Jakarta Diary - Black Flag

During late November and December, the situation in Indonesia once again went on the boil, with huge riots against President Habibie, who is trying to hold onto power. During these momentous events, there was a Finnish anarchist in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, who observed them at first hand and spoke to many of the participants.

From Black Flag #216 1999.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 8, 2020


I just arrived in Jakarta after 40 hours on a boat in "ekonomi kelas." I haven't met any local activists yet, but here's a few first impressions from this place.

By the look of things, popular support for HabibieÕs government seems to be at a minimum. Flags are at half-mast on practically all buildings (apart from government ones) here to commemorate the killed demonstrators. Occasionally you can also see the symbols of Megawati and her PDI-party. A few discussions with the locals have confirmed the impression that people are thoroughly fed up with the current government.

The people are fully aware of what has happened, as last Friday's incidents were shown practically live on nation-wide TV and the press is independent enough to give the facts. The government is apparently trying to put the blame on "a conspiracy of agents provocateurs" and has taken opposition leaders into custody so they can be questioned about their "revolutionary activities."

The unrest has spread to other parts of the country. Walking around town this morning I could see soldiers lounging about, carrying their rifles, submachine guns and metre-long wooden sticks. I spotted a few armoured cars as well.


Now I've spent a day hanging around with the local radical activists, mainly from the PRD. The PRD (Partia Rakyat Demokratik - the People's Democratic Party) is the only left-wing (as in anti-capitalist) party in Indonesia, the Communist Party has been banned for decades. The PRD is officially a social-democratic party, but clearly they have spent some time reading Castro, Lenin and Guevara (for tips on revolutionary strategy, as they say). They appear more radical than your average social democratic party, but were opposed to Troskyism, for example, as they're against a one-party dictatorship. Their ideal is some kind of "democratic socialism," more of the direct, participatory kind than the western parliamentary democracy. Anarchism was not an unknown concept to them, and they've translated some texts from the internet and circulated them amongst their members. Their party- fixation was quite strong, perhaps because of the circumstances. Their ideology seemed to be a general left-wing mixture of sorts. In their opinion, Indonesia's main problems are capitalism, militarism (i.e. the military junta) and the remnants of feudalism which still exist.

The revolution which is in progress here is a democratic one, and the PRD doesn't even assume that it could lead to socialism or communism. The PRD members are about the same age as Finnish activists, i.e. between 18 and 26 yrs. The oldest in the party leadership was 30. The whole leadership has had its share of imprisonment and torture. I myself feel a bit strange hanging around with these people. Despite their situation, they're not po-faced like some European recolutionaries. "Sure we're trying to make a revolution, but we'll throw a party at the office tonight." And then every now and then someone mentions that this one or the other has been kidnapped by the soldiers, has been tortured, or someone's boyfriend has "disappeared," etc...

Currently, the Indonesian opposition is divided into radicals and moderates. The main moderate groups are Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI, Amin Rais' PAN (moderate islamic) and Gus Pur (also moderate islamic). The moderate parties have about a million members, but their leadership prefers to wait for next year's general elections rather than organise demos. They're ready to make compromises with the military. The radicals say that there's no point in talking about having free elections as long as the current government is in power, the military holds on to its "dual role" in society and for as long as there are political prisoners. The radicals consist of the PRD and its affiliates (political groups consisting of the slum-dwellers, workers, students, etc.), the various student groups, the radical social islamists (they have a view of Islam similar to that of Latin America's liberation theologists), and of course the resistance movements in East Timor, Papua and Aceh.

The demands of the radicals are:

1. The military should give up its "dual role" in society, politics and the economy. According to the Indonesian constitution, the army has a dual role as a guarantor of external and internal stability.

2. An end to the official Pancasila-ideology.

3. All political prisoners are to be freed (Habibie freed about 100 last summer, officially there are 200 left, unofficially a lot more).

4. Suharto is to be tried in court.

5. A referendum on East Timor's independence (the moderates are keeping quiet on this matter).

6. The formation of a temporary government based on a people's assembly or local councils. This seems to be some sort of grass roots democracy/workers' councils-type idea.

This grass roots democracy has already sprung up in some places. Support for the radicals has been growing steadily, and the rank-and- file members of the moderate groups have shown support for the radicals' ideas.

