Update: With saddened hearts we share the news that the Indonesian government has forced the 2015 Ubud Writer’s & Reader’s Festival to cancel all sessions on the 1965-66 massacre.
Indonesian voices silenced again. bit.ly/1LsobyA
Bali festival censored over 1965 massacre discussion
Ubud festival banned discussing 1965 massacre
Discussion of research on 1965 massacre and book launches and art banned
Indonesians should be able to talk about 1965 massacres without fear of censorship
Demands to stop attacks on free speech
Essential reading: Censorship and the forbidden past
ABC report http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2015/s4338920.htm
This ban is political machinations amongst Bali’s powerful Hindu political and economic elites. In Bali their 1965 massacres are significantly widespread and brutal and so any discussion is to be suppressed, particularly with President Jokowi buckling to the TNI and extreme right resurgence nationally.
So what are the 1965 massacres about?
Exposing the 1965 massacre
1. Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence By JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER
please see his stunning documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence
2. Search for truth by Pat Walsh
3.Catastrophe in Indonesia by Max Lane and
Reflecting on the meaning of 30 September in Indonesia by Max Lane
4.How Suharto Won Power by Humphrey McQueen
5.Indonesia’s forgotten genocide by Michael Vatikiotis
6.Australia’s role in the genocide
7. Remembering 1965 across generations
8. Remembering Indonesia’s Bloody Coup
9. Australian journalist Frank Palmos: First witness to 1965 massacre
10.Horrid Carcass of Indonesia – 50 Years After the Coup
by ANDRE VLTCHEK
11.President Widodo hopes G30S/PKI communist rebellion won’t happen again and is not apologising
12. 1965, today: living with the Indonesian massacres by Gerry van Klinken, Nikki Edwards and Sadiah Boonstra
13. PKI to gather sympathisers
Demand the U.S. to reveal the truth about Indonesia mass violence. Sign and share ETAN’s petition. http://chn.ge/1v50Edj
1. Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence By JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER SEPT. 29, 2015
Background. Essential viewing is Oppenheimer’s chilling documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ http://chriswhiteonline.org/2013/09/indonesia-the-act-of-killing/ and follow up movie ‘The Look of Silence’ that I saw last night in Adelaide.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of a mass slaughter in Indonesia. With American support, more than 500,000 people were murdered by the Indonesian Army and its civilian death squads. At least 750,000 more were tortured and sent to concentration camps, many for decades.
The victims were accused of being “communists,” an umbrella that included not only members of the legally registered Communist Party, but all likely opponents of Suharto’s new military regime from union members and women’s rights activists to teachers and the ethnic Chinese. Unlike in Germany, Rwanda or Cambodia, there have been no trials, no truth-and-reconciliation commissions, no memorials to the victims. Instead, many perpetrators still hold power throughout the country.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, and if it is to become the democracy it claims to be, this impunity must end. The anniversary is a moment for the United States to support Indonesia’s democratic transition by acknowledging the 1965 genocide, and encouraging a process of truth, reconciliation and justice.
On Oct. 1, 1965, six army generals in Jakarta were killed by a group of disaffected junior officers. Maj. Gen. Suharto assumed command of the armed forces, blamed the killings on the leftists, and set in motion a killing machine. Millions of people associated with left-leaning organizations were targeted, and the nation dissolved into terror people even stopped eating fish for fear that fish were eating corpses. Suharto usurped President Sukarno’s authority and established himself as de facto president by March 1966. From the very beginning, he enjoyed the full support of the United States.
I’ve spent 12 years investigating the terrible legacy of the genocide, creating two documentary films, “The Act of Killing” in 2013 and “The Look of Silence,” released earlier this year. I began in 2003, working with a family of survivors. We wanted to show what it is like to live surrounded by still-powerful perpetrators who had murdered your loved ones.
The family gathered other survivors to tell their stories, but the army warned them not to participate. Many survivors urged me not to give up and suggested that I film perpetrators in hopes that they would reveal details of the massacres.
I did not know if it was safe to approach the killers, but when I did, I found them open. They offered boastful accounts of the killings, often with smiles on their faces and in front of their grandchildren. I felt I had wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power.
Today, former political prisoners from this era still face discrimination and threats. Gatherings of elderly survivors are regularly attacked by military-backed thugs. Schoolchildren are still taught that the “extermination of the communists” was heroic, and that victims’ families should be monitored for disloyalty. This official history, in effect, legitimizes violence against a whole segment of society.
The purpose of such intimidation is to create a climate of fear in which corruption and plunder go unchallenged. Inevitably in such an atmosphere, human rights violations have continued since 1965, including the 1975-1999 occupation of East Timor, where enforced starvation contributed to the killing of nearly a third of the population, as well as torture and extrajudicial killing that go on in West Papua today.
Military rule in Indonesia formally ended in 1998, but the army remains above the law. If a general orders an entire village massacred, he cannot be tried in civilian courts. The only way he could face justice is if the army itself convenes a military tribunal, or if Parliament establishes a special human rights court something it has never done fairly and effectively.
With the military not subject to law, a shadow state of paramilitaries and intelligence agencies has formed around it. This shadow state continues to intimidate the public into silence while, together with its business partners, it loots the national wealth.
Indonesia can hold regular elections, but if the laws do not apply to the most powerful elements in society, then there is no rule of law, and no genuine democracy. The country will never become a true democracy until it takes serious steps to end impunity. An essential start is a process of truth, reconciliation and justice.
This may still be possible. The Indonesian media, which used to shy from discussing the genocide, now refers to the killings as crimes against humanity, and grassroots activism has taken hold. The current president, Joko Widodo, indicated he would address the 1965 massacre, but he has not established a truth commission, issued a national apology, or taken any other steps to end the military’s impunity.
We need truth and accountability from the United States as well. U.S. involvement dates at least to an April 1962 meeting between American and British officials resulting in the decision to “liquidate” President Sukarno, the populist but not communist founding father of Indonesia. As a founder of the nonaligned movement, Sukarno favored socialist policies; Washington wanted to replace him with someone more deferential to Western strategic and commercial interests.
The United States conducted covert operations to destabilize Sukarno and strengthen the military. Then, when genocide broke out, America provided equipment, weapons and money. The United States compiled lists containing thousands of names of public figures likely to oppose the new military regime, and handed them over to the Indonesian military, presumably with the expectation that they would be killed. Western aid to Suharto’s dictatorship, ultimately amounting to tens of billions of dollars, began flowing while corpses still clogged Indonesia’s rivers. The American media celebrated Suharto’s rise and his campaign of death. Time magazine said it was the “best news for years in Asia.”
But the extent of America’s role remains hidden behind a wall of secrecy: C.I.A. documents and U.S. defense attaché papers remain classified.
Numerous Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents have been denied. Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, will soon reintroduce a resolution that, if passed, would acknowledge America’s role in the atrocities, call for declassification of all relevant documents, and urge the Indonesian government to acknowledge the massacres and establish a truth commission.
If the U.S. government recognizes the genocide publicly, acknowledges its role in the crimes, and releases all documents pertaining to the issue, it will encourage the Indonesian government to do the same.
This anniversary should be a reminder that although we want to move on, although nothing will wake the dead or make whole what has been broken, we must stop, honor the lives destroyed, acknowledge our role in the destruction, and allow the healing process to begin.
Joshua Oppenheimer is a documentary filmmaker.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on September 30, 2015, in The International New York Times.
2. Pat Walsh: Search for truth continues 50 years after Indonesia’s purge Eureka Street – September 30, 2015
— Like Tony Abbott before him, Malcolm Turnbull is slated to make Jakarta one of his first overseas ports of call as prime minister. His visit will occur as calls grow louder in Indonesia and elsewhere for the truth to be told about the massacres of up to 1 million Indonesians 50 years ago this October.
Many now regard that bloodletting as one of the worst excesses of the second half of the 20th century. At the time, however, it was accepted in Australia (and in the West more generally) as legitimate collateral damage in the cut and thrust of the Cold War, and was played down in the Australian media.
Harold Holt, the Liberal Prime Minister of the day, expressed his pleasure that ‘500,000 to 1 million communist sympathisers (had been) knocked off’.
It is assumed, therefore, that Canberra did not then protest the massive miscarriage of justice and international law that occurred, or call for accountability. It can now compensate in a small way for that silence, and for its selective waiving of the recently developed Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by making public what it knew at the time.
Whether or not the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was behind the murder of six
senior generals by army commandos (the ’30 September Movement’) early on the
morning of 1 October 1965 is still contested. It is clear, however, that General
Suharto used the crisis to take over the army and announce his intention ‘to
annihilate the 30 September Movement’, which he equated with the PKI — the army’s main rival for power in the fading days of the Sukarno regime.
The army began a grisly purge using, it is said, lists of names provided by the CIA. It then mobilised the community to seek out and liquidate anyone who was communist — whether or not they were involved in the 30 September murders —
or Indonesians said to be communist (a label that I know to be extremely rubbery, having once been told that I was one).
No charges were laid or trials conducted. Decapitated bodies were dumped in rice fields, canals and forests across Indonesia, particularly Java and Bali.
Perpetrators acted with impunity and sometimes in the belief that they were doing
the right and patriotic thing. The terror of the period is brilliantly captured
in Joshua Oppenheimer’s film The Act of Killing.
In addition, a staggering 1.5 million Indonesians were detained by the Suharto regime. During my first visit to Indonesia in 1968, I witnessed some of them crowded into cells in an old Dutch prison in Yogyakarta — The Jesuit with me
whispered that many said they were Catholic.
My preconceptions about ‘communists’ were challenged again when, during the same visit, I bought an exquisitely moulded statue made by a political prisoner in Bandung — Why was someone so gifted being trashed, I wondered?
In his heartbreaking but sometimes beautiful memoir The Mute’s Soliloquy, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who spent 12 years in prison without charge, describes what happened as ‘cannibalism’; a nation fed on itself while the world watched
in silence or, in some instances, dare I say, celebrated.
Many thoughtful Indonesians believe it is both timely and beneficial to address the issue now. In a 2012 report on the period, Indonesia’s human rights commission found that what happened were crimes against humanity. The eminent Jesuit public intellectual, Fr Franz Magnis-Suseno, says ‘it is high time that victims are acknowledged’.
The government has announced the formation of a non-judicial ‘reconciliation committee’ but, unhappy with such half measures, an Indonesian led International People’s Tribunal will conduct its own examination of the period in The Hague
in November. The issue will also feature at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.
Some will argue that the killings were ‘necessary evil’ for the greater good of saving Indonesia from communism, forgetting perhaps that the region hosts several communist regimes today. Others will say, what’s the point of revisiting this
The point, I believe, is manifold. It is to restore the dignity and name of many fine human beings who were denied due process and dehumanised in countless ways.
It is to reflect on the enormous cost to Indonesia of dictatorship, a rampant military, a compliant Muslim and Catholic community, the impoverishment of Indonesia’s civil society and cultural and intellectual life by the trashing of many of the country’s best and brightest, and the reduction to servile timidity of a generation.
It is also to weigh up the incalculable cost of impunity. If the violence had been seriously challenged, would Indonesia have dared invade Timor-Leste a few short years later or take over West Papua during the same period in the way it did?
[Pat Walsh will launch his book Stormy With a Chance of Fried Rice: Twelve Months
in Jakarta (KPG) at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.]
3. Background on this blog see
Catastrophe in Indonesia by Max Lane Seagull Books 2010.
“In 1965 Indonesia had the largest communist movement in the world outside of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
Indonesian President Sukarno supported the movement and was edging Indonesia towards socialism, when a mutiny coordinated by D. N. Aidit, chairperson of the Indonesian Communist Party, was launched on the last day of September 1965, and the backlash destroyed the movement.
As Max Lane describes in Catastrophe in Indonesia, though this attempt to replace the anti-communist army leadership was organized without the knowledge of the communist party, the army launched a subsequent propaganda campaign against the communist movement.
Consequently, the government collapsed, opening the way for an extremely violent uprising in which over one million people were killed and tens of thousands imprisoned. All left-wing ideas and activities were banned—and remain so today.
The Crash of the Left in 1965
‘Rarely has any modern country been through a political experience that has completely and utterly reversed its direction and redefined and turned inside out its culture. …
Indonesia had one of the most devastating state-managed campaigns of murder and terror in the twentieth century.
The massacre of more than a million Indonesians between October 1965 and 1967 remains one of the most effective and gruesome campaigns of terror in recent years. …
The targets: anyone sympathetic to President Sukarno or to the political parties …such as the Indonesian Communist Party PKI and similar left groups… that had some 20 million supporters… The Indonesian army…under General Suharto was the main instrument of terror.
The massacre succeeded in, literally, reversing the direction of Indonesian history.
The Sukarno-PKI with popular support were poised for power until the reign of terror unleashed by Suharto on 1st October 1965.
The spreading of Marxism-Leninism was forbidden and trade unions disappeared…all mobilisations of the popular classes was depicted as evil…no alternative viewpoints other than the army was allowed for 33 years.
According to Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s leading novelist,
“Suharto and his regime lacked any sort of idealism. That’s why our culture degenerated into trivia and entertainment, and eventually became so shallow that a normal human brain could find nothing to digest.”
Lane canvasses the history of PKI Chairperson Aidit and his actions in opposing right-wing Generals and his failed attempt, leading to the infamous killing of some Generals on the 30th September used by Suharto as the pretext to move against Sukarno and the PKI.
Lane argues Indonesia’s political landscape was unique with Indonesian capitalists weak with little social or national political base because of the colonial Dutch capitalism. Sukarno was able to be dominant waging the anti-colonial struggle against the Dutch, with mass struggle and politics of social justice and where the PKI emerged strongly.
The rapid radicalization of the masses and rapid militarization of the bourgeoisie during and after the Japanese occupation had Sukarno declaring Independence in 1945 and ruling as a most dynamic and popular President.
Sukarno political actions historically were based on the unity of anti-colonial nationalism, religion – Islam and communism. The PKI in 1955 elections had 16.4% of the vote and with Sukarno and mobilisations against inequality were growing stronger. In 1965 the PKI had several million members with growing support. Lane documents this together with the growing power of the army that was more and more opposed to these radical developments and planned to stop this powerful Sukarno-PKI alliance. Lane documents Sukarno’s radical reforms under his ‘Guided Democracy’. This saw mass mobilisations against past-colonial and present imperialist interests, the nationalisations of foreign companies with workers’ participation and greater union power. As well, there was Sukarno’s growing struggle against the powerful army that was planning to respond.
Sukarno’s rituling or political re-tooling of his government involved replacing right-wing cabinet and government people and business with new left leaders under the unity of nationalism, Islam and communism. This gave greater legitimacy to the PKI.
