Subject: Nairn: Gen. Suharto of Indonesia. One Small Man Leaves a Million Corpses.

Also SUHARTO - AS HE LAYS DYING By Andre Vltchek

News and Comment,

Sunday, January 13, 2008 (US Eastern time) posted by Allan Nairn @ 9:56 PM (US Eastern time)

General Suharto of Indonesia. One Small Man Leaves a Million Corpses.

By Allan Nairn

General Suharto of Indonesia is fading fast, the news bulletins say.

So when I came into the country, I started asking how people felt about their dying killer. (Body count, circa one million plus, overwhelmingly civilian).

The first man I ran into -- near a coffee/ rice stall -- though the radio blared the death watch, said nothing about it, until I raised it. "So much the better," he smiled. Even people I know well did not bother to mention it, though they know I follow politics.

One market lady had just described her own recent ailments -- decades of squatting and pounding grain take a toll -- when I asked about Suharto.

"Suharto?", she said. "He ate too much money. He's full. He ate so such that others can't eat."

She chuckled at her own joke. Everybody laughed. The mourning period should be over by lunchtime.

The New York Times, in 1993, after the East Timor massacres, said Suharto "r[a]n the country with a grandfatherly smile and an iron fist" and lamented that his "accomplishments are not widely known abroad." (Philip Shenon, "Hidden Giant -- A special report.; Indonesia Improves Life for Many But the Political Shadows Remain," The New York Times, August 27, 1993.)

On earth, in Indonesia -- below the towers of life-giving-or-taking wealth and distant killing decision -- Suharto seemed to have been seen, on the one hand, as a small man, but on the other, as a menace.

You could talk corruption, but you could not mention the murders. You had to work hard to forget them. The government helped with "Clean Environment" laws that banned the surviving relatives from social contacts, on the theory that if they got around, their memories might pollute society.

A grandmother, when pressed, once told me about bodies bobbing in Sumatra rivers.

But, as a rule, people don't like to talk about Suharto's founding massacre, the one that was, in the words of James Reston of The Times, the "gleam of light in Asia" (June 19, 1966), and in the words of the CIA, which assisted, "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century" (for background see posting of November 8, 2007. "Duduk - Duduk, Ngobrol - Ngobrol. Sitting Around Talking, in Indonesia.").

Interestingly enough, on the official, bureaucratic level, though, it is corruption talk that is taboo.

In 1998, I was being interrogated after giving a press conference on Suharto's secret aid from Clinton (including snipers and "PSYOP"(s); see posting of December 12, 2007), and Suharto's man began to read aloud from my file -- parts disturbingly accurate, parts ridiculous.

He asked about my political views. I went into a speech about the massacres and how Suharto and Clinton should share a jail cell. The man was thoroughly bored. But, then, somehow, I mentioned corruption.

He was offended, angry. He sat upright: "What do you mean, corruption?!"

It made sense, on the popular level that was Topic A. So, therefore, it was a dangerous topic. Bureaucrats are not encouraged to speak the word. Cash envelopes enter pockets quietly.

But the massacres? They were unlikely to spark a flame, the Suhartoites had calculated.

Survivors really can be selfish sometimes -- forget the dead and kiss the killers -- especially if clever ongoing terror is applied. Forced thought control is sometimes possible.

When Suharto goes, there won't be weeping in the kampungs I know, but there may be on some US campuses.

There, there developed a school of thought (and of subsidy) that held that Suharto was OK since, though he had "human rights" problems, the official statistics showed rapid GDP growth.

The proponents were strict anti-communists, but had absorbed some Pravda thinking, since that argument was -- as it happened -- the same one once used to justify Stalin.

But as short, thin people gathered this morning at, say, the Belawan ferry to Malaysia could tell you, Pak Harto's massacre development, unlike Uncle Joe's, did not vault Indonesia onto a new plane.

