Nearly five decades after the 1965 abortive coup, which was blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party ( PKI ), historians, observers and direct witnesses are still unable to agree about the masterminds behind the historical events.
Speaking at the launch of Jusuf Wanandi’s memoirs Shades of Grey in Jakarta on Thursday, panelists recounted the confusing state of events during those fateful days.
Jusuf maintains that then president Sukarno could not have been solely responsible for the actions of the PKI due to his ailing health and the rapidity of events.
“Everything was happening very suddenly and Sukarno was dying. That is why they [PKI] had to do things quickly,” Jusuf said.
According to Jusuf, Sukarno made no public statement either for or against the announcement by Col. Untung on state-owned radio station RRI. Untung, who was the leader of the armed wing of the PKI, led the coup attempt.
Jusuf said that Sukarno appeared very indecisive during that period simply because he did not know what to do.
“Sukarno was not used to killing people; he was devastated when Ahmad Yani died. He was in limbo about what to do next,” he added, referring to the army chief of staff who was kidnapped and murdered during the attempted coup.
Jusuf Wanandi, who is a founder of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies ( CSIS ) and publisher of The Jakarta Post, was active in the student movement in 1965.
One of the country’s most-respected historians is equally baffled about what happened during those days of subterfuge.
Historian Taufik Abdullah said there was a possibility that the person behind the events was Sukarno himself.
“I don’t trust myself as a historian because I’m biased. I sense that there might have been something wrong with Bung Karno and the military, but I was busy studying at that time,” he said.
Panelists at the discussion acknowledged that there were many facets involved during this critical historical juncture, and they encouraged fellow witnesses of that era to write for the sake of posterity.
The National Commission on Human Rights ( Komnas HAM ) recently declared in its findings on Monday that the systematic persecution of alleged PKI members after the abortive coup amounted to a gross violation of human rights.
The commission has called for military officials who were involved in the purge to be brought to trial.
Nur Kholis, the head of the commission’s investigative team into the events of 1965, said that state officials under the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order ( Kopkamtib ), which was led by former president Soeharto from 1965-1967 and again in 1977-1978, should be subjected to due process for various crimes, including mass rape, torture and killings.