Apr 03, 2020 Last Updated 5:13 AM, Mar 31, 2020

Silent resistance - review

Laine Berman, Speaking through the silence: Narratives, social conventions and power in Java, New York, Oxford University Press, 1998, Hbk ISBN 019-510-8884, AU$140.

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Java is the key

Review: Damien Kingsbury, The politics of Indonesia, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1998, 286pp, Pbk ISBN 0-19-550626-X, AU$29.95.


This is an accessible text. It is one of the few books to achieve simplicity while still providing the reader with insights that can only come from years of analysis. The text explains the basic elements of Indonesian politics and political history without resorting to excessive detail. The result is a text which enables the reader to understand the motivations and precedents of Indonesian politics.

Kingsbury begins with traditional and colonial influences and carries the reader, with ever more detail, through to the present political and economic crisis. His thesis follows a common line that Indonesian politics, based in Javanese history, essentially remains unchanged by modern international or Western society. They follow their own internally determined rather than externally influenced path. The motives of Suharto, student protesters and Abri, among the many groups discussed, are understood through examples of their actions and an understanding of this thesis.

The book is structured into short chapters, which are enhanced by brief sub-sections on elements within each topic. This allows for a cover to cover reading, or admission to a specific topic such as ‘Tommy’ and the national car project, or corruption and Abri.

For the advanced reader Kingsbury has included two sections of interest: ‘Looking ahead: 1998 and beyond’ and ‘Epilogue: The fall of Suharto’. Here he dips into futurology. Political ‘openness’, for example, is ‘likely to be a short term phenomenon’ (p246). On Habibie’s presidency: his ‘elevation appears only to have been accepted by Abri as a precondition for installing its own candidate at a more opportune time’ (p244). General Wiranto is included in the list of potential future dictators (presidents)! Kingsbury’s outlook is bleak. Rather than seeing an embryonic democracy he argues that ‘any future Indonesian government will be more, rather than less, influenced by Abri’ (p249).

This is a valuable starting point for more study and provides all the references required. Kingsbury’s writing style is readable and at times entertaining. For example his account of the ecstasy and heroin-taking, BMW or Mercedes-driving children of the elite is amusing in comparison with his discussion of their mass murdering and corrupt parents.

Jonathan Ping <jping@arts.adelaide.edu.au> is a lecturer and postgraduate student in politics at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

In this issue

Never again

Frankly, as we began preparing this edition ahead of Indonesia’s first democratic elections in 44 years, I expected there to be more joy and optimism than there is in the pieces that make it up. Suharto is gone, the military is under enormous pressure to justify its existence on the political stage, press freedom is wide open, political parties and labour unions are free to organise.

There is a deal of euphoria of course, also in the articles you are about to read. Women are on the move with surging energy. The environmental movement is as vigorous as ever. And East Timor could be free within a year.

And yet there is more anxiety than euphoria. Fear that a history of fraudulent New Order elections may have permanently ruined the chances of holding a fair one. Dismay that the military will still refuse to allow the police to civilianise once more. Dread also of the demons within society itself. Even in a remote place like Sumba that has been peaceful for decades there is now conflict between neighbours. Exasperation that even the most radical pro-democracy activists, the students, are not radical enough to really demand total transformation (this last one was pointed out by the remarkable Mangunwijaya, who died aged nearly 70 as we went to press).

But of course it was naive to think that all would be rosy once Suharto was gone. You build a system on state-orchestrated violence for three decades and then it collapses. When the dust cloud clears what do you see? Certainly not a fully functional democratic system. You will see ruins, and feel a sense of anxiety.

So why burden readers in societies whose economies are humming along and whose democratic institutions actually seem to work with such gloomy reporting? For lots of reasons to do with human solidarity and just plain neighborliness, first of all.

But also because we can draw immensely valuable lessons here about the end result of authoritarianism. For years the West had little trouble thinking of Suharto’s regime as just something that suited Indonesians, who after all hold Asian values dear. Anyway, it was delivering the goods of economic growth. Now the long-term consequences of that view are becoming clear. Authoritarianism, militarism, elitism, kills. It kills individual victims, it also kills civic institutions. The lesson surely is: whatever the future holds, never again a military dictator, never again the short-cut to prosperity that Suharto offered.

Gerry van Klinken

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Climb a mountain, save a forest

Idealistic students want to take eco-travelers up remote mountains in Sulawesi.

Allyson Lankester

While working in Southeast Sulawesi I was lucky to be invited by some university students to join them on a hike to the peak of Mekongga Mountain. The students belonged to two ‘nature lover’ and adventure organisations on their campus. Yayasan Cinta Alam is for undergraduates, while Mahacala is for more senior students. Both were established in the early 1990s in Kendari, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi. They have decided they want to take eco-travelers on organised hikes of Mekongga and other adventures. This trip was to be an exploratory one. I was in it for the adventure and unpredictability of it all. The students are experienced climbers and cavers who can take you to some interesting places and educate you at the same time.

Mekongga (or Mengkoka) is at 2799m the tallest mountain in Southeast Sulawesi. It lies to the northwest of Kendari. It is also the name of the traditional owners of the region. The Mekongga people still inhabit the forests and mountains here, making a living from collecting rattan to pay debts they owe to middle businesspersons. They now also sell the scraps left behind by the logging company Hasil Bumi Indonesia (HBI), which started operations in Southeast Sulawesi in 1979. The Mekongga people have been losing their land to the logging company, and before that to Buginese and Makassar migrants from South Sulawesi, who plant cocoa, clove, banana and coconut (for copra).

My two companions were Ancu and Ardin. Ancu is a senior student with Mahacala who has hiked Mekongga several times. Ardin had never been to this area before and this was one of his first adventures with Yayasan Cinta Alam. Ardin set up camp each night, made the fire, and collected the water - like a scout being tested by his senior. They were a really good combination to hike with: Ancu little bodied, a healthy ego and talker, and Ardin tall, lanky, humble and a good listener.

Listening to the stories of their lives helped explain their different characters. Ancu was the first boy in the family. He had been able to get away with almost anything, enjoyed a lot of freedom and privilege. Ardin was the youngest boy and is now the main carer for his aging parents. He grew up with a lot of responsibility.

Students from Yayasan Cinta Alam and Mahacala say they were the first student organisation to climb the peak of Mekongga: in 1995 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Indonesian independence. It took 12 students 13 days to reach the peak using a compass, basic map and knives to make their path through the forest. This time it took three of us three days to reach the peak, helped by the logging roads that have made scars throughout a once pristine forest. Ancu hiked Mekongga in 1995 and was devastated to see the damage to the forest in such a short period. I saw photos the students took of places in 1995 that you cannot recognise now.


