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Jakarta Post

Commentary: Police dancing to outdated rhythm

  • Adisti Sukma Sawitri

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, March 29, 2016   /  08:46 am

A series of bans on cultural events with communist themes in the country reminds us that the Cold War is not over for some people.

The old members of the Western Bloc may find it surprising that their enthusiastic supporters include none other than the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the same group that once rallied under the Islamic State (IS) movement flag at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Jakarta.

The protests from the group, infamous for its disrespect of pluralism, have been accommodated by the police, who still use the 1966 Decree of the People'€™s Consultative Assembly on the banning of '€œcommunism, Leninism and Marxism'€ to justify their actions.

While IS is seen as an emerging global threat, the police appear to be caught in Cold War nostalgia by retaining hostility toward anything that seems leftist.

The police'€™s stance looks a little awkward as the regulation, once a salvo in the communist purge after the 1965 tragedy, has found itself irrelevant amid more progressive moves made by the government in the past few years to erode the anticommunist sentiment inherited from the post-World War II era.

The Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration revoked bans on books on communism, such as the Indonesian translation of Indonesia: Law, Propaganda and Terror by Julie Southwood and Patrick Flanagan, which offered evidence and analysis of the 1965 military coup and attempts to blame the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Other books and online publications shedding light on leftist thinking and past traces of communism in the country are also widely accessible today for any eager learners.

The New Order'€™s propaganda film, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Treachery of G30S/PKI), featuring the government'€™s version of the killings of army generals in 1965 that led to nationwide fear and anger toward the banned party and communism, has no longer been mandatory viewing since Soeharto'€™s downfall.

Communism has been defeated and its existence may only be relevant to China'€™s political engine while it runs its economy on the wheels of capitalism.

Resistance to the information age is of course futile. Should the police manage to foil all similar events, people can still educate themselves through the internet and private group discussions.

Of course, it is not easy dealing with the 1965 issue, one of the darkest parts of the country'€™s past. Soeharto, who sought to replace Sukarno at that time, had made the killing of the Army officers a reason to banish the PKI, the party that Sukarno, a nationalist, had relied on when his political influence was waning.

President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s administration has made gestures toward atoning for the mass killings, but an apology has yet to be forthcoming; officials say the events during 1965 and its aftermath were complex and poorly recorded, despite official reports on the period submitted to the government by the national human rights body.

At the time, political tumult in the capital turned out to be unbearable for the young country, as conflicts escalated on the ground that not only involved the military, which was under the command of Soeharto. Civilian groups were also involved in purging those they deemed communists.

Former president Abdurrahman '€œGus Dur'€ Wahid, a leading cleric and former chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, apologized for the involvement of the NU youth, a group within the country'€™s largest Muslim organization, in the purge.

The New Order, a newborn regime at that time, was not a strong government that seemed capable of conducting a genocide as Nazi Germany did in Europe. Nor was it a superpower like the champions of the world war that had full control of the political, social and economic situation. In comparison, the New Order was merely the captain of a small boat trying to float along amid global political currents.

Nevertheless, as an emerging economy coveted as a major trading hub by both the East and the West, it is better for the government to encourage people to improve knowledge and embrace various cultures, rather than succumbing to fear of a worn-out ideology.

Rather than trying to block people'€™s curiosity about 1965, the government should facilitate comprehensive historical research surrounding the purge to balance the previous tweaked single-perspective account propagated by the New Order.

The fairer version of the history provides a chance for the young generation to learn about the country'€™s past. This is less harmful than taking legal action against perpetrators, action that will not only prolong conflicts but also may leave the nation torn and wounded.

No ideology, including communism, should be banned from study rooms because by building the blockage, the government is at the same time passing on a legacy of fear and discouraging openness and progress in society.

In the absence of full comprehension, an uninformed society easily becomes scared of something unfamiliar and will always be a follower, instead of leading with innovative ideas.

Such a society will dance to any beat, be it Western or Arabic, or even to that of IS.
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The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.