But rituling’s fundamental flaws turned out to be its top-down method of ruling in 1963-1965. With no elections but guided democracy, rituling lead to more and more confrontations with the right-wing Army. Sukarno was unable to replace right-wing Army leaders with his supporters, that in effect Aidit was attempting.
In 1965 Sukarno led an intensification of the mass struggle, land redistribution, against corruption and for social justice for the masses including against the Army leaders. The Army responded in the 30 September incidents.
Lane supports this detailed research of the events in the book
‘Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto’s Coup d’Etat in Indonesia’ by John Roosa, New Perspectives in Se Asian Studies August 3, 2006.
Remember at this time Sukarno had established the Non-Aligned International movement against US hegemony, was close to China, supported anti-colonial revolutions and so not surprisingly the US, and the CIA supported the Army who were waiting for their chance to move against Sukarno, which they did. The resulting terror and long-fascist Suharto dictatorship rewrote history for 30 years blaming the PKI and any of their supporters.
Lane ends on how the left in the 1980’s and in the 1990’s was eventually able to reemerge and play a role in the toppling of Suharto – the details of which are recorded more fully in Unfinished Nation.
Indonesia1965: Rehabilitating Victims, Rehabilitating Revolution1
IT IS VERY HEARTENING TO SEE the increased and more open discussion of the 1965–68 mass killings of supporters of President Sukarno,the Indonesian Left, and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI),
internationally and within Indonesia.
The stark and cruel brutality of the 1965 murders revealed by the confessions in the film “The Act of Killing” has played a very important role in provoking this discussion. The public release of the main findings of the KOMNASHAM Report affirming the systematic role of the state and the military in the killings and the passing of this report to the current Indonesian government has also been very important. The ongoing work of the former members of the pre-1965 political left—now mostly aged—in raising the issue of their plight, digging up mass graves, and through other campaigns has been crucial. Former GERWANI leader, Sulami, played a heroic role in pioneering this process among her comrades. There have also been court cases seeking compensation for loss of property and violence suffered, which are sometimes successful, sometimes not.
The role of younger activists has also been crucial at certain times. The first digging up of mass graves was carried out under Suharto by Partai Rakyat Demokratik (PRD) founder, Danial Indrakusuma, with English film-maker, Max Stahl. Indrakusuma led two further mass grave efforts during the short Habibie interregnum.
This increased activity has certainly won more profile and more space for campaigning and lobbying on the issue of rehabilitation and justice for the victims of the 1965-68 terror. Read article here
Reflecting on the meaning of 30 September in Indonesia by Max Lane
4. How Suharto Won Power by Humphrey McQueen
On October 1, 1965, Major-General Suharto made the decisive moves that allowed him 18 months later to displace President Sukarno and take supreme power in Indonesia.
But the events of October 1 –the capturing and killing of senior Indonesian generals and the rapid and brutal response of the military, led by Suharto, which captured or killed the key conspirators have been clouded in mystery. Was the communist party the sole force behind the attack on the generals that triggered the military seizure of power? Did Suharto have forewarning? Did the CIA engineer the events? How involved were American and other foreigners in the organisation of the ruthless massacre of the supporters of the Left in Indonesia that followed the events of October 1?
Humphrey McQueen has reviewed the available evidence and here sets out to reconstruct the motives and actions of the key players of that day – Sukarno, Suharto, Aidit, the leader of the communist party, and US ambassador Marshall Green along with the US military training group. McQueen can find no single puppetmaster but he points to the enormous influence on Australia of those events of October 1.
Round 4 am on Friday, October 1, 1965, a small group of soldiers arrived at the Jakarta homes of seven senior Indonesian generals. Within minutes, three of the generals were dead, including army chief Yani. Three others were abducted and one, defence minister Nasution, escaped. After being taken to nearby Halim air force base, the surviving captives were killed and all the bodies dumped into a well. Shortly after 7 am, Radio Jakarta quoted Lt-Colonel Untung, an officer of President Sukarno’s personal bodyguard, as declaring the action was “solely a movement within the Army”, made necessary to protect Sukarno from a CIA-sponsored “Council of Generals” that had planned “a show of force” for Armed Forces Day on October 5. Later in the day, Untung announced the composition of a 45-member Revolutionary Council, including 23 military or police officials, several women and four minor Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) leaders. Few of those named had been consulted. Shortly before 9 pm on the day of the coup, supporters of Major-General Suharto who, after the disappearance of the other generals had assumed de facto command of the army, broadcast that “a counter-revolutionary movement” had been suppressed.
The events of October 1 have been widely referred to as “an attempted communist coup” that led to the replacement of Sukarno by General Suharto. Suharto’s New Order regime claimed that the PKI was solely responsible for the “incident”. Using a notion taken from Indonesian puppet theatre, all sides have sought to identify the “puppetmaster” (dalang), who manipulated Untung’s “movement” from behind a screen. Few foreign experts have accepted the official interpretation. Some left-wing academics argued that Suharto himself masterminded Untung’s action in order to justify his own reactionary plans. Many Western authorities accept that communist involvement was secondary, indeed marginal, though fewer would now say non-existent.
No reconstruction can be completely convincing while so much documentation is suspect or missing. Evidence for PKI guilt presented at the subsequent trials was either the uncorroborated confessions of dead men, was obtained under duress, or was the testimony of a double agent. The case against Suharto gains most in credibility by reading the story backwards on the principle that the beneficiary must have been the perpetrator. Accusations about CIA involvement are based on its known character rather than on specific information about its activities in Jakarta during September 1965.
The reporting of the manner of the generals’ death is a good example of how the truth has been slow to emerge from the shadow of propaganda. On October 4, Suharto sent television and film crews to the Halim air force base to record the grisly exhumation of the bodies. Shortly afterwards, the US ambassador to Indonesia, Marshall Green, cabled the State Department recommending covert measures to “spread the story of the PKI’s guilt, treachery and brutality”. On October 6, Indonesian newspapers claimed that the six generals had been tortured. They published stories of communist women confessing to castrating the victims and gouging their eyes out. By the end of November, Indonesia’s official news agency had reported the women danced naked before PKI chairman Aidit and copulated indiscriminately with a PKI youth group. Such stories had an undoubted impact on those Indonesians for whom desecration of the dead and sexual display were especially abhorrent. The Australian newspaper told of Untung participating in a “blood dance of death”. Were such reports concocted, as well as spread, by US agencies? Although their tone is typical of CIA “black propaganda”, it would be foolish to assume Indonesians incapable of making up their own lies. In fact, the mutilating tortures were invention. The official autopsy reports translated in 1987 by a Cornell University scholar, Ben Anderson, record no such mutilations.
Because the final outcome was so momentous, almost no writer has been prepared to accept that such consequences might have been unplanned. While all involved had long-term objectives, none could have supposed that the events of the morning of October 1 would lead directly to those aims. To explain what happened, everybody’s decisions on that day need to be viewed as affecting events that were still in the future, and hence open to several possible outcomes. The smashing of the Left and removal of Sukarno were not a single event but rather a set of overlapping results stemming from relatively distinct causes. Deciding who planned the generals’ abduction will not in itself explain what happened from October 1 because, by mid-1965, Indonesian politics and economics had moved beyond the control of any individual or grouping. The impossibility of a preconceived plan being able to steer the hurricane became even more evident as the entire social system exploded into mass slaughter during what was left of that year of dangerous living. Rather than seek a single controlling person or group, this reassessment emphasises the conflicting efforts of various actors to benefit from the chaos of Indonesian society.
Looking back we can now see that the abduction was a step into the abyss: conceived in the preceding weeks, the incident could appear as nothing out of the ordinary in these extraordinary times. A US scholar, Roger Paget, paraphrased the research notes he took from informants during those hours:
“There was no coup or attempted coup. There was a publicly acceptable step, consistent with the political trend of the preceding months, to protect the state from further reactionary influence of the corrupt capitalist-bureaucrat generals suspected of consorting with the allegedly omnipresent American CIA in a plot . . .”
We cannot know how the rest of the army would have reacted had the seven generals been handed alive, if not well, to Untung’s Revolutionary Council for a public trial, or to Sukarno for a tongue-lashing session of negotiations. Could the President have replaced them with more malleable officers? Would they have given in to pressures to train and arm left-wing unionists and peasants?
Economics was never President Sukarno’s strong point. His genius was for charismatic politics. The directed economy he promoted after 1957 was far from being centrally planned along Soviet lines.
The military ran the most advanced sectors – those industries expropriated from the Dutch, Belgians and British – as fiefdoms under the martial law which existed almost without a break from 1957. (Suharto’s area of command involved sufficient profitable dealings by 1965 to maintain its own Import-Export Bank; here in embryo was the commercial military complex which has swelled under his presidency.) One immediate consequence of martial law was that the technocrats whom Sukarno had appointed to manage the economy were never allowed to direct its most crucial components. After 1963, fiscal problems were compounded by Sukarno’s personality and politics. His unwillingness to take decisions, and his need to incorporate as many groups as possible under his patronage, resulted in a cabinet with nearly a hundred ministers, all with distinctive uniforms but many without defined responsibility.
Overseas earnings went to purchase weapons or erect monuments as did aid from the Soviet bloc and the People’s Republic of China. Regional military commands were accustomed to sustaining their forces through a corrupting system of informal taxation. US oil and resource companies directed royalty payments to army commanders, thereby establishing conduits for political influence. By 1965, the Indonesian economy was in crisis. Forward estimates revealed exports dropping to $US450 million while essential imports and debt servicing would require $US 1,090 million, a shortfall of $US640 million. Between 1963 and 1965, the cost of rice rose from 200 to 1,500 rupiahs a kilo. During November and December 1965, prices of basic commodities soared, with petrol rising from 4 to 1,000 rupiahs per litre.
If economic stalemate weakened Sukarno’s position, the assumptions behind his international policies found fewer domestic critics. No matter how Islamic or anti-communist, the Indonesian military retained a heritage of revolutionary anti-colonialism. Had General Nasution replaced Sukarno as president in the 1950s, the campaign to incorporate West Papua within the republic would have gone ahead more or less as it did.
On the other hand, Sukarno’s international forays deprived him of a wide range of overseas friends. He outraged US secretary of state John Foster Dulles by sponsoring the first meeting of Afro-Asian nations at Bandung in 1955 as a counter to the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation which the US strategists had cobbled together in Manila in September 1954. The Bandung Conference further angered Dulles by giving “Red China” an international forum in which Chou En-lai could work his charm and thus partly circumvent the US policy of excluding China from the United Nations. Refused substantial military aid by the US in 1960, Indonesia got further Soviet credits to purchase ships and aircraft. After the Kennedy administration engineered a peaceable transfer of West Papua from the Netherlands to Indonesia via the United Nations in 1963, Sukarno moved closer than ever to Mao’s China. Provoked by Britain’s bellicose Commonwealth secretary, Sukarno “confronted” the new Greater Malaysia as neo-colonialist. Although the right-wing generals were unhappy about Britain’s combining of Malaya, Singapore and parts of Borneo into one nation, they were far more worried about the domestic consequences of Confrontation with Malaysia because the PKI’s enthusiasm for the campaign strengthened its standing with Sukarno. Worst of all, the British, abetted by the Menzies government, were determined to fight. The US feared that an almost inevitable British victory would weaken the capacity of the Indonesian army to combat the PKI. Suharto subverted his role as deputy- commander of the “Crush Malaysia” campaign by maintaining secret negotiations with Malaysian leaders to ensure that Confrontation would remain primarily a rhetorical contest, leaving the senior generals free to concentrate on the greater danger to both Malaysia and themselves, namely, the political Left.
By September 1965, Sukarno’s foreign policies had cut him off from the US alliance powers, offended India and the Soviet bloc by defending China and, most seriously, produced a new split between him and senior generals who were dragging the chain over Confrontation.
Nevertheless it was Sukarno who kept this cauldron from boiling over. President of Indonesia since its declaration of Independence in 1945, his name and voice possessed a magical power for many Indonesians who honoured him as their Sultan, maintaining a traditional court. He kept the diverse political, religious and ethnic groups from tearing the republic apart as had happened in Korea, China, Malaya, Vietnam and India. If Sukarno were to die, no-one could take his place and the contending forces would fight it out.
Under martial law, parliamentary politics and elections had come to a halt and the main players sought new ways to advance their interests.
Fearful of the continued growth of the PKI and its leftist allies in the Nationalist Party (PNI), the army opposed the holding of elections. Sukarno at first hoped to see the parties replaced by organisations representative of functional and cultural allegiances. As a result, the PKI built up its front organisations and the army worked through a number of bodies such as Sekber GOLKAR. To defuse that form of competition, Sukarno proposed combining nationalism, Islam and communism into a political ideal, acronymed as NASAKOM.
By mid-1965, the PKI and the PNI had earned the president’s patronage by supplying him with mass audiences. This success has been used to argue the PKI’s guilt and its innocence: defenders say that the PKI had no reason to derail a dynamic driving in their favour; its accusers claim that the party’s leadership moved out of fear either that Sukarno would soon die or that a “Council of Generals” was about to shove the system back towards the centre.
AIDIT AND THE PKI
In their propaganda and during the trials, Suharto’s supporters placed the entire responsibility for initiating and directing Lt-Col Untung’s “movement” on to the PKI, even to the point of claiming its chairman, Aidit, wrote the colonel’s radio broadcasts. The official position remains that the PKI was the sole puppetmaster. Disputable as every other explanation remains, that strict Jakarta line is not taken seriously either by outside commentators or by many informed Indonesians in private. The issue is: in what way was the PKI implicated?
Scholars concerned to acquit the PKI have had little difficulty in discrediting some of the primary evidence presented at the trials since it came from a tainted witness, Sjam, who was said to be a senior PKI agent. After eluding the authorities for two years, Sjam provided their case with the missing link. According to Sjam, Aidit placed him in charge of a “secret bureau” to contact sympathisers within the armed forces. Sjam testified that in August 1965 Aidit had told him to activate elements within the military to remove the anti-PKI generals before either they, or death, removed Sukarno. Thus the official story is that Aidit instructed Sjam, who manipulated Untung, who murdered the Council of Generals. This causal chain would be more convincing if a CIA analysis of the Untung “movement” published in the 1960s had not identified Sjam as a double agent and an informer for the Jakarta military command, and whose allegiance in the 1950s had been to the ClA-funded Socialist Party (PSI). Since Aidit and most of his inner party circle were killed without trials, the only survivor in a position to report that the “secret bureau” ever existed was Sjam. Sjam proved so cooperative that he was allowed periods out of jail, was asked to write political reports and was not executed despite his admitting to having been the lynchpin in the “attempted communist coup”. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence that Sjam had been an agent provocateur would not establish PKI innocence.
