Learning about Indonesian language, history, society and culture

Category: Indonesian History

Tan Malaka – Read All About Him!

Tan Malaka BooksThe Tan Malaka publishing industry seems undeterred by a flare up in anticommunist rhetoric

It is now just over a month since this year’s anniversary of the 30th September Affair, an abortive coup attempt carried out in 1965, it seems, by a group of military officers working with the leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) via trusted intermediaries. (Precise responsibility for the event is still hotly contested, but the above summary very crudely reflects the important analysis carried out by John Roosa; the Indonesian version of his book on the Affair can be downloaded for free at his blog).

As often happens around this time of year, the anniversary has seen an uptick in anti-communist rhetoric, this time compounded by political manoeuvring. It peaked with an ugly scene that saw a violent crowd gather and surround the building of the Legal Aid Foundation, where an event was being held that was supposedly about the PKI. Tear gas and a water cannon were needed to clear the protesters.

Yet whilst the anti-communist posturing has been ramped up, one can still find books relating to communism in some book stores. In particular, the image taken here is a recent photo from  a popular book shop and shows a series of books by or about the revolutionary (and at one time leader of the PKI, although he later fell out with the party) Tan Malaka.

The presence of these books points to the complex position of Tan Malaka in Indonesian history. His early break with the PKI, and his premature death in 1949 meant that he was distanced from the most controversial events that have become totemic in Indonesian political discourse about Indonesian communism’s alleged treachery: the Madiun Affair of 1948 and the September 30th Affair mentioned above. Indeed Tan Malaka was made an official National Hero in 1963.

Yet even the factors mentioned above could not free him from the taint of communism under the ferociously anti-communist New Order military regime that emerged in the wake of the 30th September Affair, and he was effectively un-made a National Hero, being removed from the National Heroes Biography Book used in schools (this point is made by Asvi Warman Adam in his essay ‘History, Nationalism and Power’ in Vedi R. Hadiz & Daniel Dhakidae)(ed.), Social Science and Power in Indonesia).

Since the fall of the New Order, the situation has become more complex. Tan Malaka now has his place on the official website of the Heroes Centre (under the auspices of the wonderfully named Directorate of Heroism, Pathbreaking, Comradeship and Social Restoration).

This is not to say that Tan Malaka’s status is uncontroversial: there has been continued debate about how he should be viewed and whether he should be a National Hero. Indeed, in 2016 an show about Tan Malaka was cancelled following pressure from the easily angered Islamic Defenders Front. Yet, as my recent book shop visit shows, Tan Malaka’s voice cannot be silenced that easily.


Coup d’État – A Practical Handbook

Reading about the political turmoil of mid twentieth century Indonesia I have been thinking about broader theoretical issues in relation to revolutions and military governments. In my reading I happened across Edward Luttwak’s Coup d’État – A Practical Handbook.

The preface makes quite a change from the average book on the military in politics:

This is a handbook… It can be compared to a cookery book in the sense that it aims at enabling any layman equipped with enthusiasm – and the right ingredients – to carry out his own coup; only a knowledge of the rules is required. Two words of caution: in the first place in order to carry out a successful coup certain pre-conditions must be present, just as in cooking bouillabaisse one needs the right sort of fish to start with. Secondly, readers should be aware that the penalty of failure is far greater than having to eat out of a tin. (The rewards, too, are greater.)


If you thought your viva was stressful, think again…

For a PhD student, the viva can elicit strong emotions.

A quick scan of online forums gives a taster, with one postgraduate student posting ‘I have my viva… and I feel physically sick’ and another that ‘I’m experiencing a really quite overwhelming fear over my PhD viva’.

