Chile and Indonesia: Two former dictatorships, two opposite paths
Photographs of victims decorate the walls and multi-media exhibitions depict military jets bombarding the old baroque Presidential Palace – La Moneda – on September 11, 1973. One can hear the roaring engines of the tanks, see shocked and terrified expressions on the faces of victims being dragged through the streets to the National Stadium and to other torture centers, for interrogation and often for execution.
This museum is enormous and it consists of old and new buildings. It is breathtaking fusion of avant-garde and classical architecture; in short, it is Chilean architecture at its best. And here it is clearly at the service of the truth and of a ‘national collective memory’.
It is also the great symbol of new Chile, a nation that is well educated, wealthy, progressive, confident and strong. This is Chile, which is not scared of its old demons anymore, and not frightened of its multiple skeletons still hiding in dark corners and dusty closets.
“The nation cannot move forward without coming to terms with its past, without understanding it,” explained Patricia Farías Antognini, head of the communication department at the Museum of Memory.
It appears that Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and other South American countries (those that suffered terrible years under the US-sponsored fascist dictatorships) are now obsessed with the past. There are huge monuments erected to honor the victims, and old torture centers like that of “ESMA” in Buenos Aires, have been transformed into monumental museums and cultural centers. Where death used to reign, new voices are heard and avant-garde plays performed.
Entire archives related to the arduous past have been created, like the one sponsored by UNESCO in Santiago de Chile, under the label of the ‘Memory of Humanity’.
Dozens of high-ranking Chilean military officers are now in prison for various crimes against humanity they committed decades ago. And the situation is similar across the border, in Argentina.
On 17 November, 2013, a Chilean 25 year-old student leader, Camila Vallejo, and three other student leaders (in their twenties), were elected to Congress. The socialist presidential candidate, Michelle Bachelet, gained a solid lead and is now poised to return to the highest-ranking job in the country after the 15 December runoff.
Ms. Bachelet is a pediatrician, educated in East Germany. Her father, a general during the government of Salvador Allende, died while undergoing torture after the military coup, and she herself was savagely tortured. It will be her second term, with a 4-year hiatus in between, when she became the head of UNIFEM.
This is a new South America, where former Marxist guerilla leaders are successfully running countries as big as Brazil and as small as Uruguay, and where women are firmly in charge of the revolutionary changes. Michelle Bachelet will be the third female president in the region, joining Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.
Most South American countries defeated fascism, broke free from their servile role as neo-colonies of the West, and became clear leaders in developing direct democracy models. From Venezuela to Chile, from Argentina to Ecuador, people are demanding free education and free medical care, public spaces and public transportation, and above all egalitarian societies free from interference from abroad.
For billions all over the world, South America became a symbol of hope, giving a clear message that a ‘different world is possible’.
Some 15 thousand kilometers from Chile, in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, things have not changed since the brutal military coup in 1965.
The Indonesian military dictator, Suharto, stepped down in 1998, but the regime survived and according to many became even more extreme and bulletproof.
Suharto was one of the most corrupt leaders of the 20th century. He committed high treason by siding with US interests, destroying communists, leftists, intellectuals, artists and members of the Chinese minority. His turbo-capitalist regime was responsible for some 2-3 million deaths in 1965/66, and then two further genocides in East Timor and Papua killed hundreds of thousands of people.
But until now there has been no investigation of his crimes in Indonesia. The ‘Elites’ are fully in charge and so is the military.
The current president of the country, Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono, is a former Suharto army general, who was
one of the commanders during the worst years of occupation of
East Timor, in which some 30 percent of local people vanished.
Indonesia is ravished, logged
and mined-out by mainly foreign companies. Its rivers are
polluted, its primary forests have been destroyed, and
infrastructure has collapsed totally.
Education is so bad that this nation of around 300 million inhabitants is unable to give claim one single world-class scientist or artist.
There is no rule of law. Corruption is omnipresent as is impunity for the rich and the military.
No one stands trials for crimes committed in the past, and those few who were imprisoned for the atrocities committed in East Timor (Timor L’este) were hurriedly released not long after sentencing.
