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Anti-left wave spurs Indonesian reaction

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The bogeyman

Wider campaign

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Dozens of groups have launched a wave of anti-communist attacks in Indodnesia in recent months, targeting everything they deem leftist.

In some instances, wearing a Che Guevera t-shirt can spark an attack.

So intense have the attacks become that the Indonesian government has vowed to prevent anti-communist groups from raiding bookstores and destroying leftist books.

Last month, a Muslim youth group burned novels by renowned author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, as well as books on Karl Marx's thoughts and the Indonesian Communist Party.

The anti-communist organizations, grouped under the umbrella of the Anti-Communist Alliance, also issued a threat to raid bookstores on May 20, the National Awakening Day, to look for books with leftist titles, and later to search for suspected communists.

In Yogyakarta, a town in south-central Java, they repeatedly disrupted student protests or seminars, looking for suspected members of the tiny, leftist People's Democratic Party, and those wearing t-shirts of Che Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary hero.

Many bookstores, including the country's two biggest franchises, have removed suspect books from their shelves.

In Jakarta, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Baharuddin Lopa said the government would stop raids on bookstores.

"Cabinet has decided that the sweeps will not be allowed," Lopa said on Thursday, without explaining what steps the government would take.

In the anticipation of the planned book-sweeps, Yogyakarta police have collected 49 books, comprising of 19 different titles, from nearly a dozen of bookstores and street vendors, The Jakarta Post daily reported.

"We were not confiscating the books. We only asked the book owners to entrust police with keeping them in safe place," said Yogyakarta police chief Brig-Gen. Saleh Saaf.

"We'll return them when the situation has returned to normal."

However, many people wondered why police chose an action that limited the distribution of such books rather than protecting the bookstores from the unlawful attacks.

The bogeyman

Under the rule of president Suharto, "communism" was a dirty word, the regime's bogeyman. The government and the military often labeled the dissents as "communists" to legitimize a crackdown.

The anti-communist feeling started in 1965, when Suharto, then an army general, blamed the Indonesian Communist Party, Asia's second biggest, as plotters of an aborted coup, which killed six generals and one lieutenant.

He unleashed a communist witch-hunt around the country, which -- by one estimate -- killed one million people. Suharto outlawed the Indonesian Communist Party and its mass organizations, banned literature regarded as "leftist" and kept reminding people of "the latent danger of communism."

The fall of the strongman has blown a fresh wind of freedom. Books, such as writings on Karl Marx and novels of Toer, ex-political prisoner accused of being communist, are sold freely in bookstores and book fairs.

Despite the relaxation, not all Indonesians are ready to change their attitude.

The Parliament reacted angrily when President Abdurrahman Wahid proposed to revoke the ban on the Indonesian Communist Party.

In the recent months, indeed, the anti-communist movement has showed its revival. In March, a mob from an obscure Muslim group stopped a funeral procession for victims of 1965-1966 communist massacres in Central Java.

The movement has dumbfounded many Indonesians.

"The anti-communist hysteria is difficult to understand because the Indonesian Communist Party and communism have not showed any signs of movement in Indonesia since 1968," said Franz Magnis-Suseno, a philosophy professor whose book, "Karl Marx's Thoughts: From Utopian Socialism to Revisionist Disputes", was among those burned last month.

However, it is obvious some books are targeted because of their titles rather than their real content. Magnis-Suseno's book is more of criticisms against Marxism, rather than advocating it.

Wider campaign

The groups have also widened their campaign targets -- they threaten to destroy the Farmers' Statue in Jakarta, which they see as a communist symbol.

The Anti-Communist Alliance has 33 groups under its wing, ranging from "hardline Muslim" groups such as the Islamic Defenders' Front and the Islamic Youth Movement to "nationalist" ones such as the Red-White Troops, led by ex- East Timor militia leader Eurico Guterres, responsible for terror and deaths in 1999 in the territory.

Many intellectuals and writers have condemned the threats, saying it could threaten the newly acquired freedom.

Not a few of them believe that the military and Suharto's New Order elements are behind the anti-communist groups.

"This is an effort to link the reform movement with communism," said dramatist Ratna Sarumpaet, spokeswoman of the Alliance for the Freedom of Thought and Speech, which was set up to lobby the government to take actions against the attacks.

Petrus Hariyanto, secretary-general of the People's Democratic Party, believes the groups' attacks are linked with the party's campaign to disband Golkar, the ex-ruling party.

"Their action is threatening the democracy," he said. "Communism is only a tool to legitimize their actions, and the sentiment is being made-up."

Anti-communist mob threaten Indonesian activist
March 29, 2001

Indonesia Government
The Jakarta Post

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