At the end of 2014 in Amsterdam on December 17th, we organized a softlaunching of our website. The event was attended by various circles of society. One of the visitors of our event is Frieda Amran, a writer, poet and anthropologist who lives in the Netherlands. The following are her impressions on the event and our goal.
Time to open our eyes and our hearts
By Frieda Amran
Fifty years. Half a century. This sacred number seems to apply anywhere.
In the Netherlands, family and friends usually create a large doll for someone’s 50th birthday: depicting Sarah for a woman, and Abraham for a man. This ritual is based on the biblical story of the couple Sarah and Abraham that were unable to have children. Only at an advanced age were Sarah able to get pregnant, and their son Isac was born. The significance of this custom might be to bestow blessings for the birthday person in his/her older years, just like Sarah and Abraham.
For historians and social science academics, the number ‘50’ is special and one they are waiting for, as archives in most countries are only released to the public 50 years after it happened. This archival preservation is done to shield the people who were involved in certain cases. I believe that this threshold of 50 years was created at a time the average mortality age was around 70. Thus, based on this premise, those involved in a certain case would already be deceased once the archives are opened. In any case, it was thought that the opening of the archives would not have that great of an impact on those involved, or those indirectly tied to them, such as husbands, wives or children.
This year, on September 30, 2015, the people and nation of Indonesia will be confronted with a black page of its history 50 years ago. Gerakan 30 September (Gestapu). Even though it’s been 50 years, most of us still do not know exactly what happened at that time. What caused it? Who was behind it, in Indonesia and abroad? Why is this bloody episode still shrouded in mystery? Why was it able to happen? How come I – a common citizen – do not know the truth? Why? Maybe this is the most important question: why?
On December 17, 2014, the International People’s Tribunal (IPT 1965) was launched in locations: Jakarta and Amsterdam. IPT was set up by a group of concerned people, including Saskia Wieringa, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana (who is IPT 1965’s General Coordinator), Sri Ningsih Tun Ruang, Fediya Andina, Ratna Saptari, and other human rights activists, artists, academics and lay people.
This people’s tribunal aims to demand international recognition that this violation of human rights indeed did happen. Also to give restitution for victims and their families, who still suffer the impact of the tragedy up to this day. It aims to gather data and prove of this crime, and help to create a political climate in Indonesia in which people care about and recognise human rights. Its goals also include protecting victims from discrimination in the future, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
I paused when I saw that long list of goals. What a difficult path to follow. What a long road to take. A lot of sweat, tears, stress and abuse must be suffered before these goals are met.
Was it necessary to create IPT 1965 in order to confront the September 30, 1965 tragedy in Indonesia? There were grave violations of human rights occurring during that period in Indonesia. It was estimated that over a million innocent people became victims. They were not casualties of war, because there was no was raging at the time. Half a century after the fact, the country has yet to investigate what had happened. Until now, families of victims still suffer from discrimination and repression. Their voices are still silenced.
The documentaries of Joshua Oppenheimer have started unveiling the mystery surrounding this horrific chapter. This is what comes to my mind when I think of September 30, 1965. I had just celebrated my sixth birthday, so I did not realize what had happened.
All I remember is that I was holding on to my mother’s hand. We were standing amidst our neighbours in our housing complex. The elderly were whispering: “Such-and-so has been taken away … .” In the distance, the dark sky was burning red. Were houses being torched? I don’t know. It was no longer discussed. No one visited that family anymore. Did I use to play with their children? Did we not catch green frogs together in the swamps by our house? I don’t know. I don’t remember anymore. That night is a blur in my mind.
Some victims shared their stories during the soft launching of IPT 1965 in Amsterdam. There was Sarmadji, an elderly gentleman who was studying in China in September 1965, and was unable to return to his home country after that. He was forced to make the Netherlands his home, as it gave him asylum and a residency permit. He might also be filled with questions. For years, Sarmadji has been collecting documentation and books regarding September 30, 1965.
Then there was Ibarurri Sudharsono binti Aidit. She is the eldest daughter of PKI Chairman Aidit. When the tragedy occurred, she was a 15-year-old student in Moscow. Her mother and younger siblings were in Indonesia. Ibarurri was also barred from returning to Indonesia. Like a lost soul, she wandered around through China and Macau, and finally landed in France. It took years before she knew that her mother was still alive, and they were able to communicate through letters passed on by friends via Moscow and Japan to Indonesia. How sad I was to hear her story. How would I feel if I didn’t know if my mother were dead or alive? How would I feel if I couldn’t get in contact with my mother and my siblings? How would I feel if I were a mother who didn’t know whether her daughter was dead or alive?
Yusuf Sudrajat is a young man who did not know that his grandfather – whom everyone had said was already deceased – was actually still alive and residing in the Netherlands. Then there is Cisca Pattipilohy, an elderly woman who is a former journalist and anthropologist. She had been detained but was then released and then moved to the Netherlands. She never saw her husband again: he was also jailed and died while incarcerated.
Their stories remind me of my friend: a smart, kind and beautiful woman. She would have been a successful career woman after she finished school. “Oh, no!” my friends said. “She won’t be able to do anything. Her father was a PKI member.” I remember another friend whose mother was always absent whenever I came to play at her house. “Don’t ask about her mother,” my other friends would whisper. “She is at Buru Island. Gerwani.” Gerwani was the women’s association linked to the PKI.
I recall applying for a position at the University of Indonesia as a civil servant. I remember that one of the requirements was an official letter of good conduct, confirming that I had no links to G30S/PKI. That was not enough: I had to confirm that my family and relatives had no links with communism. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, close friends. This letter of good conduct was also required by the Indonesian government when I applied for a student visa to the Netherlands in 1982.
I have no links to communism. My family and I were not involved in any way to the events surrounding September 30, 1965. I can keep my eyes shut.
However, not only my eyes were shut. My heart was also closed. Maybe not just mine, but also yours. And yours. We have shut our eyes and closed our hearts for this tragedy that has smeared blood throughout our country’s history.
It is time I open my eyes and my heart.
It is time that we all open our eyes and our hearts.
This post is also available in: English