Retas Sejarah

Benedict Anderson // The 1965 Massacre in Indonesia and Its Legacy

Domestic mass murder on a large scale is always the work of the state, at the hands of its own soldiery, police and gangsters, and/or ideological mobilization of allied civilian groups. The worst cases in the post-World War 11 era – Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Sudan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia, China, East Pakistan, East Timor, and Indonesia – show much the same bloody manipulations. It is equally the case that the killer regimes do not announce publicly the huge numbers killed, and rarely boast about the massacres, let alone the tortures that usually accompany them. They like to create a set of public euphemisms endlessly circulated through state-controlled mass media. In the age of the UN, to which almost all nation-states belong,in the time of Amnesty International and its uncountable NGO children and grandchildren, in the epoch of globalization and the internet, there are naturally worries about ‘face,’ interventions, embargos, ostracism, and UN-ish investigations. No less important are domestic considerations. National militaries are supposed heroically to defend the nation against foreign enemies, not slaughter their fellow-citizens. Police are supposed to uphold the law. Above all, there is need for political ‘stability,’ one element of which is that killing should not get out of control, and that amateur civilian killers should be quietly assured that ‘it’s over’ and that no one will be punished.

But every norm has its exceptions. In the article that follows below, readers are invited to reflect on Joshua Oppenheimer’s two recent sensational films about organized gangsters in and around the city of Medan (in northeastern Sumatra) who played a key, but only local, role in the vast anti-Communist murders in Indonesia in the last months of 1965. Almost fifty years later, they happily boast about their killings, with the grimmest details, and relish their complete immunity from any punishment. They are also happy to collaborate with Oppenheimer, contribute to his films, create bizarre reenactments of 1965,and do not hesitate to dress up their underlings to act as communists (male and female). The problem is to explain why Medan was the scene of the exception, within the larger framework of Indonesian politics from the late colonial period to the present.

The final irony is that Joshua’s (and the gangster’s) film is banned in Indonesia – that is to say, by Jakarta.

It is worth mentioning that in the early years after Suharto’s fall from power in 1998 (remembered as the time of Reform) censorship of publications almost disappeared. Long-forbidden works by dead communists – going back as far as the 1920s – were resurrected. Accounts by communist survivors of their suffering in Suharto’s gulag circulated without being banned. A flood of conflicting analyses of ‘what really happened in 1965’ sold well, especially if they claimed that the secret masterminds of the Gerakan 30 September were Suharto, the CIA, or MI-5.

It seems that the post-Suharto authorities assumed that the masses were not readers, and the distribution of the books by the market would depend on the character of regional readers (say, plenty in Java, very few in Medan). TV and the cinema were another story since they appealed to large non-reading publics. Controversial films could arouse old and new hatreds and seriously threaten ‘stability.’ Typically, the notorious Suharto-era film about G30S, year after year forced on schoolchildren, was now silently taken out of circulation.


counterpunch, January 24, 2014

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