quarta-feira, 23 de dezembro de 2015
Indonesia’s silent history of slaughter
The National Museum of Indonesia is packed with ceramics, maps and schoolchildren. When I visit, in search of information on the mass killings of 50 years ago, the director looks visibly put out.
“Why are you writing about 1965?” Intan Mardiana asks. The museum covers pre-19th century history, she explains, not politics. “People here don’t know much about that.”
Following a failed coup blamed on the Communist party of Indonesia (PKI), more than half a million people were killed between late 1965 and early 1966, part of a purge that targeted the ethnic Chinese, trade unionists and left-leaning artists as well as PKI members.
Co-ordinated by the military and local vigilante groups, the killings ushered in three decades of dictatorship by General Suharto. Half a century later, there is still little by way of acknowledgment, let alone retribution, in the nation that is now the world’s third-largest democracy.
Ms Mardiana directs me to another museum dedicated to the late General Abdul Nasution, who having survived the 1965 coup led the fight to suppress communism.
I venture into the musty, deserted house where he had lived. There is no ticket office and no one else to be seen. A guard finally emerges in the living room, with its bright yellow walls and floral sofa, and hands me a leaflet that relates in Indonesian the story of the PKI’s raid on Nasution’s home, during which his daughter was killed. There was nothing about the mass murders that followed.
Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, freedom of speech has improved dramatically but debate about the killings still seems to take place mainly overseas. I learnt about them when I moved to Jakarta this year. A former correspondent recommended The Act of Killing , Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary, in which men who took part in the executions re-enact their crimes. “When I approached them, I found that within minutes of meeting me they would launch into boasts of how they killed,” the director explains via Skype. Many of the perpetrators remain powerful in their communities, he says.
The violence of the film forms a striking contrast to the image of gentle Javanese culture and Balinese spirituality. Along with The Look of Silence, a sequel, it has triggered international debate. But in Indonesia the documentaries — like the killings — are not widely discussed. Instead, the government has grown moresuspicious of foreign journalists and wary that this year’s anniversary could raise fresh questions.
Officials dismissed the International People’s Tribunal that met in November in The Hague to shed light on the slaughter. In the city of Yogyakarta, a cultural centre in western Indonesia, officials have confiscated toys bearing Communist symbols and talks on 1965 were banned at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. “I think they were just panicking,” says Janet DeNeefe, festival organiser.
When President Joko Widodo swept to power last year, the first leader from outside the political and military elite, some hoped he would improve freedom of speech. These expectations were misguided, local friends tell me. Mr Widodo, who campaigned as a man of the people, is considered to share the views of those reluctant to revisit the wrongs of the past. The killings laid the foundations for Suharto’s rule, and schools have long presented 1965 as the defeat of a political faction that threatened the nation’s future.
With foreigners raking over this violent past and chastising the government, some Indonesians are understandably prickly. One local historian started his testimony to The Hague tribunal with a disclaimer: “I am not here to make my country and people look bad.”
Ariel Heryanto, an academic at the Australian National University, says the silence is the result of official repression. “How many globally connected young people know about the Santa Cruz, Soweto, Khmer Rouge or Tiananmen Square killings?” he asks. “Young Germans feel sick of the national obsession with guilt and the endless discussion on the Holocaust.”
Yet in Berlin, for example, there is no shortage of museums and lectures for those who want to know more.