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What next after '€˜Act of Killing'€™?

  • Dina Indrasafitri

    The Jakarta Post

Melbourne | Mon, September 30, 2013 | 11:31 am
What next after '€˜Act of Killing'€™?

Joshua Oppenheimer: The director of the The Act of Killing was on the line from Copenhagen to discuss his film.

About a year has passed since the release of The Act of Killing '€“ a movie about the grim work of some of the alleged killers behind the purge of Communists in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966.

While the film prompted a global wave of passionate reviews and increased curiosity about the massacre of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members and their supporters, it has generated few ripples within the country itself.

These ripples, however small, have been and continue to be heard. Late last month, the University of Melbourne hosted a discussion titled '€œAfter the Act of Killing: Historical Justice and the 1965-66 Mass Killings in Indonesia?'€ involving participants speaking over the Internet from Melbourne, Jakarta, Vancouver, London and Copenhagen.

The Act of Killing (TAOK), directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, offers a surreal insight into the minds of the people who became murderers during the purge, which was carried out after the coup attempt that was allegedly perpetrated by PKI members on Sept. 30, 1965.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) declared last year that the persecution of PKI members was a gross violation of human rights and that military officials involved should be brought to trial for crimes including rape, torture and murder.

The purge saw thousands of suspected PKI members '€” some estimate as many as 500,000 '€”murdered, with many more imprisoned without a trial.

TAOK exposes this period in the nation'€™s history through stories told by the perpetrators, who tried to justify, and even glorify, their actions, providing disturbing recollections of the killings in detail.

Noted scholar Ariel Heryanto from the Australian National University said at the conference that before TAOK was released, he had anticipated controversy and even a possible change of mind-set among Indonesians regarding the violence.

Ariel Heryanto: An increasing number of young people had little or no knowledge about 1965 massacre, the scholar said.'€Worse still, to many of them it is not immediately clear why they should.'€ Courtesy of HFFAriel Heryanto: An increasing number of young people had little or no knowledge about 1965 massacre, the scholar said.'€Worse still, to many of them it is not immediately clear why they should.'€ Courtesy of HFF

This, however, did not happen. '€œThe film falls well short of generating the controversy in Indonesia that it deserves, particularly when compared with the impact it had on its international audience,'€ Ariel said.

According to Ariel, several planned private screenings in Indonesia had been cancelled due to lack of interest. Some viewers even walked out of the film before it ended, while others thought TAOK glorified its protagonists.

'€œIf Indonesian viewers do not react to The Act of Killing with the same emotions as their international counterparts, the reason is not simply fear in expressing their voice,'€ Ariel said. '€œRather, it is because news about preman-ism [gangsterism], vigilante behavior and their boasting impunity are all too common in everyday life.'€

The lackluster response could also be attributed to changing times, according to Ariel. '€œIndonesia has also had a new generation of young adults who were not subjected to the vigorous anti-Communist witch hunt that ran during the height of the New Order.'€

An increasing number of young people had little or no knowledge about the 1965 massacre, Ariel said. '€œWorse still, to many of them its not immediately clear why they should.'€

Although the Communist witchhunt ended, the stigmatization of former Communists and alleged PKI members has not. Survivors and the families of victims continue to demand compensation, formal state apologies, establishment of a truth and reconciliation process and prosecution of those behind the massacre.

However, Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto, has previously said that the mass killings during 1965 and 1966 were justified, as they were aimed at saving the nation.

Meanwhile, during the conference '€” which ran from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Melbourne time '€” participants using the Skype voice-chat program heard of more promising news and findings.

Among speakers were Katharine McGregor and businessman and activist Siauw Tiong Djin speaking from Melbourne, TAOK director Oppenheimer speaking from Denmark, author Nani Nurrachman and activist Stanley Adi Prasetyo speaking from Jakarta, academic John Roosa speaking from Canada, and activist Paul Barber speaking from London.

