CNN broadcasted live the historic event. When the Pope talked about the difficulty of judgment, I immediately remembered the defensive statements of Indonesian activists who were involved or followed very closely the national tragedy that occurred 50 years ago. In his remark, the Pope also asked all Americans to learn from the oppression of the Native Americans and to make sure that it would not occur again.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Indonesia will hold the 50th commemoration of the butchering of innocent and guilty victims either because they were members of the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) or because they were assumed to be communists or supporters of the party.
Hundreds of thousands — some even speculated millions — were killed throughout the country. We will never know the exact number of people who were jailed without trials or those who were taken by force from their families. Nor will we ever know many of these people’s whereabouts.
After 50 years, will we as a nation be willing to reconcile with the past and help heal those who are still suffering from our uncivilized acts as a nation?
I am very confident about my answer to that question: Indonesians will never be willing to openly and honestly make peace with the past. It will remain an unresolved case forever!
“We only had two choices in 1965: To kill or be killed. Now human rights activists and film makers describe us as perpetrators while our enemies are innocent victims,” that was the common answer coming from activists at that time when asked about the horrors, which lasted several weeks.
As a 7-year old boy, I followed what had happened at that time, as I have testified in my previous writings. I still vividly remember how weeks before the tragedy, the communists intimidated my father, an elementary school teacher, simply because he was a devout Catholic. At that time, the communists in my home town were very confident that the PKI would rule Indonesia. Even their children also bullied me and my siblings.
But I also still remember the fearful expression of those children when military and anti-communist youths tortured their fathers in front of their houses. Many of my childhood friends could not get a proper education and could not find decent jobs, or they had to let themselves be adopted by other people in order to cover up their true identity. It lasted for 32 years until the fall of President Soeharto in May 1998.
Do you need a concrete example?
Indonesia’s fifth president Megawati Soekarnoputri is a living witness. She and her siblings had to endure unbearable pains just because their father was Sukarno, the country’s first president. Soeharto’s regime once branded Sukarno as a PKI member or supporter.
Fifty years have passed. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has indicated that he would address the nation about the atrocities. But I am ready to bet that there will not be any meaningful change in our attitude! I will not blame Jokowi, because he has nothing to do with the gross human rights abuses.
The President has set up an inter-ministerial team to formulate a kind of reconciliation with the past, but at least until Friday this team failed to make any significant progress.
Will the President apologize to the victims on all sides? No.
His predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was very reluctant to touch the issue for several reasons, including the fact that his father-in-law, the late Gen. (ret.) Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, played a key role in crushing the PKI.
Megawati also refrained from taking a drastic stance to restore the honor of her father.
Yudhoyono even failed to realize his promise to an activist to arrest the person who stabbed him a few years ago.
Of all our predecessors, only our fourth president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid proved that he was very willing to reopen the case and try to settle it.
Why would I dare say that the crimes against humanity in 1965 will remain a mystery?
In our culture, especially Javanese culture, we tend to hide dirt under the mat. We are reluctant to settle embarrassing problems. We prefer to pretend that nothing wrong has happened. There are so many smaller human rights abuses in this country, but most of them remain in the dark not just because of the government’s failure, but we as a nation tend to take on an attitude of self-denial.
Soeharto’s regime was also very successful in brainwashing the people through school textbooks. Probably most Indonesians still believe Soeharto’s version of the 1965 tragedy.
We believe that communism is still an extremely dangerous threat for Indonesia, while communists in China have chosen the market economy to develop their nation. We are very anti-communist, but very eager to be friendly to the economic superpower.
Nothing will happen this Wednesday, because we will pretend to not know or forget about the barbaric acts.
The writer is senior managing editor of The Jakarta Post