No matter what the excuse, there can be no justification for banning a discussion on the calamitous events of 1965. Organized by the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (YLBHI) in Jakarta two weeks ago, the discussion was halted by police, after the venue was surrounded by a mob. A day later, another event at the YLBHI was disrupted by a similar mob who believed that the meeting was a sign of the revival of the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
Studies have shown that there were many facets to the events of 1965. The involvement of the PKI as the mastermind of the bloody coup attempt as the New Order regime stridently claimed is not the only theory. Another explanation for the incident thought to have led to the deaths of up to two million people is a conflict within the Army. Other researchers believe the most important factor was the role played by US and British intelligence agencies. Yet another study claims that the trigger was an internal conflict in the PKI.
Ongoing discussions about this dark period of history will clarify what was initially murky. In a discussion on truth and reconciliation, the truth is a precondition for reconciliation. Without clear facts, apologies or compensation will be difficult to realize.
Perhaps those who attacked the YLBHI many believe they were hired demonstrators do not understand communism and the history of 1965. They may be victims of a misguided campaign to convince them that the ghost of the PKI has arisen. But the people behind the demonstration, including several retired generals, should know that communism has become bankrupt. The Soviet Union broke apart long ago, and China is unashamedly adopting capitalism. In Indonesia, communism only left a few people who are more interested in demanding justice because they were punished without trial, rather than hoping for a revival of the banned ideology.
Therefore, it is not difficult to conclude that the attack on the YLBHI was sparked by conflict among the elite. Rumors of the revival of the PKI were spread to give the impression that the nation is in crisis because communism will rise again and replace the state Pancasila ideology’. Amid the threat of the ‘latent danger of communism’, the group most easily spurred into action are Muslims, who have a long history of opposing communism.
There is a strong impression that the revival of the communism ghost is being used to attack the authority of President Joko Widodo. At the time of the 2014 election, Jokowi was the victim of smear campaigns calling him a pro-communist presidential candidate. Despite the lack of evidence, Jokowi’s parents were accused of being PKI members. The president’s opponents apparently believed that these repeated lies would eventually be seen as the truth if repeated often enough. The final aim of these attacks is to defeat Jokowi at the 2019 election, or even to bring him down before then.
Like a boxing ring, the communism rumors are being used to divide the people into two opposing camps: the anti-PKI corner and the pro-PKI corner. Jokowi’s accusers have immediately claimed the anti-PKI corner, and are hoping that whoever is not with them will be backed into the ‘pro-PKI’ corner-including Jokowi. In other words, the president’s opponents have placed the communism rumor in the frame of electoral politics.
Not wishing to be trapped by his opponents’ tactics, Jokowi’s administration did not immediately condemn the attack on the YLBHI discussion. The police arrested several people who mobilized the riot on the ground, but the people behind the attack remain at large. There is the impression that the government wants to ‘cool’ down the situation by ‘forgetting’ the incident while sending a public message that they, too, are ‘anti-PKI’. If this strategy is aimed at saving Jokowi’s electability for the 2019 vote, it means he is also using the 1965 incident as an electoral card.
At the beginning of his administration, Jokowi opened the door to discussion of the 1965 events by proposing a symposium at the Hotel Aryaduta, Jakarta. Many people appreciated this symposium because it gave many sides the opportunity to talk. This symposium recommended the government acknowledge the state violence in the wake of the 1965 tragedy while proposing the state apologize to the victims-not only those labeled as being PKI. Subsequently, a rival symposium was held which questioned the first gathering. Tensions rose when the government played safe by not following up on the Aryaduta recommendations.