The Indonesian 1965 tragedy, during which the Communist Party of Indonesia was effectively eliminated and countless people killed, leading to the downfall of then-President Sukarno, continues to impact Indonesian dialogue about the nation. The urgency to deal with these events is ever more pressing, and has started to capture the hearts and minds of the international community too.
Second- and third-generation Indonesians are working to try to recall what happened during what is arguably the darkest chapter of Indonesian history, depending on the person telling the story. The fact that massacres also happened in Sulawesi — where the collection of essays “Sulawesi Bersaksi” (“ Sulawesi Testifies”) focuses — is not yet widely known. This most recent work to focus on the communist purges launched on Thursday evening at the Goethe-Institut Jakarta.
The book launch is a part of the center’s Culture & Conflict Week, a series of curated events including discussions, film screenings and performances focused on the events of 1965.
For the contributing authors of “Sulawesi Bersaksi” (Alamsyah AK Lamasitudju, Gagarisman, Muhammad Abbas, Nurlaela AK Lamasitudju, Nasir and Nurhasanah), they consider their work an effort to fight against forgetting the past.
Writer and historian Hilmar Farid, who attended the launch, praised the book as a new and important addition to the historical works about the 1965 incident, as “Sulawesi Bersaksi” reveals the discrimination experienced by relatives of the 1965 victims — something textbooks often ignore.
“To keep remembering, we simply need to find out what happened to our family members in 1965,” Hilmar said. “If every single Indonesian did this, we would already be halfway through finding out the truth.”
Nasir, one of the book’s contributors, said he hoped the book would enlighten the younger generation. He noted that the pattern of violence in Sulawesi during the communist massacres was quite different to the way in which the killings unfolded in Java and Bali.
Nasir said most land owners in Java, Sumatra and Bali were religious leaders — mostly from the Nahdlatul Ulama— the largest traditionalist Sunni Islam group in Indonesia. They were motivated to overturn the Communist Party and influenced their followers to support their purge campaigns, according to Nurlaela.
“In some cases, these people were the first to attack those assumed to be involved with the Communist Party,” Nurlaela said.
Meanwhile, the situation for Muslims in Sulawesi looked quite different as the number of NU followers was smaller than in other regions.
This is also one of the reasons why reconciliation was faster in Sulawesi because the people could unite against a common enemy — the military.
Hilmar also pointed out that the Communist Party had bigger bases in Sumatra, Java and Bali than Sulawesi. However, he said, without extensive research, Indonesians will never be fully able to acknowledge of overcome the tragedy.
“Sudomo [military leader, former minister] said 1 million, Sarwo Edhie [military leader, father of first lady Ani Yudhoyono] said 3 million,” Hilmar said. “The only way to determine the exact number of those killed is through thorough research.”
“Sulawesi Testifies” was published independently by Lembaga Kreatifitas Kemanusiaan (LKK) and initiated by Indonesia’s acclaimed writer Putu Oka Sukanta.
Putu was a political prisoner himself, accused of being a member of a forbidden organization, the People’s Art Guild (LEKRA) — affiliated with the Communist Party. Since Putu was released from jail, he has written numerous essays and books, and also produced many documentary films about the 1965 tragedy.
To be able to publish “Sulawesi Bersaksi,” Putu said LKK worked with non-government organizations to collect testimonials from former New Order regime political prisoners in the Sulawesi cities of Palu, Manado, Bau-Bau, Kendari and Makassar as well as the province of Wajo.
Nurlaela said she hopes this book will help the reconciliation process for families of the victims and the nation as a whole.
“You need to have the courage to admit that you too are a victim, because that way you can recognize your rights,” she said. “Even if you made it through the massacre, or even if you were not even directly involved, we are in the end all victims of the state’s lie.”
She hoped the book would spark confessions from other people who have read it.
Contributor Gagarisman, whose father was murdered during the massacre, said he hoped that with time he would be granted a formal acknowledgement and apology from the government and said he wanted his father’s corpse returned to be buried in Muslim tradition.
Rusdy Mastura, the mayor of Palu in Sulawesi — a place featured in “Sulawesi Bersaksi,”— shared the stage with the contributors at the book launch.
Instructed as a boy scout by the military to watch the prisoners during the killings, Rusdy publicly apologized to the 1965 victims last year, offering surviving family members free health care through the Jamkesda health insurance scheme and scholarships.
He has not received any negative reaction to his comments.
“I think the younger generation in our military today didn’t inherit this hatred towards communism,” he said. “But even so, the massacre is still a dark part of our history and it must be resolved.”
“Sulawesi Bersaksi” is available in Indonesian and can be bought at LKK for Rp 50,000 ($4.35).
Lembaga Kreatifitas Kemanusiaan
Tel. 021 489 1983