Sunday, December 8, 2013
- At 13, Maman bin Taman was branded a communist and sent to a prison camp where he did hard labour. When he finally got out many years later, he could not get a job because a special mark on his ID card told a prospective employer of his past.
The stigma was passed on to his children, who also had a hard time getting work as grown-ups once they were found out to be the offspring of a ‘communist’.
Aiming to correct the mistakes of the past, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid last month apologised to all victims and survivors of the massacres and unlawful detention of alleged communists which began in the mid-1960s. He said the ban on communism would be lifted.
But ex-detainees are unexcited over Wahid’s plan to lift the decree banning communism. They also say the public apology brought them no joy.
“Like many others, I’ve been in jail since I was a young boy,” says Paiman, of West Java, another victim of the crackdown. “Now I am 53 years old and I will soon die. I had lost almost all my life. How could I be excited with the lifting of the decree and the apology?”
Still, he conceded that perhaps the move would lead to a more tolerable future for his children. “At least I hope that our children would no longer be treated as sons-of-b—-. They are genuinely children of this nation.”
Wahid made an apology on March 14 in an address broadcast nationwide where he announced the lifting of the ban would. But he gave no time frame as this has to be presented to Parlament. The step, he said, was based on the principle of human rights.
“We should not impose discriminatory measures on someone just because he has his own idealogy and faith — that’s what the constitution is all about,” Wahid explained. “A man deserves to be punished for violating the law, not for his beliefs.”
Many ex-political prisoners who say they had been wrongly accused of being communists scoff that these are mere political statements. They say they would rather see brought to justice those who had made false accusations against them and against thousands of others who lost their lives as a result.
Being called a communist became a curse in Indonesia particularly after an attempted coup allegedly instigated by the Partai Komunist di Indonesia (PKI) in September 1965.
The move had been squashed quickly by a military takeover, which also resulted in the death of some 500,000 people as the Indonesian armed forces went after anyone suspected of being involved with the PKI.
Even years after, authorities were still picking up people they said were communists and throwing them in jail. Santosa, for example, was arrested in 1968 and sent to Buru Island, the same place Maman was in. Santosa was only 14 when he was arrested. By the time he was let out, he was already 24 years old.
“As a young boy, how could I know something about politics?” he points out. “How could I be aware of (what) a communist (is)?”
Santosa adds: “We may be happy if the government were to move further by dragging those who were involved in the (1965) massacre into court. We judge the government by its action, not by its statements.”
But bringing anyone to trial for the 1965 atrocities and the arbitrary arrests done during the regime of Suharto — the general who became president of Indonesia two years after the military takeover and ruled the country until 1998 — seems unlikely. As it is, there are already very vocal groups expressing outrage just over the planned lifting of the ban on communism.
The Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) — the Muslim cleric organisation — was the first body to oppose Wahid’s plan, arguing that communism promoted atheism.
House member Ahmad Sumargono, who is also chair of the Indonesian Committee for International Islamic Solidarity has since joined in the fray. “Communism is the enemy of this nation,” he says. “It is so to Muslims.”
Sumargono has threatened to oust Wahid through an agreement among Muslim parties and nationalist organisations. He fumes, “We give our support to him (Wahid) for religious reasons. He is a ‘kyai’ (Muslim cleric). Now that he gives pardon to ex-communists and provide room to communism, he betrays us.”
The military is obviously unhappy over the President’s plan as well. But as Marshal Fraito Usodo, head of the military information central bureau, notes, “The decree (banning communism) is still in place.”
Last month, though, the government scrapped an old Presidential decree requiring civil servants in all levels and politicians to be screened before assuming any new post. The procedure had been aimed at blocking anyone who could be a member of the PKI or other illegal organisations, or had links through such groups either through kin or even by association.
Political analyst Soedjati Djiwandono, meanwhile, says the plan to lift the ban and the controversy swirling around it are both ridiculous. “Communism in reality does not exist anymore,” he says. “So the decree has actually been ineffective.”
According to Djiwandono, lifting the ban would have meant something years ago. But now, he says, “the issue is not the decree, but putting on trial those involved in the ‘cleansing’. If we are to improve our human rights record, such a trial should proceed”.