Let’s for a moment forget that the issue of President Joko Widodo would like to apologize to the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) was initially an issue that was talked about by certain parties to further associate Joko Widodo with communism or people of the Indonesian Communist Party. So far, no signs, signals, or communications from the President appeared to apologize to the PKI. Although being critical to the government is very important, dirty tricks in politics is not a good manner in creating a mature and civilized society.
However, Joko Widodo President’s statement stating that he was forbidden to apologize to the PKI in front of religious leaders at a conference of religious organizations in Indonesia, gave rise to a worrying signal for reconciliation over past-time’s state atrocities. Of course we are not talking about reviving the party that had become one of the bearers of third largest communism in the world after the Soviet Union and China, but the problem is much bigger than that.
There are millions of people who were killed simply because they were associated with a particular political identity, also hundreds of thousands of others were persecuted, imprisoned, exiled without getting legal and political justice from the state. Event known as PKI massacres in 1965-1966 was deliberately humanitarian atrocities committed by the state in order to strengthen their power in the early days of independence. The wrongly convicted people, who were already in jail and became second-class citizens as a former political prisoner lived for decades in misery, because all official institutions rejected them. They were punished by their own country for acts, which they never did.
However, after the establishment of the democratic regime in 1998, when all the channels of freedom and human rights for all individuals opened in Indonesia, these humanitarian atrocities go unpunished and forgotten. The older people who were involved in political parties chose to forget this incident with the excuse to move on from the past. The officials with military background such as the Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs in 2012, Djoko Suyanto openly declared that the mass slaughter of millions of Indonesian citizens was needed when viewed from the political context at that time. Meanwhile, Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan indirectly rejected the idea of reconciliation, but still unclear from the opposite point of view.
However, what is of concern is the absence of the younger generation to understand this issue more extensively. On 30 September, a number hash tag #G30SPKI sprung up to commemorate the tragedy of the death of some generals in the events of 30 September Movement (Gerakan 30 September), how can the present generation is more sympathetic to victims of the conflict in the army, compared to the mass murder of millions of civilians that came a few months after that?
Communism is clearly a closed ideology that has failed to bring prosperity to the countries that applied it. Communism is a bankrupted ideology. Even in some countries that apply extreme communism, removing the right of private property and take over all the resources to belong to the state, the extraordinary humanitarian disasters, such as hunger and mass misery also happen. However, using the justification of “fighting communism” to create political legitimacy is equally destructive, it cannot be justified. The New Order, with the use of a symbol of centralized power called “Pancasila” created a similar symbol as ” Pancasila enemy” called “communism.” In an analysis of the consolidation of power, after the political forces are divided in the final period of President Sukarno with guided democracy (or rather authoritarianism), military faction – led by General Suharto – saw the need to create a common enemy, which was regarded as the ringleader of all the chaos. And PKI in its time was the common enemy of all resistance organizations of government because it was considered as the culprit of the economic privation for Indonesian people.
The massacre in 1965 was a major embarrassment in the course of a nation. But it is not only Indonesia that has a history of such great disgrace. Other nations have done the same. Who would have thought the United States as a great nation that gave birth to many modern thinkers of the 21st century, has introduced a system of slavery for black people? Because of the slave system, the United States had experienced a great civil war between the northern region and the southern region. However, they now realized and admitted their mistakes by issuing an acknowledgment of wrongful acts against the system of slavery they did in the past. In their various historical monuments, they put acknowledgement of wrongful acts so that the future generations will not repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.
Without ever admitting mistakes in the past, Indonesia will never be a civilized nation. Wrongful acts are covered up no better than acknowledged and regretted upon. To admit mistakes because it had slaughtered millions of people who were judged as “PKI henchmen” is instead regarded as a disgrace to the history of our children and grandchildren someday. If this will never be acknowledged and regretted – and certainly with apology, then there is no guarantee that this terrible incident would not be repeated in the future.
Thus, should the president apologize? No, if it is only addressed to a party in the past. Related to apologizing to millions of individuals who have experienced major catastrophe for life because they were associated with PKI, then there is no better word than obligatory! Our humanity is always hurting to look at violations of human rights being conducted by the state.
Therefore, Mr. Joko Widodo, this is not just about an apology. It’s about our humanity.