News / Asia

    'Communist' Still a Dirty Word in Indonesia

    FILE - Anti-communist protesters outside the presidential palace in Jakarta in 2001.
    FILE - Anti-communist protesters outside the presidential palace in Jakarta in 2001.
    Nearly 50 years after an anti-communist purge that left at least 500,000 Indonesians dead, anti-communist fervor is still heated.
     
    Herman Koto, an Indonesian gangster and paramilitary leader, describes how he’d love to get his hands on some communist women.
     
    “If they’re pretty, I’d rape them all,” he says. As the men around him groan with approval, Koto tells them that if the communist is just 14 years old, all the sweeter. “I’d say, it’s going to be hell for you but heaven on earth for me.”
     
    The exchange with Koto is a scene from the documentary The Act of Killing, in which anti-communists members of death squads show how they killed communists and suspected communists in a 1965 spasm of violence described by the CIA as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.”  That the scene is so recent -- The Act of Killing came out in 2012 -- shows that such violent hatred toward communism remains not just tolerated but sometimes celebrated.
     
    The anti-communist fervor persists, in part, because Indonesia never officially came to terms with this dark period in its history. The government has never apologized to survivors of the massacres, nor prosecuted the perpetrators, including those shown in the documentary. That could be changing now.
     
    With urging from the United Nations Human Rights Council last summer, the Attorney General’s Office has finally agreed to investigate the 1965 killings. It will work with Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, which did its own three-year investigation and declared the massacre a gross human rights violation.
     
    “That’s good, that’s progress,” said Yosef Djakababa, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies-Indonesia.
     
    There have been many forums throughout Indonesia where families of purge victims share their stories. But Djakababa said the government must make reconciliation a national priority, because local forums can only go so far.
     
    “We’ve been doing that for years now,” said Djakababa, who wrote about the massacre for his doctoral thesis. “I think it’s time to do something different.”
     
    The communist party is formally banned in Indonesia. Former president Suharto used communism as a bête noir to consolidate power, starting in 1965, when Indonesia’s communists began a failed coup by murdering six generals. The killings sparked communal violence which historians say Indonesia’s army channeled into a murderous purge that spread across the country and which lasted for months. 

    Even now 15 years after Suharto was forced from power and nearly 50 years after the mass killings, Indonesia “remains stuck in the cold war anti-communism of the dead dictator,” according to Michael Vann, a historian at California State University, Sacramento.
     
    In Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, many believe that showing any communist leanings would mean betraying their religion.
     
    Deviano, a teacher whose ID card shows he goes by one name, said communism is a dangerous and immoral threat to Islam.
     
    “I’m afraid, I’m really worried about people who have the mentality of communism,” he said.
     
    Similarly, at a museum for one of the generals killed in 1965, a staff member said that communism doesn’t permit religion. “That should be the first reason I’m against it,” the young man said, declining to give his name. “I believe in god, I believe in heaven and hell.”
     
    The museum, named after Gen. Ahmad Yani, is one of many across Indonesia that perpetuate the hagiography of the slain generals. Under Suharto, views like Deviano’s were shaped by similar propaganda, including a government video that school children had to watch every year, depicting communists as bloodthirsty killers who sang and danced as they mutilated the generals in 1965. The video disappeared along with Suharto, but anti-communist propaganda continues, especially at the museums.
     
    Vann, the historian, studied some of these museums, in particular the Museum of Communist Treachery on the edge of Jakarta, and said it was “shocking” that they haven’t been renamed. Instead, they commemorate the generals’ deaths and ignore those of the suspected communists. That massacre was conveniently tossed down an “Orwellian memory hole,” Vann said.
     
    “The message is that the PKI [communist party] was an evil organization capable of cruel violence and committed to sowing social chaos,” he said.
     
    The documentary The Act of Killing, which is up for an Oscar in March, tells a different story, one of not just communists but their enemies showing a capacity for cruel violence. This challenges the official anti-communist narrative built up by Suharto. Djakababa, from the Southeast Asian studies center, said history books must be revised to reflect such new, conflicting narratives.
     
