Thursday, July 21, 2016

Years of Living Dangerously: Normalizing the Memory of Indonesia's 1965 Purge

PKI members and sympathizers detained in Bali, 1965. Original image from  Dhemas Revianto/TEMPO
Indonesia is a nation undergoing epochal change. The election of Joko Widodo as president, increasing burdens and opportunities from overseas, and a growing awareness of her place in the region and world have made it imperative that she deal with unacknowledged scars of her recent past. Chief among these are the mass killings of leftists and others which first took place in 1965-66, in the years between G30S (the abortive coup attempt against Sukarno in September 1965) and the eventual removal of Sukarno in 1967. Estimates of those killed run anywhere from 500,000 to 3 million.

Up until recently, the outside world has looked upon the 1965-67 Purge, if at all, as purely political in motivation. In fact, however, the events of the 30 September Movement also revived sectarian resentments throughout the country. Javanese, Dayaks and Chinese were also killed on the pretext of fighting the PKI, the Indonesian Communist movement which became a scapegoat for G30S (or its failure). Mainstream academics continue to refrain from referring to the purge as "genocide," but many of those who lived through that time feel differently.

In the period since the fall of Suharto and the election of Jokowi, public discussion of the murders has increased. Wider outside attention has also been brought on them, such as with recent documentaries like The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. Despite this, Indonesia's political establishment continues to sublimate the legacy of the killings, mainly to save face. This has become increasingly difficult in the wake of what is now a global inquiry. The convening of an International People's Tribunal can only be seen as a direct result of continued government intransigence. Other members of the world community will not be immune from the growing reproach.

It's now incumbent upon Indonesia's government to redress these old wounds. 

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