Aidit did not need Chairman Mao to remind him that political power grew out of the barrel of a gun. The PKI advanced two proposals to deprive the military of its monopoly of weapons. One, the army should be opened up to communist ideology; two, a “fifth force” or people’s militia should be trained and armed. The second idea, promoted by Chou En-lai, gained Sukarno’s endorsement.
If details of Sjam’s evidence concerning the “secret bureau” within the PKI are suspect, there is no reason to believe that Aidit was so naive as not to build bridges to sympathetic officers. What remains uncertain is who ended up manipulating whom. Piecing together evidence gathered by other writers about possible puppetmasters, I favour an explanation along the following tangle of lines: in order to calm Aidit’s fears about the Council of Generals and its “contingency plans”, President Sukarno let his bodyguard Untung understand that he should “take measures” against army chief Yani and defence minister Nasution; Aidit, as his politburo critics later accepted, independently activated Sjam to identify army officers friendly to Sukarno; Sjam’s right-wing controllers pressed that “double-agent” to embroil the PKI leaders with Untung’s movement against the seven generals. Such a scenario accords with the swirling cross-currents that swept political affairs during 1965, and conforms to the picture of Aidit confident – perhaps giddy with success – that the PKI could hitch a further ride from pro-Sukarno forces. For months, the communists had been boasting that they were “already victorious, not yet in office”. As a minister without portfolio, Aidit appeared beside Sukarno at rallies in the special uniform of a cabinet member, so that the PKI appeared to be the “party of the state”.
As the trial evidence indicated, Aidit remained at the Halim air force base throughout October 1 but did not confer with Sukarno, who had been brought there at 9 am, or with the rebel officers, suggesting that the PKI role in Untung’s “movement” was peripheral. An air force plane took Aidit into hiding in central Java, where he was shot shortly after capture on November 22. During the afternoon of October 1 the Jakarta communist daily newspaper published its Saturday edition, expressing circumspect support for any pro-Sukarno action against the “ClA-backed Council of Generals”, as did the PNI media. The number of PKI demonstrations throughout the republic favouring Untung’s “movement” was hardly more than on any other day on behalf of progressive causes.
The PKI leadership agreed to fall in behind Sukarno’s hope of continuing as if nothing unusual had occurred. The “surprise” over the killings of the six generals precipitated a bout of Sukarno’s indecisiveness in effect, he abdicated one source of his authority by allowing General Nasution to inflame the funeral crowds on October 6 and 7, while he stayed away, uncharacteristically silent, giving his first press conference a week later. PKI cadres advised their organisations to be on the alert but made no attempt to mobilise millions of members and supporters. Some party members took to the streets and used violence against their opponents but again these attacks were no more frequent than had become normal since the start of 1964. This low level of response justified US academic Donald Hindley’s view of the PKI as a paper tiger, numerically huge but a prisoner of Sukarno’s popularity and materially and psychologically unprepared for armed struggle. The behaviour of the PKI after October 1 is consistent with one faction in its top leadership going along with a plan to reduce the power of Yani and Nasution without qualitatively altering the social system. There is no warrant for the cliché about “an attempted communist coup”.
UNTUNG AND THE GENERALS
Untung announced his action as “solely a movement within the army”, which was truer of its origins than its development by October 1, when its key allies came from the air force. Suharto’s New Order regime has always been anxious to deny divisions within the army yet a convincing history of Indonesian politics since independence can be constructed with intra-army disputes as its central dynamic. The so-called “communist uprising” around Madiun in Central Java in 1948 began as a struggle between guerrilla leaders and central commanders trained by the Dutch or Japanese; the PKI leadership attached itself to the radical and losing side, providing the first occasion for General Nasution to launch a mass killing of communists and to create the legend of a treacherous PKI. Four years later, the PKI began its rehabilitation by backing the political winners during a parliamentary crisis intensified by the chief-of-staff’s desire to pension off guerrilla officers. Nasution defeated preparations for an intra-military coup in 1956. His suppression of the 1957- 58 right-wing military rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi was another instance of central versus regional tussles within the army. The army’s accommodation with Sukarno continued primarily from their assessment that only his authority could hold the republic together.
Although the post-1952 resurgence of the PKI presented the army leadership with a common enemy, their internal divisions never disappeared. Nasution remained an outsider among the top brass because he was an honest, Islamic Sumatran who had fallen among corrupt, syncretist Javanese. In addition, dissatisfaction affected junior officers offended by the gap between the way many generals lived it up in Jakarta and the harsh conditions endured by combat troops. In March 1965, several hundred junior naval officers at Surabaya went on strike against their commander’s links to the army leadership without any PKI inspiration, according to Queensland University academic Ulf Sundhaussen. As a hero of the campaign to remove the Dutch from West Papua, Untung suffered from the neglect of corrupt commanders and his initial statement denounced officers “who above the accumulated sufferings of their men have lived in luxury, led a gay life, insulted our women and wasted government funds”. Untung’s movement took root within the army’s grievances, and did not need to be planted by either clandestine PKI agents or rightwing provocateurs. The dissident officers did not remain “solely a movement within the army” but came to an understanding with Aidit to reduce the political restrictions and the corruptions fostered under martial law. Untung’s October 1 announcement that all his superiors were to be demoted to the rank of colonel was in keeping with the flow of politics throughout 1965.
Scholars like Sundhaussen accept that Aidit ran a “special bureau” to influence army leftists, but reject the view that Yani headed a Council of Generals to deal with the PKI. Questioned by Sukarno, General Yani had acknowledged that a group of generals met regularly to decide senior appointments and promotions. Such procedural matters were acutely political because Yani needed to deploy left-leaning commanders where they could do the least harm.
As Bryan Evans III has shown in a recent issue of the Cornell University journal Indonesia, US service training programs encouraged the army to build backing in the villages. With backing from several US universities, Yani presided over a military politburo that prepared contingency plans for blocking further PKI advances. Yani, no less than Aidit, needed to be prepared for Sukarno’s sudden death or incapacitation. In particular, he had to cope with presidential demands to rid the army of its “communistophobia” and with PKI pressures to create a “fifth force”. While the PKI sought allies to continue shifting the nation towards the left, the army chiefs attempted to reduce PKI influence. In September 1964, Yani had founded a mass organisation to oppose the PKI in the name of “Upholding Sukarnoism”, a body which the president dissolved in December. On my reading, in the febrile politics of August-September 1965, Yani’s Council of Generals was preparing to protect its residual power by checking the PKI. Such a blocking manoeuvre does not mean that Yani intended a coup against Sukarno, despite Untung’s accusation. Just as Aidit favoured Untung’s movement as one more step forward, so the Council of Generals would have seen its immediate steps as little more than a retarding tactic. Untung’s failure to produce evidence of the generals’ preparations tells us only who ended up controlling the state machinery.
MARSHALL GREEN AND THE CIA
Untung’s initial broadcast linked the Council of Generals to the CIA, a claim more readily dismissed before the extent of covert US activities was revealed. Today, researchers confront the opposite problem. Overwhelmed by evidence from a series of exposures and congressional hearings, it is too easy to assume that the CIA must have been the prime mover in Jakarta. The available evidence is that the CIA tried a number of unsuccessful operations in Indonesia during the 1950s; that its own assets there by September 1965 were few and marginalised; but that it sprang into the field immediately after Suharto defied the president and moved against Untung. To say that the CIA got the result it desired and that it backed Suharto does not make the CIA into anybody’s puppetmaster. More important, concentration on the CIA allows other networks for carrying US influence into the Indonesian army to pass unexamined.
During the 1950s, the CIA suspected all nationalist leaders of being crypto-communists and favoured reactionaries such as South Korea’s Syngman Rhee, or modernising autocrats like the Shah of Iran. From 1953, the CIA tried to set up a chain of bookstores in Indonesia as cover for “status and action”; only one store opened, no real work was done, and the concern lost $100,000 and the CIA man in charge attempted suicide. From 1953, the CIA also started to give millions of dollars to the anti-communist Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI) and its unions. To counter PKI and Sukarnoist forces, the CIA provided a progressive Islamic party, Masjumi, with $US1 million for its 1955 election campaign – at which the Masjumi lost votes to the traditionalists of the Nadatul Ulama (NU). In the autumn of 1956, the CIA deputy-director of plans told his underlings to find a way of holding “Sukarno’s feet to the fire”. With few assets in Indonesia and none close to anyone still in power, the CIA waited for something to turn up, which it did when a group of colonels in Sumatra started their own anti-Jakarta movement and then got in touch with the CIA.
After Soviet President Voroshilov visited Sukarno in 1957, the CIA, in order to gain support elsewhere in Washington for a major operation to reduce Sukarno’s power, created evidence that Indonesia was moving from neutrality to satellite status. Aware that Sukarno was sexually involved with a Russian airline stewardess the CIA concocted films from old porn movies purporting to show Sukarno, represented by a bald Mexican, having sex with a KGB blonde. The clips failed to convince. Urged on by the Dulles brothers – John Foster at the State Department and Allen as CIA chief – the CIA gave armed support to the rebel officers in Sumatra. Forces under the command of the anticommunist Islamic Sumatran General Nasution suppressed that revolt, showing how Indonesian military politics contained dynamics distinct from Washington’s cold-war priorities. CIA involvement came to a murderous end when the Indonesians captured one of its undercover pilots after he bombed a church on Ambon in May 1958. The CIA also identified an “asset” for an assassination attempt on Sukarno. After an unknown attacker tried to kill the president on November 30, 1957, the CIA used its press assets in Indonesia to claim that the PKI had arranged the assault in order to paint Sukarno’s enemies as “wild and desperate men”.
The CIA continued to have difficulty in acquiring assets inside Indonesia but shared information with cooperative oil and construction companies. Aircraft sales became the conduit for transferring funds. Former Canadian diplomat Dale Scott documented how, before 1965, Lockheed and Rockwell-Standard, as well as Stanvac, paid off three Suharto cronies who have gone on to greater depths: General Alamsjah, still a cabinet minister; Bob Hasan, the timber czar; and General Sutowo, the disgraced boss of the national oil conglomerate who remains one of Indonesia’s leading entrepreneurs.
The CIA did not create or direct Untung’s movement, nor did Suharto need to have his reactions during October 1, 1965, guided by foreigners. Presented with that rupture, all the US agencies, in the words of ex-CIA operative Ralph McGehee, “seized upon this opportunity”. CIA and State Department officials have boasted that they supplied anti-PKI forces with details of 5,000 communist leaders to be eliminated; one political officer in the embassy confessed that “I probably had a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at decisive moment.”
Australian leftists have played up the arrival of Marshall Green as US ambassador accusing him of being a coup master-general in Seoul, Jakarta and Canberra. Green’s appointment to Jakarta helped Suharto to power but not in the sense of setting up coups. Green’s predecessor, Howard Jones, had arrived during 1958 when the State Department was still backing CIA schemes to oppose Sukarno by force. Jones soon perceived that Sukarno was the only one in Indonesia who could contain the reviving power of the PKI and that the US should accept his demand for the incorporation of West Papua. Ignored and abused by the Dulles brothers, Jones hung on until his views became the State Department policy late in 1961 after Kennedy became president. Three years later, the Jones strategy had not worked. Sukarno had been appeased but kept moving ever closer to the Chinese internationally, and to the PKI domestically. The US agencies were pressing the generals to move against the PKI. By 1965, Jones’s usefulness was over. A younger, tougher professional was essential. Although accredited as ambassador, Marshall Green brought the authority of a presidential special envoy. William Bundy recalled: We never moved a muscle without his advice.”
Green accepted that as head of mission he had at his disposal the resources of the military training group, the CIA and US corporations. The concept of a “country team” was introduced under Jones but Green reorganised this daily meeting between himself, the CIA station chief and other top officials into an executive council, as Harold Brands has shown from the partly declassified CIA documents in the LBJ Library.
Green arrived in mid-1965 to head a tiny and embattled staff. Establishing contact and building rapport with senior generals was risky for both sides and the US was anxious not to compromise its friends by open support or contact. Green also had to cope with Sukarno’s disapproval of Jones’s recall. In circumstances of public hostility to the US, Green could initiate little until opportunities presented themselves after October 1.
Green immediately grasped the chance to support Nasution and Suharto as the means of destroying the PKI. Jones, the previous ambassador, had been recruited before the 1940s when the US government began to wage perpetual war on behalf of eternal peace. He would have been more squeamish about associating with assassination squads. Green appreciated how licensed murder had been made an integral part of the Kennedy program for turning the tide against the Left in underdeveloped nations.
Credit for bringing US influences to New Order Indonesia belongs to several US agencies, with the police and military training groups proving to be more effective than the CIA, whose Langley headquarters held so little information that it had difficulty compiling a biographical sketch of Suharto on October 2.
The US Office of Public Safety (OPS) began training Indonesian police in 1954. Ten years later, Indonesia was getting 20 per cent of OPS funds, with 500 officers being trained outside the country during 1963. By then, almost every senior police official had passed through the hands of the US agency, notably all senior commanders in the paramilitary section. According to CIA officer Joseph B. Smith, those recruited as “assets” were inducted at a Baltimore brothel before returning to Indonesia to work for Americans who were there under cover of the US Economic Cooperation Administration.
A parallel program for military personnel brought Indonesian officers to US service schools. That scheme expanded after 1962 when a Military Training Advisory Group (MILTAG) moved to Jakarta. The number of officers trained in the US grew from 395 in 1957 to 4,000 by 1965 – half the officer corps and a third of the general staff. Suharto did not go to the US but came under American influence at Jakarta’s US-orientated School of Civic Action. From 1964 onwards, US operatives encouraged their contacts in the Indonesian army to move against the PKI and, during 1965, l5 civilian experts arrived to assist the MILTAG “civic action” program, a euphemism for counter-insurgency. On October 6, the State Department noted that the payoff had been to establish “clearly in the minds of Army leaders that the US stands behind them if they should need help”. In those volatile first days, US planners in Jakarta and around Washington feared that the army might not press home its opportunity to destroy the PKI, yet they also worried that obvious US encouragement to whomever was calling the shots in the army could rebound by giving evidence for Untung’s claim about a ClA-backed Council of Generals. Brands reports that Suharto’s men advised Green to lie low until asked for help, which they began demanding during November. Also using declassified materials, Gabriel Kolko has shown how – under the label of medical supplies – guns and communications equipment were despatched via the Bangkok embassy to ensure that the massacres could proceed more expeditiously.
