Fifteen Years of Resistance Against the New Order Stigmatization


By: Asvi Warman Adam

Despite the 15-year-old political reform, people (considered to have been) involved in the movement of Sept. 30, 1965 and their families have struggled to remove the stigma levied by the New Order against them.

While semantically debatable, “correcting history” is the phrase preferred by the victims of the abortive coup, blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), as it points to the fact that there had been perversion or manipulation of history during the New Order.

The correction of history in the Indonesian Air Force (AURI) was smooth and swift. A retired air force officer wrote the book Menguak Kabut Halim (Demystifying the Halim Mist), after successfully requesting the government to cease the annual broadcast of the Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (G30S/PKI Treachery). It then followed that an air force marshal was appointed the chief of the armed forces — something that would never have happen when the New Order government was still in power.

For the purpose of correcting the 1965 history, a series of seminars were held and testimonies given by victimized individuals.

Following these events, an attempt to dig up a mass grave was initiated by Sulami, a key figure in the Gerwani PKI-affiliated women’s group, with strong resistance from local (Islamic) groups. In spite of all of this, the filming of documentaries, such as the one by Putu Oka Sukanta, continued.

Indonesian mass media, particularly television stations such as Metro TV and TV One, with their respective programs Metro File and Nama dan Peristiwa (Names and Events), played a significant role in making things public that were otherwise taboo in the old days, including testimonies of the 1965 movement victims and the “mysterious killings” of the 1980s.

In a number of issues Tempo magazine published special reports by left-wing leaders, including Aidit, Sjam, Njoto and Muso. In print came books such as Pembantaian di Jawa/Bali Tahun 1965/1966 (The Killings of 1965/1966 in Java/Bali) by Robert Cribb and Palu Arit di Ladang Tebu (Hammer and Sickle on Sugar Cane Fields) by Hermawan Sulistyo. There were also publications by Dede Utomo regarding the development of gay rights movements in Indonesia.

Youths from the country’s largest Muslim group Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muslim Society for People Advocacy (Syarikat) have tried to bring about reconciliations between ex-NU militia and the victims of 1965 movement.

Initiatives included translating and publishing books on the topic of the mass killings of 1965, as well as the Forum Silaturahmi Anak Bangsa (FSAB), where Amelia Yani, Ilham Aidit, Sarjono Kartosuwirjo and others, whose parents were in dispute for their different ideologies, made a pledge to “stop and cease the passing down of conflicts”.

Parts of “history” that need to be corrected are not only segments connected with 1965 but also those which concern Timor Leste. The year 2006 marked the removal of Timor Leste from Indonesia’s history-related subjects.

Books on Chinese culture and key figures have been slowly making their way to major book stores. First proposed in 2002, the idea of nominating an individual of Chinese ethnicity as a national hero became reality when John Lie was officially named one in 2009. In that year, the first Chinese in 50 years made it into the nation’s hall of fame. People are now trying to put a national hero of Arab descent, AR Baswedan, onto the list as well.

It is a fact that threat and terror are risks commonly faced by activists who fight for human rights and the correction of history. I, myself, have at several times taken the expert witness stand, at both district courts and the Constitutional Court, for history-connected cases.

The Adnan Buyung Nasution Law Firm once asked me to appear at the Bandung District Court as an expert witness in a pro bono case in the defense of the farming communities of Ujung Gede in Sumedang where a giant dam is now set to be constructed. Many years ago these farmers were evicted from their land, awarded an outrageously small compensation and those refusing to relinquish their properties were labeled members of the PKI.

I was also once asked by human rights watchdog Kontras to assist them as an expert witness as part of their effort in a lawsuit filed against the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) at the South Jakarta District Court.

A legal case involving victims of the incidents of 1965 — both living in Indonesia and abroad (in exile) —attempted to bring four Indonesian presidents to the Central Jakarta District Court in 2006. A petition group of 50 filed a civil suit against Ruhut Sitompul with the Central Jakarta District Court after he made the statement, “people who do not support the nomination of Soeharto as national hero must be descendants of PKI members”. The group insisted that they did not approve the nomination although they were not PKI-affiliated.

I testified at the same court for Nani Nurani, a dancer at the Cipanas Presidential Palace who was put in custody for several years without due process of the law, who filed a civil charge against the government.

Fifteen years have passed; the stigma of the past was speedily removed from the Indonesian Air Force but remains among the leftists. Debates on the past continue. A new phenomenon emerges: Perpetrators are giving testimonies as can be seen in the movie by Joshua Oppenheimer The Act of Killing.

One thing is certain; the freedom of the press enjoyed by Indonesians during this era of reform has had a positive impact on the historical revelation of many issues that were suppressed in the past.


Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, 4th January 2013; and in paper edition, it is available at page 6. Full text can also be searched at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 6th January 2012].

The writer is a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.



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