Dictator General Soeharto died on the 28th of January 28. His death left many controversies from 1998 unsolved, the year when he was ousted after a mass movement of students and workers took to the streets. Many cases, like human rights abuses and corruption, has never been settled.

Suharto took power and became president in an anti-democratic military coup with the support of CIA in 1965. His mission was to take on the communist mass movement, led by the PKI – Communist Party of Indonesia, the biggest communist party outside of the Soviet Union. He replaced Sukarno, the former president, after a rigged coup on the 30th of September that year when six top generals were rounded up and brutally killed. Most evidence lead to the conclusion that this was an action carefully overseen by general Suharto himself as a part of a power struggle in the army. This was then used to blame the Communist party. Not just the PKI, but also militant organizations such as worker’s trade unions, women organizations, art groups, youth organization, and farmers organizations fell victim in the following terror unleashed by Suharto. During that time about million people were killed. CIA provided death lists and technology to seek, find and murder political opponents. This holocaust-like terror belongs to one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities. After this campaign of mass murder of Suharto, president Sukarno, who cooperated during the time, gave Suharto formal permission “to take the country out of national chaos”. Suharto used this letter to replace parliament without any elections what so ever.

Suharto received strong support from the imperialist powers that used the coup d’état to take the lions share of the country’s rich natural resources. In the 1960’s and 70’s neo-liberalism was introduced. Suharto took big loans from the IMF and the World Bank development bank which resulted in a monstrous debt, still swallowing the biggest part of Indonesia’s national income in re-payments. Multinational companies such as Exxon, Freeport Mining, and British Petrolium got lucrative contracts as a result of the slaughter in 1965, and they created ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Nations) to protect their interests. Suharto took part in the founding of this organization.
On 1975, Suharto, this time with the quiet support from the US and Australia among others, invaded East Timor and carried out a campaign of murder and terror sharing many similarities with aftermath of the coup in 1965. Thousands of people were killed in the military operation to seize power over the island. In the following campaign more than 200 000 people were killed and/or starved to death. For Suharto it was important to smash the dreams of independence in East Timor. Indonesia itself is a grouping of island with many different ethnical groups, of whom many have suffered oppression from the central government in Java. A victory for the independence movement in East Timor could have meant a boost for other movements against the national oppression from the Java government, which naturally would have meant a problem for the interests of imperialism. Once again therefore the big capitalist powers more or less happily oversaw the success of the regime in carrying out another campaign of mass murder.
In the 1980’s the pro-democracy movement was born in opposition to the Suharto regime. The government developed many strategies to weaken the mass movement. Snipers shot hundreds of people in the big cities with the pretext of fighting criminality. In another famous incident, the so called Tanjung Priok Cases, the army attacked political activity taking place inside a mosque, leaving hundreds of people gunned down. Another big atrocity in the same decade was the case of Kedung Gombo, a big village on central java that was sunk by water in an irrigation project supported by the World Bank. Many people in that village carried out resistance and hundreds of them were killed when they tried to defend their village. In the 1980’s Suharto was also carrying out disastrous military operations in Aceh and Papua, as a part of carrying out attacks on separatist movements in opposition to the national oppression by his regime. Thousands of people were killed in both provinces, and these crimes have created prolonged unsettled conflicts in these areas of Indonesia which last until today.
In the 1990’s the Suharto regime carried on his dictatorial rule. Human right’s abuses, such as kidnappings of activists in the pro-democracy movement, and huge corruption scandals (he made his family very rich), added to the regime’s decreasing popularity. The weakness of the regime became visible in the mass actions and protests on the 26th of July, 1996. In that time many people where arrested and kidnapped. A bloody attack on the office of the PDI (the old bourgeois Democratic Party, founded by Sukarno) by para-military forces left many people killed inside the building. This tragedy became the starting point for big offensive from the pro-democracy movement. In 1998, as the storm of the South East Asian economic crises did hit Indonesia, a mass movement led by the students launched a series of actions against the Suharto regime, leading to the occupation of the parliament building. Eventually, this led to his fall, as other parts of the ruling class saw the need for a less repressive form of ruling and decided to oust him before the masses did it themselves.
Now, after 10 years since then, and when he finally died, the establishment’s politicians keep debating about law cases. Most want to give him a title for his alleged “heroism” and forgive him for the atrocities he committed. This debate mostly occurred in mainstream media in Indonesia in private channels owned by the Suharto family and its supporters. The Golkar party, built by the army and supporting the Suharto regime for 32 years, has been one of the strong voices in this issue in parliament and media. The campaign is of course being driven by pure self-interest. Many criminals remain prominent members. Politicians from most of the parties have now got together to make a statement to forgive Suharto with the motivation that his death should mean the case should be closed. In addition they want to turn him into a national hero. Indonesian society is divided on this issue. The politicians and media have done what they can to stir up a campaign in support of Suharto, something they couldn’t have done during the revolt of 1998. Today, society is almost like caught in the jail of mainstream media. Every day during Suharto’s illness media have been broadcasting minute by minute in all tv-stations and channels, including state television. During his death all media covered his funeral and presented him and his family in a way as to create a good image.
People need to know what Suharto did during his period in power. The “economic development” during his years in power, often pointed to in order to legitimate his rule, was never in the interest of the poor. The rise in the economy and development in that time was solely created by taking huge loans leading to a burden of dept. Indonesia, as a result of this, is still not independent from the pressures of the big imperialist powers after his stepping down. The economic stability created by Suharto was also based on the super exploitation of the workers, with low paid jobs and the prohibition of any attempts to organise independent trade unions.
Suharto did take loads of money from the state, over billion dollar just for his family, cronies, and businessmen. His power rested on militarism, kidnapping, torture, killings, and repressive security. Altogether between 1965, after the initial massacre, and until 1998, around one million people was killed because of the brutal action from the military.
Suharto will never be seen as a hero by progressive people. Even now after his death, his family and cronies must be put before justice and be investigated. The theft of state property, human rights violations, corruption… all this should be dealt with. Bu then all the remaining rules in the law system that protects his family, laws remaining from his period in power, must be erased. In this way a process could be started, and therefore we should demand this.

Meistra Budiasa

Freelance Journalist from media bebas and living in Jakarta Indonesia

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