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.”

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    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.

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