By GERRY FOLEY
The Indonesian government and military have suffered their third major defeat in the last two years at the hands of student protesters with broad support among the population of the country’s main city, Jakarta.
The fighting in Jakarta Sept. 23-24 revived the image of a country gripped by a revolutionary crisis, The New York Times noted Sept. 26. “The nation’s currency, the rupiah, lost nearly 5 percent of its value during the two days of riots.”
Once again, the army spilled blood in the streets of the Indonesian capital. At least six persons were killed in the clashes, most of them gunned down indiscriminately by repressive forces.
The military’s ruthless murder of student protesters, added to the shame it brought on itself by its complicity in mass pogroms against the people of East Timor, has further discredited the army leaders, in particular General Wiranto, who in reality has been “the second face of the government” since the resignation of the long-serving dictator, Suharto, in May 1998.
The regime’s first defeat was when the students forced Suharto’s resignation. The second was in November 1998, when the students and their allies in the poor neighborhoods defeated the goon squads organized by the military and right-wing Muslims in an attempt to suppress protests against the continuation of the dictatorship’s parliament .
The third defeat came this Sept. 24, when Indonesian president Habibie agreed to postpone adoption of the new security law passed days before by a parliament dominated by Golkar, the party of the discredited military dictatorship that called itself “The New Order” (“Ordu Baru”).
The suspended law gives the military commanders the right to proclaim martial law whenever they see fit. It is an obvious attempt to maintain the essence of the military dictatorship within a supposedly democratized system.
The Italian left daily Il Manifesto reported Sept. 24 that one of the banners in the demonstrations said, “If this bill is approved, the democracy that we fought for is dead. The military can take control of the country at any moment.”
Habibie decided to retreat after days of clashes between thousands of determined students and an unleashed military. The symbolic martyr of the demonstrations was a young student at the University of Indonesia, Hap, an ethnic Chinese to judge by his name.
The student was killed when an army convoy opened fire indiscriminately on a crowd of students near a hospital. A 10-year-old boy was also killed in the barrage. The military was subsequently forced to issue an official apology for the incident.
East Timor violence condemned
A joint statement by 30 organizations supporting the protests linked the military’s rampage in Jakarta with its involvement in pogroms against the people of East Timor following the Aug. 4 referendum in which almost 80 percent of the East Timorese population voted for independence:
“Such acts of violence have not only further diminished the prestige of the Indonesian armed forces, which was already lowered by their inability to maintain order in East Timor, but it has lowered the prestige of the nation in the eyes of the world.”
This statement was signed by the All-Indonesian Workers Union, the Catholic Students Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia, the Tanjungpriok section of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, the Independent Journalists’ Alliance, and the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), among others, as well as by all the student action committees in Jakarta.
This declaration indicates how closely the fight against national oppression in Indonesia is connected with the revolutionary process sweeping the entire archipelago. The People’s Democratic Party, the largest political group that has emerged from the revolutionary students, which is also the dominant political force in the All-Indonesian Workers Union, has been a consistent defender of the Timorese people’s struggle.
The so-called moderate opposition, the Islamic parties and Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle have subscribed to Indonesian bourgeois nationalism, which denies the right of any people in the archipelago to self-determination.
They are trying to make a deal with the military to restabilize capitalist rule in Indonesia. In this respect, the overwhelming vote for independence in East Timor was a defeat for them. And this political defeat was deepened by the international scandal created by the involvement of the Indonesian army and militias in a campaign of mass revenge against the Timorese people.
The problem is that the PRD, apparently under the pressure of the desperation of its Timorese allies, supported the intervention of the imperialist United Nations-represented mainly by the regional imperialist power, Australia-in East Timor in the name of rescuing the Timorese people from genocide at the hands of the Indonesian military and paramilitaries. [See editorial, page 19.]
By doing so, the PRD helped forge a weapon that will soon be used against the Timorese independence forces and perhaps even against itself and the Indonesian masses. After all, if the UN can be trusted to “maintain peace” in East Timor, why not elsewhere in Indonesia when the government loses control of the situation?
However, in the first place, the UN did not intervene militarily in East Timor until the Indonesian forces had more or less accomplished the maximum of which they were capable in disabling the Timorese nation.
Secondly, the UN forces went in proclaiming that they were going to disarm the Timorese forces, as well as the Indonesians. That means that the occupiers intend to shape the Timorese administration themselves through a combination of intimidation and corruption to split the only force that has really defended the Timorese people, the national liberation armed forces, Falintil.
The imperialist countries, including Australia, which was the only one to recognize the incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia, have no interest in destroying the reactionary forces in East Timor. They have used them in the past and they will use them again to defend their interests. Il Manifesto reported Sept. 24 that the militia members are being released within a day of being arrested.
On the other hand, the imperialist intervention is being used by bourgeois nationalists in Indonesia to try to whip up a nationalist and Islamic frenzy against foreign unbelievers and their agents, the mainly Catholic Timorese people (most of whom only turned to the Catholic church in reaction against the Indonesian occupation).
The Indonesian press is making a great deal of some acts of violence against militia members by the Australian forces. Such actions, of course, are virtually inevitable given the stresses of a war situation, the evidence of the militias’ outrages, and the propaganda by which the imperialists and their military commanders are justifying the intervention. But the way that they are being used by rightists in Indonesia is another perverse effect of the UN intervention.
Islamic groups play contradictory role
The statement of the 30 organizations quoted above also condemns the Indonesian government’s attempts to use right-wing Islamic groups against the demonstrators. In November 1998, the right-wing militias that attacked the students were also mobilized in the name of Islam. That ploy failed then and it seems to have failed again in the recent protests.
Right-wing Islam has been the main ideological cover of reactionary forces in Indonesia since the anti-communist massacres of 1965, which were largely carried out by Islamic groups. But the Islamic forces found themselves cheated by the New Order, which brutally suppressed Islamic fundamentalist uprisings.
At present, one of the movements for national self-determination is in Aceh, a strongly Islamic area of Sumatra. The Islamic parties have been obliged to demonstrate varying degrees of sympathy for it. This is another factor that has complicated the attempts of the Indonesian regime to exploit Islamic identification for its purposes.
Nonetheless, one of the decisive battles of the Indonesian revolution is to prevent the government from using Islam as an effective rallying ground for reaction.
Once again, the student protesters won in the Sept. 23-24 demonstrations because they spearheaded the discontent of the poor masses in Jakarta, just as they did in May and November 1998.
The country’s largest circulation newspaper, Kompas, gave a moving account of the popular support for the students in its Sept. 26 issue. It reported that all sorts of people, from construction workers to stock market clerks, were spontaneously raising money for the students surrounded at Atma Jaya University.
Even housewives were smuggling in supplies through the back streets (literally, the “mouse streets,” “jalan-jalan tikus”), “not an easy task,” as Kompas noted. It quoted one of the housewives as saying, “I am afraid, but I have to help the students.”
It is this mass support that grips the regime with fear. The student demonstrations, although militant and widespread, have not in themselves been all that large. The Indonesian press has referred only to “thousands,” not tens of thousands.
But this ongoing, seething discontent, polarized by the radical students, seems to point to a new stage in the crisis of capitalist rule in Indonesia and new hope for the nationalities oppressed by the Indonesian state, including the Timorese.
The only power that can offer genuine protection and support for the oppressed peoples of the Indonesian archipelago are the aroused masses of the industrial population centers on the main islands.
Unless the Indonesian people overthrow capitalism and break from imperialist control, there is little chance for real self-determination for such nations as the Timorese.