Rahmat Himran was 10 years old when the Suharto military dictatorship fell in Indonesia in 1998. He hadn’t even been born when the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI, was outlawed in 1966 after a military-led massacre of between 500,000 and one million suspected Communists and leftists. But he still insists that Communists are “everywhere” today, and he has dedicated his life to anti-Communist activism.
“My parents were almost killed by Communists in my hometown of Manado in the 1960’s,” he claimed, speaking at the Al-Fatah Mosque in Central Jakarta. “But they survived. And that has shaped my whole life.” He studied the history of the Communist Party in college and subsequently moved to Jakarta in 2010 to join the Indonesian Islamic Youth Movement (GPII). That year, he also founded the Anti-Communist Youth Movement (GEPAK) with 20 members — he now claims it has 3000.
“I had to found a new organization [beyond GPII, which was founded in 1945] because the ideology of Communism in Indonesia had begun to flourish and bloom again,” he said.
Rahmat is part of a new generation taking up the torch of anti-Communism in Indonesia, showing the depth at which that sentiment is lodged in some pockets of the national psyche, five decades after the movement and its suspected sympathizers were violently quashed. He was a key organizer of violent protests in Jakarta against events related to the 1965 massacre, which attracted both Islamic groups like the hardline Islamic Defenders Front and latter-day anti-Communists like the Anti-Communist Students and Youth Alliance.
A niche but vocal movement
The fear of Communism is once again making headlines in Indonesia, even if no one is really sure what it means and even its most passionate acolytes can rarely point to a Communist whom they know in the flesh.
“No, I don’t know any Communists personally, but there is clear proof that they are still around if you look at social media,” said one preacher at Al-Fatah, who came to deliver an anti-PKI sermon last month.
According to many analysts, anti-Communism is being driven by an antsy military in advance of the 2019 presidential election. And a recent poll shows that only a small minority of Indonesians believe the Communist Party is actually resurgent. But that minority includes young activists like Rahmat and Nanang Qosim, another GPII leader.
“I think these groups [like GPII and GEPAK] are guided by the army,” said Reza Muharam, of the International People’s Tribunal on the 1965 mass killings. “And among the troops the issues of an ‘Indonesian Communist Party revival’ or the latent danger of Communism are discussed quite widely. Many are consumed by their own propaganda.
So it could be that the group also genuinely believes in the rise of the Communist Party… it’s a bit absurd, whatever it is.”
Confluence of interests
A recent screening of a lurid Suharto-era propaganda film called “The Treachery of the 30 September Movement/ Indonesian Communist Party at Al-Fatah” mosque, GPII's headquarters, was the perfect encapsulation of several confluent factors in the modern anti-Communist movement. The four-hour long propaganda relic used to be mandatory viewing for all Indonesian schoolchildren but experienced a cottage revival this year when military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo directed the military to screen it across the country.
Anti-Communist fears predictably crest each year around September 30, the date of the failed coup that the military used as pretext to launch its mass killings in 1965.
The Al-Fatah screening a day before the anniversary was a raucous affair, with over a hundred attendees, from babies to senior citizens born before Indonesian independence. Despite the film’s nearly four-hour-long runtime, they watched, or in most cases, re-watched, the film with relish, passing around snacks, clapping, and shouting “merdeka!” — independence!
“Communism means the disintegration of our nation,” said Gunawan Albima, a university student and young civic activist, during nearly two hours of such speeches before the film was screened. “To resist it with all our effort… is the work of democracy.”
That all this was transpiring inside a mosque was no coincidence. Anti-Communist and Islamist groups today in Indonesia have an easy rapport and overlapping membership. Rahmat addressed one press release about an anti-Communist march at the Tugu Tani monument in Central Jakarta, to “all Islamic organizations… and all anti-Communists activists across Indonesia.”
“Anti-Communism involves raising awareness for the younger generation about history and law in Indonesia, which was designed in accordance with Islamic values,” he later said of the fused movements.