The Perspective and the Need for Unity between the Indonesian and East Timorese peoples in their common struggle against the military dictatorship of Soeharto


At dawn on October first 1965, six Army generals were killed in what was to be known as the "30 September movement" affair. The so-called "30 September movement" lasted from 4.00 o'clock in the morning to 11.00 o'clock before midday. Not long after that, the Army began the slaughtering of no less than a million communists and their families, supporters and ordinary people, especially workers and peasants.

Throughout Java and Sumatra, night after night, for months, local Army commanders sent truckloads of members, suspected members of PKI and of its mass organizations, alleged communist symphathizers who had been denounced by informers to isolated spots nearby for execution, usuallly by bullet or knife. Their bodies were thrown into hastily dug mass graves or into rivers.

Very often the victims were ordered to dig the graves themselves before they were killed, or were even buried alive. Some reports said that at certain points, the Brantas river, near Surabaya in East Java, was choked by mutilated dead bodies. That made some people living in the villages nearby refused to eat fish for some time, out of fear that the fish might have eaten corpses of their relatives. In the following year, the Army continued its purges and arrests of alleged communist and Gestapu (30 September movement) suspects. Many known Sukarno supporters were also among the principal targets of the pogrom. They were all sent to jails or concentration camps without trial. Some observers and writers put the number of the political prisoners at higher than one million. Having destroyed the Indonesian Communist Party and its mass organizations, the Army accelerated the process of toppling the Sukarno's government.

Did it ever occur to you to ask yourself why Western leaders and the media remained silent on the massacre of a million Indonesian people, while at present they pronounce on the importance of tribunals for war criminals in Rwanda and Bosnia? Is it because most of the victims in Indonesia were communists, relatives, supporters, symphatizers of communist or of President Sukarno? Were their lives worth less than that of those embracing any other ideology?

I was not at all suprised when declassified secret government files revealed how the US and British governments have aided actively the mass killings in Indonesia by way of arms supplies, propaganda and psywar activities, giving the Army a hit list of thousands of PKI supporters. I don' t have to be a politician or an expert in philosophy or political science to be able to know the nature, the crimes, the double-moral standard of Imperialist powers headed by the US government. The Sufferings of the Indonesian people, including my own family since the occupation of my motherland by the Dutch colonialism have taught me a lot. Besides I have also learnt from what they did in Vietnam, Cuba, Granada, Chile, Nicaragua and many other places in the world.

Soeharto was formally sworn in as president of Indonesia on 27 March 1968, but actually he has been running the government since 1965. This marked the beginning of a long period of terror, repression, persecution aiming at subjugating, landing people in a continuous state of fear, so that they will never make any attempt to show any sign of discontent or disapproval of government's policies. The dual functions of the Armed Forces and the five political laws promulgated in 1985 have completely militarized the whole country and eliminated any possibility of people's participation in the political life.

The Western Imperialist Powers were in fact keen to see the fall of Sukarno' s governmen because of its foreign and economic policies. Indonesia under Sukarno was in the front line of the Third World people' s struggle against Imperialism, Colonialism and neo-colonialism. Indonesia refused Western economic aid which aimed at changing the nationalist, independent and non- aligned policy of the government. The country refrained from encouraging foreign capital investments whose sole interest was to exploit Indonesian natural resources and cheap labour force without giving much benefit to the people.

The establishment of Soeharto' s military regime after the destruction of PKI and its mass organizations and the overthrowing of Sukarno have put Indonesia into the camp of the West and the natural riches of the soil and its cheap labour force at the disposal of national comprador bourgeoisie, that is Soeharto, his family and his close friends, and multi national capital. The imperialist institutions such as World Bank and International Monetary Funds keep on stimulating the economy by providing loans. These incessant huge capital injections have of course brought about revitalizing effects and in the last ten years or so the Indonesian economy managed to grow more than 6% each year. Everybody knows who benefit from this economic development and who must carry the burden of debts incurred by the Soeharto' s regime which has already amounted to $100 milliard US dollars. The gap between the rich and the poor keep on widening.

Soeharto may think that terror, repression and persecution will keep people submissive. This may be true for a period of time but not for ever.

The spiritual poverty, lack of inspiring resources, distortion and falsification in Indonesian academic life pushed young students to look for other kinds of literature. In defiance of official ban on the kind of literature considered by the regime as subversive, they read it avidly. Study groups were organized as a place and space to discuss them and other issues which interested them. In 1974 there was a big student demonstration criticizing the corrupt Soeharto's regime and questioning the problem of foreign investment. In the seventies the student movement was a moral or ethical movement rather than a political one, aiming at correcting the regime. Their demands didn't go beyond the campus life, such as student rights, student welfare including academic freedom and campus autonomy.

