Nico Schulte Nordholt as keynote speaker on IPT website soft launching, December 17th 2014


Nico Schulte Nordholt

Key-note Speech: Soft launching Website International People’s Tribunal, at IISG-Amsterdam, 17 December 2014

Today, two concepts stand central: silence and impunity, both closely intertwined.
On the actual events of the coup-attempt in the night of the 30th of September/1st of October 1965, presently, no obscurity exists anymore due to thorough international investigations. About the question who to take accountable for this coup-attempt, there are, however, roughly three versions that circulate, each of them extensively elaborated. One of these is important for us today at this event. Namely, it is that version by which the Indonesian Communist Party is blamed for the coup-attempt, that, however, timely could be prevented thanks to the prompt and adequate intervention of the Indonesian Army.

Unfortunately, this version is still important today. This is particularly so, because of the fact that, based on this interpretation of history, the relatives of the roughly more than one million murdered persons and of the hundreds of thousands prisoners who, in the aftermath of that event were kept in prison, sometimes for many years, are still treated as second-rate citizens in their own country, at the best. It was also this version that immediately after the 1st of Oct. ’65, provided the legitimation for the indoctrination courses which were imposed on the whole society, starting from the first grade at school.

One very important element of this indoctrination – up till the present – is the depiction of the communists, or every one sympathizing with them, as atheists. Hence, they are, within the scope of the Pancasila-ideology, in fact illegal, and above all, a-moral persons who do not deserve the basic civil rights of their fellow Indonesian citizens. Therefore, the relatives of these victims of the past are forced to live behind a Wall of Silence about their identity, as a kind of surviving-strategy.
Based on the above mentioned propaganda the alleged responsible actors were not only de-humanized as beings of less value, but it was also not allowed to ask critical questions about who actually had masterminded the events of 30 September ’65. And, probably even more important, it was not allowed to ask who should be taken accountable for the numerous killings following the coup-attempt. Till the end of Suharto’s New Order this situation enabled those in power to keep silent about their own real role and responsibilities.

Immediately after the 1st of October ’65, Western governments backed up this stand of the new power holders, due to the frame of the Cold War. In fact, the outcome of this coup-attempt was, by and large, regarded by the West as a Gift of God. In line with this frame, the argument ran: if the Army had not prevented the Communists from succeeding this coup, they would have controlled five of the world’s most important sea-trade lanes. A doom-scenario for the West, given the already rather gloomy perspective of the outcome of the Vietnam War at that time.

Therefore, not surprisingly either, no pressure could be expected from Western governments for conducting an international judicial investigation regarding the bloody aftermath of the coup-attempt.

This situation continued until the end of the Cold War, in 1989. And even after 1989, until ’98, the year in which Suharto was forced to end his Presidency, the West had no interest at all to put such a pressure on the New Order. Since Indonesia had become, by then, one of their important trade partners. Actually, the same principle of trade interest rules at present too.

Given these facts, within Indonesia a fair and independent judicial investigation was totally unthinkable, not only then but also not nowadays, as long as the same influential political and military circles to which the perpetrators of 1965 belonged, are still part of the power center in Indonesia. As a consequence of this, up till the present flagrant impunity still exists in Indonesia.
Outside Indonesia, many publications, articles or books, were published by which the necessary, and duly needed corrections on the New Order’s version of the events of the 30th of September, were sufficiently highlighted. This knowledge, however, could only very sparsely enter into the Indonesian society due to – amongst others – a very effective censorship and, also very important, due to the impact of the decennia-long indoctrination of the Indonesian society at large, causing in many cases just a blunt denial of the alternative narratives of the history around “‘65/’66”, and the killing-campaigns afterwards.

Nevertheless, at least two attempts to correct the official version from within the Indonesian society, should be mentioned at this occasion:

After the change of power in 1998, causing the fall of Suharto, critical questions on the events of “’65/’66” and the killings afterwards were raised, albeit rather limited due to the political uncertainties which were for many of greater concern at that time. In this context, in particular the name of Gus Dur has to be mentioned. First as Chair of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), but, in 2000, also as the Fourth President of the Republic, he took an outstanding position. He apologized, namely, for the role ANSOR, the Youth organization of his own NU, had played in accomplice with the military elite troops during the killing-campaigns in the last months of ’65 and early ‘66, in particular in East Java. As President, he also advised to start a thorough judicial investigation in order to reach out for a true reconciliation within the Indonesian society. Next to this, he allowed all (former) communists who were living in exile to return safely to their home country. In 2001, however, Gus Dur was toppled by the Army, and from then onwards, the same indoctrination of the New Order regarding the “’65/’66” events and its aftermath, continued to be imposed on the society, with the active support of the Army.