It took us a whole day to get from Kendari to the logging base camp via Kolaka, a little fishing port on the west coast. We traveled in public minibuses and 4WDs. The roads were bad from continual rains. As hesitant as the students were to deal with HBI staff, we arranged to get a lift in a logging truck to the middle camp that first night. The students are angry with the effect logging has had on these forests they have come to love. They are planning to work with Walhi, a major environmental justice non-government organisation, on an anti-logging campaign. Ironically, we were welcomed by the company managers with beer and karaoke. They were eager for some new interaction. They gave us a meal, a few rounds of really bad karaoke and then showed us to comfortable beds of our own.

We started early the next morning and were dropped at the bottom of an old logging road. We walked up and up along a monotonous dirt road, following fresh morning footprints of the anoa - this is a small buffalo-like animal endemic to Sulawesi - and wild pig. A beautiful rainforest valley lay on the east side, while forest sloped up steeply on the other. Now and again we would hear and see pairs of horn bills, as well as other birds. We also came across some major landslides that were a challenge to climb around.

The first night we camped in a cleared logging coupe and had a big fire from logging scraps to keep us warm in the cool higher altitude air. We had a great sunset view over the western mountain ranges.

The next day we kept climbing, past Coca-Cola lake (red tannin stained water) and past the extreme point of logging operations, into the untouched high altitude forests at about 2400m. It was so good to walk under a forest canopy and be encompassed by the cool, fern-dominated rainforest instead of a harsh open logging road. The path from previous student expeditions was quite easy to find with trees marked by small cuts. We hiked along fairy like valleys and cloudy ridges that took us up to a springy peat moss clearing, where we set up camp for two nights. It was raining when we arrived and it took much effort to start a fire. As night crept in we got colder and wetter. That night we all slept huddled close under the open tarp.

Early the next morning we walked to a point where we could view the peak of Mekongga, and look across mountains that stretched into Central Sulawesi. We then set out on a stunning day walk to the peak, through mossy rainforest declines, around boulder formations and amazing on-top-of-the-world views. The forest at this altitude has a spooky character. Brown moss draped off trees in an often clouded, rocky fern forest with lots of epiphytes. Now and again we came across trees, little herbs or orchids in flower; sometimes a little skink sunning itself or little birds being busy. I really appreciated the silence and space after months of living in urban Indonesia.

The peak came after climbing a loose rocky slope, where we saw yellow daisy and flannel everlasting flowers. We reached the top before too much cloud had set in and found a banner left by students from a South Sulawesi university. We took photos, breathed in the head-clearing mountain peak views, admired a predator bird enjoy its territory, put a record of the climb in a permanent jar the students keep there, and returned to camp.

We walked back to where the logging truck dropped us in one rainy day that led to a good blister collection and sore bodies. On our way back we were lucky to see a glimpse of an anoa as it retreated into the forest.

Our first sign of human activity was smoke from a camp of Mekongga people. They were sheltering from the rain under a blue tarp. As we got closer we could hear a guitar and singing. We stared at each other curiously for a while, said a few words and kept moving. They looked like indigenous forest dwellers, with long hair and mostly naked strong bodies. They had set up camp on this abandoned road as a base to collect the logging leftovers.

That night we stayed again at the luxurious logging karaoke camp, and the next morning caught a lift down to the coast and back to Kendari.

Afterwards, the students of Yayasan Cinta Alam and Mahacala talked with me about their futures. Some are lucky to have family with the right connections to land a job where they want. Others fear ending up tied for life to an Indonesian bureaucracy. Many are unsure - especially in the current climate. In a society that puts a lot of emphasis on marriage, these students face pressure to make money so they are acceptable to their bride’s family. One student turned down a job as an agriculture officer for a cocoa plantation company that planned to clear vast areas of rainforest: his ethics took the better of him. Student eco-tourism ventures will hopefully be one way for these students to make an ethical and enjoyable living. It is ecologically sustainable, generates income, and could help protect the forest from destructive logging practices.

To organise adventures with the students you can contact them directly: Mahacala & Yayasan Cinta Alam, Kompleks Unhalu D/1, Kendari 93121, Indonesia, tel +62-401-24991, email: Yascita@kendari.wasantara.net.id. Or contact Foko, a Dutchman with long connections in Southeast Sulawesi who recently opened an eco-travel business in Kendari called PT Pengembangan Ekowisata Indonesia (PT PEI). He works jointlywith the students on travel packages to Mekongga and elsewhere: Jalan Bunga Kamboja No. 60, Kendari 93121, Indonesia, tel/fax +62-401-327995, email: PEI@kendari.wasantara.net.id.

Ally Lankester recently completed an Overseas Service Bureau placement as marine conservation officer for Yayasan SAMA, a local community self help development organisation based in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Palm oil

Palm oil

Palm oil destroys forests and people.

Eric Wakker

Tropical timber campaigns have been highly effective in raising awareness over the loss of the world’s last primary forests. As a result, tropical timber consumption in Europe has fallen by 30-50% since the early 1990s, putting the heat on the trade and loggers.

This awareness came late. Southeast Asia has little ‘productive’ (primary) rainforest left after decades of severe overlogging. The logged-over forests should, in theory, be left to regenerate to produce secondary harvests in 20 to 50 years from now. That’s what the forestry policies say and that’s what Indonesian timber tycoon Bob Hasan said during his trips to the West to lobby for Indonesia’s forestry sector. But that is not what is happening!

Convert it

It does not take a college degree to understand the economics of opportunity costs in Indonesia’s forestry sector. Suppose you have the following options:

1. Manage a heavily logged-over forest concession in lowland Sumatra for, say, 30 years without being able to re-log it for exportable meranti-plywood as it needs to regenerate; protect it from the provincial authorities who are eager to develop the area into productive land, protect it from the Ministry of Transmigration and other players in the agricultural and pulp and paper sector; and invest heavily in forest recuperation, set aside ecologically valuable sites, negotiate do’s and don’ts with local communities, and survive on the promise of a market which will pay green premiums for any timber it can absorb from well-managed forests in 30 to 35 years time. Or:

2. Convert the logged-over site into an oil palm plantation and generate positive cash flows 7 years after planting!


What would you do?

Of course, it takes an investment to realise the oil palm plantation too: negotiate with provincial authorities, identify investors and markets, a strategy to win the support of local leaders and find people to help burn the site. But all that effort, compared to the first option, pays off. Have a close look at the first graph and you will realise how much pressure there is on the Indonesian authorities to re-allocate Permanent Forest as Conversion Forest!

