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Dictator from Day One
Suharto abused his power from the start, says Indonesia's foremost writer

As the Dutch writer Multatuli has stressed, it is the obligation of every human being to become human. Whoever murders his own kind, therefore, violates the basic principle of his existence. And murder, where there is no legal basis, is a crime against humanity. Simple logic, but it isn't simple in practice. The events in Indonesia of 1965-66 were a test of this basic definition of humanity. Compared with the mass slaughter of those years, all the lies, corruption and nepotism of Suharto's regime are a small, trivial matter.

In early 1966, General Suharto assumed control of the military and the country, months after a faction of the army kidnapped and killed six generals on Sept. 30 the previous year. Indonesian history books and newspapers still refer to this incident as an "attempted communist coup," but there is no evidence that the Communist Party of Indonesia, as an organization, was involved in the kidnapping. The communists had 3 million members and supporters at that time. If they wanted to launch a coup, why didn't they just mobilize their branches in cities and towns outside Jakarta? Why was the party leadership caught completely off guard by the kidnapping? The coup was Suharto's.

For the next 13 days I watched the army hunt, murder and loot until, finally, I myself became one of the victims. People known or suspected to be communists or sympathizers were slaughtered wherever they were found--on the steps of their houses, on the side of the road, while squatting in the lavatory. The Indonesian élites had lost the ability to resolve their differences peacefully, in the political sphere, and the last word belonged to the group that possessed firearms: the army.

During the first days of October, Armed Forces chief General Nasution made commando-like speeches on the radio, urging the public to "destroy the Communist Party root and branch." After these pronouncements, the murder, looting and burning of the army intensified to the point of insanity. It was Nasution who baptized the military regime with the name "New Order," which is used to this day.

On Oct. 13, 1965, it was my turn to be targeted by a pack of armed, masked men. There were no official, written charges. And what happened to me was also experienced by 1.5 million others. Half a million people were killed, according to the Western press, and some military officials say the number is even higher. Suharto needed the slaughter to instill fear in everyone. He tried to legitimize his rule by claiming Sukarno had conferred power on him in a letter dated March 11, 1966--a letter that has never been produced to the public and which is now said to have been "lost."

Suharto's next step, in 1971, was to stage a general election in accordance with his taste and needs. Two years later he required all political currents to merge into just three parties, yielding a "constitutional state" complete with the recognition and support of Western countries.

With the founding of the New Order, the trampling on humanity continued. The killing has never stopped, right up to Suharto's fall and beyond. A prison official once told us: "The only right you still possess is the right to breathe." That was an exaggeration. In reality, many political prisoners were killed, without judicial process, either directly or through inadequate food rations. Outside the concentration camps and the jails, the families of political prisoners were persecuted, humiliated and intimidated by the New Order bureaucracy.

The intellectuals ran for cover beneath Suharto's feet. No one, apart from a few exiles, dared to challenge the New Order, which created new lies to bolster the old ones, so that the untruths were doubled. Every state institution faithfully carried out its main task: to vindicate and support Suharto. Not once did the parliament so much as discuss the fate of the millions who were killed or deprived of their rights.

When I was arrested in October 1965, my study was ransacked and all of my papers destroyed, including unpublished manuscripts. Again, when I left Buru Island concentration camp in 1979, all my papers were taken from me. (Among them was a letter from Suharto, in which he advised me to pray to God for guidance in "returning" to the path of righteousness.) The judiciary never made a sound about the violations of my rights. Everyone agreed with Suharto, every institution was a tool in his hands.

Suharto, whose rule was blighted by the deaths of hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--is a criminal against humanity. Everyone on the face of the earth has the right to bring him to court for his crimes because, as Sukarno was fond of saying, "humanity is one."

I extend my highest respect and appreciation to the students and other people who succeeded in toppling the dictator last spring. They did so without resort to kidnapping, killing, physical abuse, slander or intimidation. It is only their consistent action, to reform the life of the state and the nation, that can rid us of the New Order's criminal brutality and bring Indonesia to a new life.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's best-known author, released The Mute's Soliloquy: A Memoir this year


May 24, 1999

Suharto Inc.: All in the Family
Indonesian officials say they can't find evidence of ill-gotten wealth. But a four-month TIME investigation reveals that the former President and his children now have assets worth $15 billion, including fancy homes, jewelry, fine art and private jets

A Talent for Business
Cash and assets acquired by the family over 30 years

"I Never Asked"
The Attorney General has few answers

A man on a mission to track the loot

Money Trail
A top sleuth lays out a battle plan

Jeffrey Winters on stealing big

"Not One Cent Abroad"
Suharto's lawyers respond

Flawed Legacy
Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer says that Suharto's sins run much deeper than greed

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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