In the eighties and nineties the movement continued to grow, gaining more experience, political maturity, coming out with more radical character in its demands by integrating into its own the demands of other sectors of the population, especially peasants, urban poor and workers. Students left their campus to get involved in mass actions defending peasants who lost their land, street vendors, pedicab drivers who lost their jobs. These students were to be found among them or sometimes leading them in rallies to protest against injustices before Parliament or other government institutions. SMID (Indonesian Student Solidarity for Democracy) was founded in 1991 as a result of consolidation involving student activists from a number of cities, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Semarang, Solo and Bandung.

In the meantime, the Indonesian workers whose number has greatly increased as a result of development in manufacturing industry, have also refused to continue accepting low wages, bad working conditions, military intervention in labour issues and other injustices. Since 1990 the number of strikes has jumped dramatically compared to previous years. The workers' class and political consciousness have been growing incessantly. They understand that economic demands are not enough, they also need democracy which will give them space and right to speak out their mind and to defend their interests.

The interaction between students, workers, peasants, urban poor movements and their unity will beyond any doubt forme a solid base for the movement for Democracy in Indonesia.

Aside from growing resistance coming from students, peasants, workers, urban-poor and other sectors of the population who have founded their own organizations in defiance of political law on mass organization, signs of discontent, disapproval, even oposition from Parties and personalities within the system, like Bintang Pamungkas, Megawati Sukarnoputri and her PDI and others, are spreading widely.

Recent developments in Indonesia show that the two myths on which the Soeharto's regime's legitimation has been founded are beginning to explode: the myth that it has saved the country from communist's take over and the myth that the regime has build an economic miracle and boosted the living standard of the people. Today, more clearly than ever, what happened in 1965 was a coup d'etat by the military under Soeharto's leadership with the connivance of foreign imperialist powers, first and foremost the US, and the fact is that the country is no more than economic milch-cow of transnational corporations with a giant burden of debt.

II. Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in December 1975

In 1974, before Indonesia's invasion, there were three political Parties in East Timor: the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) which favoured federation with Portugal, the Social Democratic Association of Timor which later became the Revolutionary Front for the Independece of East Timor (FRETILIN) which demanded the right to Independence and rejected colonialism and racial discrimination; and the smallest one, the Timorese Popular Democratic Association (APODETI) which supported union with Indonesia. The victory of FRITILIN in the civil war and the refusal of Portugal to resume the process of decolonization transformed FRETILIN into a de facto government. FRETILIN adopted policies very common to many third world countries, such as self--reliance, strict economic controls, education programme based on "conscientisation" method, production co-operatives and land-reform. Indonesia under Sukarno would certainly welcome the establishment in East Timor of an independent State which advanced such policies. But unfortunately a reactionary military dictatorship was installed in the aftermath of the tragedy in 1965. Soeharto was quick in accusing FRETILIN of being "communist". Thus, one of the alleged reasons of Indonesia's invasion and annexation of East Timor is the fear of a "communist" state in Indonesia's backyard.

But one should not forget the role of US Imperialism is this invasion. Indonesia has been always considered to be very important in US geopolitical and imperial strategy in South East Asia. Its rich natural resources, cheap labour force, big market and other commercial opportunities don't escape from Western greediness. They have been assuming that the world's resources belong to the West. Thus, any obstacle which prevent them from appropriating and relishing on it should be eliminated. And that was precisely what they did in 1965, conniving with the Army in the destruction of PKI and the toppling of Sukarno's government whose foreign and economic policies were seen as a threat and an obstruction. Soeharto's coming to power facilitated increased Western capital penetration of Indonesia. US government has maintained the favour of Soeharto's regime through massive amount of economic, military and diplomatic assistance, and thus, guarantee US Corporations' interests in South East Asia. Given this economic and political benefits, the US foreign policy makers perceived a clear need not to upset Soeharto. That's why they did nothing to prevent Indonesia's invasion despite their ability to do so. Soeharto was instead given the green light to invade East Timor.

On 7 December 1975 the invasion took place. Once again a crime against humanity was committed by Soeharto's military regime. East Timorese people were slaughtered by the Army who ten years before massacred Indonesian people, using the arms supplied by the same Imperialist powers. 60.000 Timorese had been killed in the three months following the invasion. More people died as a result of famine, diseases and continuing repression which takes the most cruel forms such as forcibly regrouping whole communities in 'strategic villages' under military supervision and under conditions which prevented them from farming their land, executing those who surrender, resettling families and whole villages, arbitrary imprisonment, executions without trial, disappearances and the destruction of families, relocating people to different areas less fertile in East Timor, etc. Some writers put the number of people killed as a result of the invasion and repression at between 200.000 and 250.000.