The graph shows that companies have applied for approval to convert a huge amount of forest to other uses - far more land than the forest area that is legally available in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Even on a national level, there is a ‘Conversion Forest deficit’. Various cases of dubious re-allocations of ‘Permanent’ Forest into ‘Conversion’ Forest have already been recorded, especially in Kalimantan.

Indonesia already has about 2.4 million hectares of forest land converted into mature and immature oil palm plantations as of early 1998. The government plans to have yet another 3.1 million hectares converted in the coming years, particularly in Eastern Indonesia (Irian Jaya, Sulawesi) as these regions still have ‘plenty’ of undeveloped land available. It is questionable to what extent applicants for plantation development will be willing to invest in these regions, as they are far off the international Crude Palm Oil (CPO) shipping centres. However, whether by timber felling or palm oil conversion, Indonesia’s forests and its local inhabitants are now literally threatened with total destruction.

According to Oil World, the palm oil industry’s primary source of market intelligence, the rate of oil palm plantation establishment in Indonesia is likely to experience a major downfall as a result of the economic crisis. Early in the next millennium, however, conversion will return to its pre-crisis levels (see the second graph).

wekker2.jpg (36278 bytes)


The crisis in Indonesia brings about hardship for many of its peoples and its forests. At the same time, it has also created unprecedented opportunities. For example, four oil palm plantation companies belonging to the Salim Group were in the process of obtaining concessions in biodiversity-rich swamp and tidal forests in East Kalimantan in early 1998. But since the Salim Group had close contacts with the Suharto regime, all applications for land from this group have been suspended by the reformation government pending investigation over corruption and nepotism.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and its partners EPIQ and the American official development agency USAID lobbied Forests and Estates Minister Nasution to completely cancel the applications and include the swamp and tidal forests in the proposed Sebuku-Sembakung Reserve. And they succeeded! Late in August Minister Nasution decided to cancel nine oil palm concessions in East Kalimantan. He announced that the 100,000 ha. area would be classified National Park instead. It was believed that these companies’ main interest was the value of the standing timber, since the suitability of the soils for oil palm was highly questionable due to tidal flooding. Furthermore, local communities depend on the swamp and tidal forests for their livelihoods.

Early in 1998 I worked with WWF-Indonesia on their Forest Fire Project, which aimed to investigate the disastrous fires of the previous year. A spokesman from Rabo Duta Indonesia, a branch of Rabobank Netherlands, told me his bank was closely monitoring a study into allegations that PT Mahapala Gelora had deliberately burned forest in East Kalimantan. The mother company, PT PP London Sumatra, had received credits from a range of banks to expand its oil palm estates to well over 200,000 hectares (starting with its current 70,000 ha.). The Dutch bank was concerned that its debtor might be prosecuted for practising open burning during the ban on burning announced by then-President Suharto in September 1997. Although the case remains unresolved to date, PT London Sumatra will be very sensitive to external screening of its activities in the years to come.

I also received a phone call from a private investor, who wanted to know WWF’s position on the ‘oil palm issue’ and the fires. I suggested to him he should be reluctant with his investment and should consider the ecological and social components of the investment plan. What struck me at the time was that this was not an investor from ‘ecologically aware’ Europe or Australia, but a private corporate investor based in Hong Kong.

A few months later, WWF-Germany asked me to coordinate a study on the relations among Germany’s palm oil consumption, Indonesia’s oil palm plantation sub-sector, and the forest fires. When the study’s report was launched, WWF requested European palm oil processing industries to expose their CPO imports from Indonesia. Some of them did, and this activity alone was enough to alarm major players in the edible oils industry, who are already plagued by campaigns against genetic modification and overfishing.

Normally, the first step in turning forest land into an oil palm plantation is burning. This so-called controlled burning significantly contributed to the 1997-98 forest fires and haze, in addition to wildfires and arson associated with expanding oil palm plantations (see Inside Indonesia no. 53, January-March 1998). However, for various reasons, the forest fires in Indonesia are likely to attract less international attention in the years to come. While the momentum is still there, NGOs have a window of opportunity to redirect the attention, away from ‘just-more-fires’, and towards deforestation, marginalisation of local peoples’ livelihoods, and the international trade, consumption and financing of palm oil. It looks like this may be the way in which things may evolve.

Various initiatives are now developing towards a campaign:

  • In 1998, a range of Indonesian grassroots NGOs founded Sawit Watch, an NGO network which aims to monitor developments in the oil palm sub-sector;
  • On the initiative of the Dutch environmental funding lobby group Both ENDS and Greenpeace Netherlands, a number of NGOs in the Netherlands (WWF-Netherlands, Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples, Skephi Europe) and several individuals now have regular meetings to monitor developments in the oil palm sector in Indonesia and Malaysia and to identify approaches and activities.
  • Greenpeace Netherlands funded a study to assess the needs of Indonesian NGOs and to confirm whether or not these NGOs felt that campaign work in Europe would support their cause.
  • NGOs in the UK, Germany, Belgium and the USA expressed explicit interest in being informed about the oil palm issue and may be able to contribute to research and campaign efforts;
  • A project proposal is being developed to look into the involvement of Dutch financial institutions in oil palm plantation development in Indonesia. The final objective of this project is to have at least one commercial bank to review its current investments and adopt the strictest possible guidelines for funding oil palm projects;
  • WWF is planning to develop strategies and approaches to address the issue.

There are many opportunities to help Indonesian NGOs and other interested parties to promote their goals towards ecologically, socially and economically responsible forest and land use management in Indonesia. Of course, any campaign work on the expansion of Indonesia’s oil palm sub-sector will have to reach beyond the issue of who started fires where, when, how, and what zero-burning techniques are all about. And of course, a focus limited to Indonesia would do injustice to the problems associated with oil palm development elsewhere (e.g. PNG, Solomon Islands, Africa and South America). In the meantime, any ideas and proposals will be greatly appreciated, not least from Australia.

Eric Wakker is a consultant for Foundation AIDEnvironment in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Contact: wakker@aidenvironment.antenna.nl. He will also be pleased to direct enquirers to the other NGOs mentioned here.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

The price of rice

Bulog had to feed Indonesia, pacify farmers, and support Suharto’s industrialisation policy. What will happen to it now?

Jeremy P Mulholland & Ken Thomas

Bulog, the national logistics board that controls the supply of rice and other basic commodities, has as many enemies as it does friends. Some praise it for maintaining rice supplies in difficult circumstances while keeping the price down. Others (including the IMF) criticise it for monopolistic practices. Some argue that Article 33 of the Constitution obliges the state to control the supply of basic commodities. But it has been undeniably corrupt in performing its functions.

