Indonesia – torn apart, but glorified by Washington

Andre Vltchek
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary novel “Aurora” and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. View his other books here. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.
Indonesia – torn apart, but glorified by Washington
At Hong Tiek Hian, the oldest temple in Surabaya, built centuries ago by Tartar troops, a puppeteer and the player of a traditional erhu instrument are modestly performing a traditional Chinese theater.

But there is no audience in the temple, not a single spectator. Both artists are “performing for God,” they say.

Audience or not, at least now the Chinese language and culture are “allowed” in this, the fourth-most populous country on Earth.

After the 1965 military coup, planned and sponsored by the West, between 2 and 3 million Indonesian citizens vanished, were murdered in a several months long orgy of terror. The military and the NUs (the largest Muslim organization in the country) youth wing, Ansor, participated zealously in the killings, along with hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indonesian citizens.

The victims were members of the PKI (the Communist Party of Indonesia, which by then was the third-largest Communist Party in the world, after those of China and the USSR), men and women of Chinese ethnicity, intellectuals, teachers or simply those accused of sympathizing with the leftists and atheists.

Everything “left-wing” has been banned, even words like “class,” just in case someone would actually dare to think about or analyze things like “class struggle” or “class division.”

Chinese language and culture were forbidden, and so were red Chinese lamps, dragons and even traditional cakes.

The destruction of Chinese culture was only the tip of the iceberg. For decades, Indonesia went through a total cultural and intellectual blackout. Theaters and film studios were shut down, and writers, singers, artists and leading intellectuals were imprisoned or murdered. Independent thought was discouraged.

“The goal was clear,” said Djokopekik, arguably the greatest Indonesian painter and a former “prisoner of conscience” in Suharto’s prisons. “It was… to create as many ‘buffalos’ [?] as possible. To make Indonesian people totally stupid and obedient.”

Forget about French, Soviet or Italian cinema, or Latin American chansons and ballads. Forget about avant-garde theater, or actually, forget about any type of theater. Even the once powerful local forms, like ketoprak, or the often politically charged puppet theater wayang, were forcefully converted into cheap entertainment, eventually lost their appeal, and became second-rate tourist attractions.

While Java and Indonesia’s other islands were slowly recovering from the loss of around 40 percent of their teachers (murdered or ‘disappeared’ in 1965-66), Indonesia received a powerful injection of the lowest forms of pop culture imported from the US, and it was distributed by the government and business conglomerates – the owners of television and radio stations, and the mainstream press. Brainwashing was in full force.

The goal was clear: to silence resistance in this raped and plundered nation, to make it as confused and uneducated as possible. To make sure that inquisitiveness would be beaten out of people, and that there would be no group or even individual able to question the Kafkaesque arrangement of society – where pro-Western elites and the military talk nationalism, while stripping the country and the several occupied territories such as East Timor (before independence) and Papua province of all their natural resources.

The West helped the obedient collaborators – the local rulers – to fully implement an extremely savage form of capitalism, through mind control and indoctrination techniques. Pro-capitalist propaganda was freely dispersed, while everything socialist, people-oriented and “public” was continuously demonized. No alternative views were allowed.

Sidewalks disappeared; public parks were converted into golf courses, the public transportation system collapsed, even by Dutch colonial standards (the length of railroads shrank, tram lines got covered by concrete and the mass transit system was never created). In Jakarta, you often have to hire a taxi just to cross the street.

Market at successful Indonesia. Photo by Andre Vltchek

In a country with incomes approximately one-fortieth those in the United States, a US-style “social system” has found a new and permanent home. Unlike in Thailand (with its free education and totally free and decent medical care) and Malaysia, nothing social or public has been encouraged: be it medical care, transportation or culture. What has been subsidized is mainly petrol, and that primarily in order to encourage people to buy overpriced vehicles, cars and scooters.

Corruption has been flourishing, reaching monumental proportions. Production has collapsed: economic growth has been mainly dependent on high commodity prices and the unbridled export of raw materials, while stripping all islands of their native forests and of all that could be mined from underneath the earth, Greenpeace declared Indonesia the number one country in the destruction of its tropical forests.

While the prices of food and consumer goods rose to some of the highest levels in Asia, capitalism simply failed to deliver services and quality. Airplanes kept falling from the sky until all Indonesian airlines were banned, at some point, from flying to European Union countries. Mobile communication is so bad that subscribers have to exchange text messages, as voice conversations are unintelligible. The Internet is one of the slowest on the continent. Infrastructure – roads, railroads and sea transportation – have basically collapsed.

