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New findings on the 1965 Indonesian tragedy

  • Asvi Warman Adam

Jakarta | Sat, September 1 2012 | 09:51 am

The recent publication of “The 1965-1966 Indonesian Killings Revisited” seminar results in Singapore in 2009, entitled The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia, 1965-68, edited by Douglas Kammen and Katherine McGregor, was driven by the fact that very few books on the 1965 mass killings can be found.

It was only in 1990 that a book edited by Robert Cribb was published, The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali — a work translated into Indonesian in the era of reform.

Unlike other books on the cleansing of Indonesian communists, The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia tries not only to determine how many people fell victim to the tragedy, but also to provide considered responses to questions such as when did the violence erupt, which parties were involved in which regions, why the death toll in a particular area was higher than the numbers of fatalities recorded in other locations, and whether there was any connection between the central government and the cases of violence emerging in various regions.

The book uses “mass violence” instead of “mass killings” in the title because what took place at the time was not only the killing of people, but also included the eight elements of a crime against humanity (genocide, slavery, forced displacement, deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, persecution and forced disappearance), which was exactly what the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) found and announced on July 23.

The book inexplicably zeroes in on the period of 1965-1968, as the Moncongloe camp for communists (and the island of Buru) was only constructed in 1969. Whereas the issue of a wide variation in the number of deaths — between 78,500 and 3 million — was resolved by coming up with a moderate figure of 500,000 casualties.

However, it is difficult to provide a satisfactory answer to why the mass killings actually occurred. Answers could include intensifying ideological conflicts and competition among political parties; local factors, from land disputes to aristocracy’s attempts of survival; economic setbacks coupled with hyper inflation and food scarcity; and high-risk foreign policy.

All these issues did contribute to the escalating crisis, but it was never clear as to how they eventually led to mass killings.

It would also be inappropriate to relate the killings to the Cold War, and to say that they were purposefully concerted to wipe out the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The acts represented the first stage in the plan to oust president Sukarno and strike a hard blow against those considered leftists.

The next stage was to initiate a social reorganization and integrate Indonesia into the world of the capitalist economy.

The editors tried to divide their book into four periods of research (October-December 1965, January-May 1966, June-October 1966 and 1967-1968) based on the intensity of arrests and killings in various

In November 1967, there was reportedly an engineered attempt to get Dayaks to attack people of Chinese ethnicity in West Kalimantan. In 1968, the Trisula operation managed to kill and detain nearly 100 communists hiding out in South Blitar in East Java.

Chinese people also fell victim to a 1965-related event in Medan, North Sumatra — when groups of protesters rallied outside the PRC’s consulate office on Dec.10, 1965. The situation got out of hand, and looting and killing started and quickly spread to nearby areas. Around 200 Chinese were killed.

During March-April 1966, buildings that belonged to Chinese organizations in North Sumatra were taken over. In May 1996, the People’s Republic of China sent a vessel to pick up thousands of their “citizens” over four voyages. Every entry of the ship into the port sparked another act of violence against local Chinese.

Camp Moncongloe, 30 kilometers from Makassar, was commissioned as a long-term detention center for B-class political prisoners. It was meant to be a self-sufficient camp where prisoners planted their own produce, and the home-grown vegetables could even be sold for the benefit of the camp officers. People detained in the center were also ordered to work without pay, and constructed 300 residential units for the Hasanuddin Regional Military Command.

An article by David Jenkins and Douglas Kammen unveiled military operations run by the Army Paratroop Command Regiment (RPKAD) led by Sarwo Edhi in Central Java. Contrary to what Robert Cribb reported in his book, Jenkins and Kammen revealed that the special force troops were later deployed to East Java.

Horizontal conflicts in East Java led to the massacre of communist groups — the killings supported by the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leadership, as described in the writing of Greg Fealy and Katherine McGregor.

International aspects of the events were discussed by Bradley Simpson, noting that the fall of communism in Indonesia had an impact on United States’ foreign policy. The US believed that the duty to defend Vietnam would not be as difficult as guarding a reddening Indonesia. It was the other way round for the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China — they backed North Vietnam and urged them not to give up.

Katherine McGregor wrote about an attempt to dig up a mass grave in Wonosobo by the 1965 survivors, with support from a team of forensics, and another attempt to rebury remains of the victims of the anti-communist purges in the district of Kaloran, Central Java, which failed following resistance from local groups.

An interesting article by John Roosa showed that the discourse on the PKI being the force behind the “Sept. 30 Movement” (G30S), consistently backed by the New Order regime for many years, turned out to be controversial. (Roosa uses the term “aporia”).

It has never been clear who masterminded the movement (Aidit, the Special Bureau, the Central Committee or PKI?), what G30S actually was (a coup, rebellious act or just kidnapping/killing of a number of high-ranking army officers?) and how the PKI was crushed (were there mass killings or were there in fact no massacres at all?).

Obscurity means that there is no need for the head of state to provide an apology, and no legal process would be necessary. When John Roosa’s book was banned by the Attorney General’s Office in December 2009, the spokesperson for the office, responding to questions raised by the press, said that there were 143 objections to the publication.

But when the journalists demanded further explanations, he said that “there is no need to go into details”. Something that is unclear is clearly not subject to debate.

The writer is a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).


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