On an annual mission abroad in the Netherlands, for the first time a government delegation under the Communications and Information Ministry visited the home of a survivor and former exile of the 1960s violence. The visit took place in between meetings with Dutch and Indonesian members of the public from May 27 to 31. The Jakarta Post was among the invited media outlets. Ati Nurbaiti compiled the following reports.
On a sunny spring day, young and old went into the house with the wooden plaque “S. Mintardjo”, for a few hours before lunch, until there was no space to sit. Standing guests spilled over into the corridor, front and back yards, and began to cough because of the pepper emanating from the kitchen.
It was another packed gathering at the house of Pak Min just outside Leiden, to catch up on the affairs of the home country, to meet old friends and to get a taste of his famed sop buntut (oxtail soup). Apart from students, attendants at the meeting on May 28 in Oestgeest were former exiles like Sardjio Mintardjo.
The formal term is “self exiles” as if a life turned upside down virtually overnight can lead to voluntarily being uprooted from home and family, forced into a new life in a foreign land.
Mintardjo and his fellow seniors of Dutch and Indonesian citizenship were among selected students, many of whom could not continue their studies as their scholarships were from once friendly countries of then president Sukarno’s government, considered to be leaning to the communists blamed for the September 1965 coup attempt.
The living room, adorned with pictures of Mintardjo’s family, including those of his grandchildren from his late Romanian wife, was filled with characters who could have floated out from the novel Pulang (Going Home) by Leila Chudori on the 1965 exiles.
There was Ibarurri, the daughter of an Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) leader, DN Aidit, who drove six hours from Paris despite her gout, her uncle Asahan Aslam, the poet Chalid Hamid, who stayed some 30 years in Albania before settling in the Netherlands, and several others.
This gathering, however, was rather odd, though Pak Min’s place has long been the center of activities.
“It’s interesting that the government is willing to go to Pak Min’s,” said one scholar.
The government never comes here, a participant said, “as we are considered monsters” with “wild ideas”. It was actually the second meeting of such a group led by Freddy H. Tulung, the director general of information and public communication at the Communications and Information Ministry. “But this is our first visit to the home” of a former exile, said Freddy.
Nowadays, he said, embassy officials were less jittery than in the past.
The ministry, once the despised propaganda machine of late president Soeharto, was once dissolved under then president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, to the joy of many including the press.
But like last year a few journalists were in tow for the ministry’s trip, apart from the scholars Ikrar Nusa Bhakti and Bambang Wibawarta, former dean of the School of Culture at the University of Indonesia.
Also rather strange was the audience’s enthusiasm.
They did not seem the typical audience patient enough to listen to explanations of public diplomacy, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s “mental revolution” and an update on media and democracy.
But, as activist Herry Latif explained while hurriedly preparing lunch for the unexpected swarm of guests, Indonesians in the Netherlands were really in need of such updates; out of 4,000 votes last year, only some 700 voted for Jokowi’s rival, Prabowo Subianto. A lot of Jokowi’s tim sukses (campaign team) were in the room, said Herry.
Chairman of the local Indonesian students’ association Herman Y. Paryono, among others, thanked the government for scholarships from the Finance Ministry, which significantly raised the number of students studying overseas, he said.
However, despite earlier optimism since Jokowi’s presidency, voters are exasperated. “Where is the revolution? Things back home are just the same,” lecturer Nurhasanah from a university in Makassar, South Sulawesi, said at the gathering.
From a quiet corner a senior finally raised a question that any government delegate might like to avoid.
“Can there be reconciliation without a legal process?” asked the poet Chalid.
Recently Attorney General M. Prasetyo had said the government would consider a truth and reconciliation commission. They would have to submit a new bill on the issue as it was revoked by the Constitutional Court.
The statement received wide criticism as Prasetyo looked too eager to get things done quickly and smoothly and to forgive and forget. It would be difficult to find evidence, he said, despite an official report on the violent 1960s upheaval, which saw people being detained without trial even into the 1970s.
Ibarurri cited an acquaintance, a daughter of a former police officer who had confided he had been “cruel” to many of those accused of being communist supporters. Before his death he had tasked his daughter to find the victims’ and survivors’ families and take care of them.
“I asked her why she was taking all the trouble and she said, ‘Iba, this is the only way’ [to compensate for wrongdoings]. So we need accountability, to also free the perpetrators,” said Ibarurri.
The elderly attendants included those supporting activists, researchers and lawyers who are preparing an International People’s Tribunal on the 1960s violence scheduled this November in The Hague, symbolic because it is the location of the International Court of Justice.
Despite doubts on the legal weight of such people’s tribunals, another former exile said, “Of course it is necessary.” The young generation should know what really happened, he said.