The Jakarta Post
In the sitting room of a house in the Lagarutu complex, Palu, Central Sulawesi, a man in an undershirt and short pants was talking to his two guests one morning. His hoarse and forceful voice gave the impression of him being enraged, but he spoke that way by nature.
Not many people know that this outspoken and seemingly tough man, Palu Mayor Rusdy Mastura, has made a rare move among the country's public officials. On behalf of the Palu administration, he apologized to the survivors and families of those who died in the purge of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965-1966.
'They're old people now, but in line with Palu's zero poverty program, I will provide them with free healthcare, financed by Palu's city budget,' Rusdy said.
He is the second public official who has done so after the then Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Abdurrahman Wahid apologized on behalf of NU to the victims when he was serving as the nation's fourth president.
Given Rusdy's history and background, people would be forgiven for perceiving him as among the last people on earth who would apologize to victims of the communist purge. The mayor, from the Golkar Party, is the descendant of Masyumi family, the now defunct Indonesian Muslim Consultative Assembly, which was involved in a bitter battle with the PKI in 1960s. He is also the former chairman of the Pancasila Youth (PP) organization in Central Sulawesi.
Rusdy told The Jakarta Post the decision to make the public apology was not an easy one. Not only he is the child of Masyumi activists, he still cherished Masyumi's ideas and considered Masyumi's prominent figures like Mohammad Natsir his 'teachers'.
One day in 1973, he met with Natsir (1908-1983), questioning the desire of his Masyumi Party to convert Indonesia into an Islamic country. 'Buya [Muslim leader, as Mohammad Natsir was called], your wish to make Indonesia an Islamic country led to Masyumi's dissolution,' Rusdy said to Natsir at the time.
In response, Natsir said as the second largest party after the Indonesian Nationalist Party, Masyumi should have had the right to offer an Islamic ideology as the state philosophy, just like Catholics offered Christianity and the PKI offered communism.
'So, was I mistaken?' said Rusdy, quoting Natsir.
According to Rusdy, Masyumi had already declared war on the PKI at the time, which was understandable in view of a fundamental difference: Islam appreciates personal property while communism makes it relative.
'Islam's eschatology is a society permitted by Allah, while communism aims at a classless society,' he noted.
His Masyumi fanaticism and his activity in the PP (that once supported former president Soeharto's New Order) made it very hard for Rusdy to apologize to the survivors of the violence by the state against alleged PKI members in 1965. However, he added, it was the murky part of Indonesian history that served as a valuable lesson for the nation to build a better future.
With the world much more open and free today, Rusdy maintained everybody should now be allowed to live and be a citizen of Indonesia.
The idea to apologize did not appear out of thin air. For the past few years, a group of human rights activists from the organization SKP HAM in Palu approached Rusdy to enlighten him about the fate of survivors and families of victims in the city.
SKP HAM was in the process of publishing a book, Sulawesi Testifies, containing stories of the survivors and the families. Activist Nurlaela Lamasitudju, or Ella, said they even invited Rusdy to watch the documentary The Act of Killing together. The documentary contained a witness account of Anwar Congo of North Sumatra, who is a member of PP.
'We watched it together with the [former] chairman of PP himself, Bapak Rusdy Mastura,' Ella said recently in the Sulawesi Testifies launch at the Goethe Institute in Central Jakarta.
Rusdy did not stop at just watching the film, but he supported the publication of the book by writing a blurb on the back cover. An avid reader who has thousands of books, Rusdy wrote: 'Writings will always give power to us to become more open and see the issue clearly. I commend this book, Sulawesi Testifies. Although we are tough people, we are more open, so we are willing to forgive each other.'
'I was guilty, too. On March 24, 1966, I was told by the military, as a boy scout, to help guard [suspected] PKI [members] who were gathered in a square. I guarded them with my boy scout stick,' he said.
But the major force behind his apology was the desire not to leave the burden of history to the next generation. 'We need to build a new world, a new Indonesia for the future. So I will make the second Youth Pledge for a new Indonesia,' he said in Jakarta.
He said he would issue a mayoral decree as legal grounds for his public apology on Oct. 28 this year, the date when the nation celebrates the Youth Pledge.
'I'm just a mayor, so there's no reason for me not to apologize to residents of my own city,' he said.
Apart from that, he indicated the apology was solely due to humanitarian considerations, whereby all citizens had equal rights and obligations before the law.
In his view, cases of terrorism and other negative acts prevailing in Indonesia today are prompted by feelings of despair on the part of the perpetrators. Thus, one of the solutions that can be proposed is to give them some hope in order to lead them to positive actions.
Believe it or not, continued Rusdy, the 1965 survivors and families of victims felt they had no hope in this country, so as a regional leader, he deemed it necessary to offer some hope by providing them with compensation such as scholarships, health insurance and equal opportunities for careers and politics.
His generosity is not limited to 1965 tragedy victims but also to impoverished Palu residents. In his two terms of office as Palu mayor for almost 10 years, he has never received his salaries in whole sums.
Palu city secretary Aminuddin Atjo said the mayor had always asked for an advance on the next salary as he had to distribute part of the money to needy people. Only Rp 100,000 (US$9) of his monthly pay was once left for him to spend.
For his daily expenses, according to Aminuddin, Rusdy, born on Aug. 8, 1950, relies on businesses he already ran when he served as consultant with the Indonesian National Consultants Association (Inkindo).
Nearly every weekend, Rusdy goes around Palu to greet local residents. The father of five prefers seeing his people to being visited.
'Sitting on roadsides with youths and eating meatballs together have long been practiced by the mayor,' said Ermas Chintawan, a Palu resident.