Indonesia’s vaunted economic progress, however, burst after the 1998 Asian financial crisis. The regional debacle sent many Indonesians to the streets and drove Suharto out of office. Yet despite his ouster he succeeded in evading criminal liability for his crimes, no thanks to his lingering influence in the courts where corruption has remained a norm. That he was able to stay in his country even after he fell from power and that he had dodged judgment day to the end shows the extent of such influence.
It is noteworthy too that the Indonesian press has had been timid about digging into the dictator’s crimes even years after he was overthrown. The candid assessments of his deeds as leader have come from foreign writers and observers. There seems to be a deliberate effort – presumably by those who benefited under his rule – to make Indonesians – and the world – forget about his crimes and carry on, unperturbed by the muted cries for justice of the victims of the country’s bloodstained past.
But is it that easy to forget the murder of one million suspected leftists under the Suharto regime? Not for the families of victims. Not for decent Indonesians who want a full disclosure of the horrors that served as macabre backdrop of economic progress under the late strongman. For the pogrom was the bloodiest of its kind to occur in Southeast Asia until Saloth Sar a.k.a. Pol Pot came along to break Suharto’s record by killing an estimated 2 million Cambodians through murder, disease and starvation – but mainly through murder.
Suharto and Pol Pot were both guilty of genocide. But what made Suharto special in the eyes of the West was his being anti-communist. His campaign to decimate the Left pleased the US which counted him as a close ally during the Cold War era.
Now that he is gone there may be new hopes for an accounting of Sukarno’s deeds. However, efforts to make his survivors and underlings reveal what they know will take a lifetime. Given his long stay in power which enabled him to cultivate influence in high places, the economic resources he had amassed and his network of political allies, it can be said that the dictator’s dark secrets have been buried with him.
Poor 1 million souls, they must be turning in their graves.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno received in 1987 the Jose W. Diokno Award for winning in a national editorial writing contest sponsored by Ang Pahayagang Malaya and the family of the late senator.]