The situation is getting increasingly tense at the moment. As far as I know, there was a small demo here in Jakarta today with about 1000 people, "just to keep the flame burning." There were some bigger demonstrations in other parts of the country, with students occupying airports and other military buildings. The taking over of military facilities is perhaps the most significant thing happening at the moment, there have been similar occupations in dozens of towns and there are more on the way. These actions are also the most risky, as the military might resort to the use of their weapons. So far, however, the military has been on the defensive and has retreated from the demonstrators. The aim of the take-overs is to drive the army back into its barracks and to end the military's grip on power in Indonesia. Currently, the six-step military administration system reaches into every town and village.

This brings us to what we can do back in Europe to support the radicals. As can be expected, the radicals are chronically in need of money, and this money would be needed for basics such as printing leaflets. The PRD, which after all is the largest radical opposition group in the country, only has one computer and one printer here in Jakarta, which have had to be evacuated from the office as they can't afford to lose them. So, if anyone is interested in helping overthrow the government in Indonesia, your money will go a long way. For a million rupiahs (about US$100), you can print 100 000 leaflets here. (CONTACT DETAILS NEED£££D)


The situation at at the moment has calmed down a bit. All sorts of activities are going on all the time, but people don't think that it's quite yet time for the "strategic offensive" or the "big bang." Occupations of military buildings have apparently all but ended at the moment.

Yesterday I took part in a student demonstration with about 5000 participants. We tried to march down to Suharto's palace, but the military blocked the way, so the march ended about a kilometre away from the house. There was a carnival atmosphere on the demo, though of course there was anger and frustration present as well. The students try to stage demos every day in different parts of the city as well as in other parts of the country. Apparently they've set up a system according to which the demonstration "shifts" are divided between the different universities so that the students of one uni demonstrate on monday, the ones from the next uni on tuesday and so on. The aim is to prevent people from getting "demo fatigue," which would infect people after some two weeks of demonstrating every day. The demos are long, yesterday's for example went from noon till dusk, i.e. some 6-7 hours in the hot sun.

One of the locals was comparing the situation to the Paris Spring of '68. Maybe this isn't quite THAT big a deal (though admittedly a lot more violent), but there definitely is something in the air. There's about a dozen different student organisations, and I'm not going to go into all of their different differences right now, as in practice the difference don't seem to make much of a difference. KOMRAD is the most outspokenly anti-capitalist student organisation, FAMRED is liberation theology-oriented (both christian and islamic), FMSJ is the most moderate (an official organisation, but one which has definitely radicalised itself), FORKOT is the largest and ideologically theyÕre sort of neutral, militant-democratish, and Front Jakarta is small but vociferous (yesterday they were carrying a Che-banner with the slogan "Revolution or Death").

According to Kontras, a radical human rights group, the amount of dead over the past week has risen to 18, but many student activists have been reported "missing," i.e. kidnapped by the army. According to eye-witness reports, soldiers took wounded demonstrators to a military hospital after last Friday's bloodbath, but the military hospital has refused to comment on this matter.

Yesterday I managed to meet one guy from the West-Papuan resistance, but we didn't have time for a longer discussion. The PRD at any rate is co-operating with the resistance movements in West-Papua, Aceh and East Timor.

Today I met this one bloke who's been publishing an underground newspaper since 1995 and which has a weekly distribution of 30 000. The paper seemed to be of quite a high quality, which is partly due to the fact that a number of professional journalists publish "hot" articles in the underground paper while simultaneously working for mainstream papers. At the moment, this paper could also be published legally, but they prefer to keep it underground in case the situation gets worse. For the same reason, the PRD has both a legal and an underground organisation structure.

The moderate opposition is completely passive at the moment. Megawati Sukarnoputri, Gus Pur, Amien Rais and the other moderates do not want to risk anything at the moment, but rather they are waiting for the upcoming elections. Nowadays their calls for a "gradual reduction" of the military's role in society are exactly the same what the army itself and Habibie's govt. are propagating.


I thought that I was in for a quiet weekend, but then the "riots" started. What had happened, apparently, was that the previous nights there had been some fight in a disco between some Ambonese and some locals (note: Ambonese are from the eastern Indonesian island of Ambon and are mostly christian, the local Javanese are mostly muslims), as a result of which the Ambonese had torched a mosque. According to rumours circulating at the site, "someone" had paid the Ambonense 40 000 rupiahs to burn down the mosque. In response, a group of "defenders of Islam" began hunting down Ambonese, killing three, and burned down the local church. By the time we arrived, the far-right "Islamic Defence Front" were there as well, and had begun inciting the crowd. Their slogans were along the lines of "God is great! Slit the throats of those dirty Ambonese animals for the sake of Islam ! Long live Islam ! Long live the army!" I kid you not.

