What do Indonesians think about marhaenism today?

Critical writings targeted by the military

In the past few months there have been raids on book stores in several Indonesian provinces, whose supposedly “left” book offerings have been confiscated by the military. The last of these raids to date occurred in the past two weeks in Padang (Western Sumatra), Tarakan (Kalimantan) and Kediri (Eastern Java). Soldiers, police officers and public prosecutors confiscated several titles there. They justified this step with the fact that the spreading of communist ideology was forbidden after a decree of 1966.

The controversial decree dates from the beginning of the Suharto dictatorship. Its rule, which lasted until 1998, was based on a bloodbath - supported by Western secret services - with hundreds of thousands of victims and the complete ban on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and all organizations associated with it. Before it was broken up in 1965/66, the PKI was the third strongest in the world after the Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Indonesia's first president Sukarno, co-founder of the non-aligned movement, was not a communist, but far enough left that he had to be replaced by Suharto from a Western perspective.

General Suharto, who was also courted by Germany, was, according to his own doctrine of history, a “savior” from the “red danger”. This doctrine was planted in the minds of the Indonesian people for decades through films, books and monuments. The acts of Suharto's henchmen: mass murder, torture, rape, exile in labor camps and the continued stigmatization of the victims and their families were not mentioned or presented as just punishment for those who threatened Indonesia. In an ongoing dehumanization campaign, the victims were turned into perpetrators.

The state did not deal with the violence of 1965 under the leadership of the military. More freedom of the media after the end of the Suharto dictatorship and the diligent efforts of civil society actors, however, have resulted in numerous publications, films, music and theater plays in which the victim is remembered and in which attempts are made to offer alternative versions of history. Progressive book publishers were founded that translate foreign books critical of rule and offer a platform for Indonesian authors.

Among the books that have now been confiscated are the speeches of the first Indonesian President Sukarno, scientific treatises on Marxism and Sukarno's idea of ​​Indonesian socialism, which he called Marhaenism. There are also works about mass murder and the persecution of leftists in 1965. But other books critical of rule are also affected, for example about the opposition poet Wiji Thukul, who was probably disappeared by the military in 1998 and whose collected poems have just appeared in German for the first time.

In the past few years there have been repeated violent attacks on civil society organizations and the police have banned critical events branded as "communist". In the fight against the "new red danger", the "komunis gaya baru" ("the new communists"), state security forces and representatives of Islamist organizations often work hand in hand. There are hardly any legal measures against their attacks.

According to many observers in Indonesia, the raids are likely to be about intimidation with the aim of future self-censorship. Attempts of this kind do not only affect publicists.

Even critical activists are quickly stamped with the »communism« stamp in Indonesia. A year ago, for example, the environmental activist Heri Budiawan, who protested against a gold mine, was sentenced to several months' imprisonment for allegedly spreading communist teachings. The mine has influential owners. It belongs, among other things, to the multimillionaire Sandiaga Uno, who soon wants to become vice president. Parliamentary and presidential elections are due in April. Many human rights activists had high hopes for incumbent Joko Widodo. But Jokowi, as he is popularly known, does not have a strong base in his own party or in parliament. His cabinet is the expression of political compromise. In the meantime, several ex-generals with dubious human rights records are among his leadership.

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