Jakarta. They came to commemorate the 40th anniversary of one the most intensive massacres in human history. Not many, but at least some 50 or 60 people came. Of all places in Jakarta they gathered in the modest complex of German cultural centre – Goethe Haus. There was a poetry reading, theatre, talk show with the greatest Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer.
40 years ago – on the night of September 30th and October 1st – Indonesian military backed by the West grabbed power, sidelining progressive President Sukarno and unleashing campaign of terror in which between 500 thousand and 3 million people vanished.
Killing was performed by both military and ordinary citizens in all major cities of Indonesia as well as in the countryside. Victims were members of PKI (Indonesian Communist Party – 40 years ago the third largest in the world), members of Chinese minority, atheists, and Christians. “Military right-wing coup”, say some; “Religious and ethnic cleansing on massive scale”, say others.
During Suharto’s dictatorship, all alternative views were banned and so were Chinese language and culture, atheism, and Marxism. Young generations were told that in 1965 Communists attempted to stage the coup and the heroic Indonesian military intervened and saved the nation.
40 years after that terrible event, Indonesians are suffering from political apathy and fear to look back. There are some reasons for it: almost no family in Java is blameless; each has its skeleton in the closet. Some have both victims and victimizers in their ranks. In the culture of obedience and fear almost nobody dares to revisit the past and search for the truth.
Mass media (local and foreign) refused to cover the anniversary. No politically motivated demonstrations are rocking the capital city. Today’s Indonesia doesn’t need government censorship – writers and thinkers censor themselves – too afraid of oppressive religious, family, and society structures which are silencing dissidents without almost any need for intervention from the state.
Majority of Indonesians see history as irrelevant. Unusually low level of education (even by the regional standards) and intensive religious indoctrination prevent the great majority of citizens from pursuing independent thoughts. To analyze differently from established norms is strongly discouraged and may lead to excommunication or something worse.
For many men and women of this country there is simply no time for history; present problems are too overwhelming. The country is basically collapsing – it has become a failed state.
Infrastructure is in total decay – there are no highways connecting major Indonesian cities except an insufficient and expensive 140km stretch between Jakarta and Bandung. Railways, ports, airports and telecommunications are an absolute disgrace, so are schools and hospitals.
Only 20 to 30 percent of urban dwellers have access to running water (lesser than in India) and its quality, after privatization, nosedived while prices went up. The country is a major exporters of child prostitutes. Beggars, as young as five, can be seen on all major intersections in Jakarta and elsewhere.
More than half of the population lives on less than 2 dollars a day; most of Indonesia’s citizens lack basic sanitation. Cities, due to corruption and mismanagement, became unplanned nightmarish sprawls, Jakarta being the most polluted capital in Asia, after Dhaka. As there is almost no public transportation, many people in the capital have to commute up to 3 hours each way, breathing poisonous carbon-dioxide and other pollutants.
Corruption is omnipresent, on a level unknown anywhere else in this part of the world. Government officials are openly stealing money from meager projects intended to help the poor. Powerful and competing military and police are enjoying complete impunity. Just to illustrate the situation, police in Jakarta will not begin to investigate car theft, unless paid a bribe of 2.000 USD in the country where GDP per capita stands around 700 USD a year.
Intolerance is on the rise. While Indonesia reached limited agreement in Aceh, it is still implementing violence in Papua, basically occupied territory. The country had been formed along the geographic boundaries of Dutch colonial empire in Southeast Asia. Decision to form Indonesia had been taken in 1940s by the elites; there was no plebiscite.
Ryaas Rasyid, former Minister of Decentralization, claims that Indonesia is in such a miserable state that it may soon fall apart, splitting into at least 9 independent states, while plunging into a brutal civil war. “Java is acting like a colonial power”, he explained. “If they would be allowed to do so, many islands, including Bali, would opt for independence.”
The Muslim religion (80 to 85 percent of the population) is taking grip on the country. Hundreds of Catholic and Protestant churches are burned and vandalized every year; religious minorities are living in fear. Atheism is still banned – each citizen has to choose one of five “officially permitted religions.” Religious indoctrination which allows no alternative views is on the rise.
That is the state of Indonesia 40 years after the coup. The most disheartening part is that there are no positive changes on the horizon. NGOs are disorganized, often commercially oriented; lacking unity and common goals. The fourth most populous nation on earth, Indonesia is not capable of giving birth to strong opposition leaders, writers, filmmakers, or thinkers. During our conversation in New York, Dan Simon – editor of the Seven Stories Press – declared that once Pramoedya Ananta Toer (the most important Indonesian novelist and former prisoner of conscience) dies, the last intellectual bridge between Indonesia and the rest of the world will collapse.
On October 1st, under pressure from foreign businesses, government raised dramatically prices of gasoline and cooking oil, promising meager compensations for the very poor (families whose members live on much lesser than 1USD a day). Exhausted Indonesian citizens managed to organize just a few limited demonstrations protesting the move which will further reduce their standard of living.
There was not one demonstration commemorating the coup; protesting against the loss and destruction of millions of human lives in 1965 and in the following years. Needless to say – almost all roots of the current Indonesian nightmare can be traced to that event.
On the same day – October 1st – religious suicide bombers blew up 3 restaurants in Bali, killing over 20 people in an attempt to scare off foreigners who, from the extreme religious point of view, represent unwelcome diversity in this country which is becoming increasingly locked in itself; intellectually castrated.
40th anniversary of the terrible slaughter and destruction of Indonesian nation went unmarked and unreported. The great majority of Indonesian citizens accepted official lies and propaganda. The elites pretended that they don’t know and are hoping that past will eventually disappear, as those few survivors of torture and concentration camps are becoming too old to speak.
But the past never disappears; it forms foundations of present Indonesia; it is underneath almost everything that is now happening in this country; its immoral path which terrorizes minorities, despises the poor, and eliminates compassion. The only way forward would be to destroy the whole structure and begin anew; with an open mind and without fear.