Sat, 13 May 2000

Reflections for May

Time, it is said, heals all wounds.

That, perhaps, is why only two years to the day after the event, only a few Indonesians seem to remember what could easily be the most traumatic episode this country has gone through in recent history.

Odd, one might say, because in the final analysis it was the upheavals in May 1998 -- which have since become known simply as the "May Riots" of 1998 -- that have led this nation away from sinking ever deeper into authoritarianism and leading it back onto the path of democratic reform. Traumatic as they were, the riots of May 1998 thus established a major milestone for Indonesia in its struggle towards democracy.

Be that as it may -- though definite proof has so far not been obtained -- it is in all probability right to assume that for some Indonesians the silence that has since fallen around the event is welcome.

And though evidence that could clear up once and for all what actually happened has never been unearthed, neither has anyone so far managed to give a convincing argument to support the assumption that the May riots were a spontaneous outbreak of popular discontent, as some government authorities of the time would like the public to believe.

Indeed, the indications that the upheavals were organized remain strong. For example, the fact that the rampaging and burning of buildings occurred almost at the same time in several places across the city has never been convincingly explained; the testimony of those who witnessed truckloads of hooligans being unloaded at and then transported out of trouble spots has not been dispelled either.

Also, the mystery of the fatal shooting of four Trisakti University students by still-unidentified snipers on the eve of the riots has never been effectively cleared up. All these things, as far as the public is concerned, are undisputable indications that the 1998 May riots were organized, presumably by people with enough power to keep the true facts from ever being exposed.

There are, however, those who will never forget those events or allow them to be forgotten. Those are the people who were closest to the victims, their relatives, friends and colleagues, as well as others who have dedicated their lives to establishing justice and the supremacy of the law in this country for the sake of present and future generations of Indonesians.

Fortunately, there is hope that justice may be done. At present, investigations into earlier major incidents are underway.

Atrocities previously carefully concealed by members of the past administration are now being uncovered. These have so far concerned mainly the Priok and the July 1997 incidents in which scores, or perhaps hundreds, of people were killed and many others went missing.

At this point, it seems there is reason to hope that in due time -- hopefully not before too long -- the facts surrounding the traumatic events of May 1998 will be laid bare before the public.

The administration of justice, it is said, is the strongest pillar of government. That being the case, the authorities should waste no time clearing up the mysteries that still continue to haunt so many nefarious incidents of the past.

Only by coming to terms with its past can this nation start to actually embark on its avowed journey towards establishing a just and democratic society.

Hopefully the time is not too far off.