However, if you are getting tense about your viva, spare a thought for Ali Sastroamijoyo. The future two time Prime Minister of Indonesia was, in the late 1920s, studying for a law degree in the Netherlands. He was also a political prisoner, having been arrested for activities related to his involvement in the Indonesia Association (Perhimpunan Indonesia). Yet this did not stop him sitting his oral examination. He describes the occasion in his memoirs, Milestones on My Journey: The Memoirs of Ali Sastroamijoyo, Indonesian Patriot and Political Leader.  The account is remarkable, bringing into stark relief the scholarly discussion of legal theory with the stark realities of colonial repression. Yet it is also remarkable for the impression that it gives, that the oral examination created an anxiety that seemed in some ways to exceed his concern about the prospect of a lengthy jail term:

On the morning of the examination I was taken to Leiden, accompanied by two members of the secret police, in a prison vehicle. When we arrived, the two guards and I went in through a back door into the basement of the university in Rapenburg, from where we went straight to the “sweating chamber”, a room near the examination room, where behind a green table the Faculty of Law professors who were concerned with “the Law of the Dutch East Indies” were already seated. All the professors who were at that time famous in Holland were there: Professor C. van Vollenhoven, Professor Hazeu, Professor Andre de la Porte, and Professor Scheltema. University examinations of this type were usually open to the interested public, who would be seated behind the candidate being examined. But in my case nobody was allowed to be present except for two secret police who were guarding me.

For approximately two hours I had to answer the questions put to me by the professors. I must explain here that from the questions and attitudes of the professors one could not even get the slightest indication that my status at that time was that of a political detainee. Their attitudes and actions were completely scholarly. This calmed me down a great deal and enabled me to concentrate completely on the examination. I forgot all about other things, I no longer felt even the watchful eyes of the two guards at my back. Without my being aware of it the examination passed quickly. I was asked to wait outside the examination room in order to give the professors an opportunity to make their decision. After a short wait, I was asked to come back in again, and the president of the faculty announced that I had passed and qualified for the degree of master of laws. I was filled with a feeling of relief, and full of sincerity I gave thanks to God. Now I would be able to concentrate more calmly on the accusations made against the four of us, and I felt as if I did not care whether I would be sentences to a number of years in prison as a result.

The Disturbing Silences in Former CIA Director John O. Brennan’s Account of Visiting Indonesia in 1974

A former senior security official’s account of a visit to Indonesia elides dark episodes in the past of Indonesia and the United States

This year’s prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture was given by former CIA Director John O. Brennan. He used the lecture to argue for (amongst other things) the benefits of international co-operation and a globally-engaged United States.

However, it is not Brennan’s broad arguments that I want to look at here, but rather a specific vignette which he used to set up his case. During the lecture he gave a a brief biographical sketch, in which he suggested a visit to Indonesia during his time at university proved a turning point in his life – one that would ultimately set him on a path to his role at the CIA. The trip brought him into contact with a range of beliefs and worldviews and was struck by ‘the tolerance evident in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population’ in a country recovering from the ‘authoritarian and bloody rule of President Sukarno’.

There are a couple of grains of truth here. Indonesia is certainly characterised by religious diversity and this is officially recognised (within certain limits) by the state. Moreover, Indonesia had taken an authoritarian turn in the latter part of Sukarno’s presidency (though in the earlier period Indonesia was a remarkable, if fragile, constitutional democracy).

Yet from Brennan’s account, one would have no idea that, less than ten years before Brennan’s visit, Indonesia had witnessed one of the great mass murders of the twentieth century, carried out under the auspices of the military regime that sidelined Sukarno, and with the support of the US government (among others). Moreover, in some areas religion played a significant role in the killings.

And this is not to mention Indonesia’s bloody invasion of East Timor that would occur the year after Brennan’s visit, with the blessing of the US and several close allies.

With this knowledge, the elisions evident in Brennan’s account (an excerpt from the speech is provided below) become quite chilling, and provide an ironic slant on the lecture’s title: ‘Staying Safe in a Dangerous World’.

