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Review: Coming to terms with 1965

children war lowry 1
Published: Aug 02, 2014

Can the descendants of both sides of 1965 come together to help the nation achieve reconciliation?

Bob Lowry

One objective of post-Suharto reformers has been to resolve historical injustices and prevent future conflict. The Children of War, written in Indonesian, is the story of one of many organisations devoted to that end. The FSAB (Forum for the Bonding of the Children of the Nation) was formally established in 2003 although its origins go back to 2000. It is a self-consciously elitist grouping of family and descendants of the leading protagonists in Indonesia’s various bloody conflicts stretching from the War of Independence to more recent times.

The membership includes the wife of an independence fighter killed by the Dutch in the 1940s and the offspring of those involved on both sides of the Darul Islam uprisings, the PPRI/Permesta revolts, the foiled 1965 coup d’etat, the Indonesian–Chinese conflict and other conflicts to the current time. Although all these conflicts are represented, the core challenge is to reconcile 1965 and its aftermath. The inclusion of the other conflicts is really designed to broaden the agenda, dilute the focus on 1965, and concentrate focus on the prevention of conflict within the current constitutional arrangements.

The FSAB is chaired by Suryo Susilo, former head of the PPM (Movement for the children of member of the Indonesian Armed Forces). The PPM was formed in 1980, one of numerous organisations founded to co-opt youth in support of Golkar and the New Order. Members of the FSAB include Lieutenant General (Retired) Agus Widjojo and his sister Nani Nurrachman, perhaps the most prominent military victims of the 1965 coup; Ilham and Poppy Aidit, son and niece respectively of the PKI leader D.N. Aidit; and Perry Omar Dhani, son of Sukarno’s air force chief. Others include the grandson of the Aceh rebel, Daud Beureuh; offspring of PSI members – a party banned in 1960 after the PRRI/Permesta revolt – and many others. So the book is of interest because of the familiar names and snippets about well-known members’ life experiences, professions and views in the meantime.

The FSAB is a voluntary, non-profit, non-partisan, organisation promoting community bonding. Its moment of glory was in March 2004 when a photo of some of the members appeared in the newspaper, Kompas, in the lead up to the 2004 elections. It was both a public launch of the organisation and an opportunity to promote national unity and discourage conflict at a time when Indonesia was still mired in violence around the archipelago.

Despite its laudable goals, the organisation has never been able to resolve two burning questions. The first: What does reconciliation mean and how should it be achieved? And the second: What niche role should the FSAB play in contemporary society given the plethora of organisations with similar ambitions? The fact that these questions have not been resolved in the 13 years since the organisation was conceived probably means that it is condemned to irrelevance as Agus Widjojo has warned.

For Agus the basic stumbling block is that those on the political left see themselves as the sole victims of the 1965 coup and are stuck in a time warp hovering around the coup and its aftermath of mass killings, imprisonment without due process, dispossession, and suspension of civil rights. Agus argues that the background leading up to the coup, including violence against non-communists, must be taken into account. In other words it is not a zero sum game of perpetrators versus victims. In support of this argument he claims the counterfactual of what the PKI would have done had they achieved power needs to be taken into account.

Given the historical record of communist regimes, it could be argued that the emergence of a communist government would not have been a desirable outcome for Indonesia or the region. The reality is of course that the PKI did not come anywhere near winning power. Moreover, counterfactuals cannot excuse what actually happened in the aftermath of the coup. The view that reconciliation should not be viewed as a zero sum game has some merit as long as it does not ignore proportionality. At the very least it does recognise that there were injustices that need to be addressed. This stands in stark contrast to some of Agus’ military colleagues who totally deny culpability claiming that they were nothing more than puppets of the Cold War protagonists, or that it was beyond their control, or that the ends justified the means.

The Left, of course, wants a full accounting for what happened in 1965 and thereafter as a foundation for any reconciliation that would involve confessions by and trials of surviving perpetrators and the restoration of civil rights and property for victims along with compensation for lost rights and pensions. There was some hope that this would be done under the KKR (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) which was legislated for in 2004. But it was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2006 on petition from civil rights groups who feared that the legislation was so flawed that it would become a vehicle for granting amnesty without necessarily discovering the truth or compensating the aggrieved.

Despite various parliamentary and community expressions of support for resolving past injustices, concrete results have been very slow in coming. Revised legislation for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has yet to emerge and the courts are doing all they can to delay, obfuscate and complicate the process. The reason for this tardiness is very simple. The beneficiaries of the coup are still in power despite the transition to democracy in 1998. The best example of this is that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s father-in-law, Sarwo Edhie Wibowo (deceased), was one of the masterminds of the post-coup killings and the ideological guardian of the New Order.

Moreover, unearthing the facts of what happened in 1965 and thereafter would require the rewriting of Indonesia’s ideologically constructed history. Although historians doubt that a definitive account of who conceived, planned, and executed the coup can now be constructed, there is no doubt that a commission of enquiry would reveal a much more complex and nuanced set of actors and motivations than is currently recorded in official history texts taught in Indonesian schools. This is well illustrated by Salim Said’s recent reminiscences. Historians could of course undertake this task. However, an official enquiry that had the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence and had the authority to seek cooperation from the agencies and archives of relevant countries would provide a more secure base from which reconciliation could be addressed. This would lead to new interpretations of history with revisions over time as new evidence and ways of evaluating the historical record emerged.

In relation to the second question facing the organisation, that of what role it should play in contemporary Indonesia, members of the FSAB have suggested several roles that they might fulfill. However, there is no consensus on what its focus should be or how they might obtain funding. Some suggest that they remain a small elite vanguard, or moral movement, showing how the descendants of previously warring families can bury the hatchet and commit themselves to preventing further conflict. Others suggest they should develop a conflict resolution think tank or focus on improving the socio-economic lot of the poor.

So far the organisation’s biggest contribution has been made by individuals speaking at conferences, undertaking social work on their own behalf or with others, or participating in government-funded conflict prevention programs. The latter are premised on not awakening sleeping demons while promoting the immutable ‘four pillars’ of the Pancasila, the Constitution, Unity in diversity, and the Unitary state. These are largely supporting acts for people and organisations with other agendas. As Agus Widjojo says, until they can reach some agreement within the FSAB about the path to reconciliation and how they make the transition from 1965 to the present, it is unlikely that the group has much future other than as a ‘salon’.

Despite its conservative leadership and dubious recent embrace of Tommy Suharto, the FSAB is still regarded by elements of the status quo – mainly the military and the Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, broadly defined – as having been captured by the Left. However, if the FSAB can add its weight to convincing the new parliament and president to establish a fact finding commission and leave reconciliation to a separate body, convened after the findings have been delivered, it will have played a useful role and resolved its own impasse on the way.

The book is well written but becomes a tedious read because it is, in fact, two books. The first is about the birth and evolution of the FSAB – and is perhaps a eulogy. The second is a debate about the purposes of the organisation and how it should advance its motto ‘to stop the inter-generational transmission of conflict and not create new conflicts’. Consequently, many of the principal themes are revisited time and time again with minor variations and attributed to several of the 41 founders (ten since deceased) and other prominent members of the organisation. Nevertheless, it is a curiosity worth the read.

Nina Pane, et.al., The Children of War, Kompas, Jakarta, 2013.

Bob Lowry (robertwlowry@bigpond.com) is an Adjunct Lecturer at ADFA.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014{jcomments on}

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