Communism and atheism are still banned
When there was an attempt to re-write the history books about the past, particularly the 1965/66 ‘events’, “The Indonesian population began demanding that the old propaganda slogans should be retained and that no changes should be actually made,” I was told by a leading Indonesian historian, Hilmar Farid.
Right now, if international norms were honestly applied, some 80 percent or more Indonesians would qualify as poor, but there is no awareness of it here and no true opposition to the regime.
“Poor? We are not poor”, exclaims Ms. Julaeka, in one of Surabaya slums called Pacar Keling. She and her daughter sleep in a metal-sheet shack; they both urinate and defecate in a polluted canal, from which they also take water for washing dishes. But she does not consider herself destitute.
‘The Act of Killing’, a Danish-British award winning documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer, made waves and terrified people all over the world.
In this film, Indonesia is fully exposed, in its shocking and merciless light.
The story line is simple: several brutal Indonesian mass-murderers are proudly making a movie about their personal past and 1965/66. Joshua Oppenheimer and his crew follow them, live with them, collect their testimonies, and film how they film themselves.
One of the main characters is called Anwar Congo. He killed, mostly strangled, more than 1,000 people, with his bare hands and metal wires. He tortured, extorted and raped. Now he is admired in Indonesia where his story is respected and even glorified.
“When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did,” explains the narrator of ‘The Act of Killing’.
On the screen, the killers callously recall: “We killed them here… so much blood… it smelled awful…”
It all becomes grotesque, totally unbelievable to an outsider unfamiliar with Indonesian reality. Murderers reenact their crimes in a matter-of-fact way. Government people proudly associate themselves with the killers, simultaneously and openly harassing young women present in the room.
Brutality, sleaze, and cynicism are everywhere.
“Communists will never be accepted here because we have so many gangsters, and that’s a good thing”, explains the Governor of North Sumatra, on the record.
The murderers go on, nostalgically: “It was as we were killing… happily… after watching Elvis and other Hollywood films…”
Before the 1965 coup, the thugs learned many murderous methods from Hollywood Westerns and gangster films. Subsequently, they were employed by the military junta to murder leftists and to scare and blackmail people from the Chinese minority. Gory scenes from imported films came in extremely handy.
Then Ibrahim Sinik, owner of the Medan Post daily goes on the record, recalling how they used to interrogate communists on the premises of his newspaper. And how the newspaper changed the victims’ answers to make them look bad: “As a newspaper man, my job was to make the public hate them.” Then Mr. Sinik, now a respected Indonesian citizen, talks about how he and his staff dumped the corpses of murdered people in the nearby river.
The film visits members of the ‘elites’ who now form part of a Neo-Fascist movement. They are playing golf, talking about how they ‘killed them all’. And about their motto: ‘Relax and Rolex’.
As I am watching the documentary, taking notes, getting ready to review the film, I recall encounters with very similar Indonesian lowlifes, considered ‘elites’ here, who are firmly in charge of Java, Sumatra and virtually all the other Indonesian islands. Such men are actually sincerely glorified here. One of them used to confess to me his love for Adolf Hitler and his ‘final solution’: “We need Hitler here in Indonesia; we need him soon… so he could restore order!” He owns several hotels in Indonesia, including those franchised from a country that experienced ‘final solution’ on its soil – France.
Returning to the film, ‘The Act of Killing’, where at one point, former Vice-President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kala, appears on the screen. He begins talking about the need to have gangsters: “…beating people is sometimes needed.”
The film of the killers gains momentum and Joshua Oppenheimer’s film follows, documents and also gathers speed.
One of the murderers runs for MP. Buying votes and manipulating elections is openly discussed. “Gangsters create both security and riots…”
In Indonesia, all this is out in the open, and it takes great discipline or idiocy, not to see how local ‘democracy’ really works.
“This is going to be a great family movie,” laughs one of the protagonists, as there is footage showing how a man is murdered in the forest. “Spontaneously I walked upto him and cut his head off.” The killer did this with a machete.
Graphic reenactment of past events follows: cutting throats, severing heads.
The film moves to the TV studio. The public, common Indonesian citizens, cheer: “Slit his throat!” Footage is showing men drinking blood from decapitated heads. Everybody laughs as the corpses of murdered people are shown.