‘The journey that led me to become the director of the CIA began in June 1974, when I set off on a trip that would fundamentally alter my life’s course. I had just finished my first year at college… a cousin of mine invited me to visit him in Indonesia. At the time my cousin was a diplomat at the US embassy in Jakarta, serving as the Food for Peace Officer at the US Agency for International Development. So, at the tender age of 18, I set of for Indonesia, after I pillaged my modest bank account, and bought a round-trip, but multiple-stop plane ticket to Jakarta. To help defray the cost of my trip, I convinced one of my political science professors at Fordham to grant me credit toward my degree if I wrote a paper on oil and politics in Indonesia. And most important, for two glorious months I had a brief, but oh so enlightening initial glimpse, into the wonders, the contours and the dynamics of our beautiful world. Indonesia was just emerging from the economic devastation wrought by nearly twenty years of the authoritarian and bloody rule of President Sukarno. Squalor was widespread and beyond anything I could have imagined. Splendour was a rarity, and there was almost nothing in between, and population pressures were overwhelming. But I was also struck by the tolerance evident in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. I rode motorcycles across the island of Java with an Indonesian Christian, I marvelled at the world’s largest Buddhist temple, the Borobodur, and I surfed on the beaches of the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. And it was in these latter excursions that I interacted with and talked to people with entirely different life experiences, different cultural norms, different religious beliefs and different world views. It was an intense two month seminar in just how special, how thrilling, and how diverse life is on our planet. It was in that summer of 1974 that my wanderlust and my deep fascination with the diversity, the scope and the dynamism of the world’s riches, challenges and opportunities were born.’

Talking Indonesia

Indonotes welcomes the arrival of a new podcast from the University of Melbourne

It has been said that we are entering a ‘golden age’of podcasting. On a personal level I have found myself listening to podcasts increasingly often – for example some of the best coverage of the US election has come from the elections podcast of So when I recently came across a new podcast from the University of Melbourne called “Talking Indonesia” I was delighted, and thought I would try and spread the word by posting about it.

One of the things I enjoy about podcasts is that they allow for a more discursive format, with a slightly less formal, more conversational tone. This strength is particularly evident in the episode of Talking Indonesia when Ken Setiawan discusses her experience visiting Buru Island with her father, who was earlier held there as a political prisoner during the period under the New Order when the island acted as a prison camp. Not only was this podcast full of interesting information (I had no idea, for example, that a significant number of former prisoners decided to stay on the island even after their release; or that Jokowi recently visited Buru to laud it as an agricultural centre, but did not meet with any of the former prisoners) but also conveyed a deeply personal experience, with some of the emotional resonances delicately articulated in the conversational tone of the podcast. As Ken says during the episode, ‘the personal is political’. And the podcast format seems to convey that particularly well.

Indonesian Voices on the Massacres of 1965-6


A remarkable collection of Indonesian perspectives on the 1965-6 massacres in Indonesia is now freely available in English, collected in a special edition of the Bhinneka magazine.

The editor is the equally remarkable Soe Tjen Marching, whose personal experiences are also touched on in an Al-Jazeera article.

Studying the Indonesian Massacres of 1965-6

In a post about the film The Act of Killing I noted a range materials providing some further context for the events of 1965-6. Since then I have come across some more useful materials available online, so thought I would jot them down here for future reference.

Abstracts from a NUS event re-evaluating the 1965-6 killings

Helpful summary article on the with bibliography by Katharine McGregor

And another by John Roosa and Joseph Nevins

Online edition of Tahun Yang Tak Pernah Berkakhir (In Indonesian) (The Year That Never Ends), a collection of essays based on an oral history project carried out by the Indonesian Social History Institute (ISSI). Plus a few snippets of the content in English in Inside Indonesia.

An article by John Roosa on the use of oral history in the study of the massacres

Thesis by Andrew Marc Conroe on the social process of remembering 1965 and its aftermath.

The Verdict on Prabowo Subianto – A Translation

KEP03VIII1996DKP Header


A leaked document sheds some light on a notorious human rights case, but also poses many questions and leaves much unsaid

This post looks at the controversy surrounding a leaked document dealing with the end of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s Career in the Indonesian Army, digging behind some of the headlines, and provides an English translation (the first English translation available in full to my knowledge – so an Indonotes exclusive of sorts).

