M. Imam Aziz (Program Coordinator) and Saiful H. Shodiq (Program Officer) are not just working for a NGO called â€œSyarikatâ€ in Indonesian city of
Between 500 thousand and 1 million people died in the anti-Communist massacres in 1965/66. Hundreds of thousands of women were raped, damages to properties became incalculable. Target of this insane brutality became men, women and children of Chinese origin, those accused of having connections with the Communist Party or â€œRed Chinaâ€, or simply those opposing Suharto and his clique. Some died simply because of the greed and envy of their neighbors. Guilt and shame lie heavily on the consciousness of the nation which felt never fit to revisit its own past.
After the takeover by Suharto, Communist Party had been banned, â€œmust to have a religionâ€ imposed on the population. Massacres (welcomed by the
Not much changed after the fall of Suharto. Army is still untouchable, spreading terror from Aceh to Iryan Jaya to
â€œSyarikatâ€ believes that there can be no progress without understanding the past, without punishing those responsible for the atrocities, without at least a moral compensation for the victims. Something that is (in some post-dictatorial societies of
This first interview took place on the premises of the University of Melbourne, Australia, on
INTERVIEW WITH SAIFUL H. SHODIQ AND M. IMAM AZIZ
Vltchek: Can you explain to me what consists of your activities? I understand that you are mainly trying to explain to the general public what happened during the 1965/66 massacres.
Syarikat: â€œSyarikatâ€ is creating a network that would help to find the truth about the massacres that followed events of 1965. In addition, we would like to trigger the process of reconciliation between the parties involved in this conflict. Reconciliation is our main goal and â€“ all our investigation should lead to the final result which is reconciliation.
Q: What is the difference between the official line of Suharto government and the truth? We all heard about Chinese minority being accused by the government of cooperating with the Chinese Communist Party. But what really happened?
A: Of course between our view and the view of the government are great differences. We conducted in-depth investigation in 18 cities in Java. In each city the situation was different. In some places in
Q: So what did really happen in 1965?
A: First of all, there was a great accumulation of problems before 1965. There were economic problems, tension between political parties and the deep interest of the military forces in the economic life in
Q: So in 1965/66 about one million people died. They died in the
A: As I mentioned before, there were many tensions in the country; political and economic tensions. But without the push, without pulling the trigger there would have never been an explosion. So who pulled the trigger? Of course it was the military. Of course as we said before, there were tensions, but what a big difference between the tension and the mass killing!
Q: So the army was of course supporting Suhartoâ€¦
A: Yes, of course, they were supporting him and they triggered the events.
Q: How did the military become so strong?
A: Because the army was by then playing politics. One part of it was in Suhartoâ€™s camp, other belonged to the camp of Sukarno. There was a coup in September, led by the military man close to Suharto. So every level of the military; in
Q: Stronger than Sukarnoâ€™s?
A: Stronger than Sukarnoâ€™s military command.
Q: And they initiated the killing?
A: Yes. We were able to prove it, we see it very clearly. It happened in every region of the country.
Q: But how did they do it? Did they start fighting among themselves and then went to the civilians saying â€œjoin us; help us to kill the enemiesâ€?
A: There were several scenarios. The first is that the civilians started to kill with the hidden military support. The second scenario is that the government officials took charge â€“ ordered and supported killing, although it was hidden. The third scenario was when the military started to kill civilians directly.
Q: So what was the international factor? Obviously Suhartoâ€™s fraction of the military received strong support from the
A: Yes, I think so.
Q: Do you have some information concerning this?
A: We were not investigating this aspect in details, because our main goal is reconciliation between the fractions of our society in the way of clarifying our own history and refreshing our own memory, by creating a new memory among the Indonesian people.
Q: How difficult is it? In some places like
A: It is different in
Q: But even in
A: Yes, of course. There was no information in the school curriculum, in the media, in books.
Q: So what was taught in schools about the events?
