Friday, August 10, 2012

Healing Indonesia’s ‘Holocaust’ past, revealing the truth

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, I opted for traditional medicine and self-healing. One of the people who helped me was Putu Oka Sukanta, an acupuncturist and herbalist. In fact, he was the first person I told about my illness, before even my family. I trusted him, and sought his advice.

But it wasn’t just health issues I discussed with him. We also talked about his writing and the repression and humiliation he had experienced as a political prisoner.

That’s right, Putu had been a Tapol (tahanan politik, political prisoner) for 10 years, from 1966 to 1976. He had been chucked into jail for his involvement with Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, The Institute for People’s Culture), which was linked to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), banned since 1965.

Like millions of other Indonesians, Putu Oka was a victim of the aftermath of the G30S movement – the supposed communist coup that took place on Sept. 30, 1965. The mass killings that followed in 1965 and 1966 — with death estimates ranging between 200,000 to 3 million — remained a public secret for the next four decades.

Countless hundreds of thousands were incarcerated without trial, like Putu. Even after release, they were treated like pariahs, discriminated against in every aspect of their lives.

On July 23, our National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) finally released a report stating what most Indonesians already knew: The 1965-1966 killings were an Army-led massacre and constituted “a gross violation of human rights” (see Editorial: The killings now can be told of, The Jakarta Post, July 25). Duh.

How do you keep something like that a “secret” for over 40 years? If you cover up a corpse, it’ll still produce a stench. For four decades, we’ve had to inhale the stink of death, deception, oppression and historical manipulation. Imagine, choosing to live beside a filthy sewer filled with dirt, garbage and rotting corpses. Makes your stomach churn huh? Yet, as a nation, that is exactly what we’ve done.

Being born in 1966, House of Representatives deputy speaker Priyo Budi Santoso has been weaned on this stench — it’s the air he’s been breathing from the beginning of his life. Is that the reason he’s been pooh-poohing the Komnas HAM findings and admonishing victims to simply “move on”?

Let’s not waste time on one callous politician who thinks that “Revealing the historical facts will not solve the problem”. He’s obviously not familiar with Santayana’s aphorism, that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

What is more worrying is the possibility that Priyo’s state of mind is a reflection of what Endy Bayuni calls “Indonesia’s collective amnesia” (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 1).

Indonesia is not the only country to experience nationwide atrocities. Look at China’s Cultural Revolution for example. It took place between 1966 and 1976, and caused the death of 3 million people.

Then there’s Cambodia, with the killing fields of the Pol Pot regime claiming the lives of 1.7 million and leaving behind one of the most gruesome tourist attractions one can imagine: 8,000 human skulls piled in a glass shrine.

Yes, that’s right, folks, the “Killing Fields” are a source of revenue now. Hundreds of Cambodians are making a living by guiding visitors through the killing fields and other genocide-related sites. Many tell harrowing personal stories about how they survived the Khmer Rouge. Hey, if we Indonesians could make a buck out of our massacre-filled past too, maybe people like Priyo wouldn’t be so dismissive?

And then there were the 12 million victims of Hitler (concentration camps and civilians deliberately killed in World War II, plus 3 million Russian POWs left to die), and 6 million killed under Stalin (the gulags and the purges, plus Ukraine’s famine). And there’s more.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. However, long after that children are still being born with severe physical deformities, allegedly as a result from exposure to Agent Orange, a toxic chemical US forces sprayed to defoliate the dense jungles where the Viet Cong hid. And what about the victims of the 300,000 tons of explosives left behind that still kill and maim people long after hostilities ended?

History’s lesson is clear: The after-effects of atrocities have a way of lingering. They survive as deformities — yes, physical ones certainly, but emotional and psychological as well. And these can affect us all, regardless of whether we were even born at the time.

So why can’t Indonesia face up to 1965-1966? China has officially admitted that the Cultural Revolution was wrong and Cambodia is dealing with its killing fields, with trials under way right now. You’d think we could at least follow the example of South Africa and Chile, who set up truth commissions to exhume the painful past.

But knowing Indonesia’s national propensity to sweep things under the carpet, it’s understandable that the victims of 1965-1966 are skeptical. After all, even atrocities (including killing and rape) committed as recently as the May riots of 1998 are still not addressed, never mind events of over 40 years ago.

So what to do? Demanding an apology, rehabilitation and compensation is one thing — good luck there, I say — but there’s also inner work to be done. Let’s all follow Putu’s example, engage in self-healing, and talk and write about what really happened.

And to all you shameful liars out there, remember, “The truth shall set you free!”

By Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta.The writer is the author of Jihad Julia.(

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