Established on 11 May 1967, Bulog forms an important part of the New Order’s economic history. Industrialisation was the Procrustean bed of all policy in that period, particularly from the early ‘80s. To promote industry, the government aimed to increase rice production while keeping prices low for consumers so they would not demand higher wages. To stimulate production, the government improved infrastructure, especially irrigation.

Initially, the agency’s primary function was to purchase basic commodities for public servants and the military. From 1970 it was required to control the price and distribution of basic staples, especially rice and flour, important to social stability. Bulog was not alone in making rice policy. The other principal actors included the National Planning Board (Bappenas), the Co-ordinating Minister for Economics, Finance and Industry (Ekuin), the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Agriculture. In the background stood the President, who had the final say.

Bulog had to stabilise the price of rice for both producers and consumers. It did this by setting a ceiling price for the benefit of consumers, and a floor price for producers. As far as consumers were concerned it was necessary to have adequate stocks available. This meant running stocks down when there was a surplus and the reverse when there was a shortage, usually by increasing imports. At the appropriate times, the agency purchased rice from the domestic or the international market.

On the production side, to encourage farmers to produce more it was essential to set a price which would act as an incentive. Bulog did this by entering the market when the price fell, withdrawing as it rose above the floor. Rice production increased beyond all expectations, threefold under the New Order. Increased production was essential to provide for the increasing numbers moving into the industrial sector as well as for an expected population increase. Bulog’s contribution through its management of the ceiling and floor prices was important. By the end of the period, the agency had warehouses scattered throughout the archipelago.

Not all farmers benefited equally from the operation of Bulog’s floor price, given the unequal distribution of land and therefore income. The use of new high-yielding seed varieties, introduced in 1967, enabled farmers to increase yields considerably and, with irrigation, to double crop. The main beneficiaries from the stimulus of Bulog's floor price and subsidies for fertilizers were the 20 percent of farmers with more than half a hectare of wet rice. The government seemed to be thinking along the lines of land reform and other measures to reduce inequalities among farmers in the late ‘70s, but eventually the discussion lapsed.

The agency's use of the government sponsored village cooperatives (Koperasi Unit Desa or KUD ) points to another element in the background to the progress of the ‘green revolution' under its auspices. These cooperatives were composed of the richer farmers, were presided over by the head of the subdistrict (the camat) and were designed to implement government policy, not to act as independent agents.

The presence of the non-commissioned officers known as babinsa in the village also served to minimise dissent with government policies. And it should not be forgotten that fear was an all-pervasive factor during the New Order, as an aftermath of the abortive coup in October 1965. Anyone who thought of opposing government polices would have thought twice about voicing discontent, and the babinsa would have been a constant reminder of the likely price of resistance.

It may well be that the open violence Indonesia is now experiencing is a late expression of anger at the way farmers were pressured to adopt the new seeds varieties, to the benefit of some but at a high social cost to most.

With the end of the New Order and the approaching elections, we may well ask what the fate of the government’s industrialisation policy will be, and along with it the policy on rice and Bulog’s role. Which interest group - rice consumers or rice producers - will now win out in rice policy?

Suharto’s friends

Since the late 1950s the ups and downs of particular business groups have generally been linked to powerful political actors. This pattern of patronage is also evident in the food sector. Bulog functioned as a ‘centre of the state’ during the New Order - comparable to the State Oil Company (Pertamina), the State Electricity Company (PLN), or Habibie’s Technology and Assessment Body (BPPT). Ever since Bulog’s operations commenced in May 1967, it has been an important ‘incubator of state tutelage’ (as Richard Robison once put it), aiming to promote private business that would help the state.

It helped accelerate the growth of the private Salim Group, owned by Suharto’s long-time friend Liem Sioe Liong, a Chinese Indonesian whose adopted name is Sudono Salim. The Salim Group’s astounding expansion and growth into many unrelated industries, from shipping to banking, all started with flour. Ever since 1969, the Salim subsidiary PT Bogasari Flour Mills has monopolised the import, milling and distribution of wheat. It became the largest domestic wheat flour producer, and one of the largest instant noodle producers and exporters in the world. It achieved this prominence because of support from Bulog. In return, the Salim group became one of the strongest private supporters of the New Order’s high economic growth.

An important part of New Order capitalism was the ‘tax free charitable foundation’, known as the yayasan. Controlled by top New Order officials, several of these bodies served as financial centres for the repayment of Salim’s ‘gratitude’ (hutang budi) to Suharto and his regime. The diversified Yayasan Harapan Kita (controlled by Suharto himself) and the Yayasan Dharma Putra Kostrad (run by the elite military unit Kostrad) received huge ‘financial contributions’ - purportedly 26% of their incomes - from Bogasari Flour Mills. The expectation of such a quid pro quo among friends was presumably the reason why Bulog helped accelerate the Salim Group’s growth in the first place and was an important element in the creation of a powerful network of conglomerates.

In turn, these yayasan (and others like them) were able to finance ‘palace circle’ ventures in a multitude of different sectors within the Indonesian economy, as well as to ‘bail out’ troubled (Suharto-linked) banks or private businesses. They helped create a tightly interrelated private sector network, with the aim of fostering well-connected private conglomerates. These conglomerates, it should be acknowledged, also contributed to real economic growth.


The toppling of Suharto, and Indonesia’s recent economic devastation, have induced a re-configuration of patronage flows. The untimely (albeit honourable) dismissal in August 1998 of Beddu Amang, the head of Bulog, was an important indication of a realignment within Bulog’s ‘politico-bureaucratic web’. Beddu had refused to permit any erosion of the Salim Group’s monopoly of the wheat and sugar industries. He was ‘posted’ to another, less powerful, position in the Finance Department.

With Suharto no longer directly involved in these matters and facing enough difficulty of his own to help the Salim Group, Bulog’s role appears to be shifting towards a more nationalistic orientation of fostering non-Chinese capitalists. Possibly with the support of Indonesia’s top economic minister, Ginanjar Kartasasmita, Bulog now seems to be supporting a shift away from the (Chinese-owned) Salim Group, towards the Bakrie Group controlled by Aburizal Bakrie. There has been speculation that a new group of powerful post-Suharto political actors, among them Ginanjar, Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Finance and Industry, who also heads the Planning Bureau (Bappenas), Rahardi Ramelan, Minister of Industry and Trade, and Adi Sasono, Cooperatives Minister, now have enough control over the levers of patronage to support the growth and expansion of the Bakrie Group into the future, mirroring the Salim Group’s past commercial ascension.

