Indonesia needs to own up to past sins: Anderson
JAKARTA (JP): Indonesians need to own up to the killings and other brutality committed against their own people during the 32 years of President Soeharto's rule, leading Indonesianist Benedict Anderson of Cornell University said on Thursday.
Making his first public appearance in Indonesia in 26 years, Anderson said Soeharto's New Order regime was responsible for the deaths of nearly 800,000 people.
He listed 500,000 deaths during the campaign to crush the communist movement at the start of Soeharto's rule in 1965, another 200,000 deaths since the East Timor campaign began in 1975, around 800 during the campaign of "mysterious shootings" of alleged criminals in the 1980s, and around 20,000 each in Aceh and in Irian Jaya.
"The scale of the planned killing is unmatched in the archipelago's history," Anderson said during a discussion on nationalism organized by Tempo as part of the magazine's 28th anniversary.
Anderson, who has made Indonesia the central theme of his scholarly work, was barred from entering Indonesia in 1973 after he and colleague Ruth McVey at Cornell produced a paper disputing Indonesia's claim that the Sept. 30, 1965 Movement was the work of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
The movement, led by an Army colonel, kidnapped and abducted six senior Army generals. The Army, then led by the young Gen. Soeharto, moved quickly to abort what it described as a coup attempt against then president Sukarno.
The Cornell paper suggested a conspiracy involving the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Speaking in nearly flawless Indonesian in spite of his 26 years of banishment, Anderson said it was time that Indonesians gave a new name to Soeharto's Orde Baru (New Order) regime. "What about Orde Keropos (rotten) or Orde Buruk (Ugly)?"
He said state-sponsored brutality was a New Order regime phenomenon that began in 1965 with what he called a "cold sin".
Citing official records, he said medical reports sent to Soeharto about the condition of the slain generals on Oct. 4 stated that their bodies were riddled with bullets.
But on Oct. 6, the government-controlled media reported that their eyeballs had been gouged out and their sexual organs mutilated by their abductors. This Army propaganda unleashed hysteria that later led to the killing of 500,000 people, he said.
"This is 100 percent outside the law, yet, not a single person has been tried for this mass murder," Anderson said.
"This is not simply a question of justice. This is a question of admitting that the killing took place," he said.
He said the least that reform leaders such as Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri could do was apologize for the role played by organizations of which they are now in charge.
Catholic and Protestant parties as well as the intellectual community were also part of this silent conspiracy, he said.
Since then, state-sponsored brutality has been given legitimacy, and proof of this came with the Indonesian military operation in East Timor since 1975, Anderson said.
He said Indonesia's pioneers of independence would never have killed their own people or have made them suffer. "Instead, the pioneers went to jail and suffered for the people."
"If we went back to the 1940s and talked to them, they would be surprised to learn how ABRI (the Indonesian Armed Forces) is being used against its own people. It is not all that different from KNIL," he said, referring to the Dutch colonial army.
Anderson suggested Indonesia adopt a slogan "Long Live Shame!"
"Why? A true nationalist would feel shame about the horrible things his people had done," he said.
"The New Order was built upon a hill of skeletons. People have got to admit this, and feel shame about it," he added.
On nationalism, Anderson said Indonesia was intended by the independence pioneers as a common project for people with a common vision of their future.
Nationalism however has been misconceived by later leaders, and they treated Indonesia as a heritage, and, believing themselves to be the rightful inheritors, they felt it was their duty to protect it, he said. "This line of thinking is not only stupid, but also fatal."
The demands for independence from regions like Aceh and Irian Jaya only arose during the New Order regime because they felt that they had not been part of the common project called Indonesia.
To the people in Jakarta, the most important thing about the regions was the territory, and not the people, and the rebellions were simply getting in their way. "They have developed this attitude of `pity there are Acehnese in Aceh, or Irianese in Irian Jaya,'" Anderson said.
"How many times have you heard officials complaining about how ungrateful the East Timorese are. These are the same words uttered by the Dutch colonial rulers some 50 years ago about Indonesians. I have had the impression that the bottom line for them was also `pity there are East Timorese in East Timor.'"
Anderson suggested that Indonesia moves towards a federal system of government in which the regions have full autonomy, pointing out that this was the most suitable system for large countries.
Brazil, the United States, India have adopted this system and Nigeria and Russia are moving towards federalism, he said. "The only other large country not under a federal system is China, but I don't think Indonesia would want to copy the Chinese system."
"Federalism is not some kind of monster. Those who opposed it argued that this was a Dutch concept of divide and conquer, but this argument cannot still hold after more than 50 years. Who is Indonesia's enemy now? I can't really see anyone."
The 1945 Constitution is not a sacred document that cannot be changed, he said. "That's nonsense. Anywhere else in the world, a constitution is always subject to change as and when needed." (emb)