Tue, 24 Jun 2003

'We're proud to be the children of GAM rebels'

Kornelius Purba, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, korpur@yahoo.com

Ribka Tjiptaning Prolotariyati shocked many of the elite and angered Vice President Hamzah Haz in October last year when she launched her controversial book Aku Bangga Jadi Anak PKI (I'm proud to be the child of the Indonesian Communist Party).

In the book -- with a preface from former president Abdurrahman Wahid-- she wrote, "When the New Order was still very repressive, everyone felt disgusted and paranoid to be near me, and they even felt allergic, as if I were more contemptible than an HIV/AIDS carrier, but I was never afraid."

Hundreds of thousands of people were reportedly killed -- some even put the number at millions -- in the Sept. 30 aborted coup attempt. About the same number of people were jailed for their alleged membership of the Communist Party and their descendants became victims of the government's political brutality.

Most could not enter military service or work as civil servants simply because their parents, uncle, or a relative had been branded as PKI members. During Soeharto's regime, their movement was closely monitored, and they lived like pariahs.

They were placed under tightly monitored spotlights and firm screening was imposed on Indonesians for all government positions. However, until now the national tragedy remains a dark chapter. History textbooks, with alternative versions on the September 1965 incident and its aftermath to that taught under the New Order, have yet to be completed.

Abdurrahman's appeal to honestly restudy the national slaughter was responded to with rage from people who still believe communists are devils, although even in China such a belief has sharply eroded.

Ribka is very likely the only person in this country to have the courage to openly reveal not only her identity, but also openly express her pride for her father's political beliefs.

At present, the government is literally repeating the Soeharto era's pitiless screening practices and old habit of the intelligence service to spy on citizens. We have often seen on television how villagers in Aceh are required to pledge their loyalty in ceremonies to the Unitary State of Indonesia (NKRI).

Footage on one private TV channel showed how Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers interrogated youths during a house-to- house raid in an attempt to capture GAM commander Muzakir Manaf.

Civil servants in Aceh are also subject to interrogation to check their allegiance to the state, although the government later insisted that all Indonesian civil servants will also undergo the same screening. But how can the government find out what people might really be thinking? The easiest way to find traces of GAM among government officials is by tracing their extended family -- if not parents -- then brothers or sisters, uncles, aunts or even grandfathers, or perhaps illicit lovers.

The list is without limit. The results are prone to abuse, and can be used to intimidate, blackmail or even to harass anyone just because of their perceived link to GAM. For their own safety, it is common in Aceh for many officials to keep good relations with GAM, and businessmen regularly provide funds for GAM -- as well as Military or police personnel, in the name of "brotherhood".

In East Jakarta, several churchgoers proudly revealed that they were told by their priest to abide by Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso's instruction to monitor the activities of their Acehnese neighbors. They vowed to carry out the noble duty to spy on their devout Acehnese Muslim neighbors. Would Sutiyoso do the same thing, if one of his beloved children married an Acehnese?

Why we are so paranoid at our Acehnese compatriots, although only thousands of the 4.2 million Aceh population belong to GAM? Realize it or not, we have stigmatized all Acehnese, saying, in effect, that they are all GAM members or supporters. The paranoia may be linked to the words of one senior advisor to President Megawati Soekarnoputri: "Most Acehnese people would likely vote for independence if a referendum were held in the province now."

No doubt the government is obliged to protect the country's territorial integrity. The government's resolute attitude toward any possible rebellion has sent a strong warning to anyone contemplating the destabilization of the country, and clearly it has forced rebels in Papua, Maluku or anywhere else to think twice before resorting to force. The harsh attitude has also built up the government's own self-confidence. Even students who want to burn Megawati's picture must imagine the consequences -- spending nights in jail.

Hopefully, we will remember that the practice of forcing citizens to pledge their obedience in public to the state -- actually meaning the ruling government -- can only be found in authoritarian states. Who can know exactly what people really think of their government?

By harassing the Acehnese we can only expect deeper revenge. They want justice enforced, as repeatedly promised by the government. TNI generals are right in saying that the human rights of their soldiers should also be respected. Also, GAM rebels often act more brutally than TNI soldiers.

We respect TNI soldiers who are ready to sacrifice their lives in action against the enemies of NKRI. We may feel upset at the statement by GAM official T. Kamaruzzaman, who described Indonesian soldiers as going to war in Aceh, not because they loved their country so much, but because they were paid for it.

But how can Acehnese be convinced that true justice will be upheld, given the views of officials, as reflected in one of their statements: "If you talk about human rights abuses, why not just start with investigations into alleged atrocities since the time of the Prophet Adam?"

The nation is responsible for the lives of innocent people, who are mistakenly identified as GAM members or supporters. If stigmatization of the Acehnese continues, it is likely to be only a matter of time before thousands of Acehnese youths follow in the steps of Ribka and declare, "We are proud to be the children of GAM rebels."