Mass murder of communists
Those killings took place under President Sukarno, who was not only the “father of the nation” but was also a towering figure of the Non-Aligned Movement and the one who rubbed shoulders with greats like Nehru, Nasser and Chou Enlai
It has been over a decade since the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died. During his rule twenty-eight thousand people were tortured and over three thousand “disappeared” or were killed including the father of the incumbent Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Equally horrendous were the “disappearances” of ten thousand people during the reign of the military junta in Argentina in seventies and eighties. The sixties were even more murderous as almost half a million supportersof the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were either murdered or made to “disappear” in 1965-66. While the Chilean government has set up a Museum of Memory and Human Rights to bring on record the perpetrated horrors; no such institutional effort has been made in Indonesia, and even today, those who dare to look into those horrors are harassed and intimidated, nonetheless, Professor John Roosa of the University of British Columbia has conductedan eye-opener research on these communist massacres in Indonesia.
Those killings took place under President Sukarno, who was not only the “father of the nation” but was also a towering figure of the Non-Aligned Movement and the one who rubbed shoulders with greats like Nehru, Nasser and Chou Enlai. Ironically, the members of the very communist party that supported him were slaughtered right under his eyes in the twilight years of his presidency. It is difficult to establish his complicity or innocence as there is little empirical knowledge available about this “open secret” to date, however, what we do know is, to investigate those killings, he did set up a Fact Finding Commission (FFC) about which the then US ambassador to Indonesia commented that the army would ensure that it died a “natural death;” and so it did because neither did Sukarno make public the report of that Commission nor did he try to contradict the narrative about the carnage set by his top general, Suharto, despite the fact that Sukarno was revered as “the source of all truth in Indonesian politics.” It was perhaps because he was reduced to a lame duck president and thusin moments of anguish frequently cried over the extermination: “Do we have to redeem the killing of a number of generals with the killing of tens of thousands, may be even hundreds of thousands of people of our own nation?” Yet, neither could he dismiss Suharto, who after sidelining him, ruled from 1966 to 1998 nor could he present a narrative alternative to Suharto’s narrative on the mass killing of his communist countrymen.
One explanation for these mass “disappearances” was that it was the PKI which had masterminded a revolt called the September 30 Movement inside the Indonesian army that killed ten generals in Jakarta in October 1965, and therefore, had to be brutally crushed for such a treasonous barbaric act. The Fact Finding Commission argued that the communists had antagonised God-fearing patriotic Indonesians for decades and when the former started a revolt under the September 30 Movement, it provoked the masses into a “righteous fury” that resulted in mass killings, which the army tried to stop, but could not, due to the ferocity of public rage. Another touted justification was that it was the PKI that started the revolt and the subsequent bloodshed was actually a spontaneous public backlash against it. Yet another argument given in regard to the massacres in Bali was that it was an expression of extreme anger shown by the Hindus and the Muslims to the disrespect shown by the PKI communists towards their religions.
The next question that begs an answer is as to who was involved in these large scale “disappearances”? There were several actors. One was Banser, a militia of an Islamic organisation called Nahdatul Ulema which was deeply embroiled in East Java. Another were the para commandos of the Special Forces, who initiated the massacres in Bali. Despite passage of five decades, the haze of ambiguity still hangs around the identity of the civil-military executioners. Even today, it is not clear whether the violence was horizontal in which “neighbour killed neighbour” or vertical in which the state butchered its own citizens. Similarly, no one can say for sure whether the violence was chaotic or a well-organised political genocide, however what is certain, is, that the violence was committed by both the civilian militias as well as the khakis which the historians term as the “dualist thesis” which rejects the assertion that there was a national pattern behind the killings or that these were the handiwork of one person, group or institution because both the timing and the mechanics of butchery varied from area to area. The “dualist thesis” concludes that this massive violence was in fact the result of the struggle among civilian groups over power and resources; notwithstanding the new researches conducted after the collapse of the Suharto regime that have actually found some visible patterns behind the killings such as the efforts of the assassins to hide their traces, remarkable similarities in the methods by which many victimswere made to “disappear” throughout the country and that Suharto had a much greater role in the organised killings than was previously assumed.
In the post-Suharto period, there have been demands that a truth and reconciliation commission be set, an official apology be tendered and the perpetrators be prosecuted but these have been rebuffed on the ground that as it were the communists who initiated the violence, therefore, they deserved what they got
A glimpse of how tens of thousands were made to “disappear” can be seen in a 2012 film “The act of killing” that depicts how “human abattoirs” were run among bustling neighbourhoods in which the executioners “received batches of tied-up captives from the army, murdered them in the back part of a building, placed the corpses into sacks, trucked the sacks to a nearby bridge, and threw them into the river below. The victims just disappeared.” After that film, the editors of Indonesia’s leading weekly magazine “Tempo” got into the act by publishing a special issue in October 2012 which carried the interviews of some of the executioners for the first time, highlighting the mechanics of killings. Two years later, another film “The look of silence” further delved into the social memory of the massacres with focus on north Sumatra. Astonishingly, the perpetrators of such a genocide were quite successful in keeping the lids on their heinous acts. Strangely, in a country that had a population of about a hundred million in mid-1960s, this “communist holocaust” was neither reported in the national press nor a single photograph of this “communist annihilation” exists today; and the bits of information that have come out, have been through the courtesy of foreign journalists and the diplomats posted in Indonesia at that time. No study has been officially commissioned in earnest to explain, justify or deny that tragedy. The six-volume “History of Indonesia” contains just one sentence about the mass murders: “Only in East Java and Bali arose the chaos of abductions and killings, which were successfully brought to order again.”
In the post-Suharto period, there have been demands that a truth and reconciliation commission be set, an official apology be tendered and the perpetrators be prosecuted but these have been rebuffed on the ground that as it were the communists who initiated the violence, therefore, they deserved what they got. The anger and hatred between the rival camps is so deep-rooted that it does not allow them to differentiate between ten murders and half a million killings.