Films and Stories Remember, Reexamine ’65 Killings

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“Meneropong Tragedi 1965” discussion (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The scars from the 1965 crackdown on suspected communists in Indonesia, which followed the alleged coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party, are still fresh in the minds of many Indonesians, nearly 50 years after the fact.

“The 1965 purges were preceded by conflicts within society, particularly between the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] and Islamic groups. I should know because I had relatives killed by both sides,” said Makmun, an eyewitness to the slaughter from Blitar, East Java. “The PKI were no better than late former President Suharto’s regime.

“As a longtime protester against him and his predecessor, Sukarno, I only started to feel freer during the Reformation era.”

Dissident Lukman Djaja also had his share of hardships during that time. “I was repeatedly taken into custody by the authorities and held at Cipinang Prison without charges. But I persevered, and I was acquitted and my good name rehabilitated in 1994 after 22 trials,” he said.

Makmun and Lukman shared their experiences during a discussion at the “Meneropong Tragedi 1965” (A Closer Look at 1965) event, which also featured the screening of an anthology of documentaries at Jakarta’s Bentara Budaya cultural center, marking the purge’s 48th anniversary which is coming up on Sept. 30.

The short films, among them “Menyemai Terang Dalam Kelam” (“Sowing Light Inside the Darkness”), focused on the human cost of the purges, during which between 500,000 and 3 million people were killed. Directed by filmmaker I.G.P. Wiranegara, the film is among the first to express skepticism about the Suharto government’s official line that the PKI tortured the generals prior to executing them and kicking off a botched coup attempt.

The film features testimonies from people affected by the 1965 purges like Jumilah, a woman accused of belonging to Gerakan Wanita Indonesia (Gerwani), the Indonesian Women’s Movement — an organization the government suspected of complicity in the general’s executions.

“The authorities made me assume the identity of alleged Gerwani member ‘Atikah Jamilah’ and coerced me into confessing that I took part in killing those generals,” Jumilah, who spent years in prison without charges, said in the film.

“But I was miles away in Surabaya, East Java at the time. In fact, I’ve never even been to Jakarta.”

The plight of Jumilah’s fellow survivor Tachrim was just as harrowing.

“I escaped from my hometown Blitar to Surabaya just before the death squad that killed my husband could kill me. I escaped with three of my children, one of whom was still in my womb,” she said. “I managed to survive by taking menial jobs like sewing and making plastic flowers.”

Wiranegara, whose film credits include “Pakubuwono XII” and “Sang Buddha di Borobudur” (“The Buddha in Borobudur”), said he can relate to the victims.

“As the son of a victim of the purges, I had my share of hardships, including ostracism from my own family and society. We were even put in orphanages, because the stigma of being the sons a political prisoner kept my relatives from adopting us,” Wiranegara said. “Many of the victims were young, some still in high school. More often than not, they were just people in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Wiranegara paid tribute to their willpower and determination to survive. He also urged for a reconciliation and for victims to forgive but not to forget.

On the other hand, director Yayan Wiludiharto’s documentary “Jembatan Bacem” (“Bacem Bridge”), looked at the story of a bridge between Solo and Sukoharjo, Central Java, which was the site of a mass killing of hundreds of alleged communists. “Bacem Bridge was almost an urban legend for me when I was growing up, as people spoke of the killings there in hushed tones.

I got the inspiration to make the documentary there after I suspected that my grandfather might be one of the victims of the massacre. My conviction to make the film was strengthened after I talked to some people who might have lost their loved ones there,” said Yayan, who is also an activist for those who suffered during the 1965 purges.

“It has been difficult to determine who the victims are because they were deprived of any items that could have identified them. The executioners, who were coordinated by the military, were also brought in from another locale in Central Java so there would be less chance of them knowing the victims, much less their whereabouts.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on September 25, 2013

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