It is absolutely clear that the Indonesian nation has lost all perception of morality, decency, shame and proportion. There is no longer any distinguishing between right and wrong. Murder is synonymous with entertainment and rape is identified as something hip.
Back to the television studio of TVRI, one of the biggest Indonesian channels, where the host is respectfully interviewing the killers. She keeps laughing, showing openly that she is on their side:
“Sir, was your type of killing inspired by movies?”
In an admiring way, she recalls the different ways Mr Congo and others murdered communists, artists, teachers and intellectuals. The audience is once again cheers and applauds.
Later in the film, the Deputy cabinet Minister for Youth and Sport goes on the record: “Crush the communists… wipe them out! Don’t let any communists escape!”
Others around him scream: “Take no prisoners! Exterminate them to the roots! Burn, Burn! Kill, kill!”
Reality and fiction are blurring. Filming goes on, flames burn.
Once again, there is a reenactment of killings and rapes, but by now we understand that Indonesian ‘filmmakers’ are not trying to shock; they are trying to impress, or to amuse and please.
Towards the end, a rhetorical question is asked: “Why no victims go after the killers?” The answer is obvious: “Because we killed them all!”
And here is the Indonesian way of ‘reconciliation’ and justice: the victim returns from other life and thanks the killer: “Thank you for executing me and sending me to heaven…”
Entire country built against people
During my latest visit to Chile, the country where I lived for many years and which I still consider my second home, I participated in a demonstration for free education and medical care. As I filmed the event, next to me stood a touching elderly couple. The man and woman were holding hands, and they were carrying a banner:
“Grandparents are supporting their grandchildren!”
Not far from them, a poster attached to the bus shelter read: “I want to become a doctor, in order to relieve my country of pain.”
An enormous demonstration was beginning at Plaza Baquedano. On one side was the elegant state-sponsored ‘Literary Café Bustamante’, and right across the river was the sprawling Bellavista neighborhood with hundreds of avant-garde theatres, clubs, and art galleries. Protestors began their march, passing the Alameda art cinema, and the massive Gabriela Mistral cultural center, named after a Chilean poet and the first woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize for literature.
Chile has been fighting and prevailing.
During the recent elections, the public fully rejected the capitalist model. At the same time, the country has a sound economy and a very high quality of life. The New York Times selected Santiago de Chile the number one place in the world to visit in 2011.
By contrast, the failed extreme capitalist and fascist system of Indonesia, has been the subject of several surveys in recent years, including one by The Economist, which concluded that Jakarta had become the most unlivable major city in Asia Pacific.
The great Australian artist, George Burchett, while visiting Indonesia, once declared to me: “I saw many cities all over the world. They were built for the people. But Jakarta and other Indonesian cities have been built against the people.”
It appears that after 1965, the entire country was created to be against the majority of its citizens, to destroy, debilitate and to humiliate them.
With great strength, many Latin American nations confronted their history imposed on them by the West, and began the long but determined struggle for a much better future for the continent and the world.
Indonesia confronted nothing and the majority of its people simply accepted their servile position: towards the family, religion, ‘culture’, the capitalist system (represented by thugs calling themselves entrepreneurs), and the military.
In Chile, killers are now called killers and heroes are heroes. In Indonesia, mass murderers are admired, even glorified, serving as role models.
In Jakarta, nothing is clear and nothing can be trusted. Mass murder pays, looting and plunder buys respect, but knowledge is worth nothing.
Jakarta is not just a city – it is a concept and moreover a model for how to destroy and immobilize once progressive countries all over the world.
For years, Allende’s people were frightened by the dark threat: “Watch out, Comrades, Jakarta is coming!”
This warning of hell on earth clearly materialized all over the Indonesian archipelago. But most Indonesians were born after 1965 and this is the only reality they know. This is normal: it was always like this and as far as most of them are concerned, it will never change.
Many of those in Chile, who got a taste of this horrifying concept, just ran away, or began to fight and to dream about a much better world. In the end they won.
There were two similar coups and two similar dictatorships, but two totally different ways of facing and resolving them.
Comparing Chile and Indonesia today, one would have to be blind not to see the superiority of socialism over fascist feudalism.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.