The Controversy

The Jakarta Post provides a helpful summary of the controversy:

“A leaked document circulating on the Internet detailing the reasons behind the dismissal of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto from military service on Aug. 21, 1998, has cast doubts on the former general’s suitability to serve as president, if elected on July 9. The document, which was a scanned copy of the official letter signed by members of the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) Officer’s Honorary Council (DKP) tasked with hearing the cases of Prabowo’s complicity in the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998…

Signatories in the document include then Lt. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the current President; then Army chief of staff Gen. Soebagyo Hadi Siswoyo; Lt. Gen. Fachrul Razi; and Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar…

The document states Prabowo, as Kopassus commander, overstepped his authority by ordering the Mawar and Melati units to “arrest and detain” the activists of the radical People’s Democratic Party (PRD)… The document states the DKP not only dismissed Prabowo on charges of human rights violations in relation to the abductions, but also on a number of other actions that demonstrated his insubordination and disregard for the military code.”


At this point there is not much doubt as to the authenticity as it has already been verified by several of the original signatories.


It should be noted that this only scratches the surface of the culpability for the wide ranging human rights abuses that took place during the death throes of Suharto’s regime. For example, one figure who has had little mention during the recent controversy around the letter is the late Feisal Tanjung, at the time commander of the armed forces. Also General Hartono, under whose authority Prabowo seems to have claimed to act, has gained little attention. And this is all sidestepping the anti-Chinese rioting and violence in Aceh and East Timor that occurred over the last years of Suharto’s regime and early years of the post Suharto Era.

Moreover, following the leak there seems to have been little discussion of the objectivity of the signatories to the ruling, which was questioned at the time.[1] There are an interesting mix of characters including those with reasons not to rock the boat to much but also those with good reason for wanting to side-line Prabowo Subianto:

Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo: Who had previously served and Suharto’s bodyguard (Suharto being Prabowo Subianto’s father in law).[2]

Agum Gumelar: Who had experience as chief of staff for a regional command with forces fighting in Aceh[3], and who had been shunted from a long career in Kopassus following a misstep in allowing Megawati to become chairperson of the PDI.[4] A couple of years later Prabowo would take his old job as head of Kopassus.

Djamari Chaniago: Who was regarded as a ‘Wiranto Loyalist’[5] (Wiranto being one of Prabowo Subianto’s main rivals at the time) and who at the time of the ruling was in command of a large number of troops stationed in East Timor who would later be accused of serious human rights abuses.[6]

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono: Future President, at this stage seen as a ‘close associate’ of Wiranto [7], and who was Chief of Staff in the Jakarta region during the attack on the PDI headquarters in 1996.[8]


Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia


Officers’ Honour Council

Decision of the Officers’ Honour Council

Number: KEP/03/VIII/1998/DKP

The Officers’ Honour Council is formed based on the Decree of the Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces: Skep/533/P/VII/1998 dated 24 July 1998 after sitting in session on dates 10, 11 and 18 August 1998 three times. The hearings examine the case of the investigated party:

Name:  Prabowo Subianto

Age/Date of Birth: 47 Years / 17 October 1951

Rank: Lieutenant General Indonesian Army

Post: Senior Officer Indonesian Armed Forces Headquarters

Unit: Indonesian Armed Forces Headquarters

Recalling: The Decree of the Commander of Indonesian Armed Forces: SKEP/838/XI/ 1995 dated 27 November 1995 regarding the Ratification of Interim Text of Administrative Guidelines for the Officers’ Honour Council within the domain of the Indonesian Armed Forces.

Reading: The Report of the Session of the Officers’ Honour Council Number: BAS/003/VII/1998/DKP and other letters in connection with the aforementioned case.

Considering: That before the Council determines a decision, the Council has examined the investigated party and witnesses that in essence can be summarised as follows:

a. [He] intentionally acted incorrectly in the analysis of orders regarding the Army Chief of Staff’s[9]  telegram Number : STR/41/1997 dated 4 February 1997 and STR/92/1997 dated 11 March 1997 although knowing that the Army Chief of Staff as source (pembina) did not have the authority to issue this order.

b. Intentionally made the Army Chief of Staff’s order, that was known by him to have been given without proper authority, a basis for circulating the written order : Sprin/689/IX/1997 dated 23 September 1997 to the Merpati[10]  taskforce to undertake special operations in the sphere of national stability.

c. Carried out and managed operations in the sphere of national stability which was not within his authority but was under the authority of the Commander of the Armed Forces.[11]

Actions such as the aforementioned were repeatedly committed by the Senior Officer who was involved with

