No pictures this time, just some general thoughts that are also part of traveling a country.

Perhaps sitting on our balcony in the peaceful Togian Islands, overlooking the turquoise blue sea and having time on our hands, is the right moment to reflect a little on Indonesia’s recent history; say, post-independence (some of the books in the Reading List have much more, and much more scholarly, detail, of course).

After the Second World War, and after the defeat of the Japanese, the Indonesian freedom movement straight away declared independence, but instead, with help of the same defeated Japanese and of the British, the Dutch established themselves once again as the colonial power. It took another four years, several brutal police actions by the Dutch government to punish and suppress pro-independence rebels, as they were invariably called, and significant pressure from the UN and the United States, for the Dutch to give up their claims on the archipelago and grant Indonesia its independence in 1949. The first president, Sukarno, straight away did away with any form of democracy – he introduced something called guide democracy, with him as the guide, so to speak -, suppressed any local rebellion as well as any claims for a religiously based state, and promptly adopted a neo-colonial stance claiming parts of Malaysia, East Timor and the still Dutch-controlled western half of New Guinea (which was transferred to Indonesian control in 1963). Further development of the nation and its population would have to wait.

I suppose Sukarno, who was hugely popular, could have held out even longer, but he made the mistake of cozying up too much to the communist party, a bad choice in those days. What exactly happened in the night of September 30th, 1965, will likely never be known. A group called the 30 September Movement claimed to have prevented a military coup by army generals, who were allegedly concerned about the increasing influence of the communist party. The generals cannot defend themselves anymore, because six of them were killed that night. An outsider army commander, called Suharto, than took control, and crushed the 30 September Movement. So we may have had a preventative counter-coup d’etat – to prevent the general’s coup – which was immediately slashed down by the army, now miraculously headed by Suharto, who vowed to protect the president, Sukarno, and the Indonesian revolution. All very complex, highly coincidental, and never investigated anymore, afterwards. Which is also strange. The official reading, that the communist party masterminded the events, is indeed the least probable. Nevertheless, the events did fundamentally change the power relations, and not much later Sukarno was forced to resign. Enter president Suharto.

Much more momentous, however, was the immediate aftermath of the de-facto power change. For several months following September 1965, perhaps between 500,000 and 2 million people were killed, communists, alleged communists, but probably mostly people against who someone else still had an ancient grudge. Some of it with army involvement, some of it condoned by the army, and most of it by normal people, in towns and in villages, who hacked others to death. Just like that – there are plenty of eye witness accounts available, which I won’t repeat here. Suffice to say that killing was not enough, bodies needed to be beheaded, penises nailed to poles, corpses tied to lampposts or thrown into rivers. One author dryly remarks that in less than 20 years independence the Indonesians killed more Indonesians that the Dutch did in over 300 years of colonial suppression.

The next significant event in post-independence history would come more than 30 years later. Suharto had, during his time in power, achieved some impressive development statistics, improving health and education, and improving the economic wellbeing of the people, but he also had created a vast First Family empire, with family and close friends involved in every possible business, and preferential treatment, as well as outright corruption, favouring these businesses. With the Asian financial crisis breaking out in 1998, and Indonesia totally unprepared for, and totally incompetent dealing with the fall-out, and Suharto apparently loosing his political touch, demonstrations took to the streets, were clumsily beaten back by an army with divided loyalties, and ultimately ensued chaos – amongst others accompanied by the slaughter and rape of many Chinese and the burning down of their properties; successful business people are so often the envy of the ignorant. This caused Suharto finally to resign on 21 May 1998, in favour of vice-president Habibi. Which was a pity, because Habibi had no intention to investigate the Suharto years, and the devastating corruption associated with the First Family, which means that very little of the stolen money ever returned.

Afterwards, some form of democracy was restored, which is now functioning relatively well. Many other, smaller scale conflicts, in Poso, Malucca, Borneo, some of which I have mentioned elsewhere, erupted, and have subsided again, even the eternal conflict in Aceh has been resolved, apparently satisfactorily. But here, as everywhere in Indonesia throughout its post-independent history, there seems to be no intention whatsoever to find out what really happened, to establish some form of truth and reconciliation commission. It is quite likely that almost everybody knows some grueling details of Indonesia’s recent past, either witnessed themselves or from what their parents told them. But, in the old and tested Indonesian fashion, better to avoid confrontation. Perhaps until the next time tensions flares up, somewhere, and it is time to settle old scores again?

next: some examples of crabs

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