It was around Eid that fell on 25th Desember 1965. I cannot remember the exact date, but what I saw around that time, has stayed in my mind. Even till now.

Travelling back from Malang to Bandung, all traffic suddenly stopped when we passed Jogya. The streets were full of people. Everyone was silent or whispering to each other. There were no soldiers. Some people looked sad while running home. Some just looked at each other. It was strange. There was no carefree atmosphere of Eid. There was only uneasiness that made us—I was in the last year of high school at that time—sombre, wondering what was happening. So we went to the bridge that was full of people looking down upon the waters of the river under it.
Corpses were strewn on the sides of the river and floating on its waters. I was startled and shocked. I didn’t count how many bodies there were. Certainly, dozens.

People were looking. They were silent. And then, they went away. It was the first time I saw dozens of dead bodies treated as a spectacle by the public and ignored. We also continued our way home.

There was nothing special about what I witnessed—except that the expressions on people’s faces told a story. Prior to that day, since October, the newspapers were full with news of ‘Exterminate PKI (Indonesian Communist Party)’ movements. The majority of people probably do not realize the scale and depth of feeling of what hat happened on people’s hearts. Bandung was not the place to feel the tremors of drama and tragedy that was taking place. But, the language of facial expression in Central Java showed that everybody was truly aware of what was happening, that those dead bodies upon the waters of the river were just a microcosm of a bigger catastrophe. It was a local portion of a bigger picture that would color its era. Though they were silent, frightened or whispering among themselves, villagers realized that a tragedy had struck this nation—and the government behind that nation.
This was the largest massacre in the Indonesian archipelago since Jan Pieterzoons Coen men massacred the people of Banda Island, since Captain Westerling’s mass killing of people in South Sulawesi, since the Japanese and their Romusha, since the youth movements of the Bersiap periode in 1945-1946 killed Dutch prisoners. Two decades after Independence, this nation became a victim when half a million drops of indigo spilled and destroyed a container of milk which was the Indonesian Republik—a republic that resulted from the struggles of the people themselves.

Two Zeitgeist
Three years later, 1968, when I was studying in Leiden, the Netherlands, every day I would cycle by a suspension bridge marred by graffiti: Soeharto Moordenaar (Soeharto is a murderer). In Amsterdam, a poster titled ‘The Archipelago of Prisons’ was printed by Amnesty International around 1974. From 1968 to the 1980’s, Asian upheavals colored Europe. In the Netherlands, Prof. Dr. W. F. Wertheim—professor of sociology and Asian history, chairman of Committee Indonesie and editor of Feiten en Meningen magazine, pioneered critical studies and social awareness of issues of dictatorship and cruelty in Indonesia at exactly the periode when the Netherlands was attempting to restore its relations with Indonesia. This attempt was cynically termed as ‘Terug van weggeweest’ (‘Back from the Past).

In Paris, a kind of Mecca for student movements of the 1970’s, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre ignited the attention of intellectuals and the world. In Stockholm, philosopher Bertrand Russel aroused world conscience through the Vietnam War Crime Tribunal (1971). He reminded the world that in Indonesia, within a space of 6 months, there were as many victims as that in several decades of the Vietnam War (1954-1975). And the falling bombs creating the Khmer Rouge regime was as cruel as the New Order regime in Indonesia.

It was a period of contrasts. In the Third World, the regimes in Asia and Latin America found a ‘solution’ to the Cold War with, on the one hand, shortcuts in the form of military dictatorship and mass slaughter while on the other hand, in Europe, Zeitgeist was questioning those kinds of ‘solutions’ and in America, people were protesting against the Vietnam War. It was those contrasts that made people attack the hypocrisy of the world: world constellation and geo-politics which concentrated their attention on the cruelties of communist regimes ala Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, while at the same time remaining silent about the the massacre of people in 1965-1966 which broke Indonesia’s left wing [1]

Proliferating Crime
In the 1990s to 2000, the concept of ‘Third World’ disappeared from public terminology, its narrative disappeared from world discourse and its characters disappeared from sight. But ‘1965’ did not disappear. It permeated social instinct. It became a national trauma. And now it is slowly appearing in public through local efforts to locate mass graves, facts and new repertoires surrounding the tragedy. Post-1998 revived 1965. Some called this revival ‘Prahara’ (tempest); others preferred to use the term ‘Holocaust’, borrowing from Nazi-Germany in the 1940s, which seems to hit the mark better than calling it ‘Tragedi Besar ‘1965’ (the Great Tragedy of 1965).[2]

In the middle of the 1990’s, the owner of a hotel in Kuta, Bali, calmly recounted the hunting and killing (of people) in his village as though it was an ordinary daily occurrence—without any regrets or bitterness. The day before, the chauffeur driving me to Denpasar also told a similar story, with pride and bravado of a jago—a macho—also without any regrets or bitterness. I am sorry that I did not record their stories (at that time, I was in transit in Bali on my way to East Timor).

At least, people are starting to talk about it—even to people from outside their own village. This phenomenon signals the descending star of the Big General. The legitimacy of his regime is beginning to be shaky. It also reveals how the bloody tragedy opened the way for the New Orde—and even reveals its continuance in East Timor and Aceh.

There was intense world monitoring of Indonesia’s 27th province so that at the end of its military occupation, when violence engulfed it after the polls in August 1999, UNAMET concluded that the fury of ABRI (Indonesian military) and militia during the second half of September worsened because of their surprise and anger. Surprise and anger, not only because they were the losing party in the referendum, but also because they lost and discovered a situation which was the reverse of 1965-66. At that time, they could slaughter their enemies with ease[3]. The presence of hundreds of foreign officials, NGO’s and international media prevented mass hunting. However, this caused the deportation of around 200.000 East Timorese to the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur within one week by government officials. They did this by mobilizing trucks, boats and Hercules. I witnessed it in Dili and at Comoro airport.

In that same year, end 1999, the legacy of ‘1965’ also cast its shadow on the military operations in Aceh. Rumah Geudong, a luxurious building was rented by RP