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New Left Review 104, March-April 2017


rohana kuddus

THE GHOSTS OF 1965

Politics and Memory in Indonesia

One might think twenty years would be time enough for an ‘emerging democracy’ to escape from its chrysalis. Indonesia was a laggard in the wave that saw procedural democracy restored across much of Latin America, the Soviet bloc and Sub-Saharan Africa by the mid-1990s, along with the toppling of dictators in the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan. But after thirty-three years in power, Suharto’s iron grip was loosened only by the social catastrophe of the 1997 Asian crisis, when pressure from the imf as much as turmoil from below forced his resignation in 1998. Since then, an electoral cycle has stabilized, and in 2014 an outsider presidential candidate, Joko Widodo, was swept into office. Jokowi, as he’s known, had even promised to investigate the mass killings of 1965–66 which inaugurated Suharto’s New Order—a subject recently gaining wide attention from Western viewers thanks to Joshua Oppenheimer’s film The Act of Killing (2012). While every Cold War dictatorship tried to wipe out its radical-left opponents, Suharto succeeded on a far greater scale—some 500,000 killed, on conservative estimates, compared to 3,000 in Chile or 20,000 in Argentina. The New Order not only annihilated the 3-million strong Communist Party of Indonesia (pki) as a political force but succeeded in demonizing its memory on a scale that surpassed comparable efforts in Franco’s Spain, let alone those of Pinochet or the Argentine Junta.

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