Memories of carnage that stop a revolution

Fear of a return to bloodshed keeps Suharto in power, writes Richard Lloyd Parry
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The Independent Online
EVEN after 33 years, Jamari the carpenter remembers the names of all the people who died, but above all he remembers Mas Karni, who was hiding in the cemetery when the mob arrived.

Apart from being an active communist, Karni was secretary of the parish council, and somebody in the East Java village of Sumurup had a grudge against him. When the young Muslim men arrived, Mas Karni's enemies told them where to look.

"They brought him here," says Jamari, pointing to a worn stone by the side of the road, "and I was an eyewitness. They beat him with sticks and then held him up and cut his throat with a machete. He was a very kind man; even if he was a communist, he never seemed like a threat to anyone."

Another man was killed on the same day, and later the mob came back and murdered two others. Over the next few weeks, five other suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were taken away by soldiers, never to be seen again.

That was 1965, but even amid Indonesia's present suffering and confusion, the killings of the village communists have never receded into Sumurup's past. "We are suffering badly from the economic crisis and people here are very angry," says Jamari. "What people want is a new president but they are afraid that if we are vocal, the army will take us away and kill us. We are afraid 1965 will happen all over again."

East Java, a green, mountainous region of rice fields, jungles and volcanoes, does not look like a troubled place. But over the years it has borne more than its share of Indonesia's suffering. The Asian currency crisis, combined with an exceptionally low rainfall, have caused the cost of rice to double, and villagers in Sumurup have been reduced to mixing their rice with cassava, traditional food of the very poor. A month ago there were riots in many towns, apparently provoked by rising prices.

Among progressive religious leaders and politicians, there is talk of a people's uprising along the lines of the popular movements which brought an end to the dictatorships of the Philippines and South Korea. But to older Indonesians like Jamari the notion of mass unrest suggests other images so fearful as to stifle immediately the rebellious impulses - the memories of 1965.

In October that year, General Suharto took his first step to power after quashing an apparent coup attempt by rival officers against the first president, Sukarno. The mutiny was blamed immediately on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and a dreadful purge ensued."The anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century," a CIA analyst wrote a few years later. The numbers of victims are estimated anywhere between 100,000 to over a million.

More than 30 years later, people fear that history could repeat itself - a notion that is subtly encouraged by the government which, has cracking down on its opponents over the last two years, on the pretext of clamping down on resurgent communists.

In 1996, riots in Jakarta were implausibly blamed on the People's Democratic Party (PRD), a small liberal democratic group of students and workers; more than a dozen of its members were tried and imprisoned for the capital crime of subversion. Three more PRD members were arrested this month, and three anti-government activists have gone missing. Earlier this year, the army even announced the discovery of a makeshift bomb-making factory run by the PRD in Jakarta. Diplomats here regard it as a crude pretext fabricated by the army.

The fear engendered by such tactics serves the government well. Even though almost no one has a good word to say about President Suharto, his ruling party, Golkar, achieves near-unanimous victories in elections. "We have no choice," says Jamari, "we are weak, so there can be no political life apart from Golkar."

Among the ruling party's leaders is man whom Jamari recognises - a Muslim preacher who is now a Golkar politician. His political career began in November 33 years ago, when he led the mob which cut the throat of Mas Karni.