by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Indonesia Correspondent
January 29, 2008
DEATH OF A KEMUSU THUG
JAKARTA, Jan. 28, 2008 -- A few minutes after hearing that former president Suharto had died in his hospital bed, Marco, a militia leader in downtown Jakarta, raced to Suharto¹s house, wearing his jungle camouflage and began guarding the Suhartos¹ residence on Cendana Street.
"It¹s a huge loss. His death left me bereft. I immediately flew a half-mast flag in front of my house," Marco said, adding that he used mobile phones to send the news to his colleagues.
Fitullah, another militiaman, said, :We came here because of our conscience. If we waited for instructions, it was not fast enough."
More than 300 militia members, in addition to soldiers of the Kopassus special command, lined Cendana Street to pay their last respects to their patriarch. "He was the patron of our organization," said Marco.
Suharto died on Sunday at 1:10PM Jakarta time. By 4PM, his body was already lying in state in his living room. Government officials, politicians, generals and businessmen, along with reporters with their cameras, boom mikes and satellite vans already crowded neighborhood streets.
Like most Javanese, Marco and Fitullah use only one name. They are members of the Pemuda Pancasila, or the Pancasila Youth, a grassroots organization whose members are mostly thugs. "We have around 11 millions members," said Marco.
It is not a coincidence that the militias were present in Suharto¹s house. Benedict Anderson, a Cornell University professor and an old hand in Indonesia, once wrote an essay on Suharto¹s thuggery. Anderson called Suharto "Gali Pelarian Kemusuk," or "The Thug from Kemusu."
Suharto was born on June 8, 1921, in the village of Kemusu in Central Java. Though his was a simple peasant family, Suharto received a relatively good education. As a teenager, Suharto enlisted for a three-year contract with the Dutch colonial army, the Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indisch Leger. But a week after the end of his training, the Dutch surrendered to the invading Japanese army.
Suharto switched sides. He joined a Japanese-trained militia. But Japan soon lost World War II and two Indonesian independence fighters, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, declared Indonesia¹s independence in August 1945. Suharto switched sides again. He officially joined the Indonesian army.
In the 1950s, he was a low-profile and daring officer once was found involved in smuggling activities. It was a revolutionary period. and it was difficult to differentiate militias, thugs, army officers and bandits. Suharto argued that it was okay to conduct "businesses" to feed his men. Suharto¹s superiors, instead of firing him, decided it was safer to take him off his Diponegoro command and sent him to an officer-training program. Thus his political career began.
It opened up in October 1965 when hundreds of army officers kidnapped and killed several generals. Major General Suharto knew of the plan. The kidnappers were mostly his Diponegoro colleagues. They initially planned to bring the generals to face President Sukarno for allegedly planning a coup. Suharto decided to move against them and began a purge against Sukarno but put the blame on the communists. At least, 500,000 people were murdered in 1965 and 1966 in the purge that fopllowed, made famous in the movie starring Helent Hunt and Mel Gibson, "The Year of Living Dangerously."
Hundreds of thousands of others spent years in prison without clear charges against them. On a routine basis, they suffered excruciating torture. They endured incalculable losses of property to theft and looting, suffered casual rapes, and social ostracism for years; this was the fate not only of the former prisoners but also of their wives and widows, children, and kinfolk. There were stories about wives who slept with soldiers that guarded their husbands. And militia organizations mushroomed with Suharto¹s rise to power.
Dozens of intellectuals and activists were exiled to Buru Island. Journalists were not spared. Adam Schwarz, in his book "A Nation in Waiting," wrote "In 1965-1966, about a quarter of Indonesia's 160 or so newspapers were shut down because of alleged communist links and hundreds of journalists were arrested."
Suharto recruited American-trained economists to build Indonesia¹s economy. They worked closely with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other Western governments. They opened up Indonesia¹s vast natural resources to international investors, using the money to build badly needed infrastructures but also to slow down population growth. They introduced hybrid rice but indirectly also created dependency on fertilizer and pesticides on rural farms.
In 1971, he introduced a new spelling of the ndonesuian language called Bahasa Indonesia, bringing in a host of new euphemisms into the language. With Orwellian fanaticism, new words were introduced, and older one were give new and twiested meanings. For example, the word "diamankat" means, literally, means, "to be secured." In Suharto-speak, it came to mean "someone to be detained" - mostly to be tortured and, in came to mean "someone to be detained" - mostly to be tortured and, in many cases, killed.
Suharto also invaded East Timor in 1975 with the support of Washington, London, Tokyo and Canberra. His troops killed 100,000 to 200,000 in East Timor, and around 100,000 in West Papua; tens of thousands more died in Aceh, Lampung, Tanjung Priok and elsewhere.
The East Timor Action Network (ETAN), a New York-based human rights group, called Suharto, ³One of the worst mass murderers of the 20th century.²
Suharto also accumulated an appalling legacy of corruption - $15 to $35 billion dollars stolen by him, his cronies, and his family. He discriminated against the nation's substantial Chinese minority but used some Chinese tycoons to build his business empires.
In the 1980s, once his regime was stabilized and won the support of the Western establishment, his doctrine was buried in Orwellian doublespeak. The doublespeak was needed because of the contradiction between his concept of stability, order, freedom and democracy and the actual principles of those ideas.
When President Suharto said that "our Pancasila democracy" would prevail, in fact he meant that his regime would prevail. When he talked about "our responsibility," he meant "your responsibility" - not his.
The Asian economic crisis exposed the weaknesses of his development programs. Poverty in rural areas was rampant. The outer islands were left far behind Java Island, where Jakarta and principal cities are located. Sectarian conflicts were burning under his rule despite repressive military actions that killed thousands.
In May 1998, Suharto stepped down from his 32-year rule after the Indonesian rupiah suffered an extreme fall. Even in retirement, though, he still blamed his ministers for the killings and corruptions of his time.
Suharto avoided prosecution on heatlh grounds. He was hospitalized 14 times between 1999 and 2007. Through those hospitalizations, Suharto managed to avoid personal accountability for the genocide, destruction and corruption he inflicted upon those he presumed to rule.
He also managed to protect the generals, cronies and family members who carried out his orders via massacre, torture and theft. They still live in perfect luxury in Jakarta, visiting his house in their black limousines and haute-couture designs.
The dictator's last hospitalization took place two weeks ago when again he complained about health complications. He was nearing his death but many people believed it was a difficult one due to his many amulets.
Last week, B.J. Habibie, the loyale vice president who replaced Suharto in 1998, flew from the Habibies¹ home in Germany to visit the ailing Suharto. Suharto, however, rudely refused to see Habibie. He believed Habibie had betrayed him.
One thng had not changed: Suharto, once a thug, was always a thug.
Andreas Harsono is based in Jakarta, where he works for the Pantau Foundation, a media training organization. He has written for the American Reporter since 1995 and received the Nieman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard University in 1999. He maintains a blog at www.andreasharsono.blogspot.com.