But Bulog remains embroiled in corruption revelations, which demonstrate that any internal change is not going unchallenged. There is controversy over the tendering process for certain food monopolies awarded to Singapore-based PT Bakrie Nusantara International, a financial arm of the Bakrie Group. Also, a land-swap deal involving Bulog is being investigated by the Attorney General’s office. Among the prominent witnesses are Tommy Suharto and Beddu Amang.

Bulog now has Rahardi Ramelan as interim head, and its wings have been clipped: it is said that in 1999 it will be responsible only for rice stabilisation. The question for any new government will be the balance between growth and equity in its rice policy. Bulog would have a role to play in either case. Over time it has developed a certain level of skill, and it still has the warehouse capacity throughout the county to handle large-scale rice imports. The availability of rice for the consumer, and satisfactory returns to farmers whatever the size of their holdings, will remain important government concerns for decades to come.

Jeremy Mulholland, currently researching Indonesian conglomerates, is a PhD student in International Business at the University of Melbourne <j.mulholland@pgrad.unimelb.edu.au>. Ken Thomas, a long-time observer of the political economy of Indonesia, is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia <k.thomas@latrobe.edu.au>.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Back on the beat?

For years, police were ‘little brother’ to soldiers. Will that now change? And will it bring back the friendly local cop?

Adrianus Meliala

Inside Indonesia said in a newsbrief (October-December 1998) that the Indonesian police want to be separated from the military. The National Commission on Human Rights supports separation as an important step towards improving human rights. But why did the police become part of the armed forces in the first place?

From the day they were set up in 1945, police joined the army fighting the Dutch. They willingly saw themselves as combatants and accepted the consequences of being treated as soldiers when captured. They had no other reason than the heroic intention to keep Indonesia independent, but it was contrary to the 1948 Geneva Convention, which views police as civilians. This view accords with the widely accepted concept of a police force that belongs to the community rather than to the state or any political party.

With the fighting over, the police were increasingly drawn into politics by politicians who took advantage of their relationship with the organisation. Aware of this tendency, the Temporary People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) decided in 1960 to place Polri within the armed forces. The intention was to remove both the police and the armed forces from influence by the political parties.

However, this new structure did not prevent the continuing politicisation of the armed forces. The communist party (PKI) had considerable influence within the police (as well as within the navy and the air force), whereas the army was strongly anti-communist.

This political factionalism within the armed forces exploded in the coup attempt of 30 September 1965, which the army leadership blamed on the PKI. Morale within the armed forces plummeted.

The new president, Suharto, then commanded a total integration of all wings, including the police, into a single and integrated military administration. Within half a decade Polri had lost its autonomy, its own ethos and also its special salary rank.


Youngest brother

Over the next 30 years as part of the military, the police developed a ‘youngest brother’ mentality. They often felt they were treated unfairly especially by the army, and lost their self-confidence.

The National Police Force, Polri, was in fact terribly exploited. Their role remained as political as ever - to maintain political security together with the army. The armed forces tended to back up almost anything Suharto’s government considered important for the maintenance of power. By using Polri and its police power, the military had legal approval to use extra-legal methods. For example, curbing the press, arresting critical persons and generally eradicating public protest.

The worst part of being the ‘youngest’ wing in the military was that the police were not free to uphold the law. Many well-connected people were untouchable and thus enjoyed legal immunity. Polri often became a ready scapegoat put forward by the military whenever people protested against the way the military mishandled cases, caused unnecessary violence or escalated confrontation.

Police budgets have always fallen behind those of other military wings. Lack of equipment and poor pay prevent them from doing a good job. In the eyes of the other military wings, Polri are losers. The public, meanwhile, constantly mock police incompetence.

When the possibility of the police regaining their independence from the military was first raised openly in June 1998, the police secretly welcomed it. But the suggestion did not come from the general public, who seemed largely ignorant of the implications. Instead, police independence has remained an elitist debate rather than a subject discussed in society as a whole. Generally speaking people don't care, as long as the police become less corrupt, less brutal, and more accountable to the public. Unfortunately, it is difficult for Polri to guarantee that they will fulfill all those hopes.

The problem rests in the imbalanced relationship between the State and the public. The State has been able do anything it chooses. Unless this relationship changes and a strong political commitment is brought to bear on the situation, any new structure won’t necessarily improve policing. Perhaps rather than promoting the rule of law, it would just turn old policing problems into new, more sophisticated ones.

The only factor driving separation has been the determination or otherwise at Armed Forces (Abri) headquarters to let Polri go. The wave of reform after the downfall of Suharto in May 1998 struck Abri in many ways. The public was flooded with revelations - the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists, the massacres in Aceh, Lampung, Tanjung Priok and East Timor, the continuing debate on the dual function of Abri, and lastly the issue of Polri as a part of the military.

Despite diminishing public sympathy for Abri, headquarters has hesitated to respond to Polri's idea of saying ‘goodbye’ to Abri.

Abri’s reason for retaining Polri as a part of the armed forces is rather peculiar. Despite Polri’s poor performance and image during its years in the military, the armed forces insist that ‘historically’ Polri belongs in Abri. Understandably enough, they over-emphasise certain episodes in that history, while failing to acknowledge others.

Abri’s recent plan to recruit thousands of civilians as ‘military-trained civilians’, rather than empowering the crippled police, must be seen as another signal for the public to give up thinking of a Polri separate from Abri.

However, even if it is excluded from Abri, it doesn't mean Polri's problems are over. The police themselves are not in any sense ready for this big change. More is involved than just a change in structure and the question of who will be in charge. Separation will mean turning the police back into a fully civilian force, in performance, behaviour and, above all, in their attitude.

Officers working the streets can no longer expect people to obey them, as they once did, simply because they have a military uniform, baton or firearm. They will have to depend on their personal capabilities when dealing with people. The separation could be a nightmare!

Internally, the new police force would need to solve a host of bureaucratic problems - for example, how to flatten the rank structure from 22 ranks to 6 or 7 ranks as in many other countries. Externally, there needs to be a decision whether they will fall under the Ministry of Home Affairs or have their own. Each choice has political consequences.

Finally, what about Polri’s ‘old brother’, the army? Soldiers may find it difficult to accept they are no longer able to ridicule the police. One situation we are most afraid of is when a soldier refuses to obey the police and fights back when about to be arrested for a crime.

 Adrianus Meliala is a criminologist at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta. He is presently studying at the University of Queensland.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Tragedy in Sumba

Why neighbours hacked each other to death in a remote part of Indonesia.

David Mitchell

The breakdown of government authority in Indonesia has led to so many outbreaks of violence that it seems to defy our attempts to understand it all. One of the more dramatic incidents was the outbreak of traditional warfare which engulfed the town of Waikabubak on the normally quiet and out of the way island of Sumba, on 5th November 1998.