A web of additional US programs, as outlined by US investigator David Ransom, helped ensure that the PKI could be destroyed and Sukarno displaced. In 1954, the Ford Foundation began its ClA-sponsored support for research and training on Indonesia at Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ford also funded a program at the University of Southern California’s Berkeley campus to produce US-style economists within the University of Jakarta, nesting around economics dean Sumitro, who had to go into exile after supporting the 1958 ClA-backed rebellion in Sumatra, but who returned after 1966 to become Suharto’s minister of trade and commerce. The Berkeley economists also taught at SESKOAD (Army Staff and Command School) at Bandung. Guided by the US defence attaché, SESKOAD produced a civilian brains-trust for Yani’s “contingency planning” to contain any PKI advance during a post-Sukarno transition. After Suharto seized control, the Jakarta university economists still needed “a lot of help from the US embassy” to write an investment law that satisfied the US corporations.
In May 1963, SESKOAD graduates organised anti-Chinese riots in Bandung to disrupt relations with Beijing. The Harvard-educated minister for higher education and research used older students who had returned from US universities to organise KAMI (Indonesian Student Action Council), which spearheaded the demonstrations against the PKI and Sukarno’s NASAKOM cabinet. Not until this phase could Ambassador Green add his South Korean experience to the manipulation of student demonstrations. KAMI never had more than a few thousand members, almost all of whom had been active in the PSI or religiously affiliated student organisations.
These professional students were tied to village leaders and Moslem youth who joined in the massacre of leftists. Proclaiming themselves “The 1966 Generation”, KAMI and its similarly organised private-school equivalent, KAPPI, were used to keep up pressure for Sukarno to be stripped of all power.
In absolving the PKI from responsibility for Untung’s movement, left-wing scholars such as W. F. Wertheim offered an alternative puppetmaster – President Suharto himself. One problem with this account is the impossibility of anyone’s foreseeing in September 1965, still less directing, the chaos through which Suharto achieved presidential power. To accept that Suharto surprised himself by becoming acting-president is not to rule out his developing more limited aims once he became aware of Untung’s plans. Cromwell’s dictum applies: “A man never rises so high as when he does not know where he is going.”
Although the case against Suharto is circumstantial, an independent prosecutor would have sought answers to several questions.
Why was Suharto not on the list of generals to be abducted? His claim that he was not important enough is false, since he had routinely acted as chief of the army during Yani’s absences, had formed KOSTRAD (Strategic Command) in 1963, and in January 1965 had been appointed deputy-commander of the forces supposedly confronting Malaysia. Secondly, in occupying Merdeka Square, why did Untung place troops in front of the presidential palace, the radio station and the communications building, but not on the fourth side, where Suharto’s KOSTRAD had its headquarters and from which the rebel battalions were disarmed or dispersed? Thirdly, why did one of the principal plotters, Colonel Latief, call on his old friend Suharto late on the evening of September 30? The persuasiveness of the explanations that Suharto has offered for this encounter has not been increased by their multiplying contradictions. Yet the circumstantial evidence against Suharto can also be interpreted in his defence. Latief had been Suharto’s comrade-in-arms since the 1940s; in April 1964, Suharto had attended Untung’s wedding. These personal relationships might have protected Suharto and subsequently preserved Latief’s life. Suharto’s accusers allege that, through his old friend Sjam, he set up Untung to eliminate his rivals in the army high command and then blamed the PKI, a scenario as believable as one portraying Aidit as Untung’s sole manipulator.
If Latief gave Suharto advance notice that a movement within the army would “take measures” on October 1, Suharto might have seen such an action as personally advantageous. Although powerful, Suharto was no friend of Nasution, who had punished him in 1959 for corruption. Suharto had been on the outer with Yani’s group since winning the battle to establish KOSTRAD. A movement that aimed at the ousting of these chiefs was not necessarily a threat to Suharto. Following this line, Suharto would have had no reason to defy Sukarno openly until after learning, as he did during the afternoon of October 1, that the president had nominated a rival to take over as army chief. The questions posed above have yet to be answered in a way that clears Suharto of all complicity in Untung’s preparations. Thousands of his opponents were executed on far less evidence.
Suharto’s path to the presidency demanded tact and determination, since he had to ward off Nasution and civilian claimants as well as topple Sukarno who, well into 1968, retained too much popularity and elite loyalty to be treated lightly. Any explanation that collapses all these unpredictable steps into a well-oiled escalator, driven by some single power towards a final result, owes more to theology than political activity. After early October 1965, Suharto’s move towards state power benefited from his monopolising control over the power of the gun.
1945 Indonesians declare Independence from three centuries of Dutch rule.
Sukarno becomes president.
1949 Dutch withdraw from all of East Indies except West Papua.
1950 Federal system replaced by unitary government.
1957-58 CIA supports rebellions in outer islands against Sukarno.
1957-58 Replacement of parliamentary elections by Guided Democracy; imposition of martial law.
196 2-63 Transfer of West Papua from the Dutch to Indonesia.
1963 British set up Federation of Malaysia;
Sukarno begins Confrontation against such neo-colonialism.
1964 Communist Party (PKI) holds insignificant positions in Sukamo’s cabinet of almost 100 members but promotes land reform in villages.
August Concern about Sukarno’s health.
September Inflation increases rapidly.
4 am Abduction of generals by an armed forces movement headed by Colonel Untung.
7 pm Major-General Suharto takes command of army and suppresses Untung’s movement.
October 22 Massacre of leftists begins.
November 22 – 23 Aidit, Communist Party chairman, captured and killed.
March 1966 PKI outlawed.
March 1967 Suharto elected acting-president.
1968 Sukarno finally loses title of president.
1970 Sukarno dies.
How many tourists to Bali realise that late in 1965 that island became a slaughterhouse rivalling Pol Pot’s Kampuchea? Do outsiders know more about the murder of the six generals than the murder of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians? Estimates of the death toll have ranged from 78,000 to a million, with 500,000 accepted by many commentators.
Today, the killings are frequently presented as happening in “the aftermath of the failed communist coup”: a more accurate terminology would be to describe the slaughter as “a one-sided civil war”. Much of the misunderstanding about what happened in Indonesia during 1965 and 1966 stems from focusing on the elite politics of Jakarta. By redirecting attention to Indonesia’s villages it becomes appropriate to talk about “attempted communist coups” in the plural. Such “coups” were not intended to take over the nation-state but to transform social and economic relationships within thousands of communities.
On Bali, as Adrian Vickers has shown, the PKI’s “unilateral action” to enforce laws promising land and harvest redistribution challenged the entire Hindu caste system.
In Islamic areas of the archipelago, a militant peasantry sympathetic to the PKI threatened the status of religious teachers who were among the country’s few large landholders.
In September 1965, the PKI had three million members; some 20 million Indonesians belonged to popular-front organisations, including nine million in the Peasants Front (BNI). While US agencies made sure that 5,000 senior PKI officials were eliminated, the majority of those murdered were far from being hardened party cadres. In the bloodletting, people who had not gone to work on September 30 and October 1 became suspect. Chinese were attacked because they were foreign and successful. Personal grudges were settled under the mantle of anti-communism. The mass of victims included illiterate nominal Catholics who had seen the PKI as a new cargo cult and for whom dialectical materialism was a more puissant magic. In rounding up people to kill, the army and its supporters used the same kind of definition of “communist” as was popular in 1965 in Australia, namely, anyone to the Left. Consequently, left-wingers in the nationalistic, Muslim and Christian parties were decimated.
Slaying of PKI supporters began in Banda Aceh in northern Sumatra on October 1 in reaction to news that Muslims had been killed in Jogjakarta; this spontaneous outbreak highlights that strongly Islamic areas with long histories of secessionist revolt had reasons of their own to turn on leftists. Yet, as with pogroms in Europe, most local participation in the slaughter had to be activated by state-backed organisations, whether the army itself or ministerially-directed student and youth groups. Large-scale killings on Java did not begin until mid-October when they were initiated by forces sent into central Java. On finding that they had too few troops, “Red Berets” operating in the Solo area trained local youths and, in the words of the unit commander, sent them out “to kill communists”. Elsewhere officers handed village chiefs lists of those to be killed. Failure to follow orders became proof of communist sympathies. One Catholic headman who refused to murder anyone agreed to bury the dead. Very soon, there were too many corpses to bury. So many bodies were thrown into streams that they formed log-jams, turned the waters red and polluted the drinking supply. Orphaned children crowded railway stations begging for food. Foreign journalists provided some contemporary accounts but those massacres frequently are still unmentionable within the communities where the killings took place, although anthropologists such as Paul Webb have gathered details from the islands of Bali, Flores, Sumba and Timor.
The Suharto regime brought some system to the treatment of those opponents who had survived the massacre, by dividing political prisoners into three categories: A, those who could be tried for implication in Untung’s movement; B, activists in the leftist parties or their support organisations, like the novelist Pramoedya, who were sent to the Gulag on Buru island; C, a random collection, including a teenage student picked up at a pro-Sukarno demonstration and a l2-year old boy taking food to his B-category father. By March 12, 1966, when Suharto banned the PKI in Sukarno’s name, the party and its supporting organisations had all but ceased to operate.
Within Indonesia, the consequences of the Suharto takeover have been 25 years of rule by a commercial-military complex; struggles between rural classes have been displaced by conflicts between urban bureaucrats, each side linked to competing Japanese and US investors, such as the 1990 tussle between the telecommunications giants, NEC and AT&T. Having unleashed religious zealots to murder the Left, the Javanese elites now fear a “jihad” led by poor urban workers; the continuing execution of “implicated” PKI leaders allows Suharto to balance his repression of Islamic populism.
With Sukarno and the PKI gone, the US could make war against the peoples of Indo-China, confident that the “southern anchor” was secure; the CIA applied lessons learned in exterminating the PKI to the death squads it organised in 1967 under the Phoenix program, where assassins disguised as Viet Cong terrorists killed more than 20,000 village leaders. Indonesia and its neighbours held hands in ASEAN to reassure each other that the wild days of Sukarno’s foreign policy were over. China lost its only close friend in South-East Asia; one of the greatest secondary effects happened within the Chinese Communist Party where Marshal Lin Biao’s supporters used the slaughter of the unarmed PKI to discredit the “peaceful-transition-to-socialism” line of Liu Shao-chi, and thus pushed forward the Cultural Revolution. In 1973, Chilean military officers and Allende supporters received printed cards threatening “Jakarta is coming”.
Few Australian voices were raised against the Indonesian slaughter. Gough Whitlam said that the new regime deserved increased aid because the generals had saved us the “crippling sums” that would have been needed to arm against a pro-communist neighbour.
Had the results of October 1965 favoured Sukarno and the Indonesian Left, Australian society would have been transfixed by fears, and the period of social regeneration that Donald Horne has categorised as “the years of hope” would have been marked instead by a renewal of reactionary cultural and political impulses. What the CIA analysis described as “one of the greatest mass killings this century” never acquired the metaphorical status of Idi Amin, Biafra and Pol Pot, so that Indonesia was erased from Australia’s televised consciousness until the invasion of Timor during 1975. By assisting the Indonesian army to eliminate the PKI, our US ally fulfilled its ANZUS promises, though in a way few Australians have been prepared to acknowledge. September, 1990
4. Indonesia’s forgotten genocide New Mandala – September 29, 2015
Michael Vatikiotis, Guest Contributor — Fear of the future explains failure to
grapple with the past. With each passing year, the memories of violent death dim the way that old photographs lose their colour.
It’s now been 50 long years since that night in Jakarta on 30 September when seven Indonesian army officers including six generals were slaughtered by rebel troops, unleashing an orgy of violence across much of Java and Bali where it still remains
unclear if more or less than a million people died.
The victims were for the most part ordinary Indonesians from towns and villages across Java and Bali, killed cruelly and without mercy, usually cudgeled or strangled in the middle of the night, on the merest hint of communist sympathy.
Most would have joined some communist party organised activities — with a membership of at least three million, it was one of the largest political parties in the country and had the tacit backing of President Sukarno, the nation’s
founder. Many of the victims were educated, as it was believed that intellectuals were prone to communism sympathies. You faced death merely if you wore spectacles.
For three long decades, the victims suffered in silence. Every year to mark the attempted coup on 30 September, President Soeharto’s New Order government showed a dramatic reconstruction of the events on that fateful night which portrayed
the murdered generals as heroes, and the communist plotters as brutal killers, staying silent on the mass killings that followed.
There was hope for a reckoning of the past after 1998, when Indonesia threw off the authoritarian yoke and finally embraced the democratic system envisaged by the country’s founding fathers.
But liberal democracy has proven a weak tool for either justice or reconciliation in Indonesia. The media’s ability to chronicle Indonesia’s tragic past has not resulted in a collective commitment to establishing the truth or holding those responsible accountable.
Instead, the victims have been tortured further — promised some form of recognition in the form of a national apology, only to be told that the killings were justified by an aggressive conservative establishment that continues to
stand by its anti-communist beliefs three decades after communism collapsed.
When he was President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono endorsed a National Human Rights Commission report into the killings. The voluminous report recommended action to provide redress to the victims. Yudhoyono contemplated a national apology,
but met with fierce resistance from within the ranks of the military and the Islamic establishment, whose members carried out many of the killings.
Perhaps this was a vain hope; Yudhoyono’s own father in law, Sarwo Edhie, was the Special Forces General ordered to initiate the crackdown on communists and their sympathisers. To make matters worse, before the end of his Presidential term, Yudhoyono mulled a proposal to make Sarwo Edhie a national hero.
There was renewed hope that Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly elected last year and with no links to the old conservative establishment, would finally address the issue. Contemplating an apology for human rights abuses was one of
the many vague promises he made as he rode to power. But as the 50th anniversary approaches, his officials say the President has more pressing issues of social and economic development to attend to.
The army remains a strong pillar of the establishment and seems unwilling to make amends for its bloody past. Indeed, there is still anger in military circles about the alleged communist involvement in the deaths of the generals. “We are victims
too,” one former military officer once told me.
Neither do the Islamic organisations implicated in carrying out the killings want their role highlighted by any move to apologise for the past.
News of Joko Widodo’s decision not to issue an apology this year came after a meeting with Muhammadiya, the country’s second largest Muslim organisation.
Behind the excuses, the disappointment and the failure to address what the rest of the world considers a forgotten genocide, lies a profound fear of the future.
“What did the Communists want?” asked a conservative figure at one meeting to discuss reconciliation during Yudhoyono’s administration. “They wanted land reform.” Then he asked: “Do we have land reform today?”
Fear of social change in a society still plagued by inequality perhaps explains why anti-communists protests still happen each time political leaders contemplate addressing the mass killings.
The poverty rate may have halved in the last 15
years, but income distribution has become much more unequal; about 40 per cent of the country’s 250 million people still live on less than $2 per day
Threats to social cohesion could also be a factor preventing accountability. Javanese society in 1965 was composed of a more balanced mixture of Christian and Muslim communities; the communist party made gains in the Christian community,
and anti-communist sentiment found root among Muslims.
