Towards 50 years of the 1965 Mass Killings:
Efforts to Destroy the Anti-Communist Sentiment-Again
By Wijaya Herlambang
Many conservatives, particularly those in rural areas, still view the idea of reconciliation and exposing the communist purge of 1965 as something that needs to be obstructed.
Next year, in September 2015, it will be 50 years since the Indonesian people went through the nightmare of mass killings committed by General Soeharto and his henchmen in 1965-66. Activists, academics, victims’ families and community leaders who care about this bloodbath cannot just sit still. This matter has to be exposed all the way to its roots.
For this purpose, the International People’s Tribunal on Crime Against Humanity in Indonesia 1965 will be launched as a social movement to demand justice, and inform the public – particularly the Indonesian people – about the largest human rights violation the country has ever seen.
In order to commemorate half a century of this tragedy, IPT plans to organise a number of campaign programmes. It will also produce a number of publications which support this social movement. So far, many have shown willingness to support IPT. Activists, writers, artists and academics from Indonesia and abroad have endorsed IPT’s plans. Community and religious leaders, and key institutions such as Komnas HAM (Indonesian Commission for Human Rights), have also voiced their support.
Even recently elected President Joko Widodo, during his election campaign earlier this year, has promised to resolve past human rights abuses. He has put this forward as one of his campaign platforms. This is certainly a positive development to accelerate the paradigm shift of the 1965 killings, and the anti-communist discourse inherited from the New Order regime.
However, IPT’s efforts are anything but easy. Similar to past endeavours done in connection to the rights violations of 1965, IPT’s activities also carry risks: from difficulties in consolidating to the danger of intimidation from many sides. This all has to be carefully kept in mind, as the anti-communist sentiment amidst the Indonesian society is still very strong.
The main legacy left by the New Order regime – one that has left an indelible mark on Indonesia’s national identity – is the anti-communist ideology. Until today, this remains a central discourse in Indonesian society. Numerous efforts undertaken by activists, intellectuals, artists and academics to develop an alternative discourse about what happened in 1965 has yet to bear significant fruit.
The New Order’s anti-communist ideology is still alive and well amidst Indonesian society. Every effort to review, examine, or disseminate information on what actually happened after the attempted coup of September 30, 1965, is an enormous task. It will take great physical and intellectual energy, and will most likely be confronted with resistance from parties who would prefer for this tragedy to remain at its status quo.
This solid anti-communist ideology is strongly influenced by the military’s actions since Soeharto reigned in 1965. The pogrom against the millions of Indonesians who were labelled communist went on from October 2, 1965, until March 1966, and actually continued for years beyond that period. The military consciously used cultural media to legitimate their violent actions.
Newspapers and radio were key media used by the military to incite public hate towards the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party). Their next step was to put a rational justification on Soeharto’s accusation that the PKI was behind the botched coup, by lining up the military’s version of the event.
In this process, military historian Nugroho Notosusanto held a key position. In less than two months – from October to December 1965 – this rational justification was published in the book 40 Hari Kegagalan G30S (40 days of the G30S failure), in which he accused the PKI as the only perpetrator in the coup event (known in Indonesia as G30S: Gerakan 30 September or the September 30 Movement).
This book became the main ideological pillar of the New Order, which was then further elaborated in several cultural media throughout the regime’s history, and beyond. For several decades, the New Order government asserted that the PKI was the one and only party responsible for the 1965 coup. The regime did this through various political and cultural tools, and developed, transformed and maintained its lies towards the Indonesian people and the international community.
The cultural/ideological transformation done by the military and its cultural agents is, I argue, the main reason why the anti-communist ideology remains so strong in Indonesia.
Many cases of violence related to efforts to review this anti-communist discourse is proof that this is no easy feat. At the same time, it also shows that the ideological transformation is a painstakingly slow process.
Since the fall of Soeharto’s regime in 1998, there have been a number of events proving that the communism issue remains highly sensitive. These events include the burning of books on Marxism, Leninism and communism, and the intimidation suffered by YPKP (Foundation for Research of the 1965/66 Killings) and victims’ families who wanted to organise proper burials for their loved ones in the town of Kaloran in Central Java.
A number of recent incidents include intimidations during the discussion of Harry Poeze’s books on Tan Malaka, which was disrupted by mass organisations. Another one was the arrest of a number of elderly former political prisoners who were gathering in a house in Semarang. This proves that the anti-communism discourse remains dominant in Indonesia.
These sporadic incidents can be indicators that ideological transformations, which IPT 1965 is trying to do, is risky indeed.
Creating an ideological transformation
Numerous theories and alternative scenarios have clearly shown that the official state version of the 1965 coup cannot be trusted. However, these publications – mostly written by non-Indonesian scholars – were only accessible to the wider public after Soeharto’s fall in 1998. Another important factor as to why these works were slow to disseminate was the nature of the works themselves.
Many important works on the 1965 massacres, written many years ago, have only recently been translated into Indonesian. And even though these works are now available, many technical factors – including the contents of the works – prevent these works from being widely read.
This remains a problem in the comprehensive effort to reach an ideological and social transformation in Indonesia. It is one of the reasons why the cultural/ideological transformation away from the anti-communist discourse remains sluggish.
However, the availability of Internet and social media gives new hope on better dissemination of information related to review the 1965 events. Clearly, users of social media have started to become more interested in human rights violations, including the 1965 killings.
This is progress, as it shows a heightening people’s critical awareness, at least to start questioning what actually happened in 1965. In my view, the main target of this information dissemination should be the younger generation, particularly school and university students.
On a number of occasions, I have noticed that many university students are unaware of this event, and show an apathetic attitude towards their own history. Nevertheless, a more comprehensive study must be done to ascertain this conclusion.
One way to bridge this gap in modern Indonesian history is the formation of the educational curriculum. Suggestions to revise the historical writings on 1965 in school texts have so far been unsuccessful, but needs to be pushed further.
President Joko Widodo had promised to include human rights in the educational curriculum for primary and secondary schools as well as in the military and police academies. This could be used to demand that the government be more active in getting to the bottom of human rights violation cases, particularly this one.
In several IPT meetings in Jakarta, the initiative to urge the government and education curriculum authorities to take steps has been part of IPT’s campaign. However, rewriting the history texts on the 1965 events is still a matter of debate. This may become even more of a problem, as the new president so far has not shown great interest in human rights violation issues.
Another obstacle that activists and observers of the 1965 violations need to keep in mind is the fact that many parties still do not see these activities as positive efforts.
Historians like Asvi Warman Adam believe that the military clearly still has pointed interest in keeping a lid on the 1965 massacres. Meanwhile, community and religious leaders also assume that the issue of communism and the 1965-66 massacres could potentially incite conflict at the grass root level.
Many conservatives, particularly those in rural areas, still view the idea of reconciliation and exposing the communist purge of 1965 as something that needs to be obstructed. The same goes for a number of anti-communist mass organisations that often intimidate groups that try to uncover the truth about the human rights violations of 1965.
Secular mass organisations such as Pemuda Pancasila and religious ones like FPI (Islamic Defence Front) are among those which are often used by the state apparatus to intimidate movements trying to clarify the 1965 violations. Those, such as IPT 1965, who want to dig deeper into the 1965 events, must keep this resistance from the community in mind.