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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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

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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs