Scholar speaks on Indonesian democracy


By Arun Pradhan

Indonesian academic George Aditjondro has consistently exposed the repression that occurs in his own country, but is better known for his outspoken support for independence in East Timor. Now lecturing at Murdoch University in Perth, Aditjondro spoke to Green Left Weekly about the Indonesian pro-democracy movement and the future of East Timor.

Last year the military commander of Central Java said, "It may be necessary to take action against Dr George Aditjondro". Just days later, Aditjondro's house was attacked by stone-throwing thugs. More recently he has been hounded and taken for questioning under Article 207 of the Indonesian criminal code, for "insulting a government authority or body".

These tactics have failed to silence Aditjondro, who noted the new importance of speaking out: "I have been concerned about East Timor for 20 years, but it was only the emergence of a new awareness after the Dili massacre that has given me the political space to talk about it".

Aditjondro published two papers in March last year which took full advantage of this space. The papers report the use of napalm and Agent Orange in the 1975 invasion, the blocking of famine relief and executions and the use of resettlement camps by Indonesian forces. His research also supported the estimate of 200,000 deaths under the occupation, with 10% of East Timor's population being killed in the first two months of the invasion.


The growth in the international movement for an independent East Timor has led to signs of concessions. Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas has flagged the possibility of a form of "special status" for East Timor, with Gareth Evans following suit and discussing "autonomy".

Aditjondro points out that, until it is fully defined, "autonomy" could be positive or negative. "If you look at the Palestinians, they are now undergoing a process of statehood via an embryonic state in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. On the other hand, if autonomy is not seen as part of a larger program of self-determination, then it is misleading."

Autonomy as a stage in a larger process is consistent with the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM) peace plan. This plan outlines three phases: talks and reduction of Indonesia's military presence; autonomy with self-government under supervision of the United Nations; finally self-determination indicated by a referendum.

"One can argue about the lengths of each phase, but the plan is moderate and does offer Indonesia a face-saving way out of East Timor", commented Aditjondro.

Beyond peace proposals, he emphasised the need for greater discussion amongst East Timorese about longer term questions. "What sort of state do they want, what is to be the role for the church, what about the military, which after years of war has become historically strong, what kind of economic system do they want? These questions must be put on the agenda now."

To this end, Aditjondro sees a need to increase the role of CNRM outside East Timor. "It needs to broaden out much more. It needs new people to come into it and to be more representative. They could learn from the PLO about setting up a broad-based government in exile."

Indonesian movements

International solidarity with East Timor has been growing, but according to Aditjondro, less so within Indonesia. "The Indonesian pro-democracy movement has seen East Timor as a hot potato because it might unite the armed forces. As I learnt the hard way, when intelligence officers came to my house, all Indonesians officers and battalions have served there and have come back with hostility.

"There are young people who have solidarity with East Timor, like the workers' movement of Dita Sari. But the fact that the death of seven East Timorese workers in Indonesia went largely ignored shows how little the workers' and student movements have seriously studied the cause of East Timor."

Another factor is the state of the movements in Indonesia. "The pro-democracy movement is in its early phases", explained Aditjondro. "It is a convergence of other movements ... They came to the realisation that the whole political system had to be changed. So, for example, the environment movement realised it could not just act like fire fighters jumping from one project to another."

The newness of the movement was largely caused by the mass killings of Communist Party members and movement activists when Suharto came to power in 1965. The murder of more than 500,000 people erased much of the left tradition and history.

According to Aditjondro, pressure on activists continues. "Now we see the beginning of a new crackdown on alternative media", he said in reference to the recent arrest of four journalists. "After the banning of the mainstream media, that is Editor, Tempo and De Tik, there was new impetus for the already existing alternative media to grow. They would go more in depth and attack the core of the regime, such as their business interests." The journalists were charged for publicly insulting the government and face up to seven years jail.

"In the near future the pro-democracy movement will be busy simply defending their own turf. This is the shrewdness of the regime that creates splits, harasses people and arrests the leaders. So now, for example, supporters of these journalists will be stuck fighting in court."

Discussion of aims

While acknowledging the stage of the pro-democracy movement and the difficulties it faces, Aditjondro again stated the need for more discussion of aims and clarification about what sort of Indonesia is being fought for. "A big debate will be whether Indonesia will be a unitary or federal state, and even what contributions can the various Indonesian cultures make in forming a pluralistic socialist state.

"This might involve some sectors of the economy being state run. For example in Java it might be electricity and rail. But where there are other cultures such as primitive communist states or clan societies, I'm one of the few socialists in Indonesia who are arguing for 'clan socialism'. That is the control of natural resources in these areas by the clans who traditionally live from them.

"We need to be creative and explore different socialisms, from the Stalinist model to various models such as the anarcho-syndicalist one. It is now the time, even before the fall of Suharto, that we must talk about these options in a non-dogmatic way."

Aditjondro ended by pointing out the immense responsibility resting on the pro-democracy movement. "We can not just wait for Suharto to die without dealing with the role of the military or putting limits on the powers of the next president and so on."

The struggle over a successor has brought out conflicts within the Indonesian ruling class. "The splits amongst the military and even sectors within the bourgeoisie who have also been marginalised may give support to the democracy movement.

"But ultimately the movement cannot rely on cracks in the elite. To win, the democracy movement must continue to build its strength with the working class, and potentially form broader alliances with farmers, small business owners and even religious groups."
[George Aditjondro will be speaking on a panel called "The struggle for East Timorese self-determination" at the Marxist Educational Conference, in Perth, during the Easter Weekend, April 15-17.]

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