John Roosa: Speaking from Vancouver, Roosa (lower left) presented a paper at the conference, which was sponsored by the Herb Feith Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the Driyakara Philosophy Polytechnic in Jakarta. Courtesy of HFFJohn Roosa: Speaking from Vancouver, Roosa (lower left) presented a paper at the conference, which was sponsored by the Herb Feith Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the Driyakara Philosophy Polytechnic in Jakarta. Courtesy of HFF

Several accounts mentioned only briefly in TAOK were discussed in more detail during the conference.

For example, the film describes the sexual abuse of members of the Indonesian Women'€™s Movement (Gerwani), which had its own communist wing.

Pohlman, in her presentation '€œWomen and Their Children during the Indonesian Killings'€, told the stories from the women'€™s perspectives.

'€œOne of them was my friend Ibu Martha,'€ Pohlman said, quoting one of her interview subjects. '€œShe was still breast-feeding ['€¦] she was assaulted. Her breast was squeezed and crushed and they stood on them, forcing her to lie down and they jumped on them.'€

Melvin, meanwhile focused on how the military supported civilian death squads like the one depicted in TAOK, presenting '€œdeath lists'€ and military organizational charts.

Also speaking from Melbourne, Ayu Wahyuningroem discussed local efforts to acknowledge the atrocities of 1965 and 1966, citing a meeting in Surakarta, Central Java, in 2011 between victims, officials and representatives of Islamic groups and officials, as well as the apology given by Palu Mayor Rusdi Mastura on behalf of himself and the local government.

While decentralization and reform have changed the discourse about the violence, Ayu said that local reconciliation might have little effect at the national level.

'€œOur big homework is to bring truth and justice for the victims and also for the whole nation. Even though civil society has organized many initiatives addressing the tragedy, the state has responded to this sporadically and unsustainably.'€

Pogrom: An attack on a village of alleged PKI supporters was reenacted in a scene from The Act of Killing. Courtesy of The Act of KillingPogrom: An attack on a village of alleged PKI supporters was reenacted in a scene from The Act of Killing. Courtesy of The Act of Killing

Activist Hilmar Farid from Jakarta was also inspired by developments in Guatemala, where former dictator Rios Montt was recently convicted of crimes against humanity after a 30-year campaign. '€œIn the end [Montt] was convicted, even though the political situation was hardly supportive ['€¦] There is a long process involved.'€

Hilmar also spoke of the small victories for former and alleged PKI members, such as restoration of their voting rights.

'€œI still believe that the power of the public exists,'€ Hilmar said. '€œIt has a meaning that is beyond our mere discussions.'€

Meanwhile, on '€œrehabilitating'€ PKI members, Lane was phlegmatic. '€œI don'€™t think its possible in any way for serious rehabilitation of the victims ['€¦] of 1965 to be won without confronting the ban on left wing ideology.'€

The continued discrimination and demonization of those with leftist beliefs bodes ill for millions of activists, he said, citing how ideology has been absent from the novels and films set against 1965 or its aftermath.

'€œWhile these novels have an element of acknowledging the 1965 violence as a humanitarian tragedy, none of the characters are leftist, unashamedly members of PKI or other organizations and [are] comfortable with their ideological choice,'€ Lane said.

While such works of fiction strengthened the knowledge of the violence, their avoidance of ideology has reinforced the demonization of the 20 million Indonesians who were members of left-wing organizations.

Speaking from Jakarta, Triyana voiced a similar sentiment, saying that the continued stigmatization of the PKI has hampered reconciliation, citing the official decree outlawing Communism, Marxism and Leninism.

'€œThere is still one ideology that is blocked,'€ Triyana said. '€œHow can we talk about reconciliation when there is no equality?'€

 

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To watch a video of the conference, visit the conference'€™s page on the Herb Feith Foundation'€™s section of the Monash University website at is.gd/w78sgt.

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