A: They said that in 1965 the Communist Party performed a coup against Sukarno and that Suharto saved the state and that the killing of some members of the Communist Party was justified because they were trying to topple Indonesian state. (Laughter).
Q: Did they mention the number of people who died?
A: No. There are no numbers and no explanations of what happened later. In the curriculum there is no explanation, no mentioning of the massacres.
Q: How brutal was it, really? It all happened very quickly, didnâ€™t it? How terrible was it and how long did it last?
A: It was terrible. And there were many factors there. Sometimes even theology; religions may sometimes make some members of societies kill others. Massacres lasted several months, from October 1st until December. 3 months.
Q: Was it just killing or was it also a looting, theft, rape?
A: All that you mentioned. Not just killing, of course.
Q: Who did it? Were people divided along the religious lines, Muslims against Christians?
A: This part is not clear yet. For example, many Chinese are Christians. But Chinese also had there own organization, not the political one but the one which was supposed to clarify their nationality. That organization was fully supportive of Sukarno. So there were strong political and other factors, not only religious.
Q: What is your data on victims? How many of them were Christians or Muslims, what percentage were Chinese, what percentage belonged to the Communist party?
A: Yes, we have some data. For instance, the majority of the victims in Java were members of the Communist party or their friends and family members. The second highest group was Chinese minority. It is the case in Java.
Q: Are there some present day important military figures that were involved in the massacres?
A: Most of them are retired by now. But the ideology of anti-Communism is still alive in the military forces.
Q: Communist Partyâ€¦ Is it still banned?
Q: Even now, during the Megawati government?
A: Even now. In the new elections regulations there is an article that says that the Communists or those linked to the Communists can vote, but cannot be elected.
Q: Another outrageous issue in
A: (Laughing). You just couldnâ€™t live in
Q: Do you think that this is also a part of the anti-left wing campaign; because many, if not the most of the leftists, donâ€™t have religion.
A: Yes, it may be. Although in
Q: So is the promotion of religion something that flourished under Suharto? It seems that Sukarnoâ€™s idea of the Indonesian state was quite secular.
A: Yes. The government of Suharto introduced so called official religions; five official religions: Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Buddhist. So everyone who lives in
Q: But why? What was the reason?
A: Definitely it was a part of the anti-Communist propaganda. And in order to have better control of the people. In Suharto era, an atheist is almost the same as a Communist and vive versa. But in fact itâ€™s very different here, as I explained earlier. There are many Muslims in this country who would happily vote for the Communist Party if they had a choice. They believe that Communists are seeking justice, as does Islam.
Q: As theoretical Islamâ€¦
A: Yes, of course, as theoretical Islam. Like Hassan Raid â€“ he is a Muslim from
Q: How sick the Indonesian society became after the massacres? Obviously all that killing and following self-deceptions and lies had an enormous psychological impact on the population.
A: If my neighbor is a former prisoner, I canâ€™t accept him, I canâ€™t invite him to my home, I canâ€™t even elect him to be a neighborhood official. If he is the first victim, his children, his brothers and sisters, his wife will also become victims. So if I were ever accused of being a Communist party member, my entire family and even my friends would be in trouble. This is just an example of how sick this society still is.
Q: Is what you have just described going on in
A: Yes, still, until now.
Q: It seems that Indonesia is like so many places in Latin America, ready, if not for the full blown revolution, the at least for a radical change. And obviously, under the inhuman conditions that the majority of your people have to endure, Communist Party could become very popularâ€¦
Q: So is there any attempt by the Communist Party to become legal, to play an important role in Indonesian politics? Do they in fact exist under some other name?
A: No. We have many revolutionary organizations, including several Muslim ones. Communists are part of these revolutionary organizations. After Suharto came to power, both Muslim and Communist revolutionary forces were banned. Many left-leaning Muslim mass organizations were outlawed. During and even after Suharto, almost every seemingly civil organization was led by the military, even Islamic organization like MUI is led by the military.
Q: So it is still going on?
A: Yes, although to a slightly lesser extent than during the early years of Suharto.
