Soviet Union diplomacy. When Khrushchev met Soekarno at Tampaksiring Palace, Bali, it can be seen on a documented photo they were cigarette kissing. In Rusian culture when two people are doing a cigarette kiss, their relationship must be in a mutual trust relationship level.
In addition, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had a smoking-related experience with Soekarno. An old photo captured that Soekarno was helping Nehru to light his cigarette in a conference. Desmond Satria Andrian, the Asian-African Conference Museum curator said that closeness between Soekarno and Nehru was initiated in First Conference of Non-Aligned Movement in Beograd, Yugoslavia, on September 1960. There was no restriction on smoking at that time. On the following Asian African Conference in 1955, where Indonesian was the host, smoking was allowed for all delegates.
From the stories above, Soekarno can be categorized as someone who is fond of smoking. He was cleverly using this recreational activity as a means of enhancing diplomacy with other countries. Even though he is Indonesian, it still cannot be confirmed whether he only enjoyed “white cigarettes” or Indonesian cigarette as well. One thing for sure, Soekarno’s personal adjutant, Mangil Martowidjojo, stated that Soekarno’s favorite was State Express 555 or simply called 555 or triple five. Martowidjojo explained that Soekarno usually took a puff for a roll after enjoying fruits after meal.