Massacres: Indonesia’s endless road to recovery
The bloody Communist purge that followed a failed coup over half a century ago remains the most controversial moral and political issue for Indonesia today.
The tragedy – some call it genocide – remains the darkest period in the country’s post-independence history. It all started with the failed coup orchestrated by the Indonesian Communist Party – known as the September 30 Movement or G30S – in which several senior military personnel were slaughtered.
The coup was possible because the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was a powerful political machine at the time. He made his way flawlessly to the State Palace, taking advantage of President Sukarno’s alliance with Communist Russia and China while distancing himself from the United States with its capitalism, which was considered as similar to colonialism.
Sukarno, however, did not belong to the PKI. He did not distance himself from it or forbid his collaborators to support him – until the coup d’état of September 30, 1965. Party leaders succeeded in convincing several pro-government generals, including the Lieutenant-Colonel Untung, of the presidential security service. chief, who was accused of planning the coup.
Author Julius Pour says that before becoming head of the Secret Service, Untung played an important role in military operations in West Papua. He was a Sukarno loyalist. So when rumor spread that some “rebel generals” were plotting a coup, he ordered his soldiers to arrest them and present them to the president – alive, not dead.
However, things got sadistic. Instead of arresting them and bringing them back alive as instructed, the generals were killed. Their bodies were dumped in a disused well. Their remains were discovered a few days later.
The reprisals carried out by General Suharto over the following weeks and months were ruthless. Many people were killed and imprisoned without trial
While some historians remain puzzled as to who ordered the killings, others are convinced that it was Kamaruzaman Sjam, the head of the PKI’s intelligence service, who managed to infiltrate the military.
The reprisals carried out by General Suharto over the following weeks and months were ruthless. Many people have been killed and imprisoned without trial.
The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas Ham) estimated that 500,000 to 3 million people were killed during the Communist purge of 1965-66. The commission submitted its findings on 122 mass graves discovered in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Flores and Bali.
More than half a century later, this tragedy is remembered by Indonesians on September 30. Debates continue on the need for forgiveness and the restoration of the rights of survivors and their families.
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In some parts of the country, relatives of people accused of being communists or even just sympathizers have been discriminated against and treated like people with an infectious disease who should be kept at bay.
Such a situation prompted human rights defenders and concerned citizens to demand an apology from the state and to pursue national reconciliation. During the first term of his presidency, President Joko Widodo promised to apologize, but this was never done.
At the first symposium on the 1965 massacre held in 2016 – two years after Widodo took over the presidency – an urgent appeal was made to the government to apologize for the tragedy. However, the government said an apology would not be necessary as it would not solve the problem.
The survivors would probably not demand an apology from the government either. It is not because they have forgiven or forgotten the past, but apologizing is not enough.
All they wanted from the government was to accept and act on the reports of the massacre submitted by Komnas Ham. They wanted the rights that had been stolen from them restored.
Unfortunately, while accepting the process of reconciliation, the government ordered a new search for mass graves. This not only showed the government’s lack of confidence in previous reports, but also meant that the process had to start all over again.
Some military officials have called on the Indonesians to forget about the tragedy. On the one hand, it is a positive call to move forward. However, at some point there is a need for the state to apologize for what happened. In any relationship, asking forgiveness for failures is necessary.
Apologies are a gateway to telling the truth, reconciling and, if necessary, rewriting history on the basis of facts.
The era of reform since the fall of Suharto has seen six different presidents. It is understandable that past human rights violations, including the massacre during the Communist Purge, will not be addressed soon, as many New Order loyalists are alive and powerful.
Nonetheless, Widodo has the chance to rewrite history with special attention to victims of rights abuses.
Some victims of past crimes have even accused Widodo of intentionally obstructing the reconciliation process by appointing controversial army generals to his circle.
Nonetheless, Widodo has the chance to rewrite history with special attention to victims of rights abuses. He has three years left before a new president is elected in 2024.
Widodo often says that Indonesia is a great nation and calls on citizens to stand up for the country. As president of this great nation, he has to emulate the leaders of other great countries like Japan, the Netherlands and Germany, to name a few.
The Japanese and Dutch governments have apologized – each twice – to the Indonesians for the crimes they committed during colonial times. During his visit to Indonesia in March 2020, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands asked for forgiveness for the second time when he met President Widodo.
The Indonesian president should also have a big heart like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who apologized to the citizens of the world for the Nazi atrocities, including the Holocaust.
Dealing with the victims of the anti-communist massacre requires a leader who can put aside the political debates that often lead politicians back to the perversity of demystified communism.
Instead, focus on the people, the survivors. They are part of us and desperately need a better life.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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