More than 50 years after D.N. Aidit was executed during an anti-communist purge in Indonesia, his stature as a top leader of the dissolved Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) still casts a shadow on his son Ilham’s life.
Ilham was only six when Dipa Nusantara Aidit, the chairman of the PKI’s central committee, was put to death in November 1965 as part of a nationwide crackdown on suspected communists that killed at least 500,000 people.
Communism was banned in Indonesia that year, and countless Indonesians like Ilham have since suffered the stigma of being associated with the old PKI. As a junior in high school in Bandung, West Java, he fought with fellow students almost every day because he could not stand their verbal attacks against his late father, Ilham told BenarNews.
That dark period in Indonesia’s history has remained a taboo subject. But in April, the Indonesian government for the first time convened a two-day symposium where Indonesians were invited to discuss the mass killings.
Indonesian human rights advocates have since lobbied the government to pursue a national reconciliation over what happened in 1965-66, although President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has said that his administration would not apologize for the killings.
In early June, some retired army generals organized a counter-symposium at which they warned against a communist resurgence, yet provided no clear proof of how that threat has manifested itself.
In an interview at his home in Bandung, Ilham Aidit, an architect, talked at length about his hopes for a national reconciliation, how this could take shape, and how he has come to accept that people who were victimized during the anti-communist purge likely won’t ever get an apology from Indonesia’s central government.
BenarNews: Have you lost your trust in the government?
Ilham Aidit: I am pessimistic but I don’t know. I think the Jokowi factor will be influential in this matter. Jokowi is firm, right?
After the first symposium, there were many disagreements. Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan [Indonesia’s security minister] and Agus Widjojo [chairman of the government-sponsored symposium], I saw they were kind of more tolerant, but in reality the resistance is so great.
That is why the Jokowi factor is influential. Would he apologize? Rehabilitation is the president’s prerogative.
BN: Are other relatives and families of victims as pessimistic as you are?
IA: Not really, but I hope the government can take the example from Palu [in Central Sulawesi province]. The mayor is amazing. They achieved reconciliation and acknowledged that there were mass killings in 1965 in Palu. The local administration apologized.
Even though it didn't compensate [people], they [did] provide social security and free medical service for former prisoners who are sick. They will get that until the third generation, if I am not mistaken.
That should be an example, the least that Jokowi can do.
BN: What did you think of the June 1-2 symposium organized by the retired generals?
IA: The symposium was a joke. It carried a theme for reconciliation but they said “no need to apologize.”
Well, that’s not reconciliation.
It reflects that there’s discord in the army. There are the reformist generals such as Agus Widjojo, Hendropriyono and Luhut [Binsar] Pandjaitan, who realized that human rights violations require a well-intended settlement.
At best, even though it would be bitter, they would say, ‘it’s OK for the Armed Forces to take the blame,” because there was proof that they were guilty at that time….
Meanwhile, there is the anti-reformist military faction, including [Defense Minister] Ryamizard Ryacudu, Kivlan Zen and Kiki Syahnakri. In their minds, they are still in the golden era of the military under Suharto.
BN: All this time why have you ruled out a legal settlement?
IA: The non-judicial option is the right one for an old problem. There is strong evidence for this.
There are four conditions for a good reconciliation.
First, acknowledging that the mass killings did happen. Second, acknowledging this publicly. Third, telling the truth. After acknowledging that, telling it as it is – explaining it in school history books and explaining its impact.
Fourth, repairing the situation. It’s related to compensation, rehabilitation and amnesty.
‘He should have been tried’
BN: But Luhut said that an apology seemed unlikely. Do you think the government should still apologize?
IA: I backed down because Luhut said that probably there would only be an expression of regret. But you know the difference between expression of regrets and an apology? The former is just being sympathetic.
Now I am worried that even that will not happen.
Rehabilitation without unveiling the truth would be weird. … That is weird logic.
DNA [D.N. Aidit] never faced a trial. He should have been tried if he was guilty. No problem if he was sentenced to death, if he was so. But there should have been a fair trial.
BN: Presidents have changed a number of times but the issue of the anti-communist purge in 1965-66 has never been settled. What made this drag on over the decades?
IA: The anti-communist propaganda by [President Suharto’s] New Order was overwhelming. It really stuck into a lot of people’s minds, generated hatred for those who don’t even know anything, and it still exists.
That is why such resistance prevails. On the other hand there are also those who say “don’t settle this issue.” It’s clear that they are guilty.
BN: Who is perpetrating this?
IA: There are some generals who yearn for the military glory of the New Order and have tried to find their way back through this issue. It’s quite popular and still talked about as an issue….
Luckily people are smart now.
But it’s weird that they think there is still a communist threat. We are the most fearful country.
In this world, no country is more afraid of a communist resurgence than Indonesia…. What they should be afraid of is the real threat from radical groups such as IS or al-Qaeda.
Communist revival? How would they finance it? Everyone knows that the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) Decree No. XXV/1966 (TAP MPR) banned communism….
BN: What are your concerns if this issue drags on even longer?
IA: [Y]ou can guess it. The younger generation would never see a good example.
Just imagine when you hear that the state apologizes. Wouldn’t you respect them?
The younger generation can emulate the honorable action. They can also emulate the victims that had been vilified but are still able to say “I forgive.”
BN: How well do you know communism?
IA: I used to know that my father was a communist, head of the PKI. That was all I had in mind. They defended farmers, fishermen and the people. But when I was in high school, I became interested in reading about communism, and found that Marxism was its foundation.
BN: What moved you to learn about communism?
IA: It was mainly spurred by curiosity to find out what my father really did that was wrong. Was he that great that he was seen as so demoralizing?
When I was in high school, I started to have some analytical skills and realized that there are tenets in this world. There is a tenet that favors money, there is a tenet that believes all the wealth in this world should be split equally because people can’t choose who they are born to be.
I learned the concept of communism through a high school friend whose father had a lot of books on communism, even though he was not a communist. Let’s say you admire Gandhi. You can have books about him, even though he was a Hindu.
So I learned from that.
BN: Does being a communist mean that you are an atheist?
IA: Being a communist does not mean that you are an atheist….
My father fasted and celebrated Eid. But he thought that to create a new world, there should be elimination of social classes. It has nothing to do with God. Being branded as atheist? It’s a New Order [Suharto era] propaganda and it worked.
Marx said material possessions should be spilt equally and the world would be better. I agree with that principle. Everything should be split equally. Don't let capitalists rule over us.
BN: So, are you a communist?
IA: I can say I am more of a Marxist, instead of a communist.
BN: Are you an atheist?
IA: I’m fasting now. I am a religious Marxist. Isn’t that confusing?