September 30 Movement, the PKI ghost and political elite propaganda

CNN Indonesia – September 30, 2020
PKI Batavia (Jakarta) commissariat meeting in 1925 (Wikimedia Commons)

Jakarta – “It’s difficult not to admit that the discourse on the revival of communism surfaces every year in lead up to September 30 or October 1. Because it emerges repeatedly at the same time every year, it’s difficult to deny that the issue is intentionally brought up for political interests”.

This statement was made by National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas) Governor retired Lieutenant General Agus Widjojo during a discussion on the issue of the Indonesian Communist Party’s (PKI) revival which surfaces every year.

If looked at, the statement by the son of revolutionary hero Major General Anumerta Sutoyo Siswomiharjo is understandable. The issue of the PKI ghost often follows political mobilisations by certain individuals.

Who knows where it originates from, but the PKI ghost always surfaces out of the blue, to attack a particular group, or figure or even intentionally brought up to attract people’s sympathy. Nevertheless, the fact is that the Indonesian people themselves do indeed seem unable to free themselves from the horrors of the PKI which have been implanted in Indonesian social consciousness since 1965.

“The issue of the PKI and communism continues to raise its head in society, why does it happen and why does it continue to happen, because the issue is managed. Managed by sections of the political elite who use the PKI issue as a propaganda instrument to downgrade or bring down political opponents”, said Indonesian Public Institute Executive Director Karyono Wibowo when sought for an opinion by CNN Indonesia on Wednesday September 30.

Wibowo believes that the political elite consciously maintain the PKI ghost to frighten people and gain benefits through public sympathy over the affair which took place long ago, the truth of which is actually overlapping and contradictory.

Propaganda using the PKI issue has indeed been used since the New Order regime under the 32 year rule of former president Suharto. And the propaganda has been continued to this day by presenting the PKI as a bogyman, a horror tale and by citing one or two parties as successors of the PKI. Every single year, in the lead up to September 30.

Best known is the film The Betrayal of the September 30 Movement/Indonesian Communist Party (Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI) film from the 1980s when the New Order regime was in power when it was obligatory for high school students to watch the film and it was screened on national television each year on the night of September 30.

The obligatory screenings themselves ended with the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. However the film itself over the last three years, around September 30, has sprung back with support and opposition for joint screenings of the film.

Wibowo says that the issue of the revival of the PKI itself seems difficult to diffuse and will continue to surface each year. This happens because although Indonesia has entered the era of reformasi – the political reform process which began in 1998 – the issue will not stop because it continues to be managed by certain parties.

“Why does it keep happening, because it’s managed, yes. The issue is managed. Then post reformasi the PKI didn’t stop because it continued to be managed by the political elite for certain goals”, he said.

Wibowo says that there is no way to stop the issue emerging because there are still parties who feel they need it for their own interests. Although it is seen as ineffective, there will still be those who use the propaganda of the PKI’s revival every year.

“Actually using [PKI] propaganda to bring down political opponents has consistently failed. It’s a propaganda that’s no longer effective”, said Wibowo. “Actually it’s a failure, but it always resurfaces. I’m surprised at why the issue is still always propagandised. Used to [try and] bring down political opponents”.

It is not surprising therefore that Wibowo views those parties who still whip up the PKI issue to bring down political opponents as people who lack creativity.

“I see them as being uncreative. They should learn from experience. Why does it always fail. Because reality has changed. This should be the basis for a reevaluation by those parties which use the PKI issue for political propaganda”, he said.

Better to discuss more substantial issues

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid meanwhile says that if indeed the PKI is being revived in Indonesia it is no more than an effort by certain parties to take advantage of political conflict to attack an ideology of the past.

He is therefore asking the public to ignore the machinations echoing fears of a PKI revival which emerge every September. Moreover in constitutional terms, the state clearly and firmly regulates the ban on the PKI.

This regulation, said Hamid, is contained in Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly Decree (TAP MPRS) Number 25/1996 on the dissolution of the Indonesian Communist Party and Law Number 27/1999 on crimes against state security.

“It would be better for the [public] to ignore this (the PKI issue) and it be directed towards a more constructive dialectic about the substance of our mutual lives”, said Hamid.

Instead of discussing the past horrors of the PKI, which have actually not yet been proven, according to Hamid it would be better after 20 years of reformasi to discuss issues which are far more useful.

The former Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) coordinator believes that the conflicts that should surface in Indonesian society at the moment should be about social justice and freedom.

“So I think that this antagonism has to shift away from identity [politics] to something more substantial”, he said. “Do you steal the country’s money, do you defend the country’s money from corruption, do you protect human rights, protect our people from being abducted or conversely do you justify this and in the name of what”, said Hamid.

Meanwhile in relation to the screening of the G30S/PKI film, which over the last three years has been the subject of lively discussion every September, the government says that it will neither prohibit it nor make it obligatory.

“So please go ahead, television stations that feel they want to broadcast it and have a contract with those who hold the broadcast rights, go ahead. Those that want to watch it on YouTube as well, go ahead”, said Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal affairs Mahfud MD in a video recording received by CNN Indonesia on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Mahfud said that the government will of course continue to prohibit joint screenings of the G30S/PKI film which fail to pay attention to health protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“The government will only prohibit it if there are crowds, including for example joint screenings which violate health protocols”, said the former Constitutional Court chief justice.

Earlier, House of Representatives (DPR) Deputy Speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad also made a similar statement. The Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) politician said that there are no regulations which oblige or prohibit watching the film. (tst/kid)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “G30S, Isu Hantu PKI dan Gorengan Basi Elite Politik”.]