The gap between the rich and poor keeps growing, as totally ridiculous images are becoming the norm all over the country: huge pre-fabricated shopping malls and five-star hotels coexist with open sewers and child beggars; a make-believe world of a very few super-rich and the majority of those living in unimaginable misery, in both the pre-feudal countryside, and those anarchic, polluted and congested cities with no planning.

Everything has become soulless, empty and very cheaply mass-produced, somewhere else.

Such a universe was supposed to serve as a blueprint, as an example, even as an “inspiration” to dozens of client states of the West all over the world, from post-1973 Chile (“Watch out comrades,” Chilean President Salvador Allende’s allies were told, “Jakarta is coming!”), to Yeltsin’s Russia, and even to post-1994 Rwanda. In Egypt, I was told by several members of the diplomatic community, that numerous Western embassies and NGO’s have been sponsoring seminars and pushing the ‘Indonesian concept’ down the throat of both the deposed government of President Morsi, and on the present-day military junta.

For the West, the concept/goal has been very simple: to spread what Greek film director Costa Gavras calls “turbo capitalism,” and political cronyism. In such a world the uneducated and silent majority, fearful of the oppressive forces of the elites, religion, family structure and the military, is stripped of its ability to think and to analyze, displaying blind obedience.

Indonesia has many political parties (the Western concept of ‘democracy’), but all of them are pro-business, representing political elites. There is no political force that acts on behalf of the silent and miserably poor majority. If there are strikes and small rebellions of workers, they are always over wages, never over ideological concepts.

“Javanism equates to total obedience to power,” the greatest Southeast Asian novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, whose books and manuscripts were burned in 1965 and afterward, once told me. “If unchecked, it becomes very similar to fascism.”

But the Indonesian regime is much more complex than that. It’s both a neo-colony and a colonialist power, a victim and an oppressor. It is ultranationalist and extremely racist, but also servile and obedient to its Western masters.

After 1965, the Chinese people, debilitated, even destroyed, rose again. They did it through economic means, through hard work, and often by sticking to their own clans, and to their enclosed gated communities.

Mistrust between the “native” population and the Chinese minority keeps growing, to the point that the two groups hardly mix, almost never intermarry, and try not to associate with each other.

Chinese people never speak about the massacres and discrimination that followed 1965, not even to their children, not even within their families. After all, Indonesian culture is often described as the “culture of silence.” But they intuitively protect themselves. Trust has totally broken down.

Ancient Chinese puppet theater in Surabaya. Photo by Andre Vltchek

Christian Aditya, 24, who works in marketing at an advertising company, summarizes local sentiments: “I would not want to get married to a local girl, because my family would not allow me to. It would be forbidden. They think that we need to keep our bloodline pure. One of my relatives married a local girl, and he became a target of gossip of the family. They think, ‘There are so many Chinese women… why do you have to marry an outsider.’”

An ethnic Chinese filmmaker from Surabaya, who asked not to be identified, explained:

“In the public library, as you can see, there are no Chinese people. When I stepped in, they were all looking at me,” she said. “Because people looking like me do not come here… The same if I go to those few public parks that are left in Surabaya… Also in public schools, there you can count Chinese people on the fingers of one hand… Also in cultural centers, like Balai Pemuda, or Cak Durasim… the Chinese minority feels it is not their type of ‘entertainment’, their culture… They feel at home in malls, cafes, mainstream cinemas…”

On the other side of the dividing line, the “native” people of these isles now often feel discriminated against, economically, by the very minority they used to murder and victimize.

Mr. M. Asngad, an architect from the ancient Javanese city of Solo, gives his opinion on the subject:

“Our economy is controlled by the Chinese. This is because they get much easier access to bank loans for their capital. And this has been going on for a long time. Banks treat Chinese people differently. And staff in the banks give the best service and the easiest access to bank loans to the Chinese. I am sorry to be so frank, but I heard that many Chinese businessmen are then willing to give certain percentage to the staff. From Chinese clients, banks demand small collateral, but give them substantial credit, while the reverse is true for Indonesian pribumi, the “natives.” I think mentally Indonesian people are still acting as colonized people. “

But in Indonesia, an uneasy coexistence is there between every ethnic and religious group.