Another example of such an attempt to correct the official version on the events of “’65/’66” occurred in 2012. General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (better known as SBY), started his presidency in 2004 with the promise to strengthen democracy. However, SBY is the son-in-law of the late General Sarwo Edhie, the principal actor responsible for the military killing-campaign till early 1966. After 10 years, one only can conclude that SBY has hardly contributed anything to his promise. There were many opportunities for him to do so but, at this occasion, I limit myself to refer to only one. In 2012 he had the opportunity to act, if only he had ordered his Attorney-General to follow-up the results of a very solid investigation conducted by the National Commission on Human Rights. This investigation on the scope and nature of the killings in ‘65/’66 in six regions, and also into the question who could be taken accountable for these actions, disappeared into the Attorney-General’s drawer. Hence, this courageous effort by brave citizens to break the Wall of Silence, was effectively put to silence by SBY.

Even the civilian Jokowi, who started as the seventh President in October this year, I’m afraid, is not bringing much hope to expect a judicial investigation, given the fact that he is surrounded by so many hard-line military and politicians. If my guess turns out to be realistic, than, for the years to come no such initiative can be expected from the Indonesian government. Therefore, the only possibility seems to be the civil courage, relatives of the victims of the past can mobilize to break through the Wall of Silence, so long already imposed on them. However, such an effort can only be effective if strategically supported from abroad.

Today we are witnessing two events in this regard:

First, this afternoon The Look of Silence, the very penetrating and impressive, and to me also very breathtaking, documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer will be screened. This documentary, very adequately entitled as Senyap(Silence) in Bahasa Indonesia, shows the viewer evidences of meetings between the main character, the optician Adi, and the killers of his older brother, Ramli. Some of these meetings were very tense full but at one occasion, the spectator witnesses a kind of reconciliation between the daughter of one of those killers, and this remarkable younger brother, Adi, who, amazingly, happens to be able to forgive her and her father.

In my opinion, one cannot overestimate the importance of the impact of this documentary. Last week, on the 10th of December, Human Rights Day, this movie was publicly screened in dozens of university cities all over Indonesia. Hence, reaching out to tens of thousands viewers.

Notwithstanding the fact that this screening was forbidden in the city of Malang, the call to break through the Wall of Silence on the events of almost 50 years ago, is now clearly made by many youngsters who watched Senyap. In particular, their question:” What was the position taken by our parents?” is intriguing, and strongly resembles to the discourse in Germany when the film “Unser Väter, Unser Mϋtter” was released a few years ago in that country.

The second way active support from abroad can contribute to this Breaking the Wall of Silence in Indonesia, is the International People’s Tribunal scheduled to be held in the autumn of 2015 in The Hague, as the City of Peace and Justice. In preparation to this event, amongst others, as many as possible narratives – witnesses – will be subsequently collected on a Website. Today the launching of this Website was already conducted in Jakarta, and in a few moments this will also be the case here, at the International Institute of Social History, in Amsterdam. This initiative has a very clear aim, namely to call upon the relatives of the victims of the past to speak out about their life-stories.

Hence, the International People’s Tribunal next year will become an undeniable signal to the Indonesian government to start a fair and independent judicial investigation in Indonesia itself.
The format by which such an investigation will be conducted, is up to the Indonesians themselves. Some examples of genuine Truth Finding courts were conducted abroad in recent years and can possibly be taken as comparison. However, for the Indonesian society at large, probably even more important than Truth Finding as such, might be the quest of reconciliation between the relatives of both, the victims and the actors of the killing-campaigns of the mid-sixties.

Though, before such a reconciliation could ever be achieved, the latter should first acknowledge their guilt and they should be condemned before a court. Because against the injustice, the victims and their relatives have had to endure for so many years, including the impunity of the actual killers and of the masterminds of the killing-campaigns, justice should be done first.

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