Wed, 29 Mar 2000

Lifting ban on communism is belated thinking

As warnings have been raised about whether the public is ready for the lifting of the ban on communism, political analyst J. Soedjati Djiwandono questions the need for the preservation of an ineffective ruling.

JAKARTA (JP): However communism is understood, be it as an ideology, a belief system, or a political movement, it was wrong in the first place to ban it.

It was a violation of human rights. It was as wrong as imposing a religion on anyone as implicit in the existing marriage law of the country, for such an imposition is not only against religious freedom, but it is also to cultivate the seed of hypocrisy.

It is also a violation of human rights. Indeed, one can believe in something or chose not to believe in anything, as long as one does not encroach on anyone else's rights or disturb public order.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Indonesia is a signatory, provides that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either along or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observation." Thus it was equally wrong to ban the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

It must be noted that when former president Soeharto banned PKI on March 12, 1966 on the basis of the March 11 Order (Supersemar), whose existence has been questioned for some time, it was based on the allegation -- never proven beyond any reasonable doubt -- that PKI was the mastermind of the so-called Gestapu affair.

There was no mention of the communist ideology. Only later -- in July 1996 -- was the ban on the teaching of communism enacted by the ignorant Provisional Consultative Assembly (MPRS) through its Decree No. XXV.

Indeed, the fact that the term used in the decree is Marxism/Leninism (rather than Marxism-Leninism) is an indication of the Assembly's ignorance.

With hindsight, the emotional reaction on the part of the people in general to the Gestapu affair and their traumatic experience of having a number of Army generals brutally murdered by the Gestapu allegedly masterminded and staged by PKI was understandable.

For one thing, however, it was instigated by the exaggerated and excessive propaganda or at least allegations from the start by the military of the decisive role of PKI -- only to be "proven" later -- in the Gestapu affair, and the exploitation of usually excitable religious sentiments of the people, as if communism had much to do with religion at all.

Communism, after all, was not born because of the challenge of religion, but that of oppression and injustice.

For another thing, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of alleged communists and the detention and torture of many more without trial, many for years on end, were no less brutal and barbaric acts. They were the gravest debts of the New Order to humanity that have never been, and perhaps never will and can be fully repaid.

In that light, President Abdurrahman Wahid's public apology -- certainly on behalf of the nation -- to the victims of the massacre and unlawful detention of many alleged communists as well as to their surviving family members was the right gesture.

It was evidence of his consistent humanity. It was the right step toward a long and probably painful process of national reconciliation, if hatred and vengeance from generation to generation should not forever obsess the nation.

Though never explicitly stated, the banning of PKI by Soeharto was justified by the fact that PKI was behind the Gestapu affair, an allegation and yet to be proven assumption.

This in itself was a ridiculous accusation, since president Sukarno, who should have been the main target of such an attempt, was himself suspected of having been involved in the "coup d'etat" -- against himself!

A comparison with another case of armed rebellion -- however unpalatable it may be to many in the country -- may help explain the absurdity of the ban on communism.

President Sukarno had previously banned the Masyumi Party because of his allegation that the party had been involved in the DI/TII armed rebellion by fanatical Muslims demanding the establishment of an Islamic republic, which lasted longer than the Gestapu.

Yet Sukarno, while having Kartosuwiryo, leader of the rebellion, sentenced to death by a firing squad, never banned Islam as a religion.

Indeed, to prevent the emergence of communism, be it as an ideology, a belief system, or a political movement in the form of a communist party, it is not effective to ban it -- which only serves to indicate our own lack of self-confidence and a lack of confidence in our own ideology, beliefs, religions or our political system. The most effective way would be to promote social justice. The state must deliver the goods.

Thus, we can prevent the victory of the communists by pulling the rug from under their feet. The failure of communist parties to win majorities in general elections in Western European countries such as France, Italy and Great Britain are cases in point.