Tue, Oct 03, 2017 - Page 9 News List

After 52 years, Indonesia is still fighting ghosts of communism

By Kate Lamb  /  The Guardian, BALI, Indonesia

Beware the evil communists, warn fearful hoax messages spreading on WhatsApp: Should people come to your village offering free blood tests, they are really trying to infect you with HIV.

In some circles in Indonesia it is like the Cold War never ended. Even the military is on board with a paranoid campaign against the old red peril.

Last month, the Indonesian army announced the Suharto-era propaganda film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI, or Betrayal of the Communists, would be screened across the country.

In the lead-up to Friday, the anniversary of a failed 1965 coup that was blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party, the army said the screenings were crucial to ensure people understood the “correct” version of history.

The epic 1984 propaganda film, which depicts communists as violent savages, is being played in villages, mosques and to the military.

During the Suharto era it was mandatory viewing — aired on state television every Sept. 30 until his downfall in 1998.

As part of this latest offensive, the military has also issued an internal memo to its troops to restrict screenings of Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 documentary The Look of Silence.

That film depicts a rather different version of events — one that explores the violence of the Indonesian state.

Historians say that between 1965 and 1966, Muslim youth and paramilitary groups with military backing massacred between 500,000 and 1 million suspected communists across the country.

More than half a century later, that bloody purge remains deeply sensitive. No one has ever been held to account.

It is why the military is attempting to limit Oppenheimer’s film, and why the ghosts of communism continue to be dredged up, even though the ideology has been outlawed there since 1966.

“It is this peculiar situation, in that communism has been exterminated, has been extinct in Indonesia since 1965, and yet it is a country in which communism never really died,” Oppenheimer said of the latest events. “They are stuck in evoking or conjuring the specter of communism to keep people silent and afraid.”

Back in 1965, a time when the “domino theory” on the global spread of communism loomed large, the Indonesian Communist Party was the third-largest of its kind in the world.

Last Saturday 52 years ago, a group calling themselves the 30th September Movement kidnapped and murdered six Indonesian generals. Blamed on the communists, the event led to the rise of Indonesia’s strongman ruler Suharto and the mass bloodletting that ensued.

Each year, there are incidents that expose Indonesia’s ongoing communist phobia — the arrest, for example, of unaware tourists detained for wearing T-shirts with the hammer and sickle logo.

However, the anti-communist paranoia has surged significantly in the past month.

Behind it, say analysts, is the military jockeying for political gain in the lead up to the 2019 presidential election.

“The military always tries to paint themselves as politically neutral,” says Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at General Achmad Yani University in Bandung of the decision to run the public screenings. “But now you have the head of the military basically politicising everything.”

The public screenings this year have also coincided with attacks against purported communists.

In the past month a planned seminar about 1965 at Jakarta’s Legal Aid Institute was met with violent protests by hardliners and rent-a-thugs.

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