It is no secret that much of the actual killing was carried out by Muslim youth gangs and militia, encouraged and armed by the army. Afterwards many Christians converted to Islam to escape suspicion and further harassment. The legacy of
accelerated Islamicisation since then has weakened the traditional cultural mechanisms for maintaining harmony between faiths, and religious conflict is on the rise.
Opening up these old wounds, many Indonesians argue, will only highlight modern inequalities and reinforce social divisions that already frequently result in conflict. So why rock the boat?
The old photographs may fade and the images of death and immense suffering on such a massive scale all but physically disappear, but the collective social trauma lives on in the Indonesian psyche. It appears in the creative works of writers like Leila Chudori and Laksmi Pamuntjak who were born just before or after the killings. It has been vividly expressed by some of the actors themselves — both killers and their victims — in the films of Joshua Oppenheimer.
What photographs hide is how people feel; deep down many Indonesians feel ashamed about a period in their history they can’t erase. This dark spot on the past clouds their vision of the future.
Michael Vatikiotis is a writer and peace mediator whose novel ‘The Painter of
Lost Souls’ dwells on the challenges of remembering Indonesia’s violent past.
5. AUSTRALIA’S ROLE IN THE 1965-66 COMMUNIST MASSACRES IN INDONESIA
By Marlene Millott
Fifty years ago, on September 30, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century took place on Australia’s doorstep.
An estimated half a million people affiliated with the Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesian Communist Party or PKI) were massacred by the Indonesian Army, with help from local religious and youth groups. These killings contributed to a reorientation in Indonesian politics, installing General Suharto as president and eliminating the once-strong PKI through violent purges and systematic imprisonment. Declassified documents have shown that the US and its allies played a significant role in these killings, as the US provided weapons, communications equipment and lists of known communists. As an ally of the US, the Australian Embassy and the Department of External Affairs acted in a way that made Australia an accomplice, by helping to create the conditions that allowed the massacres to take place.
At the end of September 1965, Indonesia was on knife edge. Under President Sukarno, Indonesian politics were dominated by three forces: the Army, nationalism, and the PKI. While both the Army and the PKI pledged loyalty to Sukarno, they were fierce political rivals, and Sukarno played each other off to strengthen his position. In the years leading up to 1965, Sukarno favoured the PKI and it grew in strength, while his foreign policy became increasingly hostile towards the West. The Indonesian Army and the US and its allies watched these developments with suspicion, and formed secret relationships. From 1958-1965, the US secretly trained, funded and advised the Army to turn it into a ‘state within a state’ that would be ready to take over government if the opportunity arose.
On the night of the 30th of September 1965, the Commander of the Army Lt General Achmad Yani and five Generals were kidnapped by a group calling themselves the September 30th Movement. They were murdered and thrown down a well. The Army and the US embassy had been patiently waiting for an event like this. It declared the PKI responsible for masterminding a coup, seized almost all media outlets and spread the story of PKI treachery. General Suharto extracted a mandate from Sukarno to return order to the country, before setting out to destroy the Communist Party.
Across the archipelago, a campaign to eliminate the PKI saw the murder of an estimated 500,000 people. Victims were rounded up and detained for days, or months, before being executed. The Army was instrumental in the massacres, often accompanied by local militias. Those who weren’t killed were transferred to prison camps, with one million people held in detention facilities without trial, with terms varying from a few months to fourteen years.
Following the events of September 30th, Western nations solidified their support for the Indonesian Army, in an effort to remove the PKI from power and sideline Sukarno. The US and the UK, supported by other nations in the region including Australia, carried out clandestine operations which supported and encouraged the Army-led massacres of alleged PKI. Documents from the National Archives of Australia show that the Australian Embassy and the Department of External Affairs were closely aligned with the Indonesian Army, offered support for their activities in overthrowing Sukarno and eliminating the PKI, and used Radio Australia to broadcast Army propaganda in Indonesia that contributed to anti-Communist hysteria.
Cables show that the Australian Embassy was aware that Communists were being rounded up and killed from early October 1965. The Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Keith Shann, ‘personally witnessed’ around 250 prisoners being taken away by the Army, and noted that it was impossible to know the number of people killed and detained, but ‘it cannot be small’.
In February 1966, J.M. Starey, the First Secretary at the Australian Embassy, visited Bali, Flores and Timor, and spoke to Australian students who had been in Lombok. He heard first-hand accounts of the killings by people who had participated in them, and in Flores even saw victims’ heads on spikes in some villages. Starey noted that the Army was in control of the proceedings. The Australian Embassy and Department of External Affairs made it clear they were satisfied with these events. In early October 1965, Ambassador Shann cabled the Department saying that it was ‘now or never’, and that he ‘devoutly’ hope[d]’ that ‘the Army [would] act firmly’ against the PKI. In mid-1966, Prime Minister Harold Holt expressed detached satisfaction with the pro-Western shift in Indonesian foreign and economic policy. He casually told the crowd at the Australian-American Association in New York ‘with 500,000 to one million Communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place’.
As the Indonesian Army murdered hundreds of thousands of alleged PKI, the Australian Embassy maintained ties with Indonesian Army Generals, discussing anti-PKI activities and ways Australia could assist the Army in its transition to power. A cable from November 12th 1965 shows Ambassador Shann discussed the Army’s anti-Communist campaign and Australia’s military campaign in Borneo to defend the newly created Malaysia against Indonesian aggression with the Undersecretary from the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr A.Y. Helmi.
Helmi requested Australian and British troops restrict all patrols and activities in Borneo, so the Indonesian Army could deal with the Communists. Shann reassured Helmi that the Army was ‘completely safe in using their forces for whatever purposes they saw fit’, knowing those forces would be used to attack PKI members and allies.
The biggest role Australia played in the 1965-66 massacres of the PKI was through broadcasting and supporting Indonesian Army propaganda. In the weeks that followed the attempted coup, the Indonesian Army seized control of virtually all of Indonesia’s media, and began an aggressive and pervasive anti-PKI campaign which spread disinformation aimed at discrediting and dehumanising the communists.
During the time of the killings, Radio Australia was under the influence of the Department of External Affairs, which was passed information from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta following instruction from the Indonesian Army. Cables show that through regular daily guidance, Radio Australia was instructed on the topics it should report on and the phrases it should use about key figures and events.
Ambassador Shann urged Radio Australia to focus on the PKI’s involvement in the attempted coup, and to ‘pound the facts into Indonesians’, noting that it is ‘excellent propaganda and of assistance to the anti-PKI forces’ who were ‘refreshingly determined to do over the PKI’. Radio Australia was also encouraged to report manipulations and misconstructions of the truth, in line with what the Indonesian Army requested. A November 9th 1965 cable showed that Ambassador Shann was approached by an unnamed Colonel from the Army’s Information Section and was told that Radio Australia should not focus on the Army, but to ‘mention as often as possible youth groups and other organisations, both Moslem and Christian’ that were involved in anti-Communist actions, to dilute the culpability of the Army. He also discussed the reporting of a list of other internal and external issues in favour of the Army. Shann concluded the cable with the comment that he could ‘live with most of these [instructions], even if we must be a bit dishonest for a while’. Radio Australia was also told to avoid ‘giving information to the Indonesian people that would be withheld by the Army-controlled internal media’, and Radio Australia should not compromise the Army’s position. Almost all the media outlets in Indonesia were controlled by the Army, and Radio Australia was one of the most popular foreign radio stations in the country. The Army’s anti-PKI propaganda was an incitement to violence, which contributed to the mobilisation of parts of the Indonesian population to participate in the massacres. By contributing to the propaganda that swept the country, Australia played a part in encouraging militias and civilians to participate in the slaughter, while justifying the killings through the demonisation of the victims.
Australia’s actions as an accomplice to these killings should not be exaggerated. The massacres of the PKI took place against the backdrop of years of tension and hatred between the Army and the PKI, in a complex internal political environment that would have seen the killings take place regardless of any role Australia might have played. Fifty years later, those who committed the atrocities have never been brought to justice. Denial of the killings is rife. Where it is acknowledged, the perpetrators are admired as heroes who saved the nation from a Communist menace. As activist groups across Indonesia struggle to cut through the propaganda and spread the truth about the massacres of the PKI, it is important that Australia’s role in these events is understood.
Marlene Millott is a Research Assistant at Monash University and the Euan Crone Asian Awareness Scholarship recipient for 2014. This article is based on the thesis completed for her Masters in Journalism and International Relations. This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Published October 1, 2015
6. Remembering 1965 across generations by Katharine McGregor
It is 50 years today since the beginning of the brutal repression of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and organisations on the political left. The army and anti-communist vigilantes killed at least 500,000 Indonesians. Hundreds of thousands more were subject to torture, rape, imprisonment without trial – and then societal stigmatization on release.
Those targeted in the violence were not the only ones to feel its effects. Across the generations, children and grandchildren suffered grief from the loss of a parent or grandparent, whether permanently or for the period of their imprisonment. They may have been young at the time of the violence (or even unborn) but many children and grandchildren have continued to feel the weight of the events of 1965 through what Marianne Hirsch describes as “postmemory”.
Postmemory is “the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before, experiences that they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviours among which they grew up.” Hirsch explains that “these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right.”
Given the scale of the violence, it is likely that even if people from the second and third generations after the violence did not witness it, they may have heard stories about family or community members disappearing, or about killings and other episodes of violence in their local neighbourhoods. Given the climate of intense anti-communism in Indonesia, many may have responded by believing the violence was justified – the narrative that has been promoted for so long.
There are others, however, who have had cause to reconsider these events. Based on either direct experience or empathy with those who suffered, many people from the second and third generations are now working with survivors to address the legacy of 1965.
After 17 years of fighting for justice for survivors there have been very few justice outcomes. Whenever survivors seem close to achieving some form of formal recognition of their suffering, such as the proposed presidential apology from Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono in 2012, or the recently rumoured Joko Widodo apology, anti-communists counter them by arguing that the survivors are not victims and do not deserve justice.
Some activists have therefore turned to cultural initiatives as a way of trying to crack the resilience of anti-communist versions of history. They are now working together with survivors on cultural projects that present history in a new way, broaden community knowledge about the violence, and create greater compassion for survivors.
In 2013, for example, the Jakarta-based human rights organisation Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) began participatory research into women’s experiences of violence and ongoing discrimination.
AJAR activists Galuh Wandita and Tati Krisnawati were too young to have lived through 1965 but they believe it is important to address the legacies of this violence. Working with networks of organisations throughout Indonesia that support survivors of the 1965 violence, AJAR invited 27 women to participate in the project. The women’s experiences were presented in an exhibition featuring photographs of survivors and memory boxes. They included objects from their time in detention, such as clothing, letters of release, and correspondence with family.
The exhibition, The Act of Living, plays on the title of the acclaimed film, The Act of Killing, and emphasises how women have lived with the complete impunity of the perpetrators of the 1965 violence, as shown in that film. The demands of women survivors for recognition and justice are presented alongside their photographs. This work has now been compiled in a book: Surviving on their own: Women’s experiences of War, Peace and Impunity, which highlights gender-specific strategies for survival and empowerment, and a documentary film.
The Act of Living exhibition features memory boxes, which include clothing and and correspondence Photo by Katharine McGregor.
Memory boxes displayed in the Act of Living exhibition feature clothing and correspondence from the women’s time in prison. Photo by Katharine McGregor.
For AJAR activists, it is important to address 1965 because of its contribution to an ongoing culture of impunity in Indonesia. This project also emphasizes the enduring afterlife of this violence for these women.
Taman 65, a community dedicated to addressing the broad social and political legacies of 1965, is another group that has engaged in intergenerational projects to present an alternative narrative of the violence. Members of the community, which is based in Kesiman, Bali, focus on trying to overcome the stigmatisation of survivors and to foster respect for the dignity of affected communities.
Taman 65 in August launched an album, Prison Songs: Songs That Were Silenced. Most of this music covers the experiences of inmates in Pekambingan prison in Bali, which has now been demolished and replaced with a shopping complex. Despite the physical destruction of this site of memory, the experience of imprisonment lives on in the songs and the accompanying book. The songs are evocative and melancholic. They invite listeners to empathize with those targeted in the violence and with those around them who lost loved ones.
In one song, Si Buyung (Dear Child), R Amiruddin Tjiptaprawira describes a child born into conditions of misery with a father who could not hear its cries because he was in jail. The father recognises his child will face a life of pain, but calls upon the child to grow up fast and become a “hero of the nation”.
Roro Saswita, a Taman 65 researcher, explained that the idea for the album came from the fact that former political prisoners often sang songs from the past when being interviewed by researchers. Taman 65 decided that recording these songs could connect younger generations to the past. The songs were adapted, performed and recorded by young Indonesian musicians, such as “Jerinx” or I Gede Ari Astina, the renowned drummer of the band Superman is Dead, members of the band Navicula, and musicians from Taman 65.
Kamala Chandrakirana, the coordinator of the Coalition for Truth and Justice (KKPK), which supported the album launch, says the initiative is important because it provides a new way of approaching the legacy of 1965 – an alternative to just another human rights report.
Common to both these cultural memory projects is collaboration across the generations. Survivors of the violence have played a crucial role in framing and transmitting their experiences to the younger generations. After 50 years, with many of the perpetrators dead or dying and prospects for state-led reconciliation slim, cultural initiatives are a critical means to recognise the impact the violence continues to have on victims and their families.
Both the Act of Living project and the Prison Songs project will be featured in the Ubud Writers Festival in October.
Remembering Indonesia’s Bloody Coup
Fifty years ago this week Indonesia experienced one of the 20th century’s darkest moments.
By Nithin Coca October 02, 2015
In the heart of Medan, Indonesia third largest city and the setting for much of Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing, is a meticulously maintained, but quiet memorial. From a distance it looks similar to the war memorials scattered throughout Western countries.
What it commemorates, though, is one of the 20th century’s darkest moments. The Monumen Perjuangan 66 has on its white-plastered sides visual depictions of the military-led crackdown that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 to 2 million Indonesians.
This week saw the 50th anniversary of the aborted coup that led to the mass killings, which have been depicted as an act of heroism on the Medan memorial. Killings for which, today, few have been held responsible and which remain a rarely discussed and barely understood topic in now democratic Indonesia.
“The world has to understand that this was genocide, and the world has to take responsibility,” said Saskia E. Wieringa, professor at the University of Amsterdam and Chair of the International People’s Tribunal 1965.
A Misunderstood History
On September 30, 1965, in what remain murky circumstances, six top generals were killed by a group allegedly consisting of left-wing Indonesians. This allowed a previously little-known military leader, General Suharto, to assume power and launch a nationwide campaign against the perpetrators of the killing, which, according to him, were the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) and its left-wing allies. Within two years, Suharto was in firm control of the country, the PKI had been completely destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were dead.
