Three representatives for three generations at Soft Launching website IPT 1965 in IISG Amsterdam, 17th December 2014. Sarmadji, 83, Ibaruri Aidit, 64, and Yusuf Sudrajat, 34. Their stories criss-cross through time, their burden is passed on to next generations. These are the stories of survivors now living in Europe. These first steps should be followed up by the survivors in Indonesia, where the tragedy took place.
In September 1964, Sarmadji had left for China to continue his studies. When the attempted coup happened on September 30, 1965, he was not in Indonesia. He said he was able to stay in China for an extended period, but “I wanted to continue my struggle but was unable to do anything significant (in China), so I moved to the Netherlands.” There, he was able to connect with many friends, particularly Prof. Wertheim and Slamet Faiman, the latter being a freedom fighter during Indonesia’s struggle for independence from the Dutch colonialists. Wertheim and Faiman helped Sarmadji to find a lawyer.
His lawyer discouraged Sarmadji to say that he moved to the Netherlands to find work, and urged him to divulge that he moved for political reasons. Then the lawyer asked him: do you have any knowledge about Sukarno? Sarmadji firmly answered: yes! Can you explain a little bit about Sukarno and what you know of him, to which again Sarmadji answered in the affirmative. The lawyer then proceeded to say that Sukarno was an enemy of the Dutch state. But before his lawyer could continue, Sarmadji said: “When I left Indonesia, I had to learn the Seven Principles of Indoctrination (Tujuh Bahan Pokok Indoktrinasi or Tubapi), that I still store in my mind until now.” The lawyer then asked him: “Are you a supporter of Sukarno?” Sarmadji, recalling the discussion, fervently said: “I answered with a firm ‘yes’!
The above discussion was the first time that Sarmadji heard the Dutch word aanhanger (supporter). When he had to face the Dutch judiciary not long after that, he was asked by the judicial officer to tell his life story, from childhood until his arrival to the Netherlands. The officer heard his story, and then told Sarmadji that he was allowed to stay in the country as long as he finds employment.
Sarmadji was also asked to go to the immigration office to show his passport. At that time, his passport was no longer valid because it was not renewed by Indonesia’s New Order regime. “The one who refused to extend my passport was Colonel Slamet,” Sarmadji said, the name of the officer still fresh in his memory. Seeing Sarmadji’s expired passport, the Dutch immigration official said: “Your passport may not be valid for the Republic of Indonesia, but it is valid for the Dutch police.”
Once his legal status was clear, he had to find work. “I was willing to do whatever was necessary,” he said. He finally found work at a glass factory as a glasscutter. He was able to earn money, but asked himself: “What can I used this money for?” Then he reminded himself why he had moved to the Netherlands: he wanted to continue his struggle. So he used his salary to buy books at various antiquarian and second-hand bookstores. “I collected books, particularly those having to do with September 30, 1965 (G30S).”
Through his collection, Sarmadji got to know many people, including Indonesian students studying in the Netherlands. These students started asking questions about 1965. This way, Sarmadji said, he has turned his sadness into strength.
When G30S happened, Ibaruri, the daughter of Indonesian Communist Party PKI chairman Aidit, was still a 15-year-old girl. She was at the USSR at the time, and had just returned from a three-month holiday from Indonesia. During her holiday, she had attended the PKII’s 45th anniversary in May 1965. It was such a festive occasion, she recalled, and she took this upbeat sentiment with her back to the USSR on September 6, 1965. Three weeks later, G30S happened. Ibaruri was deeply shocked by it. At the time, she was often unable to speak.
“I felt like I had lost everything: my home country, my parents, my friends,” she said. “The organisation was also destroyed.” For hours, all she could do was lean by the heater in her room, paralysed and feeling utterly hopeless. Then the PKI clashed with the USSR’s communist party. Six of her friends, all PKI members, were expelled from the Soviet Union. Other friends moved to China. “I also went to China.”