    “The more others research, and alternative views come out, the better,” he said.
     
    Those responsible for the 1965 massacre -- and their supporters -- are often described as behaving with impunity. The men in the documentary reenact torture scenes and use metal wires to show how they strangled accused communists. They express delight rather than remorse, nearly 50 years later. Neither the public nor the government condemns them. Indonesia is unlikely to see anything like the tribunals set up for the Khmer Rouge or the former Yugoslavia. But Djakababa said authorities must act, lest Indonesians believe their government condones mass murder.
     
    “People will know they can get away with it,” Djakababa said. “There’s a risk of history repeating itself. I hope it doesn’t happen, but it’s possible.”

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: John
    February 02, 2014 3:05 AM
    Killing others because they have differing opinion is called a murder. And a murder is wrong whether it is a murder in the name of Allah, a murder in the name of Jesus, a murder in the name of Stalin, a murder in the name of Suharto, or a murder in the name of Satan.
    In Response

    by: pachanko
    February 24, 2014 5:52 PM
    @anticommie

    The communists didnt kill anyone. They were a legitimate and popular party. Soekarno even included socialism in the Pancasila. The problem with Soekarno was, he was willing to let Indonesians decide the direction of the country, even if that meant choosing communism. So the CIA and Suharto planned the Sept 30 Movement as an excuse to wipe out and destroy their political enemies. Recent released CIA documents prove that fact. We also know for a fact that Suharto was a corrupt and murderous dictator. Unfortunately, the people who helped him rise to power and stay in power are still powerful in Indonesia, and are still corrupt, and have never been punished for their crimes.

    Communists were a scapegoat for grabbing power and turning Indonesia into a US-puppet dictatorship. Anyone who supports that is anti-Indonesian.

    Also, Suhartos massacres did not just target communists or suspected communists and their families. They also targeted Chinese business people, and anyone who any of the thugs had a personal vengence agaisnt. The communist purge was used as an excuse by criminals to murder the families of anyone they wanted, with impunity, and get political power, and build huge fortunes thru corruption. Anyone who continues to support that is anti-Indonesian.
    In Response

    by: anticommie from: Indonesia
    February 10, 2014 3:09 AM
    Agreed, alas we, the Indonesian have underogable rights to protect ourselves from the people who killed us in the name of Stalin, Mao, Karl Marx, Engels and Communism.

    by: Anti Commie from: Indo
    January 28, 2014 8:30 AM
    The Act of Killing is a propaganda movie funded by TAPOL UK, established by Carmel Budiardjo aka Carmel Brickman aka the Czechslovakian Candidate and communist spies, she was a close confidant of Njoto, the Head of Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Indonesian Communist Party. Carmel Budiardjo is Goebels with skirt and lipstick, a treacherous mistress of propaganda and terror.
    In Response

    by: Prophetes from: usa
    January 28, 2014 12:17 PM
    Please do not stir trouble environment in INDONesia, no more komunis now, even if there have it might be very little of percentage that were involved and they might in their 60-80 yrs old. People ask to yourself what is the motivation of this news? What is benefits of this group to INdonesia country? We don't need this violent movement in Indonesia ..we will not tolerate to see how a group of sick people like koto guys on the street..Barking ..shame on you,koto, trouble maker, do to others as you want others do to you, Let The Glory of God cover the earth, Indonesia and nations as water cover the sea. I am just got so sick just by chance browse to this website. see this why you not tell story about American Embassy people were cruelly beaten and humilated beats to death , unjustified been murder in Egypt?

    by: Ronen from: Medan
    January 28, 2014 12:14 AM
    Not a single word about the cooperation of the Anglosphere with the killing of 1965...
    VOA, like the rest of US official representatives are still hiding the truth.
    What we can expect from a 3rd world country, if a leading 'democratic' country is behaving the same...

    by: Worgaeinn from: Tritanope World
    January 27, 2014 10:30 PM
    What kind of sick bastard is this Koto guy?! Raping and murdering a woman just because she's a communist!

    by: zaje from: China
    January 27, 2014 7:29 PM
    they went toChina,lsaw they,,about1980. they wentback.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora