Friday, June 12, 2009
Legacy ofIndonesia's 1965-66 Massacres
Indonesia Unwilling To Tackle Legacy of 1965-66 Massacres
(The Years of Living Dangerously)
MOST Thursday afternoons, octogenarians Sumini and Anwar Umar take a bus from their homes in Jakarta's suburbs to the city centre and set up camp outside the presidential palace in the city centre.
They join a smattering of other elderly Indonesians. Each of them are victims of the brutal crackdown on leftists that wracked the country from 1965 to 1966. The massacre of about 500,000 people, and imprisonment without trial of about 1 million others, ranks as one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century.
Yet this meagre, if heartfelt, protest each week across the road from the offices of the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is testament to the ambivalence many feel about the slaughter and its inability to reconcile the actions of the perpetrators, the military and vigilante groups from Indonesia's mass Islamic organisations.
The spark for the bloodletting was the failed coup in 1965,which began with the abduction and murder of six generals but lasted barely one day.
Crushed by an obscure general, Suharto, who would later become a long-standing dictator, the forces behind the coup remain a subject of debate. But, with the support of the United States and the acquiescence of Australia, the army began a propaganda campaign that blamed the treasonous uprising on the Communist Party, then a major force in society.
Whipping up a frenzy of anti-communist hatred before it launched its killing spree, members of the Communist-linked Indonesian Women's Movement, or Gerwani, were accused of cutting off the genitals of the generals. The women, so the reports went, then took part in a sexual orgy with Communist cadres and sympathetic air force officers at the very place the bodies of the generals had been thrown into a well.
Sumini was a member of Gerwani, living in Central Java and working as a kindergarten teacher. She remembers the propaganda campaign. "I did not believe it," she said. "Gerwani was good … Its statutes said we should help the illiterates, children from poor families."
It was a couple of months after the failed coup that Sumini was detained by an army officer and sent to prison, along with her sister and cousin. It was another 10 years before she was released.
"I remember my sister being stripped and electrocuted," she said.
Mr Anwar, who was a secretary-general of a civil servants union, spent 12 years in prison. He, too, was electrocuted, beaten with a chair and fists. The worst thing, though, was being separated from his family. They had no idea what had happened to him, but remained ostracised for his affiliation with the union movement. Three of his children had died - including one who committed suicide - before his release.
Like all those identified as leftists, Sumini and Mr Anwar were unable to get work after their release, their identity papers marking them as former political prisoners.
Even so, compared with other victims, Mr Anwar and Sumini got off relatively lightly.
The mass killings were particularly gruesome. Some were lined up and shot by the military. Many more were beheaded, garrotted or had their throats slit by Islamic militias with knives or machetes.
"It was done face to face," says Greg Fealy, of the Australian National University. "It's not like the mechanical process that the Nazis had, or Pol Pot's farms [in Cambodia]."
Mr Fealy will be among about 30 academics who will congregate in Singapore next week for the biggest conference ever held on the massacres. It is perhaps instructive that the conference is not being held in Indonesia and that most of the participants are not Indonesians. Despite some steps towards accounting for the events of 1965 and 1966 after the fall of Suharto, Indonesia's efforts to undertake a detailed official investigation into the coup and its aftermath have been stillborn.
The Parliament set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Suharto was deposed, but it never got off the ground after Mr Yudhoyono failed to appoint delegates and the Constitutional Court ruled it unlawful. The highly sanitised history of the period taught at schools was briefly abandoned in 2004. But the old texts, depicting the events as a patriotic campaign that resulted in less than 80,000 deaths, were reintroduced in 2006 following protests by Islamic groups and the military. The offending text books from 2004 were burnt.
Katherine McGregor, a University of Melbourne academic and the convener of next week's conference, said there remained a lack of political will from the highest levels to tackle the legacy of the massacres.
As the Indonesian scholar Asvi Warman Adam notes, Mr Yudhoyono's father-in-law, Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, was the military officer who led the killings in Central Java.
Tom Allard Herald Correspondent in Jakarta
The Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday, June 13, 2009