From China, which felt closer to home, Ibaruri longed to return to Indonesia. “I wanted to continue the struggle at home,” she said. But she was unable to enter Indonesia, even after she was in Macau. Finally, she decided to go to France. The Indonesians living in China at that time had two choices: go to the Netherlands or to France. Those more advanced in age chose to go to the Netherlands. But the younger ones, who were still able to study and work, were advised to France, and thus Ibaruri went there.
At the same time – in the early 1980s – the left-wing party came to power in France, and François Mitterand became president. Thus, the process of obtaining asylum there for Ibaruri and her friends only took a mere four months.
Sarmadji said outright that his family in Indonesia were victims of the stigmatisation suffered by the left wing in the country. He gave a harrowing example. His nephew, a university graduate, was looking for employment but had difficulty finding a job. One important reason for that is that he had to go through a so-called special investigation (penelitian khusus or litsus). At that time, Indonesia still imposed the so-called clean environment: an official statement that a person had no ties whatsoever to the PKI or G30S.
“Then it was said that I had already passed away,” he said. When the New Order regime fell, Sarmadji went to Indonesia for a visit. As he was strolling around town with his brother, a street hawker commented: “Isn’t that Sarmadji?” When he affirmed that, the hawker said in surprise: “But it was said that Sarmadji was already dead.” Sarmadji proceeded to answer: “The Cakil comes to life every evening at 9 o’clock.” In the wayang stories and theatre, the figure Cakil indeed makes an entrance every evening around that time, even though he had already been slain the previous night by the knights.
Ibaruri’s background as Aidit’s daughter did not appear to be a problem for the French community. It only becomes a problem when she meets with Indonesians. Sometimes they look at her in wonder. When she asks why they look at her like that, some have answered: “People say PKI is evil, PKI are terrorists. But you and your friends seem very nice.”
“I once had a good friend,” Ibaruri recalls another incident. The friend had looked at her identity card, which also contains the name of her father. The friend was shocked, and slipped away from her. When they met again some time later, Ibaruri asked why her friend was avoiding her. Then the friend indeed told her that it was because of Ibaruri’s father, and a slew of other reasons usually given by Indonesians: for those whose parents are civil servants in Indonesia, there are bans to socialise with those affiliated to the PKI. “In short, all the reasons were classic New Order ones.” Ibaruri expressed her surprise that even in France these sentiments remain. “How can they still be scared here? They take their fear from Indonesian with them.”
Ibaruri told of another incident, smiling mischievously. This friend did not dare to confront her, and instead went to a friend in Berlin and told the friend to remind Ibaruri not to socialise with her in public. “That’s so ridiculous. Why does she have to go through a friend all the way in Berlin? Why not tell me in my face?”
Armed with all these experiences, Ibaruri then developed a new ploy when meeting Indonesians. She chooses to directly come forward with her background and tell them up front that she is the daughter of D.N. Aidit, the former PKI chairman. “I’d tell them: if you want to socialise with me, that would be nice for both of us. But if you don’t want to do that, that would be no loss for me, and you’d feel save!” She would also welcome those Indonesians who prefer to speak to her in private, not in public. She’d respect their wish not to speak to her in front of other people. From all this, Ibaruri concluded that she had three types of friends: those who are out in the open, those who are semi-open, and others who prefer to see her behind closed doors.
When she visited Japan, Ibaruri met with an Indonesian who loved the Japanese culture. Every time this friend explained about Japan, Ibaruri said that she already knew about the subject (Ibaruri had studied about Japan). When the person wanted to speak further with her, Ibaruri told him that she was Aidit’s daughter. The person was so surprised that he took a step back. She told him that he was free to socialise with her or not: that was his own choice.
In order to get in contact again with her family, Ibaruri had to through a unique experience. When a journalist from the Moscow daily Pravda interviewed her mother in 1967, the article was read by her brother who at that time was already adopted by Djoko Muljono. Ibaruri went to the journalist, and thus had a way to get in contact with her brother again. They didn’t think it was save to have direct mail contact with each other, so their correspondence went through Ibaruri’s friends in Japan. “I’d write a letter to Japan, and then they’d pass on my letter to Indonesia,” she explained. She did this for the sake of her brother’s safety, and to make sure that the letters actually arrived.
