Remembering the Flag Incident that Changed the World


On 17 August 2015 employees at the iconic Hotel Majapahit in Surabaya, Indonesia, paused to remember an historic occasion at the site where world history pivoted in a new direction.


The Armenian Sarkies brothers established a chain of elite hotels across SE Asia 100 years ago--the Strand in Burma, the E&O in Penang, the Raffles in Singapore, and the Oranje Hotel in Surabaya among them. The Japanese renamed the Oranje Hotel the Yamoto Hotel. When the Allies "liberated" Surabaya from the Japanese at the end of WWII, the Dutch flag went up over this iconic hotel. The youth of Surabaya revolted. 350 years of Dutch colonialism plus 3-1/2 years of even more brutal Japanese colonialism made them fed up with foreign kings. 

They climbed up to the roof of the hotel, brought down the Dutch flag, tore off the blue strip, and raised the red and white flag of the newly declared Republic of Indonesia. The masses of Surabaya went wild with glee, and the colonial lords were furious. This flag incident would lead in the following weeks to street battles where the RAF would bomb defenseless kampungs, and a British general would be killed at the battle of the Red Bridge (Jembatan Merah). 

Needless to say, many Indonesian youth--often armed with nothing but sharpened bamboo pungee sticks, died in the fighting. But the Flag Incident and the events that followed galvanized the Indonesian people. They would never again tolerate foreign domination. They won their independence after a few years of bitter conflict with the Dutch military. 

But it went further than that. Indonesia was the first big country to dare to declare independence from their colonial lords after WWII. Their pioneering example led to scores of other countries following suit and ending the age of Western colonialism across Asia and Africa.

Here, at the site of that famous flag raising, employees of the iconic Hotel Majapahit (the hotel's current name) assemble on the roof for a flag raising ceremony on the 70th anniversary of Indonesian independence. 

They read their declaration of independence and national ideology called Pancasila together along with singing Indonesia Raya--the national anthem.

Employees and managers stand side-by-side, pausing in a long moment of silence to remember the brave Surabaya youth who fell during those tumultuous days.


A respected haji leader reads a speech from the mayor of Surabaya to all of her constituents. 

They raise the flag again over the building where it all started.

They pledge their devotion to their country and flag.

A modern Indonesian patriot relishes in his freedom on Indonesia's 70th Independence Day.

And the flag signifying Indonesian independence still flies from the original flag pole that sparked a revolution, not only in Indonesia, but across much of the world.