Indonesia’s mass killings rank alongside some of the bloodiest events in post-World War II history. The estimated death toll puts this event alongside the Korean War, or the Rwandan genocide in terms of bloodshed. Yet, unlike those two events, it receives little attention globally. Within Indonesia itself, the situation is worse.
“The younger generation has grown up with very little knowledge of anything about this period of time, unlike their parents who had swallowed government propaganda for years,” said Tom Pepinsky, associate director of the Cornell University Modern Indonesia Project.
Democratic Indonesia’s Blind Spot
Throughout the Suharto era, which ran from 1965 to 1998, on October 1 each year, a controversial documentary, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Treason of the September 30 Movement and the Indonesian Communist Party), was aired on television and shown in school. It greatly exaggerated the threat of a takeover by the PKI and honored the militias and military leaders who organized the mass killings.
Today, the documentary is no longer shown and the holiday celebrating the killings no longer celebrated, but teachings of the event take on either a strong nationalistic tone, or are completely ignored. Only in a few elite universities, such as Univeritas Indonesia, are students able to learn openly about what really happened in the 1960s.
This is part of the progress made since Suharto fell from power in 1998, during the Asian Financial Crisis. Then, Indonesia quickly moved to build a democracy that, contrary to the expectations of many, has survived and thrived. One thing it did not do, however, was create a space for victims of Suharto’s three-decade long rule to gain justice.
“When Suharto fell, a bunch of people, shall we say, ‘switched sides,’ which narrowed those who would be held responsible,” said National Coordinator East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). “There really was no thorough accounting of the Suharto years, or a cleaning of house”
In fact, democratic Indonesia is run by many of the same people or families who ran Suharto’s New Order regime.
Sometimes, the connections are so close as to be comedic. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was a general who served numerous terms in East Timor, where more than 200,000 died during Indonesia’s bloody, Suharto-led invasion and occupation.
Prabowo Subianto, who ran for president in a tight race against eventual winner and current President Joko Widodo last year, was Suharto’s son-in-law. Marrying into his family allowed Prabowo to become head of the 27,000-strong Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) in 1998, where his subordinates were accused of torturing pro-democracy advocates. Amazingly, his close connection to Suharto and alleged involvement in human rights abuses in East Timor did not stop him from being just a few percentage points short of becoming Indonesia’s seventh president.
“This is why there is enormous corruption in Indonesia,” said Wieringa. “Power is still unchecked, corruption is still going on, and it is impossible for Indonesia to make progress on human rights or in checking corruptions if these people still remain in power.”
In fact, SBY and Prabowo are just the tip of the iceberg, as Indonesia’s political, business, and civil service ranks are dominated by Suharto supporters and those who took part in, or at least supported, the mass killings of the 1960s. They, Wieringa believes, are the ones holding back a true accounting of Indonesia’s past.
“Although we now have democracy, and lots of things have improved, still the old power holders are there, and they prevent closure of this kind of history,” said Wieringa.
The West’s Role
Responsibility for what happened is not Indonesia’s alone. Many Western countries strongly supported Suharto’s rule in the name of anti-communism during the cold war, most notably the United States.
“The U.S. was Suharto’s main international patron,” said Miller. “America wanted to keep Suharto happy as it was their big ally in the region.” This included turning a blind eye as the killings were taking place across the archipelago. Miller’s organization, ETAN, is calling on the United States to release files showing the full extent of its cooperation with Indonesia
Today, world leaders often cite Indonesia as an example of civic democracy, both for Asia and the Islamic world. Last year, the world was enthralled with the election of Joko Widodo to the presidency. He was a true break from the past, Indonesia’s first president not tied to Suharto, and without the blood of the old regime on his hands. However, his record over the past year, tarnished by an inability to move his party or the government, shows just how much power the old regime still holds in Indonesia.
“Jokowi is not tainted [by Suharto regime] directly, but is at the mercy of many connected to the events of 1965,” said Miller.
Jokowi has made hints that it might release an apology for the killings, a landmark admission that would have repercussions throughout Indonesian society. If it happens, it would be just the first step towards a belated, but needed, healing process.
“Coming to grips with Indonesia’s older wounds will be a long-term project that will require generational changes and efforts by elites and regular citizens at every level,” said Gregory Poling, an Indonesia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
On the 50th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities of the last century, Indonesia has an opportunity to take another step towards reconciliation and furthering the cause of its democratic progress.
Someday soon, perhaps the monument in Medan will no longer memorialize the killers, but pay homage to the innocent victims of Indonesia’s darkest era. Then, perhaps, the country can be a true model for the world.
Nithin Coca is a freelance writer and journalist who focuses on cultural, economic, and environmental issues in developing countries. Follow him on Twitter @excinit.
8. Jakarta — President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is certain that past incidents such as the rebellion by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) will not be repeated in Indonesia. Nevertheless, he is calling on all parties to be on guard against the emergence of movement groups such as this.
“Don’t let there be a lack of vigilance, even though I’m sure the incident will be repeated, and I hope that the G30S/PKI [September 30/PKI] affair will not happen again in our land”, said Widodo after inspecting a Pancasila Efficacy Day event at Crocodile Hole monument in East Jakarta on Thursday October 1.
Widodo also took the opportunity to explain that he would not be apologising to PKI family members and denied rumours that have been circulation about government plans to apologise to former PKI members.
“There hasn’t been any consideration of apologising, up until this point there hasn’t been any thinking in that direction”, he said.
On Wednesday September 30, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung stated that they know the identity of the individual that has been spreading slander against President Widodo. Anung believes that the slanderer had created a great deal of unease by saying that Widodo would apologies to the families of former PKI members.
Anung revealed that the individual’s identity was discovered thanks to cooperation with the national police. The slanderer allegedly circulated a series of messages on Tuesday September 29 saying that Widodo would meet with PKI family members and former members of the PKI affiliated women’s organisation Gerwani at the Bung Karno Sports Stadium in Jakarta.
Anung said no legal proceedings have been yet taken against the slanderer and that proceedings will only be considered if the slanderer does not stop their actions.
[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was “Jokowi Yakin Pemberontakan seperti PKI Tak Akan Terjadi Lagi”.]
9. Australian journalist Frank Palmos: First witness to 1965 massacre Sydney Morning Herald – October 2, 2015
Jewel Topsfield, Jakarta — Australian journalist Frank Palmos was one of the first foreigners in the world to witness the scale of the communist purge that started in Indonesia this month 50 years ago.
In a chilling account in The Sun News-Pictorial, then Melbourne’s largest newspaper, Dr Palmos put the number who died at “more than one million”.
“Once the killing started the youths were uncontrollable… Beheading was the most common form of killing, but for large scale executions shooting was normal.”
Dr Palmos was a rarity in the foreign press corp: he spoke fluent Indonesian and a reasonable amount of Javanese and Sundanese which gave him access to the countryside to which his desk-bound colleagues in Jakarta could only dream.
“(Canadian Broadcasting Corporation journalist) Don North and I were the first by far to go into Western and Central Java and see what was going on,” Dr Palmos, now 75, recalls from his Perth home.
Dr Palmos initially estimated the dead at about 500,000 but calculated it was closer to a million (figures still used today) after being shocked at the extent of the bloodshed in Bali.
“They went on a rampage and tossed thousands off cliffs off Singaraja. Every time I went back I found there was more and more dead.”
Dr Palmos’ detailed report ‘So Indonesia counts its dead’ was one of the few times the mass killing of suspected communists was mentioned in the Australian mass media in the year after the 1965 coup, according to University of Melbourne
honorary professor Richard Tanter.
“Despite the power and gravity of Palmos’… report there were no follow-ups, no commentaries and no editorials,” Professor Tanter wrote in the book ‘1965: Indonesia and the World’.
The extent to which newspapers and foreign governments were complicit in downplaying the slaughter because they supported the overthrow of communism was explored in the 2001 documentary ‘Shadow Play’.
“I reported many interviews of catastrophic occurrences but a lot of them didn’t see the light of day in newspapers,” Dr Palmos said in the documentary.
Richard Woolcott, then public affairs officer for the Australian Department of External Affairs wrote in a 1965 memo: “We are now in a position to influence the content of leaders in practically all major metropolitan newspapers”.
Cables reveal the Australian ambassador at the time Keith “Mick” Shann had recommended Radio Australia adopt a set of requests passed on to him from the Indonesian army, including that their coverage not focus too much on the army.
Dr Palmos said the ambassador never tried to influence his own reports. “Mick would never have tried that on me. No one in the Australian Embassy knew as much as I did. Mick needed me as much as I needed Mick,” he said.
Dr Palmos believes it is important to put the time in context. He said Jakarta in 1965 was “pregnant with danger”. “It is hard to exaggerate the dangers for Europeans,” he said. The PKI made gruesome signboards depicting foreigners being bayoneted. China and the PKI were urging President Sukarno to allow workers and peasants to carry arms and become a fifth force. “It was a very tense time… it was very violent. Civil war was certain.”
Dr Palmos believes Australia was justified in supporting Suharto at the time. “We were all so relieved, not so much that it was Suharto, but that it was a change. Indonesia was going to hell in a handcart, it was just such an awful place.”
But as Dr Palmos began to make forays into the country — first into east and central Java in October and November 1965 and then Surabaya in early 1966, he realised the extent of the carnage. “A lot of people turned on the PKI and PKI followers… these followers didn’t deserve to die,” he said.
Monash University research assistant Marlene Millott, who wrote her Masters thesis on Australia’s role in the 1965-66 atrocities, says the biggest role Australia played in the massacres was through broadcasting and supporting Indonesian army propaganda.
“Australia’s actions as an accomplice to the killings should not be exaggerated,” she writes.
“The massacres of the PKI took part in a backdrop of years of tension between the Army and the PKI, in a complex internal political environment that would have seen the killings take place regardless of any role Australia might have played.”
1965, today: living with the Indonesian massacres
Written by Gerry van Klinken, Nikki Edwards and Sadiah Boonstra
For half a century, serious discussion of this shocking violence has been taboo within Indonesia. However, the taboo has begun to lift in recent years. This edition of Inside Indonesia asks: how do these events continue to impact Indonesia today? What does ‘1965’ mean to Indonesians? How do they continue to live with the massacres?
Clearly there is more than one answer to these questions. In 2015, many stories about the meaning of ‘1965’ compete with each other to be told. Some of these competing narratives are heard very loudly. Others are only whispered. The pain and bitterness will not begin to go away until we listen to them all.
This edition approaches these questions in three ways. First, we look at competing narratives in historical culture. Indonesian school history textbooks remain silent about the violence and suffering the victims of ‘1965’ experienced. The books just talk politics – regime change was necessary for political stability. But the silence is broken in many other places. Ayu Ratih writes from her own experience as a student growing up with just the narratives in the school books. Only when she personally met some of the ageing victims did she change her mind about them. She discovered they knew something she desperately wanted to know.
Alle Hoekema analyses six influential novels that discuss ‘1965’. They were written between the 1980s and the present day. He finds that they all sympathise with the communist victims of the killings. At the same time, they tend to regard the whole episode as a tragedy, for which justice is no longer possible.
The second approach is to examine institutional legacies and civil society. Official stories have often been challenged within civil society, yet they continue to permeate institutions within Indonesia. How can this be? Adriaan Bedner examines legal institutions and finds a surprising development. The repressive measures taken against survivors of the anti-communist persecution have now been all but lifted. The Supreme Court played an important role in this. But at the same time, the official ban on the doctrines of communism remains as firm as ever.
Jess Melvin uncovers a set of internal army documents dating to those crucial months in 1965 and early 1966. They contain orders passed down lines of command to conduct a systematic campaign of murder. Civilians are forced to take part as perpetrators. Why has it taken 50 years for this evidence to emerge? Because, she says, ‘the long shadow of Suharto’s New Order dictatorship continues to haunt Indonesia’. Fear has prevented victims from speaking out, hampering research.
Finally, this edition takes a close look at actions for transitional justice now happening around the country and across the world. The long-standing refusal of central state actors in Indonesia to even acknowledge the 1965 violence as a crime leads Indri Saptaningrum to explore other alternatives. Local initiatives might offer more promise. Mery Kolimon lives in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. Baskara T Wardaya comes from Central Java. They believe that telling whispered stories out loud can make a positive difference. Both are involved with meetings in their own region that aim to achieve reconciliation by exchanging personal experiences. Yet the approach to reconciliation in those two regions of Indonesia could not be more different. Must story-telling and demands for justice always go together? This is the question they debate with each other.
Nursyahbana Katjasungkana and Saskia Wieringa believe reconciliation cannot take place without justice. They are both part of the International People’s Tribunal 1965, which aims to acknowledge and assign responsibility for the crimes committed in 1965. Hearings will be held in The Hague, city of international justice and peace, in November 2015.
Several authors in this edition were speakers at an international symposium held in Amsterdam 1-2 October 2015 (1965 – Today: living with the Indonesian massacres – hyperlink). We thank the contributors for making this special edition of Inside Indonesia possible, and the organisers for their support.
Gerry van Klinken (email@example.com), Nikki Edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Sadiah Boonstra (email@example.com) (editors).
Inside Indonesia 122: Oct-Dec 2015
No need to apologise
Horrid Carcass of Indonesia – 50 Years After the Coup
by ANDRE VLTCHEK
Last year, I stopped travelling to Indonesia. I simply did… I just could not bear being there, anymore. It was making me unwell. I felt psychologically and physically sick.
Indonesia has matured into perhaps the most corrupt country on Earth, and possibly into the most indoctrinated and compassionless place anywhere under the sun. Here, even the victims were not aware of their own conditions anymore. The victims felt shame, while the mass murderers were proudly bragging about all those horrendous killings and rapes they had committed. Genocidal cadres are all over the government.
Don’t get me wrong: there is really nothing wrong with maturity. But instead of maturing elegantly into something noble, like a precious wine, Indonesia just decayed into disgusting vinegar, or spoiled milk, or most likely into something much, much more sinister – a monstrous decomposing carcass in the middle of a once socialist, progressive and anti-imperialist Asia.
After the 1965 coup backed by the US, Australia and Europe, some 2-3 million Indonesians died, in fact were slaughtered mercilessly in an unbridled orgy of terror: teachers, intellectuals, artists, unionists, and Communists vanished. The US Embassy in Jakarta provided a detailed list of those who were supposed to be liquidated. The army, which was generously paid by the West and backed by the countless brainwashed religious cadres of all faiths, showed unprecedented zeal, killing and imprisoning almost everyone capable of thinking. Books were burned and film studios and theatres closed down.
Women from the left-wing organizations, after being savagely raped, had their breasts amputated. They were labeled as witches, atheists, sexual maniacs and perverts.
