Anti-com­mu­nist hys­te­ria re­turns in In­done­sia

Mob at­tack re­calls purges that killed half a mil­lion in 1965-66

The Dallas Morning News - - Viewpoints - Joe Cochrane, The New York Times

JAKARTA, In­done­sia — The armed mob set out af­ter night­fall, look­ing to break up — or worse — an il­le­gal gath­er­ing of com­mu­nist sym­pa­thiz­ers in an up­scale neigh­bor­hood of Jakarta, the In­done­sian cap­i­tal.

But when the mob ar­rived, its mem­bers were told that the event, held Sept. 17 at the of­fices of a prom­i­nent In­done­sian le­gal as­sis­tance foun­da­tion, was just an art show. They ei­ther did not be­lieve that or did not care.

For the next few hours, the mob — a mix of sev­eral hun­dred hard-line Is­lamists, na­tion­al­ist mili­tia mem­bers and hired lo­cal street thugs, armed with rocks and sticks — laid siege to the build­ing, smash­ing win­dows with rocks and bricks and mak­ing death threats to those in­side. Po­lice had to dis­perse the mob with warn­ing shots and tear gas. Those at­tend­ing the event, in­clud­ing many hu­man rights ac­tivists, had to be evac­u­ated to safety.

The at­tack was one of many ex­am­ples of a sud­den resur­gence of anti-com­mu­nist hys­te­ria in In­done­sia be­fore Satur­day’s an­niver­sary of the be­gin­ning of what his­to­ri­ans call one of the worst mass atroc­i­ties of the 20th cen­tury: the state-spon­sored purges of those sus­pected of be­ing com­mu­nists or their sym­pa­thiz­ers in 1965-66.

A half-mil­lion In­done­sians or more, many of whom had no con­nec­tion to com­mu­nism, are es­ti­mated to have been killed in an orgy of vi­o­lence dur­ing those months.

Yet a half-cen­tury later, the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment and its pow­er­ful mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity forces have failed to con­front the dark­est chap­ter in this coun­try’s his­tory — and in fact con­tinue to ac­tively sup­press pub­lic dis­course about the mas­sacres.

“There’s been no res­o­lu­tions, no break­through and no ideas on how to,” said Haris Azhar, a former co­or­di­na­tor of the Com­mis­sion for Miss­ing Per­sons and Vic­tims of Vi­o­lence, an In­done­sian nongovern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that doc­u­ments hu­man rights abuses by the mil­i­tary and the po­lice.

“It’s still a big scar and a big hole for this na­tion,” he said. “We as a na­tion need to move for­ward, but we have to re­lease the bur­den by hav­ing a full, of­fi­cial ac­count of what hap­pened, so we can learn from it and then move for­ward.”

But the way for­ward is un­cer­tain. While the main ar­chi­tects are prob­a­bly dead, the purges re­main a taboo sub­ject be­cause the mil­i­tary, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the Is­lamic re­li­gious groups im­pli­cated in the vi­o­lence are part of the po­lit­i­cal elite, ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts.

Sol­diers and mil­i­tary­backed civil­ian, para­mil­i­tary and re­li­gious groups car­ried out the mas­sacres, which came on the heels of a failed up­ris­ing within the In­done­sian armed forces. An of­fi­cer-led group kid­napped and ex­e­cuted six army gen­er­als be­gin­ning on the night of Sept. 30, 1965.

Within days, top com­man­ders had quashed the up­ris­ing, which they called a coup at­tempt or­ches­trated by the then-pow­er­ful In­done­sian Com­mu­nist Party, work­ing with rogue mil­i­tary per­son­nel. In the purges that came af­ter, the vic­tims were branded as com­mu­nists who sought to top­ple the gov­ern­ment, but they also in­cluded in­tel­lec­tu­als, eth­nic Chi­nese In­done­sians, mem­bers of stu­dent and teacher unions, artists and count­less oth­ers.

The killings were over­seen by Suharto, an army gen­eral who went on to be­come the coun­try’s pres­i­dent and who presided over an au­thor­i­tar­ian, mil­i­tary-backed gov­ern­ment for 32 years.

Suharto was forced to re­sign in 1998 af­ter mass prodemoc­racy demon­stra­tions, and he died in 2008. How­ever, the In­done­sian Com­mu­nist Party re­mains banned in In­done­sia, and dis­cus­sion of the 1965-66 mas­sacres is still taboo.

Joko Wi­dodo, the first In­done­sian pres­i­dent to come from out­side the mil­i­tary and tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal elite, pledged dur­ing his 2014 elec­tion cam­paign to re­solve the anti-com­mu­nist purges through an in­quiry.

Yet aside from en­dors­ing a pub­lic sym­po­sium on the is­sue that was held last year, Joko’s gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing to in­ves­ti­gate the mass killings.

“This most re­cent in­ci­dent, and other sim­i­lar in­ci­dents, puts to mind the fact that the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment and pow­er­ful el­e­ments in­side and out­side the gov­ern­ment are im­pla­ca­bly op­posed to any sort of ac­count­abil­ity for hun- dreds of thou­sands of deaths,” said Phe­lim Kine, deputy Asia di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch, re­fer­ring to the siege on the Jakarta art show.

Not­ing that Joko is ex­pected to seek re-elec­tion in 2019, he added: “It ap­pears that the Joko gov­ern­ment is mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion that ad­vo­cat­ing for ac­count­abil­ity for 1965-66 opens a po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing Pan­dora’s box that does not ben­e­fit pow­er­ful play­ers in In­done­sia. Time has ba­si­cally run out.”

Jo­han Budi, a spokesman for the In­done­sian pres­i­dent, de­clined to com­ment on what steps his gov­ern­ment was tak­ing to give a full ac­count­ing of the mas­sacres.

Ulet Ifansasti/The New York Times

Kin­der­gart­ners stand near a statue of Suharto, an In­done­sian gen­eral who over­saw anti-com­mu­nist purges in the 1960s and went on to pre­side over an au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment for 32 years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.