However, she admitted that maintaining contact through letters was not easy. “There was a time that I lost contact with my family,” she said, “ especially since I kept moving in an effort to return to Indonesia.” When she was in Macau in 1978, she read in the South China Morning Post daily that her mother had been released from jail. She tried to contact her mother, this time through her husband’s family. “I received a lot of help from many sides so that I could get in contact with my family, including from a Catholic association who carried my letter to my mother in Indonesia.”
As contact with the family remained difficult, finally Ibaruri’s husband tried to communicate with his family. Aside from learning the language and trying to find work once they arrived in France, Ibaruri and her husband also tried to get his mother to go to Paris. This dream came true after a while, and his mother was able to go to France. The couple also wanted to have her brother come to Paris – they knew at the time that was impossible for Ibaruri’s mother as she was still under city arrest.
In the early 1990s, Ibaruri invited her siblings and her mother-in-law to France. The meeting between her husband and his mother had a deep impact on him. He was the eldest son, and felt very guilty that he couldn’t be with his family after the G30S, and was unable to take care of his siblings after his father died. His siblings were not able to continue their schooling. He was unable to protect his mother when her house was almost burnt down. He felt guilty and helpless.
Ibaruri once saw her husband kneeling before his mother while she was lying down. He repeatedly asked forgiveness from her in Javanese. His mother told him not to feel bad. “It was not your fault,” she said. It was interesting that her husband’s health improved dramatically after his mother arrived. Prior to that, he always had to take medicine for his high blood pressure. A month after his mother’s arrival, he no longer needed the medicine. Even though they would always talk till all the hours of the night, he maintained his health.
Her mother-in-law had a similar experience. As soon as she was reunited with her son in Paris, she always wanted to take walks outside and was never tired. She loved to travel, and was tireless even after long journeys. Even when she rested after insistence from Ibaruri and her husband, she would wake up after a short while and ask when they would go out again. She was always energetic.
This continued once her mother-in-law returned to Indonesia. Their relatives noticed that she was much more talkative, while in the past she was more quiet and stressed. It seems like a heavy weight was lifted off her shoulders after meeting her son.
Yusuf Sudrajat started by speaking about his grandfather, Suparna, who was one of the leaders of the PKI. When G30S occurred, Suparna was in Russia for a work visit. In a way, he was lucky that he was abroad at that time.
After many years, Suparna decided that he wanted to renew contact with his family. He sent a letter to Yusuf’s grandmother, who had thought that Suparna had already passed away as she had never heard from him in those years.
The letter was sent from the Netherlands, where Suparna had been residing. All that time, everything that had any ties with Suparna had been buried and seen as a taboo. Yusuf pointed out that this attitude was due to the New Order indoctrination that threatens repercussions on everyone with ties to the PKI, including Yusuf and his family.
When he was a child, he once saw a photograph of his grandparents together. His grandmother then told him that her husband had passed away when Yusuf was still very young. He did not know that he was still alive. His grandfather only died in 1998, when Yusuf was already in the Netherlands.
While still in Indonesia, Yusuf was not told that his father was still alive. He was also kept in the dark that his father, when traveling to the Netherlands, would meet up with his grandfather. Yusuf’s father departed for the Netherlands when he was still small, and thus they seldom saw each other. He was told that his father was studying and working in the Netherlands. Sometimes his father would come back to Indonesia, but Yusuf was not told that his grandfather was still alive.
Yusuf’s prior knowledge about the PKI had been largely the same as all other Indonesians living under the New Order regime: their main source of information was the three-hour long propaganda film aired on state television every year on September 30. The movie shows the PKI as the killers of a number of army officials. Since he was little, Yusuf had the image of the PKI as cruel people. At school, his teachers said that PKI members were evil.
