Retas Sejarah

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Index / 1965

The personal trauma associated with the intense violence that engulfed Indonesia between October and December 1965 is not enough to explain how an open and documented history of the killings was silenced for over 33 years. Likewise, the New Order government’s political and military power to suppress competing historical accounts cannot fully elucidate this enduring silence. History is a story about who controls the means of historical consciousness as well as the production of narratives. Therefore, part of the answer of what enabled the forgetting of the Indonesian killings can be found in an examination of the Suharto regime’s propaganda project. This established communism as a social evil and New Order military authoritarianism as the antidote. An assessment of this narrative demonstrates how officially generated anti-communist ideology created silences in the process of historical production, and how forgetting the violence became a powerful determinant of local historical consciousness.

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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.

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After a three-year investigation and testimonies from 349 witnesses, Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has declared that the systematic prosecution of alleged members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) when former president Suharto and the military seized power in 1965 constituted gross human rights violations. It urged that the military officers involved be brought to trial.

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Who knows what the army did with them there – what was clear was that the trucks went off fully loaded and came back empty (Pipit Rochijat, “Am I PKI or Non-PKI”, 1985).

In his wonderful, now classic essay “The Death of Luigi Trastulli,” Alessandro Portelli compares newspaper accounts of the police firing upon a crowd of street demonstrators in a small town in Italy in 1949 with the social memory of that killing. He finds the memories of the town’s working class community, which has eulogized the victim of that shooting in songs and stories, to be in error. Instead of using oral history to figure out “what really happened,” Portelli uses it to think about why people have misremembered the past. Portelli’s later book, The Order Has Been Carried Out, follows a similar procedure. It relies on written records to establish the facticity of an event: German troops occupying Rome in 1944 massacred 355 people as a collective punishment for an attack by the resistance that claimed 32 soldiers.

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