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Jakarta Post

View point: Sept. 30, 1965, tragedy: Let bygones be bygones?

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, May 17, 2015   /  06:17 am
View point: Sept. 30, 1965, tragedy: Let bygones be bygones?

I was a small kid at the time, but I still have some memory of what happened before and after the so-called failed coup attempt by the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) on Sept. 30, 1965, 50 years ago.

My father, a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Pematang Siantar, a small city in North Sumatra, had to hide for months, especially at nights, before the tragedy that reportedly claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians. He told us that some local PKI leaders threatened to kill him, because of his position as a Catholic activist and as a teacher.

We lived in fear and terror. Our teachers ordered the students to dig deep and wide holes in front of our schools. We never knew the purpose at that time. Only later we were told that they were designed for mass burials.

My father was not alone. In our village, the PKI had the upper hand. They bullied their political enemies. Their children also informed us that we would lose our father soon and that we would also lose everything when their fathers were in power.

My father told my mother that he had lost several friends because they refused to join the communist party.

From my childhood memory, I concluded that the communists were responsible for the deaths and missing persons. From the perspective of a small boy, I believed I would become an orphan when the communists ruled the country.

After the Sept. 30, 1965, tragedy, the PKI was banned. I still remember many villagers disappearing or going to jail after that. They were treated brutally. Many of them never returned to their families, and only very few were taken to court.

Their children became pariahs. They could not continue their education. Even when they had good education, it was impossible for them to become civil servants. They lost nearly everything, including their property, and more importantly, their dignity. But to be honest, I did relish their sufferings.

Until now I still remember the true PKI members, and some are still alive. Many villagers were also innocent victims.

Farmers often could not buy fertilizer when they refused to be registered as members of the PKI or its affiliated organizations. Free rice and other staple foods were also distributed to party members only.

Many illiterate people were forced to put their fingerprints on documents although they knew nothing of the documents'€™ contents. Many became members without their full consent, just because their village chiefs forced them.

In schools, Indonesian children were taught about the brutality of the PKI. We were brainwashed. Our teachers taught us that we should thank Soeharto, because without his heroic bravery, Indonesia would be ruled by the ruthless communists, who would kill anyone following a religion.

Religion would be an unforgivable sin. We were also taught that the country'€™s first president, Sukarno, was the mastermind of the 1965 coup attempt.

After Soeharto'€™s fall in May 1998, there were some attempts to honestly and transparently reassess the history textbooks, and to rehabilitate the victims of the tragedy. When Abdurrahman '€œGus Dur'€ Wahid briefly served as the country'€™s fourth president from October 1999 to July 2001, he boldly adopted major policies to reopen the crimes against humanity, and guaranteed the safety of alleged PKI members who wanted to return from overseas exile.

This year we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo has announced his intention to reopen major human rights abuses in the country, including the Sept. 30 tragedy.

But I can bet that he will not dare create '€œunnecessary problems'€ for himself, because all Soeharto'€™s successors, including Sukarno'€™s own daughter and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, refuse to touch the sensitive issue.

I doubt we are willing to seek the truths of the past and reconcile with them. If a referendum were held now, I suspect that the majority of Indonesians would say: '€œWhy should we reopen old wounds?'€

The nation succeeded in forcing Soeharto to end his 32-year dictatorship on May 21, 1998, after riots, killings, immolations and rapes of innocent victims in Jakarta and other cities. However, until his death 10 years later, the retired five-star general was completely untouchable. The gross human rights violations that occurred before and around his fall remain in the dark. The alleged perpetrators are still free.

Soeharto'€™s immediate successor, B.J. Habibie, swore that he would bring all the perpetrators to justice. But as Soeharto'€™s former '€œgolden boy'€™'€ he could do not much.

How about Megawati? She has not achieved much that could restore the name of her father Sukarno, who was accused as the mastermind of the 1965 massacre. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also promised much during his 10-year tenure, but he acted just like his predecessors.

All the atrocities and gross human rights violations will likely remain in the dark. Not just because our leaders refuse to lead the nation to make peace with the past, but worse, because as a nation we prefer to bury the past.

So what will happen on Sept. 30 this year? I guess as a nation we will choose to let bygones be bygones.

The writer is senior managing editor of
The Jakarta Post

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