Q: It seems that Megawati canâ€™t do much about the military. Trials against the soldiers who were involved in the massacres in
Q: How powerful is the military now? And if it is, what is the essence of its power? Is it political, economical?
A: Economic and political and everything. Like before. Military was extremely successful in accumulating economic power since the beginning of the new order. And it is still extremely powerful.
Q: So what do you do now? How will you try to change the situation?
A: We are trying to organize people – Muslims, Communists, progressives â€“ in order to put together an initiative that would eventually change the rules that are governing
Q: How many Communists or people who sympathize with the Communist ideas live in
A: Itâ€™s hard to say. Most of the Communist leaders were killed in the early weeks of the massacres. Now, there comes the second wave, second generation of the Communist Party, including people like Hasan Raid. Most members are just ordinary people who joined the Communist Party as farmers, laborers, and they have not been well educated in the Communist philosophy.
Q: But if there were elections tomorrow, and the Communist Party were not banned, how many people would vote for it?
A: If so, maybe 8 million.
Q: What concretely is Syarikat doing now in order to spread the information about the massacres in 1965/66 among the general public?
A: We publish books and our own magazine, organize forums, and focus group discussions and workshops. We mainly operate in Java, in many of its regions. We try to bring Muslims and the members of the Communist Party together, for reconciliation purposes as well as for the plotting of a better society. We are visiting political and religious leaders; we go from door to door. We tell people about their own history; we tell them the truth straight to their face. Itâ€™s sometimes an â€œunder-coverâ€ work, as you can imagine, because discussing these issues is not yet permitted.
Q: Do you have some backing from the international organizations?
A: We have a partner from the â€œAsia Foundationâ€, but itâ€™s along the line of how to strengthen democracy and the civil society.
Q: So what do you expect will happen next in
A: True, conditions havenâ€™t changed much. The crises will continue. The pace of social, economic and political reforms is too slow â€“ not sufficient to make a democratic nation of
Q: So you believe that recognition of the horrors of 1965 is essential for any positive change in your country?
A: Yes, it is. 1965 is an enormous issue that has to be addressed and resolved. And we have to understand what happened then. 1965 saw accumulation of political, economic, military, social and other problems.
A: (sights). Yes, I think so. What you have just mentioned is an enormous problem that our culture is facing. Since the beginning of the Suharto era, there was only an official philosophy. Everybody had to enjoy that philosophy, so it probably made people intellectually extremely lazy.
Q: But do you think that it was a design of the government?
A: Yes it was. But now Syarikat is also trying to help in this field. We are working as a team. We are like an umbrella for many organizations, around 20 in total. Amongst them are several cultural organizations, including publishing houses.
Q: How receptive are people? Are they interested when you come to them and start talking about the events of 1965?
A: People are generally receptive, but of course especially those who were themselves victims or had a victim in their family. We also try to involve Indonesian scholars, we organize forums so our academia can teach and learn about those events. Before we started to operate, there was no apparent interest of intellectuals in this crucially important chapter of our own history.
Q: What is the present governmentâ€™s position â€“ what is Megawatiâ€™s position on the issue of 1965? Have you ever tried to approach her?
A: We have never tried. It is obvious that they are continuing to impose new election regulations. They are still excluding Communist party members, even ex-Communists. Not much change will come from this government.
Q: You donâ€™t think that the government would be willing to change its policy at least towards the past; to instruct the Ministry of Education to change the curriculum?
A: No. Nothing changed until now, and we donâ€™t see any indicators that anything will change in the near future.
Q: Was there any compensation for the victims?
A: Of course not. Nobody was compensated. Maybe we should mention that the victims donâ€™t consist only of civilians. There were victims among police officers, navy officersâ€¦
Q: Pro-Sukarno ones?
A: Yes, exactly. These people organized, they tried to force the government to give some compensation, but even they didnâ€™t succeed.
(Andre Vltchek is an American writer and journalist, chief editor of political magazine WCN (www.worldconfrontationnow.com) He currently resides in