Ryaas Rasyid, the former Minister of Administrative Reform, and later an advisor to the present president, explained during our meeting that Indonesia would be much better off if it was divided into several states.

It is common knowledge that many islands that are now part of Indonesia would secede, were they be given the opportunity and freedom to do so. The only logic for the unity of this archipelago rests in the ancient system of Dutch colonial borderlines, which were adopted by the newly independent country, after WWII.

However, seeking independence from Indonesia is absolutely illegal here, even for a place like Papua province, which is by many accounts an “occupied territory.” In Papua, the Indonesian presence is blamed for genocide. According to Amnesty International, more than 100,000 people have already vanished there, a very conservative estimate.

And Papuans, who are Melanesians and therefore of dark skin, are treated brutally, with open racism in every corner of the country.

Jakarta - public sidewalk. Photo by Andre Vltchek

Balinese have for decades resisted the construction of a short bridge that would connect their “touristy” island with Java. The great majority of Balinese people who are both Hindu and decisively pro-Western, dream about independence from Indonesia, and so do all the Christian islands in the east of the country, as well as parts of Sulawesi and Ambon. Resource-rich Aceh at the north of Sumatra fought a long and bitter war for independence that took thousands of human lives.

The country is at war with itself, and with nature. The great islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo) are deforested and devastated, and so is Java along with most of the smaller islands all over the archipelago. Entire animal species have disappeared, and so have almost all the rain forests.

In recent years, hundreds of churches were burnt to the ground, countless Christians were murdered for their beliefs, and so were members of the Hindu community in Sumatra. Mainstream Islam is oppressing and killing Shia Muslims, liberal Muslims and members of various sects that it calls “deviant.”

There is lawlessness everywhere, and the majority of people are unprotected. If robbed, raped or harassed, people do not even bother going to the police. Trust in institutions has collapsed.

Indonesia has become the “perfect state” for the unchecked plunder by foreign interests, a failed state if the definition of failed state is still “a state that cannot provide basic services to its population.”

But Western media, politicians and even some scholars continue to deny this obvious fact.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared: "If you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." That, in the same month as one of the female MPs in Indonesia told me that millions of Indonesian women, including herself, suffer from genital mutilation and gross discrimination.

In May, 2012, the New York Times wrote: “The rights of religious and ethnic minorities are routinely trampled. While Indonesia’s Constitution protects freedom of religion, regulations against blasphemy and proselytizing are routinely used to prosecute atheists, Bahais, Christians, Shiites, Sufis and members of the Ahmadiyya faith — a Muslim sect declared to be deviant in many Islamic countries. By 2010, Indonesia had over 150 religiously motivated regulations restricting minorities' rights.”

*

It is Sunday and several Chinese restaurants at Galaxy Mall in Surabaya are full. Patrons in front of those establishments have to stand in line. Chinese pop blares from a music store. But this mall is considered to be an exclusive Chinese shopping heaven. This is where people from the Chinese minority come to eat, shop, play and even pray.

Just a few minutes’ drive away, in an ancient Chinese ash house, Mr. Freddy H. Istanto, an architect and director of the Surabaya Heritage Society, laments the destruction of Chinese culture in Indonesia: “I believe that in 1965 and after, there was a grand design for the world, by a great power, which selected Indonesia as the stopping point for Communism. And Communism succeeded in Vietnam and Cambodia, and grew powerfully in Indonesia under Sukarno. There was a strong bond between Jakarta and Beijing. Chinese people were associated with Communism. Therefore, everything Chinese was eradicated…”

Indonesia has never seriously addressed its past. Open discussion about the genocides of 1965-66, or in East Timor and Papua, is strongly discouraged. Discouraged also are discussions about the present social collapse and the cannibalistic structure of the Indonesian economy.

“Rich people and foreigners are now eating all there is left of our natural resources,” explained an activist from an environmental NGO. “Java, where the majority of people live, produces nothing. So, once there is nothing left to plunder, Indonesians will starve, or begin eating each other.”

Such a prediction is perhaps too radical, but with almost no production to speak of, with miserable infrastructure, no research and almost no intellectual output, Indonesia appears to be in pressing need of a total overhaul, instead of serving as an example to other countries that are currently under the West’s heel.

The Indonesian model should definitely be studied, but as a chilling warning to the world.

*

Andre Vltchek and Crista Priscilla for RT

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

Crista Priscilla is an Indonesian filmmaker, writer and photographer.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.