Fri, Mar 01, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Film reopens old, long-buried wounds in Indonesia

The killers remain boastful of their deeds and the country has yet to face up to the horrors of the time, but a new film documenting the death squads and torture of the Suharto era hopes to change all that

By Andjarsari Paramaditha  /  Reuters, JAKARTA

Bejo Untung said the movie reflected accurately what happened to him and many others.

Caught and imprisoned in 1970, Untung survived a year of torture — beating and electrocution — in prison and then a camp of several hundred men located in central Jakarta. Three killed themselves while he was there, while others disappeared and were feared to have been killed. He spent eight years in jail without trial, including a stint of brutal farm labor.

“Ten of us were forced to stay in a room which can only fit two,” he said of his time in one prison. “We slept like layered cake, my head facing another inmate’s toes, so we could breathe while we slept.”

Most of the protein in his diet came from “anything that moved” in the fields, including frogs, rats, snakes and snails.

“My favorite was the baby rat, it’s easy to swallow it alive,” Untung said.

He learned to play guitar and piano, and made his own instruments during breaks. To learn English, he copied a dictionary word for word onto cigarette papers.

It was not until 1979 that political prisoners were released, to open the way for Indonesia to receive financial grants from the US and European nations.

Untung was a private music tutor until retiring and he now heads YPKP 65, an organization for victims of the brutality.

For nearly six years, he marched in front of the State Palace, the seat of Indonesian government, every Thursday with other human rights victims, demanding resolution.

Now he and others want Indonesian history to be revised to reflect the truth of that period.

Jakarta-based University of Indonesia historian Hilmar Farid said this was a lesson — not to allow absolute power to take hold.

“I doubt that the perpetrators will watch the movie and apologize ... Political interest plays a big part. There is a need to have mass consciousness, mass repentance if necessary,” Farid said.

Oppenheimer said his film, which cost US$1 million to make over five years, gave young Indonesians a different chapter to their nation’s history.

“From the history lessons in school, I only remember that they [the communists] killed and oppressed people, that’s it,” 23-year-old graduate student Frederika Dapamanis said after watching the movie. “I was sad and ashamed.”

There were also lessons for those older, as well.

“For Indonesians old enough to remember the genocide, the film makes it impossible to continue denying what everybody in that generation already knew. They are closer to the perpetrators than they like to believe,” Oppenheimer said.

“It’s not because they’re communist or Indonesian, but they are human beings,” he said. “The movie, that’s a hurtful truth. Indonesia has to speak out about this. The government has to apologize and the truth has to come out.”

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