Every year Indonesians ‘commemorate’ 30th September as they believe that in 1965 six of Indonesia’s most senior generals and an aide were shot and dumped into a deep well known as Lubang Buaya (Crocodile Hole). That cataclysmic event actually occurred in the early hours of October 1st.
Autopsy reports proved that contrary to popular gossip, and later the official line, their bodies had not been mutilated by communist harridans. Evidence indicates that the PKI, Indonesia’s Communist Party, were not directly responsible and that the Machiavellian mind of Gen. Suharto was at work.
In his new book A Brief History of Indonesia, Tim Hannigan, suggests the following: The most likely scenario is that the junior officers of Sukarno’s presidential guard had believed that a coup against Sukarno was imminent and that they acted on their own initiative, possibly with the tacit approval of some elements of PKI, but without the party’s full knowledge or approval.
That it lead to a massive genocide is well-known. Although no accurate accounting has ever been undertaken: the most common estimate is that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 were killed. Many were the settling of personal scores, but Hannigan suggests that “what was most striking was how organised it was.”
Indeed. One of the close friends of the murdered General Ahmad Yani, the army commander, was General Sarwo Edhie Wibowo*, then commander of the elite red-beret para-commando unit KPKAD, later renamed Kopassus. The conspirators behind the attempted coup had taken to the airwaves and announced themselves as Gerakan Tiga-Puluh September (G30S – 30 September Movement). The PKI was particularly active in , Central Java where some army units had come out in support of G30S.
General Wibowo sought revenge for the murder of his friend and “within weeks had eliminated whatever power the PKI once had” in the province. He later explained to the American journalist John Hughes what he had done.
“We decided to encourage the anti-Communist civilians to help with the job … we gathered together the youth, the nationalist groups, the religious organisations. We gave them two or three day’s training and then sent them out to kill the Communists...”
Joshua Oppenheimer’s gripping yet repulsive drama-documentary, The Act of Killing, ‘stars’ one such group of youths in Medan, north Sumatra. Naturally it was not given a showing in public cinemas in Indonesia, so Jagal, the Indonesian title, was made available for free and can be viewed here. The English version DVD can be bought here.
The past fifty years has not brought peace for the survivors, those imprisoned for many years, and their families. The Suharto era saw a process of indoctrination whereby the population was lead to believe that the PKI were solely responsible for the attempted coup. The process of reformasi has done little to overcome that notion, and if anything has continued the direct inculcation.
In 2004, the education ministry in SBY’s administration revised school history books to say that PKI had been only one of several instigators of the 1965 coup attempt. Then in 2006 sole blame for the events was returned to the PKI, on the grounds that having the PKI as the main perpetrator was “the most acceptable version for most Indonesians“. And so another generation is kept underfoot of those in the corridors of power.
As Ari Sharp pointed out last year, Lubang Buaya is on display, with an ominous red light shining up from deep inside the shaft, and a nationalist statue, Monumen Pancasila Sakti celebrates the heroism of the slain soldiers in brutalist propagandist style. The gory details of September 30 and the morning that followed are presented in unflinching dioramas, and mannequins are used to depict the torturous barbarism that was supposedly inflicted on some of the generals before their death.
The site is an official Obyek Wisata (tourism site), and no town is complete without a street named after at least one of the six generals: Army Lieutenant General Ahmad Yani, Major General M. T. Haryono and Brigadier General D.I. Panjaitan, Major General Soeprapto, Major General S. Parman and Brigadier General Sutoyo and First Lieutenant Pierre Tendean.
40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy follows the compelling testimonies of four individuals and their families, as they break the silence with an intimate look at what it was like for survivors during Suharto’s New Order regime. Through their stories, the audience comes to understand the potential for retribution, rehabilitation, and reconciliation in modern-day Indonesia within this troubled historical context.
Last year I interviewed Bedjo Unjtung who was 17 in 1965 and went on the run for five years because his father had been imprisoned and then exiled to Buru Island without trial until his release in 1979. His father was a People School teacher and a member of Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia (the Indonesian Republic Teachers Union) which was labelled by Suharto’s military as a leftist organization because it had supported the policies of Sukarno, the first president.
However, Bedjo says: “Politically and ideologically I knew nothing. My duty was to just study.” Yet he too was imprisoned and upon release, like thousands of others, was unable to find secure employment because his ID card was marked ‘ET’ which stood for ‘Eks Tapol’, Tapol being an acronym of tahanan politik, the Indonesian words for ‘political prisoner’.
His time is now spent with Yayasan Penelitian Korban Pembunuhan 1965/1966 (Indonesian Institute for the Study of 1965/1966 Massacre) and continues the struggle for the survivors still waiting to receive governmental acknowledgement of the discrimination they have suffered.
*President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) married Kristiani Herrawati (Ani), the eldest child of Gen.(ret) Wibowo.