1. The involvement of a special taskforce in East Timor and Aceh

2. The freeing of hostages in Wamena Irja[12]

3. The involvement of Kopassus[13]  in the safety of the President in Vancouver Canada

d. Ordering members of the Mawar[14]  taskforce, the Merpati taskforce via Infantry Colonel  Chairawan (Commander Group-4)[15]  and Infantry Major Bambang Kristiono to perform the uncovering, arrest and detention of activists from radical groups and the PRD,[16] which was known not to be within his authority and as a result Andi Arief, Aan Rusdianto, Mugiyanto, Nezar Patria, Haryanto Taslam, Rahardjo Waluyojati, Faisol Reza, Pius Lustrilanang and Desmond J Mahesa became victims.

Infantry Colonel Chairawan, Infantry Major Bambang, the officers and junior soldiers who were members of the Merpati and Mawar task forces were convinced of the validity of the task because according to the Commanding General “it had been reported to the [military] Command”  and “was on the orders of [military] Command.”

e. Did not report the operation he undertook to the Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, and only reported in at the beginning of April 1998 after the insistence of the head of military intelligence.[17]

f. Did not involve staff with correct authority[18]  in staff procedures, management and oversight.

g. Did not perform the duties and responsibilities of command in the management of the actions of the Merpati and Mawar units.

h. Often went abroad without the authorisation of Army Chief of Staff or the Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces

i. The aforementioned actions points a to h affirm that

1. The actions of Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto tend toward a habit of ignoring the system of operations, hierarchy, discipline and law that prevails in the sphere of the Indonesian army.

2. Do not reflect an ethic of professionalism in the taking of decisions, the consideration of norms of law, norms that prevail in the life of the nation and state, norms that prevail in the sphere of the Indonesian Army/Indonesian Armed Forces and norms for the engagement of Kopassus itself.

3. Did not reflect commander responsibility towards duties and towards soldiers.

4. Did not reflect the officer ethic especially the elements of defending truth and justice, loyalty and obedience, humanity and upholding high the name and honour of the Indonesian Armed Forces officer corps.

5. Did not reflect concern for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of the Sumpah Prajurit[19]

6. Did not reflect concern toward  the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th of the Sapta Marga[20]

7. Committed the offences:

a) Insubordination (Article. 103  KUHPM)[21]

b) Ordered the Commander of Group-4/Sandha[22]  Kopassus[23]  and members of the Merpati and Mawar units to deprive the liberty of others (Article. 55 (1) to 2 in connection with Article 333 KUHP[24]) and kidnapping (Article 55 (1) to 2 in connection with Article 328 KUHP)

i. The above actions are not fitting with the life of a soldier and the life of an Officer of the Indonesian Army

j. The aforementioned actions damage the honour of Kopassus, The Indonesian Army, The Indonesian Armed Forces, the Nation and State.

In accordance with the above, the Examined Officer under the name Lieutenant General (Indonesian Army) Prabowo Subianto is proposed to face administrative sanctions in the form of ending of his military service.

Thus is the decision confirmed on Friday 21st August 1998 by the Council.

SECRETARY                                                                              CHAIRMAN

DJAMARI CHANIAGO                                                            SUBAGYO HADI SISWOYO

LIEUTENANT GENERAL TNI                                               GENERAL TNI






















[1] Theo Sjafei Interview, Forum 10.8.98 , Indonesia. Volume 67 (1999), 127-132

[2] Theo Sjafei Interview, Forum 10.8.98 , Indonesia. Volume 67 (1999), 127-132

[3] Geoffrey B. Robinson, Rawan Is as Rawan Does: The Origins of Disorder in New Order Aceh, Indonesia. Volume 66 (1998), p. 155.

[4] Jun Honna, Military Ideology in Response to Democratic Pressure During the Late Suharto Era: Political and Institutional Contexts, Indonesia. Volume 67 (1999), pp 94-5.

[5] Power Politics and the Indonesian Military, Damien Kingsbury, p. 180

[6] Masters of Terror: Indonesia’s Military and Violence in East Timor, edited by Richard Tanter, Desmond Ball, Van Gerry Klinken, p. 84-5

[7] The Editors, Current Data on the Indonesian Military Elite, Indonesia. Volume 67(1999), 133-162.

