Sunday, February 26, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, February 26, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,
Contributor, Jakarta

Di Balik Tragedi 1965 (Behind the 1965 Tragedy)
Yayasan Pustaka Umat.
Januari 2006. 179 pp.

Sulastomo has presented his personal account of the 1965 aborted coup in his book Di Balik Tragedi 1965 (Behind the 1965 Tragedy). As a chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Association (HMI) from 1963 to 1966, Sulastomo not only observed the transition of power from Sukarno to Soeharto, but was directly involved in the power game at a time when young Indonesia was bitterly sandwiched between two competing ideologies: communism and capitalism.

The HMI survived amid intense pressure from the PKI to disband the Muslim students' organization. Sulastomo's humble personality and his sharp mind in assessing the situation helped the organization build strategic rapport with the Army as the emerging political force.

Now Sulastomo, a physician whose clean record has never been tainted by the New Order's corrupt practices, is speaking up to challenge the theories surrounding the tragedy. He divides his red-covered book into six analyses. Analysis one, the coup was the result of internal friction within the military, particularly the Army; analysis two, it was orchestrated by Soeharto against Sukarno's leadership; analysis three, it was engineered by Sukarno; analysis four, it was a conspiracy between DN Aidit/Sukarno and Mao Ze Dong; analysis five, the CIA fueled the conflict; and lastly it was the PKI that masterminded the coup.

The first analysis he considers unacceptable because it was the Army itself that was targeted by the PKI. Indeed, there were internal rifts and the kidnappers of the generals killed were Army personnel. However, he considered the kidnappers as mere puppets who exerted little influence on others.

The second analysis is also thrown out by the writer because Soeharto was very loyal to Sukarno and was not ready to accept more authority. Soeharto's attitude reflected a Javanese saying mikul nduwur mendem jero (highlight one's good deeds and bury his bad deeds). After the 1965 aborted coup, however, people's demand for regime change intensified.

The third analysis is also not plausible because Sukarno himself was bewildered in the morning of Oct. 1, 1965 after the kidnapping of the generals. Having received the report from Brig. Gen. Supardjo -- one of the leftist military personnel -- Sukarno denounced the kidnappings. Sukarno himself was very cautious regarding the issue of the Dewan Jenderal (The Council of Generals).

The fourth analysis purports that because Sukarno's health had deteriorated there was an agreement between DN Aidit, Mao Ze Dong of China, and Sukarno that the latter "take a rest" in Swan Lake, China. Sulastomo refuted this, as it was implausible that the founding father would agree to leave behind his people in such a critical situation. Kruschev of the USSR once offered Sukarno the opportunity to "take a rest" as a government guest during the struggle to reoccupy Irian Jaya, but he refused.

The fifth analysis is also refuted. It is true that CIA intelligence officers might have played role in Indonesian politics, but credible documents show that Western countries were surprised over the "premature" coup by the PKI, which was more likely inspired by political developments in Peking (now Beijing).

The sixth analysis suggests that it was the PKI who masterminded the coup. There are several arguments purported. The PKI was strongly inspired by Peking which was at that time spreading its power throughout Asia. The "progressive" political party was also anxious that Sukarno's health was deteriorating and was concerned that if it did not seize control through a coup, the Dewan Jenderal would do so first. He added that although not all members of the Central Committee of the PKI were aware of the coup, such as Nyoto, the system within the party dictates that the PKI as an organization should bear all responsibility.

Based on his recollections and interviews with other players, including former president Soeharto and Hardoyo, the former chairman of the left-wing Concentration of Indonesian Student Movement (CGMI, a student organization affiliated with the PKI), Sulastomo defends the sixth analysis. His defense is also supported by Harry Tjan Silalahi, a former activist of the Indonesian Catholic Students Association (PMKRI), who helped campaign for the elimination of the PKI. Harry Tjan has contributed his thoughts in Sulastomo's book.

Nonetheless, during the launching of the book at Jakarta Hilton Hotel on Jan. 25, which was marked by a "PKI bashing" poetry reading by a prominent poet Taufik Ismail, the book drew criticism from Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, who was among the audience. She argued that the coup was a result of bitter friction and rivalry within the Army, particularly between Soeharto and Ahmad Yani. The latter was murdered during the coup.

Understandably, the Di Balik Tragedi 1965 did not attempt to discuss how millions of ex-PKI members, sympathizers and their families were killed, tortured or discriminated against following the coup or how Sukarno was in fact was put under house arrest until his death.

Indeed, when a nation painfully reflects on past wounds, it is always advantageous to hear directly from the people involved, whatever perspectives they might hold. As noted historian Anhar Gonggong said during the book launching, the writing of history never finishes. Equally important is what human rights campaigner Salahudin Wahid said that truthful reconciliation is what this nation badly needs to heal its wounds. Jakarta Feb. 1, 2006.

The reviewer is a lecturer at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University and a researcher at the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP).

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