Joko Widodo


Source : Jakarta Post, July 19, 2016

By Aboeprijadi Santoso*

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s statement that he would not offer an apology to the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) at the military headquarters last month should have come as no surprise. Last October he expressed a similar statement at the Lubang Buaya monument. 
Why did the President make the same point nine months later? In an apparent attempt to restrain anger, he called the public not to listen to the “gossip” and “noise” about him planning to apologize to the PKI. That is not true, he insisted.

At no point, indeed, did he specifically say, or imply, that he would do just that. After all, the PKI no longer exists and none has claimed to be its heir.

Yet the “noise” of insinuation was persistent. Hence, a warrant was issued and an alleged source reportedly had been arrested but never revealed.

Most recently former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, without mentioning any names, warned that there shouldn’t be any apology to the PKI.

The context of Jokowi’s original statement, of course, was his election promise — the Nawacita (nine-point agenda) — and pledge to resolve seven human rights cases including the bloody events of 1965.

The crux of the matter is how to resolve the 1965 atrocities.

Since last year’s half-century anniversary of the mass killings the issue has been highlighted by the media and at various public events – at the International People’s Tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, and at home at public debates, film screenings, book launchings, the “Turn Left” festival and other similar events.

A government-sponsored symposium in April, organized by civil society activists and participated by historians, professionals and, significantly, by representatives of the survivors of 1965, as well as the younger generation mostly in their 20s, have argued for the truth of 1965 to be revealed, the atrocities be held accountable and reconciliation be achieved.

Since the destruction of the PKI in the mid-1960s, it has been perceived as aconditio sine qua non for the rise of the New Order regime, where to accuse the President of offering an apology to the PKI politically discredits him.

It put him in a fait accompli in which he had to defend himself against his own statement that
was manipulated as a sham poured over him. What a shame given the universally known fact that he could possibly not have any links with any mass organization of the 1960s, as he was only 5 years old at the time.

On the other hand there is no question that the 1965 bloody events should be acknowledged and resolved as a lesson for the future of the nation.

To be civilized and democratic, nations, in searching for justice, need to break with their brutal past to overcome its impact for future national predicaments.

It took decades for postwar Germany to come to terms with its Nazi past by reviewing history, reeducating the nation and creating a compensation program for the victims.

Next, to nurture peace from a painful past, needed is time and honesty as well as, above all, political will.

Post-Franco Spain may be a good example. Thanks to Spain’s Historical Memory Law, it has since the early-2000s attempted to deal with the impact of the bloody civil war of the 1930s by reviewing its history and reconciling the victors with the victims.

Most recently, Guatemala has awakened and started to exhume mass graves of victims of its military regime of only two decades ago.

In fact some Muslim syarikat (organizations) and other groups in Indonesia started to search and exhume the scattered mass graves of 1965 and other tragedies to document them even before the fall of Soeharto.

The issue has now become an urgent and crucial matter. It had been raised in the wake of the April symposium and President Jokowi has instructed authorities to find the graves of 1965 victims.

Since President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid apologized for the 1965 bloodbath — albeit as former chair of Ansor, the youth group of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the biggest Islamic organization that joined the persecution against suspected communists and the war and occupation of Timor Leste — President Jokowi would do well to do likewise for the thousands of innocent victims and survivors who lost their love ones during 1965.

That would be a state gesture of humility to honor compatriots and reunify the nation — a political-moral act similar to when then German chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in Warsaw in 1970 to commemorate the Nazi-era ghetto uprising. Needless to say, such a gesture is quite different from apologizing to a political party.

Now, with the new generation becoming distrustful of the official version of the 1965 bloodbath, it is time for the state to speak up.

The April symposium is now awaiting the President’s response to its recommendation in which it presumably proposes a presidential commission to resolve the issue and — as symposium chairman Sidarto Danusubroto noted in his closing speech — to rehabilitate and compensate 1965 victims.

But to blame this as the resurgence of the PKI as some retired generals and a group of Muslim vigilantes in another symposium in June absurdly suggested, provoking a red scare, would be another shame and sham.

For President Jokowi, however, it is a golden chance — after the failure and reluctance of his predecessors — to settle the legacy of the greatest crime in Indonesian history once and for all.

The writer is a journalist