But there is one important thing that we, Indonesians, should learn from the East Timorese. Their armed resistance made the Indonesian Army suffer heavy losses. Even after the killing of their President, Nicolao Lobato, the guerrila war continued to be active, harrasing and inflicting losses on the enemy.

The capture of Xanana Gusmao has not eliminated the armed resistance of the Timorese. Completely isolated from international contact, this small nationalist guerrilla movement continues to fight one of the most powerful armies in the developing world.

What is the reaction of the International Community to Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor? After a full debate on 11 December 1975, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution re--affimed annually until 1982, which called upon Indonesia to withdraw and recognise the right of East Timor's people to self-determination. But the UN is not able to act independently to uphold its own principles, policies or decisions.

Not a single country of the European Community recognizes the annexation of East Timor. Together with Australia, the US, New Zealand and Japan, many of its members were members of the International Governmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI) which granted each year large sums in aid until its dissolution by the Indonesian Government in 1992. Now they belong to the Consultative Group on Indonesia which has been formed under the auspices of World Bank and are in a position to argue that the principles of territoral integrity that they defended in Kuwait should be defended in East Timor. Nobody has ever asked them to go to war for East Timor as they did for Kuwait. We only think that they should be conistent in their policy toward East Timor. Why don' t they use their political and economic influence to put pressure on Indonesia? Here again, the reason is not difficult to find: they are all too intimately involved in the puresuit of greater financial benefit from the rapidly expanding Indonesian economy. Their economic interests do not match the right of East Timorese people to independence. That's why we have every reason to believe that in striving for peace and freedon, third world people should not rely on the commitment of imperialist powers or on United Nation resolutions.

III. Conclusion

When Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975, the Indonesian people were not in a position to mobilize mass actions against Soeharto's regime.

In the nineties, along with the increasing awareness among the youth of the political and economic situation in Indonesia, the interest in and the symphaty for the East Timorese struggle for self-determination has also been growing. The Soeharto's regime can no longer hide its crime behind lies, falsification and distortion of the reality of East Timor. More and more people come to realize that the East Timorese have been going through the same sufferings, repression and violence as a result of Indonesia's invansion and occupation. The weapons used to kill the East Timorese patriots are the same one used to kill Indonesian pro-democracy activists. The Imperialist powers, first and foremost the US government, who supported Soeharto's invasion and occupation of of East timor are also the ones who have aided actively the Army in the overthrow of the progressive government of Sukarno. Thus, organizations like the Institutes to uphold Universal Human Rights (LPHAM), INFIGHT (Indonesian Front for the Defence of Human Rights), which at a later stage were joined by others, initiated the pro-East Timor moverment. Mass actions began to be organized in 1995 after the founding of SPRIM (Indonesian People's Struggle for Solidarity with the Maubere People) in March 1995. Indonesian mass organizations, such as PPBI (Indonesian Centre for Working Class' Struggle), SMID (Indonesian Student's Solidarity for Democracy), STN (National Peasants' Union) and Jaker (People's Artists' Network) and East Timorese mass organizations, like RENETIL, CCONTLI, GOD, AST, ANVISTI are integrated in SPRIM. The first pro-East Timor mass action was organized by SPRIM and SMID on June 9, at the office of the National Human Rights Commission (KOMNAS HAM), to protest the arrest of 30 East Timorese youth by the Central Jakarta police. The following action was the occupation of Dutch and Russian Embassies in Jakarta during the November 12 commemoration in 1995 by East Timorese workers and students who were joined by 50 SPRIM members. On June 10,1996, a delegation of 75 East Timorese youth and SPRIM members went to the Parliament to protest against the murder of Manuel Soares by a Central Jakarta police officer.

This development clearly shows that the subjective and objective conditions are favorable for the establishment of cooperation and unity between the Indonesian pro-democracy movement and the East Timorese pro-independece movement. The victory of the Vietnamese people against the strongest imperialist power represented by the U.S. government has demonstrated that a courageous and resolute struggle carried out in the form of armed struggle as well as diplomacy by the people, victim of an agression, combined with an active action of solidarity by the progressive people in that imperialist country and International pressure will inevitably force the agressor to admit defeat. ***

Back to the main index