An Episode That Cannot be Erased
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Jim Read Read : 1715 Date : Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 23:48:00

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    Wijaya Herlambang's book, "Cultural Violence: Its Practice and Challenge in Indonesia, "makes the argument that the New Order's legitimization of the 1965 violence via literature and film was an act no less brutal than the violence itself. This cultural violence is explained by the subtitle to the Indonesian version of the book, "Kekerasan Budaya Pasca 1965: Bagaimana Orde Baru Melegitimasi Anti-Kommunisme Melalui Sastra and Film" (how the New Order legitimized anti-communism through literature and film). While the original English book was published in 2011 and is not available here, the Indonesian translation has just been published and is now sold here.

    Based in Jakarta, Wijaya is lecturer in English literature at two Jakarta universities and a freelance editor for English-language publications, including Forbes Indonesia. His book is based on research he did for his doctoral thesis he received from the University of Queensland, Australia. The book surveys the cultural landscape prior to the 1965 coup, with the country polarized by groups on the left and right.

    In the early 1960s, says Wijaya, the U.S. was keen to stop Indonesia's leftward drift under President Sukarno. Whether activists really leaned left or right in the early 1960s may seem a somewhat arcane matter. However, the 1965 coup and its aftermath—and how these were interpreted by the New Order—are important and relevant today.

    As early as December 1965 the chief of the Armed Forces history center, Nugroho Notosusanto, created a written account in which the PKI was accused of being the sole perpetrator of the September 30/October 1 coup attempt. An updated version of this view was released in 1967 to counter research from Cornell University that the coup attempt came from an internal conflict within the Indonesian army.

    Notosusanto's work was eventually turned into a film “Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI”, released in 1984. In the film, the PKI and its supporters are melodramatically demonized as satanic ideologues who tortured and murdered six Army generals and an officer, throwing their bodies into a place known as Lubang Buaya (Crocodile Hole).  

    The film became the most widely circulated account of 1965, not only because most Indonesians had no access to other explanations, but also because it was shown annually on national television on the anniversary of the event from its initial release to 1997. This version of the 1965 coup is still taught at Indonesian schools. It has been used to justify the massacre of 1965-66, in which at least 500,000 but possibly 2 to 3 million alleged communists or sympathizers were slaughtered.