Memories of a Mass Slaughter Could Prevent One in Indonesia
The 1965-66 killings make Javanese less apt to become violent despite poverty and repressive measures.
In the cemetery at the river's edge, under the floppy banana leaves and towering coconut palms, lie three reasons why a popular revolution will be a long time coming in Indonesia.Skip to next paragraph
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"Here is Sutomo," Jamari the cabinetmaker says, walking along the grassy, muddy ridges that divide the graves. "And this is Karni, and over there is Padibungkik." The names are those of three men of this village who made the mistake of being communists in the Indonesia of the 1960s. They and perhaps 500,000 other Indonesians died in late 1965 and 1966, targets of an anticommunist onslaught that the US Central Intelligence Agency calls remarkably unpublicized given its relatively high ranking in modern history's hit parade of mass murder.
But the killing spree needs no publicity in Indonesia, where those in their late 30s and older live with their memories and those younger have been told of the human cost of revolution. In a country where a staggering economic crisis has caused some people to want a change of government, many are plainly afraid to push openly for a new leader.
One hears the phrase over and over - from protesters and professors, in villages and air-conditioned offices - "it could happen again."
Mr. Jamari is a wiry man with a narrow, lined face and arched eyebrows that pop up whenever he smiles or squints his eyes in thought. Today he is wearing a neat polo shirt, buttoned at the neck, and the skirt-like cotton wrap worn by men all over Southeast Asia.
He is a carpenter and cabinetmaker, but work is slow these days. All over Indonesia, people find themselves increasingly short of money as prices for food double and triple.
Villagers like Jamari struggle to understand why Indonesia's currency has lost three-quarters of its international buying power during the past eight months, but they know for a fact they can no longer afford to eat rice, their staple food, with every meal.
Some of them blame President Suharto, who has led this country for more than 32 years. By and large he has made Indonesia less poor, better educated, and better fed than when he took over.
Lately the economy has faltered, partly because Mr. Suharto now presides over a collusive and nepotistic ruling establishment determined to enrich itself.
"What people here want is for the president to change. But people are afraid to talk about this - they are afraid 1965 will happen again. They are afraid the Army will come and take them away in the middle of the night," Jamari says.
And from this village, he is asked, were many taken away?
Jamari pauses as the names come back. He begins counting them off on his fingers, including Karni and Sutomo and Padibungkik.
He can think of nine, all men, all members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Some were killed in the village. Others were abducted and never heard from again. Back then, Jamari says, 800 people lived in Sumurup.
Karni, an official of the village government, was among the first to die. A group from a neighboring village, members of a Muslim youth group known as Ansor, came to Sumurup one night in November 1965. Karni hid, but the mob found him in a cemetery not far from the one he would soon be buried in.