The Southeast Asian Times

Remembering the slaughter in paradise

By John Loizou
Darwin, June 16, 2009

I was not surprised when a bomb exploded and killed 202 people – most of them Australians – on October 12, 2002.
I had not expected a Muslim suicide bomber but I had long anticipated violence.
Hindu Balinese would probably call it Karma but I think of it as just another chapter in a continuing tragedy where repression, suppressed anger and perhaps dreams of revenge have become too familiar.
It is a far cry from the Bali most visitors know.
I became aware of the sadness in paradise when I first arrived on the island as a young reporter toward the end of the 1960s.
It was less than five years after the Indonesian army had organised the slaughter of thousands of Communists and their supporters with the help – overt or tacit – of the United States, Australian and British intelligence officers, diplomats, journalists and governments.
In those first weeks, I stayed, I could not find a single “intellectual” family – school teacher, lawyer, physician, who did not have at least one member who had not been killed, imprisoned or exiled as a result of the pogrom.
Most distressing of all were the tales of the strange fruit that had suddenly appeared in the trees surrounding the houses of foreigners on the island as the result of the slaughter.
Orphaned children instinctively knew that strangers were more likely to take care of them than their own people.
But these same strangers could not, or would not, intervene against the ruthlessness of their own governments.
“Why didn’t you try to stop them?” I asked naively of my host and guide, Gusti Murti, an adventurer who had worked illegally in restaurants and market gardens across the United States and who had bravely done his best to introduce me to survivors of the slaughter.
“Because they would have killed me too,” he answered sensibly.
Later, as I became more involved in opposing the Soeharto regime’s annexation of East Timor and the support of a succession of Australian governments for the brutal occupation, I avoided visiting Bali for fear of visiting disaster on my old friends.
But I did meet with persecuted author Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Jakarta who insisted that all possible should be done to expose the role the British played in the slaughter.
“We know what the Americans and Australians did,” he said.
“But what about the British?
“They have been able to hide.”
Fortunately, Nathaniel Mehr in his work “Constructive Bloodbath' In Indonesia: The US, Britain and the Mass Killings of 1965-66” has more than started to expose the job done by British diplomats, intelligence officers and most importantly pillars of the corporate media such as the BBC and The Observer.
I am sure Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006, would have approved the effort.
Perhaps as encouraging is the audacity of the scholars who have organised the International Conference: The 1965-1966 Indonesian Killings Revisited in Singapore from Wednesday June 17 to Friday, June 19, 2009.
Keynote speaker will be Assistant Professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University, Bradley Simpson, who will deliver a paper titled Capitalists Come Back! The Political Economy of the 1965-1966 Killings.
As Professor Simpson said in an reply to The Southeast Asian Times: “I’ve written elsewhere that US and other Western officials viewed the mass killings of 1965 and 1966 as efficacious terror, an essential building block of the quasi neo-liberal policies that the West would attempt to impose on Indonesia after Sukarno’s ouster.
“They viewed the wholesale annihilation of the PKI and its civilian backers as an indispensable prerequisite to Indonesia’s reintegration into the regional political economy and international system, the ascendance of a military modernizing regime and the crippling or overthrow of Soekarno.”
But I found what Australian anthropologist Dr Mary Ida Bagus had to say about her conference paper titled "Seda Gestok": Reconstituting Human Subjects Who Were Victims of the 1965-66 Anti-communist Purges in West Bali the most satisfying,
Dr Ida Bagus, who began her research in Bali 25 years ago, explained that the Balinese phrase “Seda Gestok”'was a simple and misleading gloss for someone who ‘died (seda) as a result of the anti-communist purges (Gestok)’.
“Over the last 25 years I have heard this expression many times, usually whispered in the privacy of our family compound in Bali for fear of being overheard and accused of subversive politics,” she wrote.
But with “Reformasi” – the Indonesian word used to describe the regeneration of society that followed the resignation of former President Soeharto - the phrase had entered the public domain, appearing in conversations among strangers with alarming regularity.
“The inherent shame, danger and secrecy encapsulated in the phrase have finally been superseded with blunt discussion of murder, torture and suffering,” she said.
The correlation between Gestok and death has new meaning and its significance for families and communities is inestimable. People didn’t just ‘die’ during Gestok – they were methodically located, detained and murdered.
“I did the research for my PhD in West Bali during “Reformasi,” she said.
“I was shocked at the number of unsolicited references to Gestok that came up during interviews on other topics. There was literally an outpouring of stories by both perpetrators and victims. Gestok was very much on the agenda although it was not a specific topic of research.
“I think much of the first-hand experience will never be recorded.
“In many situations that may be appropriate because some people do not have the urge to talk about it.
“In other situations it has become part of corporate family lore and has been handed down to lower generations.
“In 2000 one interviewee I had just met spontaneously told of his near death experience and social isolation as a youthful communist, in front of his wife and children. This was the first time his children had heard their father speak on the topic and we were all devastated by his emotion and bitterness.
“I’m not sure that people have been ostracised so much as criticised, and condemned for their cruelty at the time. These people who were feared are now despised but people always cite karma as the real punishment.
“Often someone will experience misfortune or illness and the local commentary will be that they got what they deserve because of their actions during the killings.
“Sympathy is withheld. I know of one case where the widow of a particularly violent killer was left destitute by her extended family – I knew her quite well and she died of neglect.”
So it seems that Communists were not the only victims and the neo-liberals and their supporters still have much to answer for.
And for those who doubt the enormity of the crime against humanity, perhaps a Central-Intelligence- Agency summary taken from The New York Review of Books answers them best:
“In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s.
“In this regard, the Indonesian coup is certainly one of the most significant events of the twentieth century, far more significant than many other events that have received much more publicity.”
Here, I remind the reader, it was coup delivered for neo-liberal capitalism and against any possibility of a people’s democracy.

The Southeast Asian Times, June 16, 2009