The events in Waikabubak are notable for the absence of several of the usual suspects. There is no hint of racial or religious divisions here, and no sign of intelligence officers sponsoring one side or other. This was a case of violence between two neighbouring ethnic groups which usually get on well together. The people of Loli and Wewewa (also known as Waijewa) are connected by many links of marriage and amicably share involvement in the same churches and schools, and in trade. They do have a history of conflict over land in the border area, but the most recent outbreak of violence in 1992 was quickly settled after some house-burning without any deaths, and there had been peace between them since then.

Yet early in the morning of 5th November a raiding party of some 2000 or more men from the Wewewa district were dropped by trucks at the border of the adjacent district of Loli. These were all men who owned shoes and trousers and white shirts for going to church on Sundays. Now they had bare feet and wore traditional waist cloths and white headbands, with machetes tucked in their belts and spears in their hands. Many carried rocks for throwing, tucked into the fold of their waist cloths. Some carried bundles of dried grass, ready to be converted into firebrands with a click of the cigarette lighter. With these traditional weapons of war they crossed the border into Loli and marched along the road towards Waikabubak, the main town and centre of government of West Sumba.

The bustling town of Waikabubak lies at the foot of the hill where an ancient traditional centre is located. The traditional houses of Tarung, the Mother Village of the Loli district, cluster tightly together on the hill top for defensive purposes, and to watch over their ricefields below. Their tall thatched roofs tower above tree level, displaying an ancient dignity which contrasts with the shabby galvanised iron roofs of the modern town. The juxtaposition of the two worlds is fantastic for tourists, but creates many complexities for government and for local politics. These days the ancient and the modern are inextricably intertwined, and electric light cables can be seen disappearing into the thatch roofs. The skull tree in the central court of the village had the skulls removed back in the 1930s, but it remains a reminder of warfare. The inhabitants still remember the rituals for reading the omens before going out to put their lives on the line in battle.

The Wewewa raiding party had several reasons for confidence as they marched across the border. They are by far the largest ethnic group in West Sumba, with 125,000 people compared to the 20,000 people of Loli, and their man, Wewewa-born Rudolf Malo, was in office as head (regent or bupati) of the government of West Sumba.

They also had reason to feel justified in launching what they saw as a counter-attack against the people of Loli. Although the affair had started as a demonstration calling for reformasi, it had become transposed into the framework of inter-ethnic conflict. Now it was flaring out of control and moving towards a horrifying climax.



It had begun just ten days before, on 24th October, with a small demonstration by around thirty university graduates. They were protesting at the government offices about the systematic corruption of the civil service examinations that was cheating them out of the jobs they had trained for.

The demonstrations of disappointed candidates for the civil service grew in size on the 26th, 29th and 31st October, and took on an increasing level of animosity because the government was seen to be unresponsive. The action had clearly tapped a deeply felt resentment against the abuse of power by those already in office using their influence to get jobs for their relatives. Bupati Malo responded by declaring that it was not within his capacity to solve the corruption problem. Indeed, bribes paid to those in the provincial office were outside his immediate responsibility, but his declaration of powerlessness was disingenuous and not believed. When he added accusations that the demonstrators were politically suspect, this sounded like a threat to permanently exclude them from appointment. The demonstrators were not to be intimidated. Their numbers continued to grow and they now made personal attacks on the bupati and demanded his resignation.

Next came a counter-demonstration of 500 supporters and family of Bupati Malo. They were trucked into town to demand that the police and the army stand by Bupati Malo and clamp down on the demonstrators who had insulted him. The demonstrators had used the bupati’s taboo childhood name, Mete, which is indeed offensive in the local tradition. The bupati’s supporters said this had to be stopped.

The tactic of counter-demonstrations might have worked in years gone by, but in the post-Suharto era it produced a defiant reaction. The anti-corruption demonstration now erupted out of the control of the university graduates who had begun it. They had only been able to earn their degrees through the sacrifices of their relatives in the villages at home, selling their rice crops and their buffaloes to pay for their education far away in Bali or Java . Now the frustrated relatives were aroused and angry. They took over the demonstration and turned their wrath on supporters and family of Bupati Malo. They stoned the houses of anyone in town who they saw as part of the bupati’s clique. The occupants abandoned their houses in town and fled in fear back to Wewewa. Many of the empty houses were then broken into and the TV sets and other valuables carried away.

The original demonstration had not been a predominantly Loli group; they were a group united more by their shared experience of studying in Bali or Java, and by the discrimination against them. But the mob stoning and robbing the houses was drawn from the villages immediately surrounding the town. It was predominantly a Loli mob attacking the Wewewa people close to the bupati. This was the attack that had in turn enraged the Wewewa on the fateful 5th November.

The 2000-strong Wewewa raiding party did not head directly for the centre of town, though it was only 6 kilometres from the border. They first attacked the Lolinese border villages. The thatched roofs of Sumbanese houses make them highly vulnerable to fire, and fire spreads rapidly from one house to the next, so Sumbanese villages are quite indefensible once an enemy gets in close. Soon after about 5 am all 30 houses of the village of Patama We’e had been burned to the ground. Its inhabitants were fleeing for their lives across the fields. A quarter of an hour later, further along the road, the two thatched-roof villages of Tawiana and Kabu Ngaba were also ablaze and the raiding party was marching on in loose formation towards Waikabubak.

The town’s population of 15,000 spreads out along the roads to around the 3 km mark, so the raiders were soon passing between the houses of the town, mostly abandoned by their fleeing inhabitants. Small groups broke off to re-occupy the houses of Wewewa people which had been abandoned the day before, but the main group pressed on.

By 6 am they had reached the Christian senior high school, just 1 km from the centre of town. One eyewitness, watching awestruck from a hiding place across the rice fields, reported that as the leaders of the raiding party reached the school, the tail of the group was just passing the Mona Lisa Hotel 1200 metres behind. This must surely have been the biggest war party ever assembled in the history of Sumba, and they were now within reach of Kampung Tarung, whose tall, highly inflammable thatch roofs were easily visible protruding above the trees.

But 2000 men was not enough, and their progress had been too slow. The thick clouds of smoke rising from the burning border villages had sent a signal down the 20 km length of the Loli valley, an unmistakable one given the tension of the day before. There were no telephones, but the shouted message passed from village to village is still a powerful technology when the message is a simple one. The men from the upper Loli valley had time to respond. Some galloped their horses down the road, some strode on foot at a brisk pace, others commandeered trucks or hung onto the bumper bars of overloaded 4-wheel drives and Kijang vans. They stormed chaotically past the police and army posts in the centre of town and joined the men of the lower valley in defence of Tarung.