Neighboring countries, starting tied with Indonesia in real-eating development, have post-rise-of-Suharto-and-his-army far surpassed it, so Indonesians leave home, seeking work, often trading dignity for their babies' brain growth. (See "Duduk-Duduk" on the choices sending poor Indonesians overseas, and the posting of November 24, 2007, "Rising in Malaysia. The Dangers of Feeding Poor People, " on Malaysia's different, far-faster development).

The interesting question is not why are foreign sponsors so suave about explaining murder (key answer: because they can get away with it), but rather why do local people, in so many place, let one small man rise above them?

That's a complex question, for another day. But right now, some people here are busy with the death anniversary of another, far bigger, person, a lady buried in a goat field, who was -- by consensus of several kampungs -- a shining, good person, a great one.

If they had met, Suharto would have told her to wash his floor (I can assure that you she wouldn't have).

But even she, with her strong shoulders, could not possibly have washed all that blood.

That's a task for a whole society, after Suharto is condemned and gone.

Then they'll have to get together and resolve to henceforth keep the floor clean.

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posted by Allan Nairn @ 9:56 PM



By Andre Vltchek

It is 4 p.m., January 13, 2008. The main entrance to Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta, Indonesia, is besieged by dozens of journalists. Almost all of them are local, as the country doesn't attract international media conglomerates, unless there is a deadly landslide, tsunami or airplane crash. Some reporters are placing the lenses of video and photo cameras against the glass of the hospital entrance, hoping to spot at least some action.

But there is hardly any detectable movement inside. General Suharto, the 86-year old former military dictator who ruled Indonesia for more than three decades, is lying somewhere deep inside this unattractive concrete structure, dying or more precisely in a "very critical condition" after almost all organ functions failed, as his doctor told a news conference on Sunday, January 13. He was rushed to the hospital nine days earlier suffering from anemia and low blood pressure due to heart, lung and kidney problems.

There is no end to the flow of dignitaries offering support or early condolences to his family. On January 13, the stone-faced and tight-lipped former Singaporean Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew arrived. He is Suharto's close friend, contemporary and fellow anti-Communist crusader. Mr. Lee, who refused to answer questions from Indonesian journalists, later loosened up to his countrymen, offering his sentiments on Channel News Asia and other Singaporean media:

"I feel sad to see a very old friend with whom I had worked closely over the last 30 years, not really getting the honors that he deserves," Lee was quoted as saying. "Yes, there was corruption. Yes, he gave favors to his family and his friends. But there was real growth and real progress."

Nine years after Suharto stepped down, Indonesia remains one of the world's most corrupt nations. According to Berlin-based Transparency International, it occupies 143-146 place out of 180 countries ranked, tied with Gambia, Russia and Togo (The 2007 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index).

According The United Nations and World Bank, there was much more than just average corruption and nepotism during and after Suharto's reign: Suharto tops the list of embezzlers with an estimated $15-35 billion, followed by former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, former president of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) Mobutu Sese Seko, and Sani Abacha of Nigeria. An impressive achievement considering that Suharto's salary in 1999 - the year he was forced to resign after massive demonstrations that shook Jakarta - was only $1,764 a month. Critics say that Suharto and his family actually amassed more than $45 billion, even more than concluded by both the United Nations and World Bank. The family is said to control about 36,000 km² of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 m² of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40 percent of the land in East Timor. More than $73 billion is said to have passed through the family's hands during Suharto's 32-year rule.

But even to allude to such information can still be illegal in Indonesia. The UN and World Bank listing arrived just one week after Indonesia's Supreme Court ordered Time Magazine to pay $106 million in damages to the former dictator for defaming him in a 1999 article accusing Suharto and his relatives of amassing billions of dollars during his regime.

Offers made by international organizations to the Indonesian government - to help to identify, freeze and repatriate money from accounts held by Suharto's family abroad - were spurned and very rarely discussed by the media.

Suharto was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds, but the government subsequently dropped the case on grounds of the dictator's poor health. In 2007, state prosecutors filed a civil suit seeking a total of $440 million of state funds and a further $1 billion in damages for the alleged misuse of money held by one of Suharto's charitable foundations. But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had risen as a general under the Suharto regime, instructed Attorney General Hendarman Supandji to seek an out-of-court settlement of the civil case with the Suharto family, as the former dictator was fighting for his life in Pertamina Hospital.

