Joshua Barker // State of Fear: Controlling the Criminal Contagion in Suharto’s New Order
In keeping with the overt symbolism that marked political monuments in Suharto’s New Order, the Department of the Interior on Jakarta’s main square was ornamented with a giant kentongan. A kentongan is an instrument made from a hollowed branch that is struck to give off a sound. Kentongan have been used by neighborhood watches (rondo) in Java’s towns and villages for centuries as devices to keep thieves away, to call forth populations for territorial defense, and to keep people alert and ready toward off threats to community well-being. Hung by a mosque, in a guard house, or in front of the village head’s house, it is the quintessential technology for community policing. The kentongan at the Department of the Interior, by virtue of its size and location, would seem to represent a departure from the strictly local connotations of village kentongan. This grand kentongan was undoubtedly meant to provide the many thousands of kentongan in the nation’s villages and towns with a new center with which to resonate. Through a sort of crude symbolism, the installation of this kentongan signified the subordination of local security apparatuses to the overarching security framework provided by the state.
The buildings that comprise the Department of the Interior are themselves representative of what is a characteristically New Order architectural style: large buildings which appear top-heavy since their upper floors, supported by long concrete columns, extend out beyond the lower ones. Such a style—most commonly seen in the thousands of banks that sprang up in all of Indonesia’s towns and cities during the boom periods of recent decades—emphasizes two features of the building: the entranceway and the upper floors. The entranceway can be of monumental proportions, with a ceiling several stories high, giving the visitor a distinct feeling of being very small. The upper floors, in contrast, allow their inhabitants to sit atop the structure and survey the scene below, often from behind a wall of one-way glass. On the occasions that I was forced to visit the Department of Interior between 1995 and 1997 (to report my research plans to the Socio-Political affairs bureau), I could not help but notice that the coupling of this architecture of surveillance with the kentongan did not quite work. Although the kentongan was given monumental proportions and carved with intricate designs so as to make it stand out to those who beheld it, it was clearly added after the building was constructed, for it had been pushed off behind a column so as not to get in the way. Without a spot of its own, it simply hung there, looking uneasy and out of place.
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This paper will examine the New Order state’s attempts to appropriate local, territorial power and to give it a place within the confines of the state. Specifically, it will focus on the effects of two initiatives pursued by the New Order state to use surveillance to eliminate and discipline representatives of territorial power: Petrus and Siskamling. Petrus is the acronym given to an early-1980s paramilitary operation known as the Mysterious Killings (Pembunuhan Misterίus) in which thousands of people labeled criminals were murdered in a number of Indonesia’s main cities. Siskamling, or sistem keamanan lingkungan (environment security system), is a term that was first coined by the head of the Indonesian police in the early-1980s to describe a new way of organizing the local security apparatus so as to give police the responsibility for coordinating and supervising neighborhood ronda, and for training and supervising private security guards (satpam) for use in commercial and public settings.4 Both of these initiatives were means of dealing with fears regarding a wave of violent crime that peaked in the early-1980s. At a policy level, the two initiatives moved in two different directions since one implied the eradication of the criminal element through what the government referred to as “shock therapy while the other implied the development of a better system of law enforcement through an extension of the reach of the Police. According to Bourchier, officials in government were divided as to which strategy to pursue: some advocated the rule-of-law approach represented by Siskamling, others advocated the extra-judicial approach represented by Petrus. In retrospect, however, it seems clear that the two solutions to the crime problem were “deterritorialization” of local security practices in a manner that was conducive to central state control. In the case of Siskamling, this was largely an institutional question which depended on subjecting gangs, security guards, and “criminals” to surveillance. But in the case of Petrus, it was a question of appropriating the power that “criminals” and gangs represented, a complex process that involved mimicry as well as surveillance.
This paper is based on a combination of textual sources and field research. It begins with a brief account of crime, security, and state power in the period immediately leading up to Petrus and the introduction of Siskamling. This is followed by a description of the changes to local security brought about by the implementation of Siskamling, changes that would only really get underway once Petrus had scared competitors away or killed them. The bulk of the paper is then spent analyzing Petrus itself: its lists, its ambivalence in defining the “criminal,” and its attempts to recuperate the power that gangs and their leaders represented. Finally, the paper describes the legacy of Petrus and Siskamling for the relation between local security and state power.