There is a small bridge on the main road which marks the western boundary of the centre of Waikabubak. A shallow creek running unobtrusively behind the Pertamina petrol station formed the last line of defence of Kampung Tarung. This creek marked the line that the Wewewa raiding party would never cross. Local villagers now speak of it in mystical terms, saying that the little creek suddenly seemed deep and wide to the attacking party.

The battle raged for most of the morning, and brought a complete and devastating defeat for the Wewewa raiders. The last of the fighting was ended by an early downpour of La Nina rain. When it cleared the people of Wewewa and Loli were confronted with a horrific scene that no-one had desired, no-one expected, and no-one would take responsibility for.

The official death toll is based on the 26 bodies that were escorted back to Wewewa. Other deaths may have been kept secret by their families. These were not the neat and quick deaths produced by bullet wounds. All had been chopped to death with machetes, or sometimes speared. Six had limbs or the head hacked off. Most were men, but one Wewewa woman died of machete wounds outside her home. One boy was killed as well, speared while trying to hide under a bed with adult men.



Even to try to analyse such an event can seem like an offence against decency. Yet try to understand it we must. In Waikabubak and in the provincial capital of Kupang several explanations have emerged.

The first treated it as a case of inter-ethnic conflict, ignoring the way it arose out of conflict within the political elite. This has been the official line, led by provincial governor Piet Tallo. The governor immediately flew in the police Mobile Brigade to prevent further outbreaks, and arrived himself the next day. He sidelined Bupati Malo, and presided over the peace-making process himself. But he rejected calls to sack the bupati. Although he did move to deal with the corruption in the civil service appointments, he treated this as if there were no connection with the bloodshed in Waikabubak. Fortunately Governor Tallo had some credibility here. Bribes and nepotistic appointments had been blatant throughout the province for many years. Tallo already had a record of intervening helpfully in some of the more outrageous cases that came to light while he was Deputy Governor from 1992-97.

The governor was not alone in his mediation effort. Several religious and academic figures, successful Sumbanese working in Kupang, stepped forward to support him, and the peace-making moved forward quickly. One of the measures of its success was an amnesty for a no-names-no-packdrill return of stolen good to the houses that had been robbed. Clearly, effective leadership is still possible in the reformasi era.

At first it seemed that blame for the bloodshed would not be sheeted home to the political manoeuvres of the bupati and his critics. But having been sidelined in the peacemaking process, Bupati Malo had no way of regaining his lost authority. On 21st November, 31 prominent Wewewa public figures, among them former Malo supporters, signed a letter calling for his resignation. More such calls followed. By 23rd December it was clear he would not be amongst the first-term bupatis to be given a second term.

To observers outside West Sumba it may make more sense to blame the failing political system rather than the individual. It could be said that Bupati Malo’s main fault is that he continued to act like a New Order bupati after the rules had changed. Perhaps his military background (he is an airforce colonel) gave him too inflexible a view of how he could manage political conflict in the reformasi era.

So far, details of the links between elite politics and the mobilisation of villagers have remained concealed. Even the provincial newspaper Pos Kupang, which has done a great job of documenting and explaining the events, seems to lack a tradition of investigative reporting. There remain major gaps in the story it has told. Pos Kupang put emphasis on the use of the bupati’s taboo name, and on a wild rumour that a Loli man had been murdered in Wewewa which had inflamed the situation. These details are indeed part of the story, but the emphasis on them presents the villagers as an emotion-driven irrational mob rather than as political actors who, however misguidedly, are attempting to defend their vital interests.

The villagers’ point of view has not been reported. But they do have interesting things to say. One of the most remarkable aspects of the story, the fact that all 26 deaths were on the Wewewa side, while no-one from Loli died, has not so far received any attention. Perhaps there will be sophisticated military or psychological explanations offered, but the village people have a simple explanation. The last outbreak of fighting on the border between Loli and Wewewa, in 1992, an affair much smaller than the events of 1998, had ended with a peace-making ceremony in which each side swore a classic poetic oath never again to invade the territory of the other: ‘If I break this vow, may I be struck by lightning as I cross the hills; If I betray my word, may I be struck by a snake as I cross the fields’. It was the Wewewa people who broke the vow, so the villagers say, and brought this curse down upon their heads.

This appeal to the mystical may not be a very convincing explanation these days, but to many in the villages it has a stark moral simplicity which helps to make sense of this sorry tale.

David Mitchell is a medical doctor in Melbourne. He lived in Sumba as a volunteer in 1968-75, and visits there often.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Tapol troubles

when will they end?

Tapol is short for tahanan politik, or political detainee. It refers most often to the 1.5 million alleged communist sympathisers who were detained after the coup attempt of 30 September 1965 (there are lesser numbers of tapol from later pogroms). These were the survivors - between 200,000 and 500,000 were massacred. Only a handful were ever sentenced and are referred to as napol, narapidana politik or political criminals. About 10,000 tapol and napol were shipped to Buru Island after 1969 and not released until 1979, when international pressure grew too strong. Even those detained only briefly were stigmatised by the letters ET, ex-tapol, on their identity card. There are still 13 in gaols in Indonesia, some still with pending death sentences.

Before being freed, tapol and napol had to sign a declaration that they would not demand compensation. Despite a government order to return their possessions, in reality nobody has successfully reclaimed their books, land and homes. As late as December 1998, a Jakarta court ruled that Indonesia’s most famous tapol, novelist Pramudya Ananta Toer, could not have the house back that was taken off him by the military in 1965.

Tapol/ napol were not permitted: To work in any form of government service, nor in any state-owned corporation, strategic industry, political party, or news media. They were not permitted to become a minister in any religion, a teacher, village head, lawyer, or puppeteer (dalang); To vote or be elected; To obtain a passport and travel overseas, even for medical treatment (some allowance was made for those going to Mecca on pilgrimage); To choose where to live or to move house freely. Ignorant officials made life difficult, and all the procedures cost money; To obtain credit from the bank, even when they fulfill other requirements; To receive the pensions to which they are entitled from their former employers when they were sacked in 1965.

They are still required to report regularly and are then given paternalistic ‘guidance’ - the frequency often depending on the whim of the local official.

The government greatly feared the moral influence tapol/ napol might have on their family and even friends. For anyone to qualify for employment in the job categories mentioned in 1 above, all candidates had to establish they had a ‘clean environment’ (bersih lingkungan), ie. they were not related to a tapol/ napol. Regulation No.6 of 1976 established the screening process. All close relatives were affected, as well as anyone who may have paid for the education of the tapol/ napol. It was a system of collective punishment.

