Indonesia’s Suharto Dies

suharto.jpgSuharto, the former ruler of Indonesia who was forced from power by mass protest in 1998, passed away Sunday.

In the late 1960s, Suharto was the leader of the military, which feared the rise of the PKI, or the Communist Party of Indonesia. His predecessor, Sukarno, had helped Indonesia win independence from the Dutch and was trying to balance the right with the left in Indonesian politics. Sukarno, who had increasingly pissed off the United States, the United Kingdom and other western powers by nationlizing Indonesia’s resources, was walking a fine line between left and right. Though Sukarno enjoyed support among the communists, Suharto’s army was increasingly hostile to him.

In 1965 a reported coup attempt by the PKI resulted in a violent crackdown by forces loyal to Sukarno and later Suharto’s military. In the next couple of years, half a million indonesians were slaughtered by the military, police, and “pro-Suharto vigilantes.”

The coup attempt almost certainly never happened; speculation suggests that forces loyal to Sukarno staged the fake coup to provide an opportunity to scapegoat the PKI and slaughter them. This is mentioned as highly improbable by Wikipedia, which cites Sukarno’s widespread support in the PKI; as happened with the Nazis and the Reichstag fire in Berlin, 1933, of  it’s much more likely that Suharto’s forces faked the coup to provide an excuse to crack down and take power.

The start of the Indonesian massacre is portrayed with disturbing results in Peter Weir’s 1982 film The Year of Living Dangerously.

Suharto took over the Presidency of Indonesia from Sukarno under threat of force in 1967. In addition to the 500,000 Indonesians who died in the unrest of 1965-67, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000, possibly more, were slaughtered in East Timor, a predominantly Roman Catholic former Portugese colony that was invaded and annexed by Indonesia after the Portugese relinquished control in 1975.

A movement to pardon Suharto has resulted in lively debate and protests from those who believe doing so would dishonor the dead murdered by his regime. But the Jakarta Post remembered him as a strong leader despite a ‘less than desirable’ human rights record.

Jeffrey Winters, Associate Professor of Political Economy at Northwestern University, told the Associated Press that Suharto had robbed Indonesia of its golden years. “When Indonesia does finally go back and redo history, (its people) will realize that Suharto is responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity in the 20th century.”

Suharto: A prince among men. In pace requiescat, motherfucker, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Portrait of Suharto from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia, via Wikipedia.

Information from Wikipedia and the Jakarta Post.

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