Professional militant Christian cadres from Holland and other Western countries landed in Indonesia well before the coup. They were entrusted with the radicalization of Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Catholics and the Indonesian military. They labeled Communists and other leftists as “dangerous atheists” and began an indoctrination and training campaign aimed to liquidate them.
The right-wing Chinese individuals, mostly traitors who just escaped from their Communist revolutionary homeland, happily joined the fascist putsch-nick clique and later the murderous, whoring and treasonous regime of General Suharto. They joined it as snitches and “preachers”. The Chinese minority in Indonesia, while undoubtedly suffering from certain discrimination, had joined the most oppressive domestic and foreign forces, shamelessly collaborating with military fascism, Western imperialism and the savage capitalist system, which it itself had helped to establish. Because of its control over the crucial part of the local “economy” (read: plunder of the natural resources) and its ownership of the countless brainwashing media outlets and private educational facilities, the Chinese minority in Indonesia has been playing a decisive and devastating role in the spectacular collapse of post-1965 Indonesia.
After the slaughters of 1965/66, everything resembling the Revolution and the People’s Republic of China was banned and obliterated in Indonesia, including red color, the Chinese language, and the word “Communism” itself. Some of it was “inconvenient”, but overall, the Chinese right-wing anti-Communist émigrés in Indonesia finally had it their way! Suharto’s fascism was definitely closer to their hearts than the anti-Western-imperialism and the power sharing between the progressive Muslim leader Sukarno and his “golden child”, the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).
After the genocide, the great selling of Indonesia began. Corruption and privatization went hand in hand. Ideological and intellectual blindness were administered to the population.
The murder and rape of millions, theft of everything that used to belong to the nation…
Thus was committed the greatest treason of the 20th century.
Roughly 50 years after this disaster took place, I broke my self-imposed ban and visited Indonesia once again.
This time, I did not come to Indonesia for academic work. In fact, I have fully divorced myself from academia, now considering it as prostituted and defunct as journalism. Philosophy has to break itself free from academia and its institutions. Philosophy deals with life, while contemporary academia represents intellectual death.
My damning book, “Indonesia: Archipelago of Fear”, was published more than 3 years ago by Pluto in London, then translated and published by Badak Merah into the Indonesian language. Other translations followed. Enough of theory!
I came back once again to breathe polluted air and to see the ruins of Indonesian society – ruins visible all over the capital. I came to observe the uninspired expressions on people’s faces, to once again experience the totally collapsed infrastructure. I came to face the society that had liquidated almost all science, philosophy and arts, and where local workers are now unable to even put two simple tiles together in a matching manner, much less construct a spaceship or passenger jet.
I returned to shout and to curse, and to write this as a warning to those who still think that a savage capitalism could actually work, that a country that would allow its “elites” to turn it into a doormat (or worse) of the West, could simply survive, let alone thrive.
I came to say what is clear but “forbidden” to say: “Indonesia died! It is finished. It was murdered some time between 1965 and now. It will never get back to its feet. People living there do not really live in a country, but inside a horrific, decaying cadaver.”
The only way forward would be a revolution, as Pramoedya Ananta Toer used to say. A total revolution, a reset! Return to what was destroyed in 1965. Bury the corpse, put on trial all those who have been committing treason, and start from zero, from the beginning!
This is reality, and it does not require footnotes or quotations!
But back to the deal between Empire and local “elites”:
The deal was clear: the West allowed the putsch-nicks and their religious and “educationalist” lackeys to rob the nation, tolerating the lowest forms of corruption. But, in exchange, they had to guarantee that the Indonesian people would to be kept thoroughly brainwashed and uneducated, never demanding the return of the Communist Party, never striving for great patriotic ideals and never questioning market fundamentalism and the indiscriminate looting of Indonesia’s natural resources.
The Christians that were put “in charge” were those from the most deranged evangelical sects, braced by the imported army of North American and Australian intelligence/religious cadres. “Prosperity Gospel” and “Pentecostals” were the most successful implants. The preachers listening to Voice of America and reading Western economic journals were suddenly in control.
Saudi-style Wahhabi Western allies shamelessly sidelined almost all socialist brands of local Islam, and the most militant and intolerant varieties of otherwise progressive and socialist Muslim religion began their destructive, totalitarian and intellectually ruinous activities.
The West, its media and academia, started unashamedly backing all fascist cultural dogmas: including regressive religious and family structures.
Not only that – they kept spreading the most grotesque lies: about “how tolerant Indonesia became”, and “how moderate” it is. “Third largest democracy” was how the Western demagogues have constantly described the country without one single pro-people or anti-imperialist political party. Indonesia is called “the largest economy of Southeast Asia”, a totally misleading definition, considering that Indonesia has more than three times more people that any other nation in the region. And could it really be called an “economy”, something that produces hardly anything and lives predominately from the unbridled plunder of its natural resources, as well as from the resources of colonized Papua, where Indonesia has been committing horrific and silent genocide?
The local media has continuously quoted all this propaganda and disinformation, quite logically, considering that corrupt business interests own virtually all of it.
After the regime murdered around 40% of teachers in Java alone, the education system fell to the hands of totally ignorant but zealous morons: themselves collaborators with the West. These people were nothing more than cynical and money hungry businessmen and businesswomen, but definitely not educators. Spreading ignorance and stupidity was not only their mission; it was a natural way of expressing themselves, their method of interacting with the world.
After years of the horrid plunder of the resources, of incongruous religious gaga, of censuring of everything deep and creative, and after preventing Indonesian youth from getting real knowledge about the world, the country of Indonesia began eventually resembling what it is not: a nation of 300 million people (the government lies about the numbers, too, as I was told by several leading UN statisticians while I was working on my book) without one single thinker (now that people from the PKI and Sukarno era, like Pramoedya Ananta Toer, passed away), without one single internationally recognizable scientist or a musician or public intellectual…
Dirt everywhere, horrendous immoral social contrasts on every corner… Range Rovers and Gucci boutiques right next to open sewers and children showing clear signs of malnutrition. There are hardly any parks in Indonesia, no waste treatment plants, and hardly any sidewalks or public playgrounds for children. There are no public educational television channels, while public libraries are almost-not existent – a shocking contrast to Malaysia. Water is, of course, privatized.
The nation stopped reading. One bookstore after another is closing down. It only translates a few hundred titles each year, most of them commercial. Translations are of horrendous quality.
Nothing, almost nothing, works. There are constant blackouts, and the roads are uneven and narrow. Even trans-Java “highways” are two-lane, narrow potholed tracks, of a worse quality than some village roads in Thailand or Malaysia. Traffic jams are all over, in the cities and countryside, as even poor people have to rely on private vehicles and infrastructure that has already collapsed many years ago.
Internet and phone signals are so bad that when I was editing my films, I was forced to fly to Singapore in order to upload some larger files.
Old ferries are sinking, airplanes are falling from the sky, and trains keep derailing.
No forests are left intact. The entire nation is logged out, mined out – ruined, screwed!
And the West is dancing on that horrid Indonesian carcass, celebrating! Yes, celebrating! It loves, it adores this “democratic”, “tolerant” nation which is in ruins. Instead of thinking, Indonesia is listening to some repulsive pop, grinning idiotically, producing incomprehensible squeaks and giggles befitting a mental institution, sacrificing itself oh-so-generously to the wellbeing of Western corporations and governments!
And so I came again, for just a few days, to show my feature documentary film at a small, new film club at TIM in Jakarta… the only film club, with 45 seats for an entire nation of 300 million inhabitants. I came to show my film about the 1965 Coup, called “Terlena – Breaking of A Nation”, which I produced some 11 years ago. It was the first feature documentary film ever made about the 1965 “events”.
I watched my own film and suddenly felt devastated, because my old friends had “departed” several years ago, and I missed them… Abdurrahman Wahid, a former President of Indonesia, a progressive Muslim leader and a closet socialist, who was “discreetly” overthrown by the “elites”… Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the greatest Indonesian thinker and paramount Southeast Asian writer…
I looked as their faces on the screen, faces so dear to me, and I thought: “How alive you were! Even when you were old and ill, how strong and determined was your will. How alive was your generation that grew up on the socialist fervor of great President Sukarno, father of the non-aligned movement… how alive you were compared to this cynical, greedy, brainwashed “young generation” of the corporate whores, of covetous nitwits, of the pathetic, emotionless, selfish and empty moral and intellectual degenerates!”
After the screening, predictable questions came from the audience: “what is to be done?” and later: “what do you think about the young generation in Indonesia?”
I thought about some of those young social media damsels, who had come to me in the past, begging to be ‘educated’ and ‘brainwashed back into reality’… They ‘wanted to work for humanity’, they said. I thought about how they were faking and lying, and how they betrayed and ran away, always, at the slightest sign of danger… How they ran back to their fascist clans whenever they were whistled for, how they dove immediately and directly into the rectums of their corrupt and venomous parents and grandparents… I also thought about the students at the University of Indonesia – arrogant, disinterested, banging into their phones and eating shit food during the lectures, even when presented with some tiny bits of essential information.
“Young generation?” I wondered. In Indonesia, they felt like some old nomenclature, even at the age of 15: endless idiotic Barbie dolls on thin legs… Those of the “elites”, I mean… the rest were just slaves, exploited, humiliated and fully conditioned not to ask and not to know. “Young elites” – embarrassing parodies of the movers and shakers from Wall Street. So pathetic! No individuality, dreams, talent, hard work; no revolutionary and rebellious spirit! The same crappy, sugary pop music and Hollywood films, the same Starbucks lattes… While outside, the nation was burning, choking on its own smoke and excrements, collapsing and murdering in some of the most horrendous genocides in the modern history – East Timor before, and Papua now.
Damned collaborators with the Western fascism! Bloody ass-lickers of the colonialists! And nobody thinks about shaving their head as punishment for selling themselves and the country to the Empire! That Indonesian boo-boo, coo-coo, absurd “young” (really, young?) generation!
I spoke. They listened. Then they went home. I think my shouting provided some entertainment. Nothing more. I was not shouting in Quito or Caracas. I was shouting in Jakarta. Most likely, nothing could be revolutionized here anymore.
The next day, I wanted to see a rhino at “Safari Park”, outside the city of Bogor, but police decided to torture people and it blocked, for no apparent reason, the highway exit. They did it for several hours, just to show that it could… This way the thugs were able to sell their junk, and ‘guides’ could take motorists through back roads. Booty was shared with the police, of course. Everything was corrupted: even a motorway could be blocked so police and gangs could make extra cash! I somehow managed to leave the highway, after my lungs began threatening to collapse from pollution.
I tried to make it to Bogor, to those old and famous Botanic Gardens, that were until recently one of the very few public places in Indonesia. But when I arrived, I saw devastation: the gardens were now systematically destroyed by some horrid construction project. Ancient trees have been cut down to give way to yet another revolting sprawl of parking lots. A historic bridge had been torn down and a new one was being built, obviously in order to change a predominately pedestrian area into a driveway. Instead of serenity, there was loud pop junk music, coming from all directions.
Then I was going on yet another stretch of clogged highway… and then I witnessed and smelled a mountain of garbage burning in the middle of Jakarta.
There were some deformed, gangrenous beggars in the middle of the highway and at several major intersections…
In Jakarta, a former bookstore that I used to frequent was now converted into a fruit shop. For dinner, I ate disgusting food at overpriced restaurants, where the waiters were clearly “somewhere else”, unable to even keep their eyes open, or to concentrate on what they were being told.
Several Ferraris were in between all this, and also a few Prada stores… and those enormous, monstrous advertisement billboards promoting cigarettes as something cool and hip.
There was no beauty in sight. No beauty at all. All gone.
While in the traffic jams, I tried to work. But how could I? The Internet was collapsing, and mobile phones hardly functioned. I’d written about it so many times, so why was I surprised?
50 years since the coup. A real anniversary – what many Indonesians are genuinely proud of! Their moment in the limelight! Their betrayal of all great ideals and their submission and surrender to the West.
Again, I wanted to run away. I felt physically sick here: a revolutionary, a rebel, and a philosopher in this land of obedience and intellectual collapse.
So, I ran. From canals clogged with unimaginable filth, garbage… from deformities of children and adults, but with Louis Vuitton boutiques in the background… from sickening betrayals, and from constant lies, from long uninterrupted silences, from the inability to rely on almost anyone, from the absolute and total lack of poetry, and from joylessness, from bleakness, from the absence of love. Yes, above all, from the absence of love.
During the 72 hours that I spent in the place that I consider to be the closest to hell (and I have seen more than 150 countries on this Earth), I suddenly recalled so many things that I tried to bury and forget: from the stench of the mutilated bodies of gang raped women in Ermera, East Timor, to those hundreds of poor animals slaughtered in the Surabaya zoo, so that some corrupt “international” project could go on.
I recalled how, after the tsunami in Aceh, the Indonesian soldiers and police, instead of helping traumatized victims, were blackmailing the volunteers, demanding money and threatening to cut with their knives those precious barrels of drinking water if the bribes were not forthcoming. I remembered bodies decomposing in the pits, because no government worker would lift his finger and operate heavy equipment without being “greased”.
Oh Indonesia, you are a true daughter of turbo-capitalism, of the lowest religious aspirations, of senseless obedience, notorious lack of education and knowledge, and unimaginable brutality and lack of compassion!
I saw so much shit during the 20 years that I tried to document your downfall!
I saw deranged Christian preachers, their sadistic and fanatic eyes popping in ISIL-style zeal, locking up, for years, their adult daughters, simply because they wanted to marry non-Christian men.
I witnessed Christian religious services in Surabaya malls, where totally molded idiots preachers were declaring with absolute conviction: “God loves the rich, and that is why they are rich!” I observed some English-language church services performed by US and Australian intelligence apparatchiks… complete with bizarre and repulsive pop gospels, accompanied by ass wiggling of thrilled matrons and young girls. I saw racist, bigoted extremist Sunni Muslims, paid and conditioned by the Saudi Wahhabis, destroying Shi’a villages in the middle of backward and desperate island of Madura.
I saw a little girl running away from a burning mosque in Ambon, and a Christian boy trying to escape from a gang of Wahhabi youth. They cut him to pieces, at the end, with their machetes…
I saw so many fires and ashes, and so much intolerance, stupidity and hate! I saw what replaced a once great and proud nation governed by a progressive Muslim President who trusted and relied upon the great and democratic Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).
I saw clearly what capitalism, what imperialism, ignorance and fascist indoctrination can do!
And deep inside I swore: “I will re-edit Terlena! I will re-edit that film of mine, damn it!”
I swore, and it made me feel much better.
Indonesia is the greatest untold story that I know – the story about what imperialism is capable of doing!