Like almost all mainstream Indonesian politicians, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono refused to criticize Suharto openly. "Pak Harto was a leader of this nation. His contributions to this nation are not small. As a human being, however, like other people, Pak Harto has weaknesses and mistakes," he told the press, referring to Suharto by his endearing name.

On January 12, The Jakarta Post, a pro-establishment English language daily newspaper, captioned its front page photos: "In Their Prayers: Vice President Jusuf Kalla… visits former President Soeharto at Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta on Friday. Suciwati…, the widow of human rights advocate Munir Said Thalib, and relatives of other victims of human rights violations place flowers in the lobby of Pertamina Hospital on Friday. They said they would continue with their legal battles against former president Soeharto for human rights crimes that occurred during his rule. All the visitors said they were praying for Soeharto."

What the Jakarta Post 'forgot' to mention was that many human rights activists, as reported by the Indonesian language daily Kompas, wished for Suharto's recovery so that he could stand trial.

Garda Sembiring, head of PEC-the Indonesia NGO which tries to unveil human rights crimes, including mass murder cases that took place during 1965 military coup - was himself a prisoner of conscience during the Suharto era. In a phone interview he expressed outrage at the present situation: "Everybody is now talking about Suharto's illness. I am in shock! Political elites are turning the situation into a political drama. They have a motive: they want the Indonesian people to forget the past. And me personally? Why should I forgive him? I'd love to see him recover, so he could be brought to justice. That's why it would be better for him and for all of us if he survives."

Attempts to try Suharto on charges of genocide have failed not because of his failing health, but above all because of the unwillingness of post 1999 political establishment to openly deal with the past. Unlike South Africa and the 'Southern Cone' of South America, Indonesia experienced no profound political change in the wake of Suharto's ouster. The country has been ruled by the same business and military elites, with the exception of the brief presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid who was forced out of power when he sought to separate religion from the state, apologize to the victims of the1965 massacres, and introduce social changes in Indonesia's market-driven system.

Human rights organizations as well as almost all leading historians are accusing Suharto of playing a key role in the 1965 US-supported military coup designed to sideline nationalist President Sukarno and destroy the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), at that time the third largest communist party in the world.

On the night of September 30/October 1, 1965, a group of Sukarno's personal guards kidnapped and murdered six of the right-wing anti-Communist generals. Sukarno's guards claimed that they were trying to stop a CIA-backed military coup, which was planned to remove Sukarno from power on "Army Day." Suharto joined surviving right-wing general Abdul Haris Nasution to spearhead a propaganda campaign against the PKI and Sukarno's loyalists.

What followed was a military takeover and a months long orgy of terror, the mass murder of PKI members, citizens of Chinese origin, left-leaning men and women, intellectuals, artists and anyone who was denounced by neighbors or foes. Massacres were mainly performed by the military and by the right-wing religious groups who went on a rampage against "atheists." Between 500,000 and three million people vanished in several months, making Indonesian killing fields some of the most intensive in the world history.

The US supported the coup and the CIA supplied Suharto and his allies with a list of 10,000 suspected communists. A subsequent CIA study of the events concluded that "In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century." (George McT. and Audrey R. Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia. New York: The New Press, 1995).

Political dissent was destroyed, so were the trade unions. Indonesia became "open for business," mainly for multi-national mining and oil companies willing to take advantage of a scared and docile work force and prepared to pay undisclosed amounts in bribes in exchange for access to the country's abundant raw materials.

Thousands of teachers were murdered. Artists were silenced; film studious closed down. Places where intellectuals of different races used to mingle were destroyed and replaced by anonymous concrete walls of shopping malls and parking lots. Books were burned, including those of Southeast Asia's greatest novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who became a long-term prisoner of conscience in Buru concentration camp. Pramoedya, until his death in 2006, never forgave Suharto. Not for his personal suffering, but for "having no culture; for turning Indonesia into a market; for destroying Sukarno's spirit of enthusiasm."