[8] Emerging Democracy in Indonesia, ed. ISEAS, p. 125

[9] Gen. R. Hartono (he was then replaced by Wiranto on June 6,1997)

[10] Merpati literally means Dove

[11] Feisal Tanjung

[12] Irja = Irian Jaya a.k.a. West Papua

[13] Special Forces Unit

[14] Mawar literally meaning ‘rose’

[15] A unit within Kopassus

[16] Partai Rakyat Demokratic (Democratic People’s Party), a left wing pro democracy party formed in 1996

[17] This would be Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim (who held the post Aug 1997-Jan 1999)

[18] The military jargon term ‘Organik’ is used here

[19] Soldier’s oath: the second, third and fourth parts refer to following the law, upholding soldierly discipline, following superiors’ order and fulfilling onesduties with a feeling of reponsibility toward the military and Indonesian state.

[20] Another military oath: parts 3,5, 6 and 7 include the defence of integrity, truth and justice; the upholding of discipline, obedience and soldiers’ honour; loyalty to state and nation.

[21] KUHMP = Kitab Undang-undang Hukum Pidana Militer, the military criminal code

[22] Sandha, shortening of Sandhi Yudaha, loosely translated as covert warfare

[23] Special Forces

[24] KUHP = Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Pidana, the Criminal Code


The Source Text

KEP03VIII1996DKP page 1 KEP03VIII1996DKP page 2 KEP03VIII1996DKP page 3

KEP03VIII1996DKP page 4

‘Because at this time we are trying to create a positive image’: Reactions to The Act of Killing, Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer et al

The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, follows a small group of those involved in the 1965-6 anti-Communist massacres in which perhaps 500,000-1,000,000 Indonesians were killed. The perpetrators featured in the film were associated with the nationalist paramilitary Pemuda Pancasila (Pancasila Youth), which is still in existence. In the film they boast about their crimes and hobnob with currently serving national and regional level politicians. In disturbing and surreal scenes they perform re-enactments of the atrocities in styles influences by western and Indonesian film genres.

Having seen this recently in London (the film and Director are currently on a national UK tour) I was planning to write a review. However, reading up on about the film I realised how much had already been written. Reviews and articles in the Guardian, Telegraph and Financial Times (as well as American and Australian newspapers among others) have already covered it for the non-specialist reader. For those interested in a more in depth look there is the wonderful resource of Inside Indonesia, with a couple of contrasting reviews from Jess Melvin and Robert Cribb and an interview with the director. Some wider context is provide by two pieces on how discussion of the 1965-6 pogroms is currently evolving in Indonesia, and a recent Inside Indonesia edition summarising recent research. And on the site of the International Institute for Asian Studies can be found a sophisticated treatment of the film and its context from Ariel Heryanto.

[Update 26.1.14 – I’ve come across some more interesting discussions of the film, including a review by the Cornell Academic Tom Pepinsky and in the comments on that review a link to a Quora discussion on Indonesian reactions to the film].

Whilst I was doing this reading an event caught my attention. In October 2012 a regional newspaper, Radar Bogor, published an article (the website is currently down but a cached version is available) entitled ‘The World Condemns the Pemuda Pancasila’ about the film and reactions to it. Feeling they had been unfairly represented, a week later hundreds of members of the Pemuda Pancasila descended on the offices of Radar Bogor demanding an apology. When a representative came out to negotiate he was jostled, punched and kicked. There followed reports to the police and Press Commission before an agreement was finally reached.

So, instead of a review, I thought I would do my bit to shed light on the film through a translation. Below I have translated the Radar Bogor Article which caused such a violent reaction. What I found particularly surprising is that the article actually went out of its way to include the self-justificatory and defensive comments of Pemuda Pancasila members.

The title for my blog post comes from a Pemuda Pancasila leader, and sums up the bizarre irony of resorting to violence to protest about being depicted as murderous.

The World Condemns the Pemuda Pancasila

PKI Massacres in Medan Filmed

Monday 1 October 2012

Bogor – Although the controversy over the film ‘[The] Innocence of Muslims’ in Indonesia is not yet over, there is now another film circulating with the potential to cause a commotion across the country. The film, entitled Jagal [slaughterer]or The Act of Killing has succeeded in taking the world by storm.

