She won't shut up

SURVIVING INDONESIA'S GULAGS by Carmel Buduarjo, Cassell pounds 40/poun ds 12.99
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The Independent Culture
THE WIND is blowing hard round General Suharto, the dictator of Indonesia, prosperous and well-endowed figure though he may be. Now the Cold War is over, anti-communist tyrants such as he, willing to snuff out the opposition with as much slaughter as it takes, have lost their value to the West. They have become serious embarrassments, useful only as customers for the West's faltering arms manufacturers.

The evidence is to hand everywhere. Suharto has taken the place of the late unlamented Ferdinand Marcos as the paradigm of state-induced kleptomania. British ministers such as Lynda Chalker must be regretting the day when they signed papers granting loans from British taxpayers to subsidise the building of toll roads designed to swell the already immense fortune of the Suharto family. While the British government is set on starving out asylum seekers and prosecuting the small-time Social Security scroungers at home, Lady Chalker of Wallasey has no compunction, it seems, about lavishing our money on Suharto's idle progeny in Indonesia.

In 1976 General Suharto thought he had imposed the Final Solution on the unfortunate people of East Timor which he had invaded the previous year and which now he was purporting to annex. Twenty years later the horrific but obscure case of the deaths of 200,000 people in that distant territory has become a world issue. It has cost the Indonesian government what prestige it had as the world's most populous Muslim state; it has cost the hapless foreign minister Alatas his dream of becoming Secretary- General of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the British civil servants at the Overseas Development Administration, pondering the lies they have told the public about the affair, cannot be looking forward to the National Audit Office's investigation of Ann Clwyd's report in the Commons on the illegal diversion of British funds to support the occupation of East Timor. Another Pergau scandal is just around the corner. The outlying islands of Suharto's Javanese empire are revolting, from Acheh in the west to New Guinea in the east.

In this maelstrom of deceit and massacre the author of this book has distinguished herself as a fearless beacon of truth. She has earned the undying hatred of the regime because they it cannot dismiss her as an ignorant visiting foreigner. Carmel Buduarjo, the daughter of a strongly Jewish immigrant family in London was attracted to communism, worked for the communist youth organisation in Prague in Stalinist times and there married an Indonesian. The two went to Indonesia where Carmel lived for nearly 20 years, working in Jakarta for Sukarno's foreign ministry and teaching at the university. Her last three years she spent in prison.

It was surprising it took General Suharto's forces two years from the putsch of 1965 to imprison her - but her jailers made up for it when they eventually got their hands on her. Her account of her time in prison is one of the best to have emerged in modern times. In clear, granitic prose with no frills or pretensions, this indomitable septuagenarian has captured the atmosphere of anxiety and helplessness, terror, companionship and betrayal that is common to prisoners of regimes such as Suharto's. Seldom has prison life been more realistically reported, and the straightforwardness of her prose is its strength.

For the last several years from a house in Thornton Heath in South London she has been devoting her formidable energies to the lobby which unearths and publishes the truth about the Suharto regime. And in December, in Stockholm, she was given the Right Livelihood Award, the oddly named but distinguished alternative Nobel Peace Prize.

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