“When the World Turned to Chaos”
1965 and Its Aftermath in Bali, Indonesia
LESLIE DWYER AND DEGUNG SANTIKARMA
In May 1998, when Suharto stepped down from the presidency of Indonesia, a torrent of talk was unleashed about the past, present, and future of the country he had ruled for more than thirty-two years. As censorship of the media was lifted and as laws prohibiting the formation of political parties were repealed, a newly vibrant civil society began to overflow with optimism and openness. From the halls of the People's Consultative Assembly inJakarta to the small warung food stalls that serve as gathering places for the archipelago's poor, one word was being uttered that seemed to condense a national consciousness: reformasi, the new era that would leave the legacy of Suharto's “New Order” regime behind.
But even as Indonesia was looking to its future with a heady sense of hope, the fall of Suharto saw stories emerge into public culture that had long been silenced. Reports began to be heard of military murders, torture, and sexual violence in Aceh and East Timor. Tales began to be told of the everyday terror of living under a regime committed to surveillance of its population and to spectacles flouting its military might. And people begansome haltingly, some looking warily over their shoulders, and a few more boldly–to speak about the inaugural events of Suharto's rule: the violence of 1965, inwhich up to 1 millionpeople were brutally killed over the span of a few bloody months.
Today, in the aftermath of the initial euphoria of reform, with communal violence continuing across Indonesia, we believe that it has become even more urgent to address the events that brought Suharto to power and to understand how they continue to haunt national and local imaginations,
This essay was first prepared for a conference on comparative genocide in Barcelona, December 6–10, 2000, organized by Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan and funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Our work is based on field research in Bali, Indonesia, funded by a MacArthur Foundation Global Security and Sustainability Research and Writing Grant for collaborative research.