The aforementioned documentary film by Joshua Oppenheimer tells the story of mass killing of members and sympathisers of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and ethnic Chinese, by youths in Medan including elements of the Pemuda Pancasila [Pancasila Youth] in the year 1965.

From beginning to end the film Jagal presents the savagery of a massacre from the perspective of the perpetrators.

Film clips circulating on Youtube since two months ago (28/8/12), show the cheerfulness of the PKI’s killers dressed in orange camouflage, when carrying out killings in a village. Their faces also showed no remorse.

Provocative elements of the film are also contained in the appearance of two national figures, that is former vice president Jusuf Kalla and the Chairman of the National Pemuda Pancasila Council, Japto Soerjosoemarno.

Due to the theme taken, The Act of Killing clearly may spark controversy within the country and the international community. And the film has not just been uploaded to Youtube. Joshua has already shown this film [depicting this] inhumanity at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival in Canada. The film Jagal then received quite a high score, 8.6, on the film fan review site IMDB.

The Chairman of The Commission for ‘The Dissapeared’ and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Haris Azhar confirmed that this film will cause a stir internationally.

It is not just the theme, but the film also shows directly the immediate perpetrators from a still influential organisation. ‘This film will further show what really happened in the massacres of 1965,’ he said.

Comments of a similar tone came in the words of historian Asvi Warman Adam. He claimed The Act of Killing will further strengthen the evidence for the need for the formation of an ad hoc fundamental rights court for cases from 1965, as was recommended by the National Human Rights Commission last July.

He is certain that the film will change the view of the West in the context of the Cold War towards the events of 1965. ‘All this time western societies have claimed this (the massacres of the PKI) was evil but necessary’ said Asvi when contacted separately.

Internationally, [the crimes depicted in] this 115 minute film have been condemned by a number of groups. ‘I have not seen a film as weighty or frightening (as the Act of Killing) in the last decade,’ said Werner Herzog, a German actor, director and producer, as quoted on the site ‘The Act of Killing is shocking in the history of film’.

Errol Mark Morris, an American director, joined in condemnation [the crimes depicted in] The Act of Killing. In his opinion the film is an extraordinary portrait of the mass killings carried out by the Pemuda Pancasila.

In producing this film, Joshua was not alone. He worked on Jagal with Christine Cynn and a local director whose identity is concealed. This director claims to be a former student who joined the anti-Soeharto demonstrations in 1998.

The main figure in The Act of Killing is Anwar Congo. He is a former member of the Pemuda Pancasila and indeed admitted involvement in the massacres and [claimed] to be forced to carry out killings because he did not want to be killed.

Oppenheimer succeeded in asking Anwar and his associates to make a film about the experiences of their youth in which they much admired cowboy films, including at the moments when they exterminated PKI [followers].

Eventually, the film which was initially entitled Arsan and Aminah became a part of The Act of Killing. Ironically, up until now whilst Anwar was the main character [he] did not know that the film he was starring in was not Arsan and Aminah.

Anwar said that at the time he was prepared to appear in the film but requested that the film be shown after he had died. Anwar claims to worry following the screening of this film which tells the story of the PKI massacres direct from the perpetrators.

“Yes, [I] worry. I worry the people from that generation feel this or that,’ said Anwar to dozens of journalists from national and international organisations (Aljazeerah) in the offices of the North Sumatera Pemuda Pancasila Regional Leadership Committee, [on] Jalan Thamrin, Medan.

Anwar still held disappointment towards Joshua Oppenheimer. He said the American director never contacted him again. He judged that the film Joshua made was incomplete. “On the issue of legal steps, I will discuss with my legal advisor’, he continued.

“The film is only piecemeal. The director should have also told about the ulama and the Pemuda Pancasila members who were victims of the PKI” responded the Chairman of North Sumatera Pemuda Pancasila Regional Leadership Committee, Anuar Shah. According to Anuar Shah, [The] Act of Killing discredited the Pemuda Pancasila. He also did not want the film shown in North Sumatera. “To be honest I object if the film is unbalanced. If it is approved we will make our own film [showing] the truth,” he said.