When he was around 13 or 14, he travelled to the Netherlands for a vacation. He was the eldest child, and his two younger siblings had gone ahead of him to the Netherlands. At a family gathering in the Netherlands, he was speaking to one of his cousins, who asked Yusuf what it felt like to meet his grandfather. Yusuf didn’t understand the question, and his cousin asked: “So you were not told about your grandfather?” Yusuf was stunned. “What??” Only then was he told that his father’s real reason for departing to the Netherlands was to stay with his grandfather. Not only was Suparna alive, but he was also a member of the PKI. Not just a member, but one if its leaders. The truth was finally out in the open.
Yusuf admitted that he had been in schlock. He was not ready to face this reality. He said he had never been close to his father, because of the fear that kept haunting him. Once he reached adulthood, he started to seek out the truth about his grandfather. He wanted to know more about communism, what it stood for and what it was struggling for. He said he was sorry as this only occurred after his grandfather passed away. However, Yusuf said he believed that Suparna was a good person who always busied himself with intellectual matters. Since he suffered a stroke, Suparna was unable to write with his right hand, but always tried to do it with his left. He kept himself busy, and was always kind and attentive towards others.
Gradually, Yusuf started changing his views towards the PKI. In his mind, it was no longer the evil and cruel machinery that Soeharto wanted people to believe. Even so, Yusuf still worries that the majority of the Indonesian people maintain their views according to what the New Order regime had made them to believe. Most Indonesians do not even want to talk about the PKI or know more about it, as they are convinced that the PKI is evil and against God. This kind of conviction is very difficult to change.
All this, Yusuf says, is very important for Indonesia as most people are unaware of what actually happened around G30S. There are still many victims of that time in Indonesia: those who are affiliated to the PKI, people who are leftists, or their family members. In fact, they should not go through such sufferings. For Yusuf, establishing the International People’s Tribunal is very important. He hopes that the public at large is ready to face this issue, as this has been a great injustice. The truth has to come out in the open, especially for the sake of the victims.
Sarmadji expressed his hopes towards the coming out with the truth regarding G30S: the struggle has to continue, for example by collecting documents related to 1965. The government refuses to do this, he says. Sarmadji quotes Asmu, the leader of the Indonesian Farmers’ Association BTI (Barisan Tani Indonesia), which was affiliated to the PKI. “Sing kuwoso ora karep, sing karep ora kuwoso,” which means ‘the one who is in power is not interested, the one who is interested is not in power.’
He added that his Indonesian Documentation Association (Perhimpunan Dokumentasi Indonesia) is the official under which he registered his organisation at the Dutch administrative office, through a notary. Actually, he has a ‘real’ name for his organisation. “Since I founded the association, I have always wanted to build a memorial for those who were forced to forego their passports by the Suharto regime and had to die outside of their country. This memorial is for them,” Sarmadji said, followed by a thundering applause.
There are only a few organisations in France that are related to Indonesia. Ibaruri says there are only two of them: Solidaritas Indonesia and Réseau Indonésie. Solidaritas Indonesia mainly aims to assist victims’ families by providing micro credit. Réseau Indonésie, meanwhile, helps to establish cooperation amongst the people, NGOs and political parties of both countries. Once the connection is made, she hopes things will improve from there.
However, Ibaruri complains, this is no easy task. Why? Because many french people have no idea about Indonesia. Indonesia for them is Bali: Bali is much more famous than Indonesia.
When the movie The Act of Killing played in France, the French were stunned, she said. Even the leftists in France admitted that they had never heard of such tragedies occurring in Indonesia.
For Ibaruri, IPT would give more exposure for Indonesia in Paris. She said she would continue to raise the 1965 issue and that of the former political prisoners. She was met with applause from the audience.
Yusuf Sudrajat emphasised again that most Indonesians have no idea about the truth behind G30S. He regrets that that people were not only ignorant, but also do not make an effort to find out more about the matter. Even so, Yusuf hopes that those who know little about 1965 would be able to accept the truth about it. Yusuf underlined that the truth has to be uncovered, and hopes that people would accept this.