Indonesia: 'The struggle must be completed'
[The following is from a talk presented by a People's Democratic Party (PRD) leader and recently released political prisoner, WILSON BIN NURTIAS, at the public meeting "East Timor, Indonesia: the future", held in Sydney on November 28. It was translated and abridged for Green Left Weekly by James Balowski.]
After the student-led mass struggle which forced Suharto to resign in May, the Indonesian democratic movement lost some of it focus, its "common enemy", and became unclear on how to move ahead.
This ended, however, with the approach of the special session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) on November 10. Widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the MPR resulted in mass actions being organised by students in cities all across Indonesia — rejecting the MPR and calling for an end to the "dual role" of the military and for Suharto to be tried.
The killing of six student demonstrators by the military at the Atmajaya University in Jakarta, on November 13, created a "national consensus" on the demand to end the military's dual role and was able to unite different elements of the student movement. During this time, there was also a marked increase in the "quality" of the radical opposition movement.
There were a number of reasons for this.
Because students were calling for an immediate end to the political role of the military, the position of the moderate opposition figures such as Amien Rais, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Gus Dur [Abdurrachman Wahid] and Sultan Hamengkubowono of Yogyakarta — who called for a "phased" reduction over six years — became increasingly unpopular. Their position was widely condemned by students, and the illusion which many had in them was dealt a serious blow.
The mass actions by students were able to mobilise workers, peasants and the urban poor. The November 12-14 actions taught students that with political leadership, the people could become a force capable of challenging the military.
It was quite clear from repeated radio broadcasts by armed forces chief Wiranto — who pleaded with the people not to join in with the students — that the regime was very frightened by this development. In Jakarta the military consciously tried to physically separate the people from the students.
It should also be noted that, unlike the riots which broke out in May, there were relatively few attacks on the ethnic Chinese, and many examples of students being able to convince the masses that the government and the military were the real enemy, not the Chinese.
Especially after the students were shot, the militancy and radicalism increased dramatically. It was clear that the students and people were not going to retreat or be demoralised by the repression. Instead, it only served to further radicalise the masses.
In many cases where students were attacked by armed thugs mobilised by the regime, ordinary people took up weapons to defend the students and drive the thugs away.
Often the target of the actions became local and regional military headquarters. In the case of a demonstration in Solo, Central Java, demonstrations even targeted the headquarters of the elite Kopassus battalion — which receives training in Australia and is at the forefront of the repression in East Timor.
In other cases, strategic installations such as government radio stations were targeted, students in a number of cities occupying these for long periods and using them to broadcast their demands.
Another development was less of a tendency to be dependent upon or able to be coopted by the political elite. The student movement became more independent and began to orient more to the people. The slogan "The people united will never be defeated", for example, became common at many demonstrations.
All this led to a greater spirit of cooperation and a desire by students to build a united front against the regime and more coordinated actions. On November 14, massive demonstrations were held simultaneously in Medan, Bandung, Bogor, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Samarinda, Jember, Pontianak, Ambon, Ujung Pandang, Solo, Purwokerto, Bandjarmasin, Denpasar, Semarang and Padang, all calling for the resignation of Wiranto and that he be held accountable for the actions of his troops.
Regime on defensive
The widespread anger against the military and broad support for an end to its political role have placed the regime in a very defensive position. It has been forced to make a number of concessions, such as reducing the military's seats in parliament from 75 to 55 and a "phased" (but unspecified) reduction in its political role.
At the same time the regime has also resorted to "traditional" justifications to legitimise the role of the military, asserting that they are a "stabilising" force.
It has resorted to the same tactics as Suharto, claiming that the student movement is infiltrated by subversive elements and arresting its opponents. But the bloody events of November 13 proved to everyone that the military will always use violence against peaceful demonstrators.
This is also the case in East Timor. Despite the much publicised troop withdrawals, it is now clear that, if anything, troop numbers have actually increased. Between November 10 and 16 in the subdistrict of Alas, the military killed as many as 50 unarmed civilians in revenge for an attack by Falintil guerillas.
Similarly in Aceh, North Sumatra: an official end to its status as a military operation zone and supposed troop withdrawals have not ended the violence. In West Papua, the military are still killing those struggling for independence.
The regime has also resorted to mobilising right-wing groups against the opposition, often in the guise of Muslim activists. Hired thugs, called pam swakarsa or civil defence, were mobilised against demonstrators during the MPR session, and many believe the military were behind the recent wave of so called "ninja" killings in East Java.
There is also evidence that the military may have been behind the rioting and burning of a church in Jakarta on November 22 in which 13 people died. Their aim, of course, is to create conflicts between different social forces and thus legitimise their "stabilising" role.
Past and present Australian governments have long supported the Suharto regime despite its systematic abuse of human rights. Although Suharto has been replaced by his hand-picked choice, B.J. Habibie, the structure of the regime remains in place.
The blood of the dead students had barely dried when Prime Minister John Howard publicly praised Habibie for going further with reforms than anyone could have expected and describing the shooting of peaceful demonstrators as a show of great "restraint" by the military.
As a result of all this there has been an opening up of political space — not just in Indonesia but also in East Timor, where there have been huge mobilisations in Dili and other cities demanding self-determination. This proves that the tactic of linking the fight for democracy in Indonesia and the struggle for self-determination in East Timor is a correct one.
Just recently thousands of people held a demonstration at the local parliament to commemorate the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre. During Suharto's time, mass mobilisations in East Timor could be organised only through religious events or when there were high-profile visits by representatives of the United Nations or the European Union.
Local newspapers in East Timor are now more independent, and coverage of mass actions and their demands has become an effective tool for political education. Leaflets calling for demonstrations have also begun to be used to mobilise the masses.
The support within the democratic movement in Indonesia for a referendum in East Timor has also broadened significantly. At many student demonstrations against the military in Java, East Timorese students have joined the demonstrations and are involved in the action committees.
The press, which is now more free of state control, is reporting on events in East Timor in a far more objective way.
From its very beginning, the PRD was convinced that freedom can be won for the people of East Timor, although struggle for genuine reform in Indonesia still has a long way to go. I would like to reconfirm our ongoing commitment to support the struggle for self-determination by the Maubere people.
[Wilson was sentenced to five years' jail for "subversion" in June 1997. Following the fall of Suharto and increasing international pressure to release political prisoners, Wilson was released on July 27, 1998. He is now the coordinator of the PRD's department of education and publicity and the coordinator of the Indonesian People's Solidarity Struggle with the Maubere People.]