October 1965: The shadow on Indonesia’s new democracy

Oct 11

There are parts of Jakarta that look almost lovely in the evening.  As we drive along glitzy Thamrin Boulevard to my hotel, the conversation almost inevitably drifts to events that shook this country over four decades ago. On October 5, 1965, the killings began in the immediate aftermath of a failed coup by renegade military units that the army high command tied to the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).  By the time the worst was over a few months later, some 500,000 to one million people had perished in a nationwide bloodbath that would be surpassed in the annals of infamy in Asia only by the genocide instigated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia over a decade later.  In Java, in Bali, in Sumatra, the soil was soaked with blood as suspected communists were hunted down and summarily executed, with those who survived condemned to labor in penal colonies for decades. While the attempted coup and its immediate aftermath were carried in the Philippine press, with blazing banner headlines in the Manila Times and Manila Chronicle, news from Indonesia left the front page by the time the massacres began to roll like a wave gaining momentum across the country. Recollections But for some young Filipinos at the time, the events in Indonesia were not simple news items.  Then one of the leaders of the rising nationalist movement at the University of the Philippines, Dick Malay recalls on Facebook how he and Nur Misuari, later head of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), were in Jakarta “to attend an anti-colonial conference in October 1965 that almost didn’t take place because of the Nasution-Suharto countercoup against the communists who were the main supporters of Sukarno.” The bloodbath began shortly after the Filipino delegates left Indonesia, taking the lives of many friends they met during the conference.   Malay remembers the governor of Bali hosting a reception for the delegates at which he lashed out at the Philippine government for allowing Clark Air Force Base to be the launching pad of rightist elements who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Sukarno in 1958.  At that same event, “the governor’s pretty daughter, who was a member of the national folk dance group of Indonesia, talked to us of the...

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