INDONESIA’S Open wounds -After half a century, Indonesia opens a debate about its darkest year
IN LITTLE more than a decade, starting in 1965, Asia suffered four man-made catastrophes apart from the Vietnam war; altogether they cost millions of lives. China endured the Cultural Revolution. Bangladesh was born amid horror and mass slaughter. In Cambodia Pol Pot’s Khmers Rouges inflicted genocide on their own countrymen. And in Indonesia hundreds of thousands of suspected communist sympathisers died in 1965-66 as the then General Suharto consolidated what was to become a 32-year dictatorship. None of these disasters has been subject to a thorough public accounting, let alone a truth-and-reconciliation process. Of the four, however, Indonesia’s has been the least examined at home. Unlike the others, it has remained a taboo topic; its survivors still suffer censorship, discrimination and persecution.
So a symposium held this week in Jakarta, the capital, titled “Dissecting the 1965 tragedy”, was remarkable. Human-rights groups, former army officers, government representatives, victims’ families and survivors met in a public forum. Opinions on the worth of the exercise varied. That it happened at all prompted protests from some Islamic groups, seeing, implausibly, the thin end of a communist-revival wedge. Government spokesmen questioned the scale of the killings being discussed. Even some of the activists, who for decades have been urging Indonesia to face up to the carnage, saw the symposium less as historic breakthrough than as history rewritten.