Indonesia after 1965 was experiencing its "Year Zero," like Cambodia under Khmer Rouge. It closed itself for several years, until those who were targeted were rounded up and slaughtered. The Brantas river in East Java, as well as others throughout the archipelago, were clogged with corpses and red with blood, according to eyewitnesses.

The West did not protest. Suharto was viewed as an ally by the United States, Britain, Australia and other nations who were delighted to have the leader of Indonesia a free-marketer and an ally in the Cold War rather than the populist and non-aligned movement proponent, Sukarno.

Indonesia is an enormous archipelago. It was easy to suppress information, to keep its people in oblivion, to bombard them with propaganda, to isolate them from the rest of the world. No films but Hollywood and local production, with some syrupy soap from all over the world. No serious topics. Only pop, outdated music. The Chinese language was banned, and so were words like "atheism" or "class."

For the rest of the world that was barred from learning about the tragedy of 1965/66, it was easy to believe mass media, which hailed Suharto as an ally and statesman. It was the time of the Cold War and the major American preoccupation was Vietnam. When the dust settled, bodies buried, washed away or decomposed, Indonesia opened again: for business and tourism. The Indonesian people, for the most part, were terrorized into silence, with no memory and no desires except to move rhythmically to the latest pop tunes and prayers, close to starvation but grinning as ordered, with no complex thoughts and questions; lobotomized.

And Suharto, a man now fighting for his life, was in charge.

Then came East Timor. 1975 and General Suharto sent troops to the newly independent nation that had long suffered from Portuguese colonial neglect; a country that finally won independence and sought to adopt a social (not Communist) course. What followed was a massacre not unlike the one in 1965 (and performed by many familiar faces). 200,000 people - one third of the entire nation - vanished. It seemed that Indonesia was determined to break the record in brutality. But the "time" - the Cold War -again played into Suharto's hands. He justified invasion of the defenseless little nation by a bombastic "We will not tolerate Cuba next to our shores" and received applause and a green light once again, from the US, Australia and others. Then came Aceh, Papua, and "trans-migration."

Suharto may have embezzled more money than any other leader in modern history, turning the economy into his private checking account. But he also may be a man responsible for more deaths than any other dictator since WWII.

"I am very disappointed with SBY (President) and the Attorney General," says Ditasari, leader of the only progressive opposition party in Indonesia - Papernas - for this article. "Statements made by both of them make no sense. We shouldn't hesitate to go on with the legal process, despite Suharto's illness. But the government is scared of those who support Suharto."

As he is dying, Suharto continues to hold the entire country hostage. With fear and opportunism, business and political leaders are goose-stepping in front of his bed. In Central Java, country folks say that he sold his soul to black magic, which is why he cannot depart from this world. Everybody seems to be petrified about saying anything that might be deemed inappropriate or offensive.

Behind the windows of the hospital, the decaying city is covered by smog. Despite official statistics, more than half of Indonesians live in misery (even the World Bank classifies 49 percent of Indonesians as poor). Behind the windows lies an enormous, ruined, uncompetitive and uneducated country, suffering from decades of fear leaving a legacy of blind obedience and finally of intellectual stagnation.

Tens of millions of Indonesians can still hear cries of terror of those who were hacked and beaten to death, decades ago. But they have learned to doubt their own eyes and ears and, finally, to obey.

Suharto may die as a free man, surrounded by elites, by servile compliments. But surely even he will not be able to avoid some memories, even in a coma. It is not easy to forget a million people, a million deaths. Standing next to each other, they can fill enormous space and their screams, coming in unison, can break the walls of any - even a private - hospital. And once these screams and cries reach him, he will know that he departs, not in handcuffs, but as a criminal nevertheless.


" Terlena-Breaking of a Nation" is a definitive 90-minutes documentary film about Suharto's dictatorship and its long-term effects on the Indonesian people.

Andre Vltchk, novelist, playwright and journalist, editorial director of Asiana Press Agency ( and co-founder of Mainstay Press (, he produced and directed the film.

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