Entire islands deforested, robbed: enormous Borneo and Sumatra… Tortured elephants and great apes… Corruption and theft… Filth everywhere, on the surface of the earth, and inside people’s brains.
The collapse of humanism… the collapse of humanity. The persistent ruin of intellectualism, creativity, compassion and tenderness…
I ran, but as I did, I felt those millions and millions of hands trying to hold me, trying to slow me down. “We are alone, we are forgotten” I heard voices. “Stay little bit longer… Write a few more books, write a few more essays, and make films… Do not abandon us!”
I knew I would do what they were asking. I would leave and come back again. For those slaughtered and defenseless creatures, for the ruined rainforest, for the millions of interrupted lives…
I would come back out of spite for those who ruined Indonesia.
I would come back to warn the world.
I would come back, so I could call murderers by their real names, and give collaborators the titles that they deserve.
As I was leaving, I knew I would soon return and expose the full horrors of the Indonesian experiment that has been conducted on the local people by the sadistic Western regime, by its religions and its capitalist dogmas.
I knew that I would expose local collaborators. That is how revolutions begin!
I would give back, years and decades after they passed away, at least some dignity to those Indonesians who lived and fought and were killed. To those Indonesians who knew how to love passionately and desperately, fully and selfishly, each other and their Nation, and who were therefore eternally alive!
I knew one day soon I would return and re-make my film. For “them”! And my film would be, with some luck, damn good!
But as I was leaving, it was all smoke, stench and rubbish.
Indonesia died. Silently.
No more lies! Right now, the Indonesian people have no country. It was taken away from them by Western imperialists, by their own corrupt and treasonous “elites” and by the military. Only after they realize what has been done, they will be able to struggle and build their new motherland.
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.
PKI to gather sympathisers by ‘hitching a ride’ on Slank concert Tribune News – September 26, 2015
Jakarta — Former Army Strategic Reserves Command (green berets) Chief of Staff (Kaskostrad) Kivlan Zen claims that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) is trying to rebuild its forces in order to reestablish a presence in Indonesia.
PKI sympathisers are planning to hold a mass meeting at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium (SUGBK) in Senayan, Jakarta on Wednesday September 30 where they will join a concert by the popular Indonesian rock band Slank.
Zen received this information through an SMS message on his cell phone last week. The message was in the form of a call to all former PKI sympathisers to gather on September 30 at the SUGBK to take part in the Slank concert.
The message also appealed to sympathisers to wear red T-shirts with pictures of the hammer-and-sickle or a red flag on them.
“There has been an appeal to former PKI [members] and followers of the PKI’s ideas to gather at the Slank concert on September 30. I’ve already checked this on the ground. The [plan] to hitch a ride [on the concert] really exists”, said Zen in Jakarta on Saturday September 26.
Social media has been enlivened by a poster with the words “30 September Movement, Slank Two Finger Salute Concert, dispose the DPR [House of Representatives] Because They’re Incapable of Running the Country”.
According to Zen this is an attempt by PKI sympathisers to hitch a ride on the Slank concert. Even though the band made famous by the song “Too Sweet” has denied the claim, Zen says that PKI sympathisers will still gather at the concert.
Zen explained that the PKI sympathisers will gather at the SUGBK then head to the DPR building to call for DPR members to resign and the dissolution of the DPR.
“If it goes ahead they will demand that the DPR be dissolved. Because the DPR will prevent [President] Joko Widodo from making an apology to PKI sympathisers and revoke the Tap MPRS Number 25 1966”, he said.
The Tap MPRS or Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly Decree Number XXXV/1996 formally legitimises a ban on the PKI and the spread of communism in Indonesia.
Meanwhile if President Widodo apologies to former PKI members then the sympathisers of the party symbolised by the hammer-and-sickle will regard this as meaning that they are no longer a banned party and can reestablish a presence in Indonesia.
[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was “Kivlan Zein: PKI Dompleng Konser Slank untuk Kumpulkan Simpatisan”.]
Screaming ‘slaughter the PKI’, Islamic youth burn communist flags in Blitar
Tempo.co – September 30, 2015
Hari Tri Wasono, Blitar — Thousands of members of the Islamic mass organisation Nahdlatul Ulama’s (NU) paramilitary youth wing Barisan Ansor Serbaguna (Banser) demonstrated in front of the Blitar regent’s office in East Java on Wednesday September 30 to commemorate the bloody September 30, 1965 affair
Screaming “slaughter the PKI” (Indonesian Communist Party), the protesters wearing stripped camouflage fatigues pledged to utterly destroy any reemergence of communist ideas, which are often referred to as the New Style Communists (KGB).
“Slaughter the PKI’s down to its roots”, said protest coordinator Nurmuchlisin during a speech.
The atmosphere became tense when Banser members began shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great). The repeated recitations were followed by reverberations of the patriotic songs “Gugur Bunga” (Autumn Flowers) and “Maju Tak Gentar” (Onward Without Fear), which were played through a megaphone.
The chairperson of NU’s Blitar chapter of the Anshor Youth Movement (GP Anshor), Imron Rosadi, believes that a number of organisations and government institutions have been infiltrated by communist ideas.
This is because after metamorphosing into the KGB, he said, the PKI movement is no longer visibly agitating its ideas in society. “If the government remains silent, a civil war will erupt like in 1965” said Rosadi.
There are also indications of the rise of communism through workers from China who are thronging to Indonesia [looking for work]. This is because the Chinese Communist Party once held the reins of power and shifted the economic system from one of capitalism to socialism.
The communist movement in China has similarities with Indonesia, namely recruiting peasants as a basis of struggle. “Chinese workers must leave Indonesia”, said Rosadi.
Rosadi also slammed President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo plan to apologise to family members of the PKI who were victims of the 1965 affair. According to Rosadi, it would be inappropriate for PKI family members to receive an apology because they betrayed the nation.
During the action the Banser also set fire to flags with pictures of the hammer-and-sickle in the middle of the road.
Islamic mass organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah played a significant part in the military led purge of alleged communists in the 1965-66 mass killings with many NU kiai (clerics) playing central roles in overseeing and directing the killings in coordination with military officers.
[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was “Pekik ‘Sembelih PKI’ Cekam Unjuk Rasa Banser di Blitar”.]
Palu government to apologies to families of 1965 killings
Tempo.co – October 4, 2015
Riky Ferdianto, Jakarta — The Palu municipal government in Central Sulawesi will issue an official apology to families of the victims of the 1965 mass killings. The move is being taken to resolve the process of reconciliation for families of victims.
“This nation needs to learn to acknowledge past mistakes”, said Palu mayor Rusdy Mastura when he attended a launch of the book “Sulawesi Bears Witness” at the Goethe Institute in Jakarta on the evening of Thursday October 3.
Mastura stated that the apology will be officially issued on October 28 through a municipal regulation. Creating such a legal basis is necessary in order to restore the rights of the families of the victims based on the authority of the regional government.
“We don’t need to wait for the central government to take a position. As mayor I think there’s nothing wrong in issuing such a regulation”, he said.
Mastura conceded that the decision will not be rather unpopular in the eyes of some sections of the community and several social groups and political parties have even made an issue over the decision.
This reaction however can be gradually resolved through a dialog which has a vision of the future. “We’ll only be marking time if there are still frictions with what occurred in the past”, he said.
The chairperson of the group Solidarity for the Victims of Human Rights Violations, Nurlaela Lamasoitudju, believes that that the decision is a step forward.
From the results of their monitoring in Palu city and the regencies of Sigi, Donggala and Parigi Moutong, there are at least 1,210 victims who to this day are still haunted by traumatic experiences.
They are the families of victims who were accused of being involved with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In 1965 their property was seized and their social and political rights revoked. “The families of the victims hope for only one thing, an acknowledgement and apology”, she said.
[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was “Palu Meminta Maaf kepada Keluarga Korban 1965”.]
US senator wants key information on PKI purge declassified
Jakarta Post – October 3, 2015
Tama Salim and Fedina S. Sundaryani, Jakarta — On the 50th anniversary of the
1965 communist purge, US Senator Tom Udall has reintroduced a resolution that
would bring attention the murder of up to 1 million people, which he deemed as
one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
Udall’s resolution, which he first introduced last year, urges President Joko
“Jokowi” Widodo’s government to create a truth and reconciliation commission to
address the tragedy. It also calls on the US government to establish an interagency
working group and to release relevant classified documents.
“Beginning on Oct. 1, 1965, in Indonesia, between 50 thousand and 1 million
individuals — many of them civilians — were killed by and with the support of
the Indonesian government. Many more were imprisoned without due process of law,
making this one of the worst mass atrocities in the history of Indonesia,” said
Udall, a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement on
Acknowledging that the US government had maintained military and financial
support for the Indonesian government during that period, Udall said that both
countries must work together to resolve that chapter of history by declassifying
information and officially recognizing the atrocities that occurred.
“The United States should stand in favor of continued democratic progress for
our vital ally Indonesia and allow these historical documents to be disclosed,”
Udall continued. “Only by recognizing the past can we continue to work to improve
human rights across the globe.”
Responding to Udall’s statement, National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM)
member Muhammad Nurkhoiron said that such a bold statement could help speed up
the process of reconciliation and contribute to the dissemination of knowledge
about events surrounding the 1965 turmoil.
Nurkhoiron said the declassification of documents would give momentum and
reinforce the commission’s previous efforts for reconciliation. “If the old
documents are opened up to the public, we will have alternative sources of
information that will open our eyes to the importance of resolving the 1965
problem,” he said on Friday.
“The international community has played an important role in this; now Indonesia
will have to be responsive to the issue, whether we like it or not,” he said.
Nurkhoiron claimed that the Komnas HAM commissioner had also said that the
disclosure of new information about the atrocities would allow room for fresh
debate not dominated by a sense of resentment.
He said that there was hope that the government would implement a scheme similar
to the Freedom of Information Act in the US, or that state documents would be
declassified after a certain period of time in order to uncover the truth behind
past human rights violations.
Meanwhile, Attorney General M. Prasetyo has continued to insist that the
government would never deliver an apology to victims and families of those who
died in the communist purge.
“Nobody ever said that the President would apologize, but that we would express
our regret that such an incident […] had occurred,” he said at the Attorney
General’s Office (AGO) in South Jakarta, on Friday.
Prasetyo said it was extremely difficult to discern who was truly at fault for
the 1965 communist purge as it had been a chaotic period.
“It was chaos at the time […] Everyone says they are right and that the other
party is wrong, but [who’s to say] which is right and which is wrong? We [will
say] that we regret and lament that the incident occurred, so that similar things
won’t occur again. There won’t be any apologies,” he said.
Will leaders ride the tide that favors truth about ’60s killings?
Jakarta Post – October 3, 2015
Prodita Sabarini, Jakarta — This month marks the 50th year Indonesia has been
ignoring the murder of more than half a million people. The gruesome crimes of
1965 were provoked by Cold War era anti-communist propaganda that the state has
yet to dispel.
There has not been an apology, let alone a criminal inquiry, despite a 2012 report
by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) declaring that the army
was responsible for gross human rights violations.
But some officials seem eager to leave “the past” behind. In July, then military
chief Gen. Moeldoko, after a meeting to set up a truth and reconciliation committee
for past human rights abuses, said, “We must not forget, but forgive”.
Victims of the 1965 crimes do not need reminding to not forget that their friends
and family members were tortured, raped and murdered by the army and civilian
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, elected by the people based on a human rights
platform, should listen to the victims and prevent perpetrator groups from
dictating how reconciliation should happen.
Seventeen years have passed since the fall of Soeharto, the general who led the
crackdown against communists in 1965. Historical studies and research by
academics and civil society groups have since shed light on the army’s fabricated
tales about Indonesia’s communists.
Soeharto blamed the communist party for the killing of six army generals and one
junior officer on Oct. 1, 1965. Junior officers of Sukarno’s presidential guard
calling themselves “the Sept. 30 movement” (“G30S”) had kidnapped and killed the
generals to prevent a military coup against the ailing Sukarno’s government that
they believed would happen on Oct. 5.
Theories abound on the mastermind of the Movement. The latest 2006 study by
historian John Roosa claimed that the officers conspired with party leader DN
Aidit and a few others. But the rest of the party members and sympathizers who
perished most probably had no idea.
History shows that paranoia towards “the other” can prompt a group of people to
stop seeing themselves in the face of others. The Nazi propaganda described the
Jews as poisonous mushrooms. The Hutu painted the Tutsi, favored by the Belgians
during Rwanda’s colonial era, as cockroaches.
In Indonesia, Army propaganda painted communists as immoral bloodthirsty savages
ready to take over the nation. As researcher Saskia Wieringa pointed out, among
them are stories published in the army newspapers of communist women mutilating
the genitals of the kidnapped generals before killing them.
Other countries that have experienced genocide have woken up from their paranoia
and acknowledged the harm it brought to their people. Perpetrators were brought
to justice. Whether victims forgave them or not wasn’t discussed, but empathetic
leaders apologized for the crimes regardless of public sentiment. In 1970 German
chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled in silence in Poland before a Holocaust monument.
Perhaps Jokowi will not formally apologize this year or revise the history books
to include the anti-communist massacre of 1965-1966. Recently the nation’s
second-largest Islamic organization Muhammadiyah questioned the President over
plans to apologize for the 1965 crimes and they got the answer that they wanted.
No — as the President made clear again on Oct. 1, Pancasila Sanctity Day, at
Lubang Buaya, where the generals were killed.
With resistance from the military and elements of Islamic groups to even
acknowledge what happened, let alone apologize, it may seem that many prefer that
no real change occur. But after decades of silence, more people inside and outside
Indonesia are becoming aware of what happened and are talking about this more
openly and objectively.
A group of human rights activists are preparing an International People’s Tribunal
for the 1965 crimes in The Hague, Netherlands, bringing attention from local and
international media. Indonesian novelists writing with the setting of 1965 are
becoming focused on in the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s biggest book
In covering the 50th year of the massacre, local and international mainstream
media are no longer silent, which shows where the tide is heading.
Sindonews recently published the history of how “communist women” were slandered
by the army. BBC Radio recently aired an interview of a descendant of killers
perplexed by the cruelty of his uncle. Deustche Welle Indonesia published an
interview with writer Martin Aleida who was imprisoned during the pogroms, and
a profile of Soeharto on how he took advantage of the coup to rise to power.
In our digital age, it will be difficult to hide the truth, especially from the
generation born after 1965.
In time, the tide will favor the truth and victims of the 1965 crimes. Experience
tells us that the future will not be kind to those who stubbornly stand on the
wrong side of history. Our present leaders have the choice whether they will ride
the tide or be swept away by it.
[The writer is a Jakarta-based journalist and an editor for The Conversation.
She writes here in a personal capacity.]