The Chairman of the Pemuda Pancasila Branch Leadership Committee for the City of Bogor, Mohammad Benninu Argoebie, also spoke out. Whilst claiming to have closely scrutinised the controversial film, Ben still asked people to watch the film on Youtube and the cinema.

Ben said, it is better that society can think clearly and wisely when watching this film [about] the massacres. With regard to the involvement of the Pemuda Pancasila at the time of the PKI massacres, Ben confirmed this.

According to Ben, the Pemuda Pancasila had an important task in helping the Indonesian National Army (TNI) in eradicating the communist movement at that time. Despite this Ben did not have a problem if the film is shown in Bogor.

“The aims in the making in the film must also get serious attention. The government must closely watch this film. Because this film may become propaganda, stemming from the dislike of a number of groups towards the Pemuda Pancasila. Because at this time we are trying to create a positive image,’ he said.

Poetry of the Indonesian Revolution (Translation)

A Series of Poems Give a Glimpse of Semangat Revolusi Indonesia (The Spirit of Indonesian Revolution)

There are a series of Indonesian newspapers and pamphlets from the 1930s and 1940s made available on the site of NIOD, the (Dutch) Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies. One of the pamphlets is an August 1946 edition of Soeara Pesindo (Voice of Pesindo) a publication of the leftist nationalist paramilitary organisation Pesindo (Pemuda Sosialis Indonesia, Indonesian Socialist Youth). It contains, amongst other things, a series of poems. Below I translate these. They give a glimpse of the martial fervour of the Pesindo and also highlight some intriguing cultural links. The religious language of The Martyr’s Call (Panggilan Sjahid) is interesting given that Pesindo sometimes came into conflict with pious/santri Muslim groups (see, for example, p. 21 of Anderson, ‘Military Aspects of the Madiun Affair’ Indonesia, April 1976). Another of the poems is attributed to Putera  (Pusat Tenaga Rakjat, Concentration of the People’s Power), a Japanese Sponsored organisation designed to co-opt an elite of Indonesian political activists, hinting at some of the complex interplay between fascism, nationalism and socialism in Indonesian revolutionary politics.

My Weapon (Sabarjati)

It’s not a rifle I always carry
Not a sharp shining sword
Not a pistol bound to the waste
But something
Tightly enclosed in the chest

Not bullets to supply me
Not a grenade in the hand
Not a knife in the pocket
But something
Ready to annihilate the enemy

My heart brave, totally prepared
A weapon within I always bring
Always my friend in battle
With my soul it will be fused

My Weapon

The Martyr’s Call (Fauzi H.)
Trumpets resound in uproar
blown by mother’s martial heroes
Near and far young men and women
in every village, quarter and inlet
They are aligned, united in feeling
With one sole conviction-
freedom to the end of days
Or destroyed and turned to dust–

Heroes of the motherland
Beside you upholding truth–
Onward attacking the traitors
Your death upon God’s surety
A spirit beautiful and sweet
Whilst your name sparkles
Remembered down the ages—

The Martyr's Call


White hot the belly of the mountain!
Now and then an earthquake is felt
A thundering sound answers the lightning!
A tongue of fire flickers
in a cloud of black smoke
going up into the sky
like a giant’s incense!

If the mountain erupts
Splitting the earth, a terrifying flow?
If the mountain erupts?
spewing flaming rocks
burning the Phoenix, Bird of the Gods
so it transforms gloriously
in the Indonesian Fatherland?
A flood of lava may overflow
Bloody lava burning red!


Flowers of the Revolution

Ah multi-coloured flowers
Fresh flowers
Flowers of the heavens
Flowers of the sky
don’t be dispersed,
scattered, don’t drift,
Don’t you suppose
more distinct, more radiant,
more fragrant, softer,
Because oh flowers
If you’re rent asunder,
You will be picked by the scoundrel
Be made waste flowers
Because of that, oh flowers
Don’t consider the colours
Don’t regard the fragrance
All become
Flowers of the revolution
Flowers of the nation
Flowers of independence

Flowers of the Revolution