As part of ‘reformasi’, some of these regulations have been lifted - including the ‘clean environment’ rule and the ban on voting. The ET label on identity cards has been officially removed since August 1995. But the communist party remains banned. And there has still been no wholesale amnesty for the 1965 tapol/ napol.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Coming out

For 32 years they were condemned to a life of misery. Now former communist political prisoners are emerging, slowly, into the daylight.

Helene van Klinken

It’s my first day in Indonesia after five years. There’s a women’s congress in Yogyakarta, so I decide to take a look. Once among the well-dressed delegates I realise I should have worn that shirt with sleeves, instead of this sleeveless dress I’m wearing to survive the heat! But when I produce copies of Inside Indonesia - by chance with women in Islamic head-dress on the cover - everyone wants a copy: ‘A women’s magazine?’

Sitting next to me is a smart, middle aged delegate of the government-backed Indonesian Women’s Coalition (Kowani). She’s taken me under her wing. The first speaker is slight, elderly, Javanese, softly spoken. There’s trouble with the loud speaker, and everyone around me is chatting. ‘Am I hearing correctly?’, I ask my neighbour. ‘Is the speaker really an ex-political prisoner, a former communist?’ ‘I am not sure’, she replies, ‘she has not actually said so’. The speaker is calling for full rights to be restored to communists, who were stripped of them under Suharto.

Then the Dutch sociologist Saskia Wieringa is speaking. She was banned from Indonesia for her 1995 thesis on the communist women’s movement Gerwani. She tells how, early in Suharto’s New Order, Gerwani members had sexual immorality added to their other ‘sins’. Accused of complicity in the murder of six army generals that set in motion the so-called communist coup on 30 September 1965, they were said to have conducted sexual orgies and mutilated the generals’ genitals before killing them. Yet in fact, Wieringa says, the autopsy on their bodies never mentions such mutilation, and it was signed and accepted by then General Suharto. An indignant forensic doctor grabs the microphone. ‘It’s an indictable offence to lie about an autopsy’, she says resolutely. Enthusiastic applause.

I’ve read about changes in Indonesia. But this is staggering. Communists were outcastes throughout the New Order, and could never have addressed a major gathering like this. I can’t wait to ask other delegates what they think. Yes, Ibu Sulami, the opening speaker, spent twenty years in gaol for being the deputy leader of Gerwani. Yes, it’s the first time a Gerwani member has spoken openly.

But all is not sunshine at the conference. Delegates grumble that the Jakarta organisers have an ‘agenda’. Next day, amidst a chaotic display of ‘democracy’, a group walks out. Some, including Aisyiyah (the women’s movement within the Islamic group Muhammadiyah), resent what they believe is an attempt to rehabilitate communists. The final declaration of the congress on 17 December does not mention the shadow under which ex-communists still live, despite the wish of some delegates to include it.Tears

For now I’m excited about the attention given to these former political prisoners, or ex-tapol. I want to know what N, an ex-tapol friend who spent 13 years in gaol thinks about all this. I get rather vague directions to her place. After calling at two previous addresses I finally track her down amidst a relentless tropical downpour. She is not as excited as I’d hoped. Through her tears she tells how every time she moves house a report about her has to be sent around to a half dozen different officials. ‘Oh, so you’re like that ibu,’ one told her cruelly. ‘We’re all good people who live in this area, you know’. The report lists her as being ‘involved’ in the coup of 1965, so therefore she cannot be trusted. She fears this process, as she has to move again soon. She feels humiliated and abused. She fears eviction if her landlord finds out who she ‘really is’.

I decide I want to meet other ex-tapols and find out if life is any different for them since the fall of Suharto. Despite rules barring him from school for fear of ‘contaminating’ students, L has a job as a teacher. Like all the tapol I meet (except Sulami), L fears losing his job if I print his name. Tapol remain hidden within Indonesia. L’s students bring him articles about Marxism - he just listens and smiles to himself. He thinks students are a bit freer to think now, and certainly more open about discussing Marxism.

I ask L about his identity card, is the ‘ET’ mark still there - a forced declaration to the world, like the Star of David was under Hitler, that he is an ‘ex-tapol’? He shows it to me. ‘No ET’, he says. ‘But look, the card only lasts till 2000. I’m over 60 so it should say "lifelong". They still know!’ He quickly puts it away as if embarrassed to let me see it. Does L still report to the local government official regularly, as required throughout the New Order, I ask? No, not any more. But others do - he’d like to think they had the courage to refuse.

I take a bus ride through the congested Jakarta traffic to visit S in his small rented house. His neighbours trust and respect him. Some know about his background, many don’t. ‘For thirty years my parents and siblings have experienced trauma because of me’, he says. But since May 1998 his family seem less worried. He is even thinking of marrying, because there is a little less suspicion. Till now, he felt marriage would be unfair to his wife, and the stigma would pass to his children. S explains that research in one area of West Java showed a divorce rate for ex-tapol of over 50%. Often they were blamed for the trouble they brought on their families. Children, taught lies at school about 1965, came to hate their parents and grandparents. After years in gaol and almost no possibility of work, the families sometimes felt the released person was just a drain, an added burden.

My time’s running out - I just want to meet a friend of S who helps tapol and wants to record their stories. Some reveal all to this person just days before they die. For S, this is important history. The next generation must know the truth of 1965. Many tapol are now sick and old. Sometimes their families have forsaken them.

In Jakarta I ask activists what is being done for the tapol. Yes, like the organisers of the Yogya Congress, they agree that now is the time for justice, an amnesty for all communists. The events of 1965 must be investigated afresh, free from New Order ideology. I’m told that schools now no longer have to teach the New Order version blaming the 1965 debacle on communists. In fact there are seven versions - including one in which the perpetrators are Suharto and the CIA. Students and teachers can choose! But, say most activists, justice for communists is still a difficult issue. One reason I heard stated often is that the majority Muslim population cannot accept those ‘with no religion’.

At the end of my travels, I admire the organisers of the Yogyakarta Congress for highlighting the tapol issue. But I feel sad that the woman from the government-backed women’s organisation could not admit what her ears were telling her. I do hope that ‘reformasi’ will mean something for the 13 people still languishing in gaol, and the thousands of ex-tapol who continue to have their basic rights denied.

Helene van Klinken teaches Indonesian at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. She wants to start a support fund for aging female tapol. Contact her on tel 07-3371 3854, fax 07-3871 2525, email helenevk@ucaqld.com.au.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999
Page 1 of 2

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