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Left party, historians under attack in Indonesia

Green Left Weekly - April 4, 2007

Max Lane – On March 28 and 29, a series of rightist mobilisations took place in Jakarta, including a 500-strong mobilisation aimed at disrupting a march and rally organised by the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas). The Papernas rally was protesting foreign domination of the Indonesian minerals sector and demanding its nationalisation. The right-wing thugs were armed with scythes, knives and canes. This was the fourth time in the last six months that Papernas has been targeted.

According to the Kompas daily newspaper, the following groups were involved in the attacks: Forum Betawi Rempug (FBR), Front Pembela Islam (FPI), Pelajar Islam Indonesia, the Indonesian National Patriotic Movement and the Front in Defence of the Red and White Flag. The Anti-Communist Movement (GERAK) also joined these groups in other smaller mobilisations.


The common theme in these attacks has been virulent anti-communism. The government has created an atmosphere encouraging these small rightist groups by launching its own anti-communist campaign through the attorney-general's department. This campaign has not been aimed at Papernas, but at a second group that also came under attack from rightist groups on March 28 – the numerous historians who have been writing new histories of Indonesia in the more free atmosphere after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship.

Last week, the attorney-general banned 14 history textbooks. Earlier, writers and even education ministry officials had been summonsed as part of a criminal investigation initiated by the attorney-general's department. The historians' "crime" is that they no longer label the actions of a group of military officers who detained and later killed seven generals on September 30, 1965, as part of a plot by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The military officers who led the action to arrest their seniors, whom they claimed were plotting to overthrow President Sukarno, called themselves the Thirtieth of September Movement (G30S). General Suharto, whose faction seized control of the army, started a campaign to describe the G30S as a PKI conspiracy, labelling it the G30S/PKI. The PKI was banned and more than a million of its members and supporters killed in an army-led pogrom.

The new generation of historians have written textbooks that refer to G30S and, sometimes, provide alternative explanations of what happened in 1965. That they do not continue to blame the PKI is considered a criminal act by the attorney-general's department. A 1967 resolution of the Peoples Consultative Assembly (MPR), which had been purged of all its left-wing members, banned the spreading of Marxism-Leninism. This resolution, which in effect bans communism, is still in place.

On March 28, 20 members of GERAK protested at the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, calling on it to clean itself of communists and singling out historian Asvi Warman Adam, one of the most active writers and campaigners for an end to the falsification of history, particularly the events of 1965. Other groups demonstrated at the attorney-general's department supporting the ban on the history textbooks.

Attacks on Papernas

Papernas meetings were also attacked in Surabaya and Jogjakarta last year and in East Java earlier this year. The party that initiated Papernas's formation, the People's Democratic Party (PRD), last came under this kind of attack in 2001 when it was seen to be supporting then-president Abdurrahman Wahid, who had called for an end to the ban on all ideologies including communism. In these earlier instances, the group leading the attacks was the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI), which was able to mobilise 50-100 armed men.

In most of these earlier cases, the police stood between FAKI and the Papernas events, so that no actual physical attacks took place. At the same time, the police applied pressure on Papernas to prematurely close its activities. The laws banning communism, which have not been questioned by any party in parliament, lend enormous legitimacy to these groups' activities in the eyes of the police, many of whom reflect the conservative mentality developed during the Suharto years. As a result, while Papernas has refused to be intimidated and has continued to campaign, some of its events have been affected.

As part of launching Papernas's political campaigning following its founding congress in January, the party scheduled a series of rallies including a Jakarta People's Rally to demand the nationalisation of the mining sector. Of the 137 oil and gas companies operating in Indonesia, 110 are foreign owned, with contracts giving them exploration rights over 35% of Indonesian territory, according to Papernas's analysis. The occasion for the demonstration was the parliament's discussion of new laws on investment and a UN seminar at the Shangri-La Hotel reviewing Indonesia's progress in meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

According to Papernas chairperson Agus Jabo, on the morning of March 29 around 2000 Papernas supporters, many of them members of urban poor campaign groups, headed for Jakarta in buses. They had been saving for months, donating a few cents a day so they could hire the buses. As they arrived at the second of their protest destinations, the Shangri-La Hotel, they came under a surprise attack from around 100 members of the FPI, FBR and other groups wielding knives and canes. The attackers threw stones into the crowd and smashed at least 20 bus windows. The overwhelming majority of the Papernas supporters were housewives, unarmed and many with young children. They were forced to disperse, heavy rain making the situation even more difficult. The Papernas supporters later regrouped back in their base areas, but had to cancel their planned afternoon Jakarta People's Rally at the Independence Proclamation Park, where another 300 or so FPI and FBR members and others were also waiting.

Jabo said that at least 10 people had to be taken to hospital. According to Kompas, the head police detective was also injured. Despite knowing of the threats, the police mobilised only a very small contingent to the event, which was totally ineffective in protecting the rally. The police only issued the paperwork making the rally and march legal at the very last minute, using the threats and possible violence as a reason for holding up the bureaucratic permission process.

Still moving forward

Papernas members report that the feeling among their supporters after regrouping back at their base was strong and angry. "Later in the afternoon on March 29, we held a press conference protesting the events", Jabo explained by phone. "There were other groups there who had suffered similar harassment the day before, such as the Coalition Against Foreign Investment, an NGO coalition that had protested outside the parliament." At the conference, a joint protest statement was signed by Papernas and the two main Indonesian human rights organisations, Imparsial and Kontras, as well as the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute and the pro-democracy advocacy group DEMOS. Other groups, including the Working People's Association (PRP), have also since issued solidarity statements.

"We will also be suing the FPI and FBR for the damages to the buses and to the ten people who were hospitalised, some beaten, some suffering heart problems", Jabo said.

Dita Sari, Papernas's presidential candidate, also relayed over the phone how three of the women at the rally also spoke at the press conference. "They told how these armed men demanded they confess to being paid to attend the rally. They refused, saying that they had instead donated 10,000 rupiah to pay for the buses. The gang members demanded the women confess to being communists, but they explained they were religious people and were there to support education and health for poor people. Others gave evidence of how they were beaten with bamboo canes.

"Again and again we have seen how the police cannot be relied on at all to protect our rights. I think this means that whenever Papernas organises events in the future we will need to have our own self-defence group for protection", Dita said.

At the same venue, another meeting was being held to organise resistance to the attack on the historians. Hilmar Farid, one of the most active of the historians, said they would be thinking of how to link the responses to the increasing activity of the right-wing groups. As well as their petition campaign they are trying to organise a major public forum to debate the issue of the right to interpret history.

"It seems there is a conflict sharpening between some of the old Suharto-era groups and the elite factions who are trying to consolidate their power", Jabo said. "Both, of course, want to shore up the neoliberal economic system, so they don't like our policies. But it may be that the old New Order elements, now out of power, are trying to provoke wider horizontal conflict as a way of destabilising or discrediting those now in power. The groups who attacked us are just the manipulated agents on the ground, not the real forces pushing this process along."