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Jakarta Post

Haunted by history

  • Nani Afrida

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, June 28, 2013   /  02:34 pm
Haunted by history

Still waters: A still image from Yayan'€™s documentary Jembatan Bacem, which tells of the massacre of suspected communists in 1965 and 1966 at this bridge over the Bengawan Solo River near Surakarta, Central Java.

Barjo said that in 1965, he had been tied to a board suspended over Bacem bridge (jembatan Bacem). He was ready to die. Several people before him had just been executed; their bodies were dumped into the Bengawan Solo River below.

The now 81-year-old said he could see that dozens more were about to be killed. At the end of the bridge, stood a soldier with an automatic rifle.

'€œI was supposed to die, but what could I do to stay alive?'€ Barjo said.

'€œI stomped my feet on the ground and spread my arms '€” even though they were tied '€” and swung my head back, hitting the board,'€ he said. '€œTo my surprise, I flipped and I fell into the Bengawan Solo.'€

Although Barjo escaped the Bacem bridge massacre, he served 13 years in Buru prison and in prison on Indonesia'€™s Alcatraz, Nusakambangan Penitentiary, for his alleged involvement with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
Commemorated: Another screen capture depicts a man prepares to release boats of plastic foam bearing the Indonesian flag beneath Bacem bridge after a ceremony to remember those killed during the purge of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965.Commemorated: Another screen capture depicts a man prepares to release boats of plastic foam bearing the Indonesian flag beneath Bacem bridge after a ceremony to remember those killed during the purge of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965.
He never had a trial.

Barjo'€™s story is just one of those told in Jembatan Bacem, a documentary film directed by Yayan Wiludiharto and produced by the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) and a victims'€™ community in Surakarta (Solo), Central Java. The film depicts a dark period in the history of Indonesia. The stories have been rarely heard. Survivors and the families of those slain have kept
silent out of fear.

The bridge, called Kreteg Bacem by the residents of Solo, was the site of a mass execution of people from various nearby detention centers in 1965. In the film, Mulyadi, an eyewitness to the massacre who had been held at the Sasono Mulyo detention center, said that many of his fellow inmates had simply '€œdisappeared'€.

Mulyadi described how the horror began. A truck reached Sasono Mulyo. Officers opened the heavy, rusted gate, which he said created a frightful squeak that terrified him. '€œThe detainees who were relaxed and were chatting stopped everything, looking at each other and hoping not to be taken away.'€

Although no one said where the detainees would be taken, people in Sasono Mulyo understood that if they left with all their personal property that they would not be coming back.

'€œIt seemed like they were erasing all the traces,'€ Mulyadi said.

Bibit, a local resident, said that he frequently brought his horse to the bridge to graze in 1965 and 1966. He frequently found bodies in the water.
Memento mori: The families of survivors and victims of the Bacem bridge massacre assemble for a traditional Javanese wake to remember those who were slain.Memento mori: The families of survivors and victims of the Bacem bridge massacre assemble for a traditional Javanese wake to remember those who were slain.
 '€œI took the bodies to the middle of river, so they would follow the current. I did this several times,'€ Bibit said. He disposed of the bodies so that he would not be accused of supporting the PKI. Bibit said that his brother remained traumatized after disposing of only one body.

At night, gunshots were frequently heard near the bridge. '€œIf a gun was fired 25 times, it meant 25 people had been shot,'€ Bibit said. '€œIt was horrible'€.

After more than 40 years of living in silence, the families of the victims and survivors of the massacre held a traditional sadranan, or wake, to remember those that died.

The 25-minute documentary illustrates the massacre based on eyewitness'€™ accounts. The film'€™s director, Yayan Wiludiharto, said that he has been researching the 1965 purges with the Institute for Social History of Indonesia since 2000.

While Yayan started work on the film in 2005, his breakthrough came in 2007, when he met Barjo.

'€œAt that moment, I thought that it was time to finish this movie,'€ Yayan said. He shouldered almost all of the production costs himself, although Elsam provided him with the needed assistance to finish the film.

The director said that he hoped that the film would raise collective awareness of the horrible '€” and still unsolved '€” cases of human rights violations from 1965.

At a recent screening of the film, historian Hilmar Farid said that Jembatan Bacem was an important movie for the nation to reflect on the dark times following the Communist purge '€” something that he said was impossible during the New Order era.

'€œToday people can watch this film about the massacre together,'€ Hilmar said.

'€œThis is a good progress and it is important to reveal the truth.'€

The historian said that it was odd how some people today continued to question whether there were massacres in 1965. '€œIt is important for the government to admit this. Maybe we can escape from history, but history will always haunt us.'€

In an email interview, Yayan also commented on another film on the 1965 Communist purge, Joshua Oppenheimer'€™s award-winning documentary The Act of Killing.

Oppenheimer'€™s film, according to Yayan, was deeply human, despite its different focus on the people behind the violence. '€œAll those who watch it can instantly say that such incidents should not happen to anyone of any background.'€

A film like The Act of Killing transcended ideology, Yayan said, giving the audience '€œa sense of humanity that must be respected and upheld by anyone'€.

Yayan said that he had a different reception for his earlier film Bunga dan Tembok (Flowers and the Wall), which told the story of the victims of human rights violations assembled at a national gathering in 2003.

'€œWhen the film was screened and discussed with students at universities in Jambi, the participants said that it was Communist propaganda ['€¦] As such, there was no statement of sympathy for the victims of the 1965 tragedy, as they were Communists or Marxists, though that was not the case.'€

Jembatan Bacem is available for distribution and exhibition from Elsam.

'€” Photos courtesy of Elsam

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