the slaughter in paradise
By John Loizou
Darwin, June 16, 2009
I was not surprised when a bomb exploded and killed 202 people
most of them Australians on October 12, 2002.
I had not expected a Muslim suicide bomber but I had long anticipated
Hindu Balinese would probably call it Karma but I think of it as just
another chapter in a continuing tragedy where repression, suppressed
anger and perhaps dreams of revenge have become too familiar.
It is a far cry from the Bali most visitors know.
I became aware of the sadness in paradise when I first arrived on the
island as a young reporter toward the end of the 1960s.
It was less than five years after the Indonesian army had organised
the slaughter of thousands of Communists and their supporters with the
help overt or tacit of the United States, Australian and
British intelligence officers, diplomats, journalists and governments.
In those first weeks, I stayed, I could not find a single intellectual
family school teacher, lawyer, physician, who did not have at
least one member who had not been killed, imprisoned or exiled as a
result of the pogrom.
Most distressing of all were the tales of the strange fruit that had
suddenly appeared in the trees surrounding the houses of foreigners
on the island as the result of the slaughter.
Orphaned children instinctively knew that strangers were more likely
to take care of them than their own people.
But these same strangers could not, or would not, intervene against
the ruthlessness of their own governments.
Why didnt you try to stop them? I asked naively of
my host and guide, Gusti Murti, an adventurer who had worked illegally
in restaurants and market gardens across the United States and who had
bravely done his best to introduce me to survivors of the slaughter.
Because they would have killed me too, he answered sensibly.
Later, as I became more involved in opposing the Soeharto regimes
annexation of East Timor and the support of a succession of Australian
governments for the brutal occupation, I avoided visiting Bali for fear
of visiting disaster on my old friends.
But I did meet with persecuted author Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Jakarta
who insisted that all possible should be done to expose the role the
British played in the slaughter.
We know what the Americans and Australians did, he said.
But what about the British?
They have been able to hide.
Fortunately, Nathaniel Mehr in his work Constructive Bloodbath'
In Indonesia: The US, Britain and the Mass Killings of 1965-66
has more than started to expose the job done by British diplomats, intelligence
officers and most importantly pillars of the corporate media such as
the BBC and The Observer.
I am sure Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006, would have approved
Perhaps as encouraging is the audacity of the scholars who have organised
the International Conference: The 1965-1966 Indonesian Killings Revisited
in Singapore from Wednesday June 17 to Friday, June 19, 2009.
Keynote speaker will be Assistant Professor of history and international
affairs at Princeton University, Bradley Simpson, who will deliver a
paper titled Capitalists Come Back! The Political Economy of the 1965-1966
As Professor Simpson said in an reply to The Southeast Asian Times:
Ive written elsewhere that US and other Western officials
viewed the mass killings of 1965 and 1966 as efficacious terror, an
essential building block of the quasi neo-liberal policies that the
West would attempt to impose on Indonesia after Sukarnos ouster.
They viewed the wholesale annihilation of the PKI and its civilian
backers as an indispensable prerequisite to Indonesias reintegration
into the regional political economy and international system, the ascendance
of a military modernizing regime and the crippling or overthrow of Soekarno.
But I found what Australian anthropologist Dr Mary Ida Bagus had to
say about her conference paper titled "Seda Gestok": Reconstituting
Human Subjects Who Were Victims of the 1965-66 Anti-communist Purges
in West Bali the most satisfying,
Dr Ida Bagus, who began her research in Bali 25 years ago, explained
that the Balinese phrase Seda Gestok'was a simple and misleading
gloss for someone who died (seda) as a result of the anti-communist
Over the last 25 years I have heard this expression many times,
usually whispered in the privacy of our family compound in Bali for
fear of being overheard and accused of subversive politics, she
But with Reformasi the Indonesian word used to describe
the regeneration of society that followed the resignation of former
President Soeharto - the phrase had entered the public domain, appearing
in conversations among strangers with alarming regularity.
The inherent shame, danger and secrecy encapsulated in the phrase
have finally been superseded with blunt discussion of murder, torture
and suffering, she said.
The correlation between Gestok and death has new meaning and its significance
for families and communities is inestimable. People didnt just
die during Gestok they were methodically located,
detained and murdered.
I did the research for my PhD in West Bali during Reformasi,
I was shocked at the number of unsolicited references to Gestok
that came up during interviews on other topics. There was literally
an outpouring of stories by both perpetrators and victims. Gestok was
very much on the agenda although it was not a specific topic of research.
I think much of the first-hand experience will never be recorded.
In many situations that may be appropriate because some people
do not have the urge to talk about it.
In other situations it has become part of corporate family lore
and has been handed down to lower generations.
In 2000 one interviewee I had just met spontaneously told of his
near death experience and social isolation as a youthful communist,
in front of his wife and children. This was the first time his children
had heard their father speak on the topic and we were all devastated
by his emotion and bitterness.
Im not sure that people have been ostracised so much as
criticised, and condemned for their cruelty at the time. These people
who were feared are now despised but people always cite karma as the
Often someone will experience misfortune or illness and the local
commentary will be that they got what they deserve because of their
actions during the killings.
Sympathy is withheld. I know of one case where the widow of a
particularly violent killer was left destitute by her extended family
I knew her quite well and she died of neglect.
So it seems that Communists were not the only victims and the neo-liberals
and their supporters still have much to answer for.
And for those who doubt the enormity of the crime against humanity,
perhaps a Central-Intelligence- Agency summary taken from The New York
Review of Books answers them best:
In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia
rank as one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century, along
with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the
Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s.
In this regard, the Indonesian coup is certainly one of the most
significant events of the twentieth century, far more significant than
many other events that have received much more publicity.
Here, I remind the reader, it was coup delivered for neo-liberal capitalism
and against any possibility of a peoples democracy.
June 16, 2009