The Defence Front people had arrived at the site on 3 army trucks next to which they held their meeting, with the fascists standing on the trucks. So it is obvious who was behind these riots, especially since there were some 500 soldiers present, who did nothing about the few hundred strong mob, armed with sticks to "defend Islam."

We managed to take some pictures of the smouldering church before the army sealed off the area. Leaving the scene we could see some smoke rising in the distance - apparently a christian school had been set on fire as well. This did not seem to bother the soldiers either. A bit later we saw a catholic girls' school that had been attacked a few hours earlier. The school had been trashed and set on fire. The pogrom against the Ambonense had apparently turned into a violent campaign against christians in general. The Islamic Defence Front is naturally also anti-Chinese, but they've chosen christians as their prime target for the moment. This "riot" smelled fishier than a barrel of rotten herrings. The city has been full of soldiers for the whole week and there were several tanks stationed near the burnt-out school. It is impossible that the rioters could have attacked without the consent of the army. And as the military was openly aiding the Islamic Defence Front, it's quite obvious who's behind this "rioting."

With the fall of darkness, these riots could spread and get out of control. The intention of these pogroms is to:

1.Deflect attention from political questions to ethnic tensions

2.Allow the army to regain its legitimacy, which is currently close to zero. If the ethnic conflicts flare up, the army can pose as the sole power which can keep the country from descending into a bloody chaos.

Wiranto, the head of the military, just held a speech on the radio in which he blamed "radicals" for the unrest. How damn convenient for the army if they could push the blame on groups such as the PRD and subsequently arrest them.

I got some good photos of the Defence Front goons and the army trucks. An interesting feeling going around the crowd taking pictures while the man with the megaphone was calling for all christian throats to be slit. I guess it wouldn't have helped me much if I'd told them that I'm an atheist...


Yesterday some 3000 students occupied the office of the state prosecutor demanding that Suharto be put on trial within a month's time. Apparently there were a few other larger student demos in town. The army has supposedly concentrated the majority of its 600 000 soldiers in the Jakarta area, and there are apparently no troops to be seen out in the provinces. Demos are also continuing in the provincial towns.

I spent most of yesterday talking to people at a local anti-racist organisation, who are currently concentrating on exposing the role of the military and the government in the "riots." There's been talk of the army closing off areas where the "rioters" have been wreaking havoc so that the locals can't step in to stop the mob. So far, 14 bodies have been found at the scene of Sunday's riot, 8 in one of the torched buildings. The rise of these different fascist organisations is a new phenomenon here and is closely linked to the current situation. When these fascists tried, with the consent and support of the army, to attack demonstrators on 12.11.-13.11., the urban proletariat killed four of them.

The PRD and some of the islamic opposition groups held a joint press- conference yesterday in which they presented evidence of the military's role in the "riots." Most of the islamic groups here are of the pro- democracy sort. There aren't any real fundamentalist groups here, as the fascist groups are not really all that interested in religion. The liberation movements in Aceh and South Sumatra are labelled by the government as fundamentalists, but according to the PRD they are more left-wing.

The ethnic Chinese here are discriminated against more or less openly. They are the only ones whose ethnic origin is marked into their passports, something they share with former political prisoners. The use of Chinese in schools, publications or in public life is prohibited. Confucianism has not been recognised as a religion and an ethnic chinese may not be elected president. Chinese have been living in Indonesia for some 2000 years, and many of the important figures in Indonesian history have been of Chinese origin. Often it is not possible to tell an ethnic Chinese from one of the "locals" based on looks alone. The differentiation between Chinese and other ethnic groups is actually a remnant of Dutch colonial rule. The Dutch divided the population into three categories: A-class being (surprise, surprise) Europeans, Class B "Asians," meaning mostly Chinese, and Class C being the various Indonesian ethnic groups. Nowadays people of Japanese or Korean origin are also classified as being Chinese.

I had a talk on Monday with an activist from an East Timor solidarity group. The human rights situation there apparently has not changed, but the atmosphere in Dili is supposed to be freer since May. The most important development has been the mushrooming of grass-roots activism over the past six months. Especially the new women's groups and the "Students' and Youth East Timor Solidarity Group" had grown in strength in East Timor. Apparently, the Timorese are quite optimistic about achieving independence in the new future, and now the debate is on about what this independence actually means. So far, the resistance movement has concentrated on just demanding national independence, but others seem to want some more profound kind of freedom. so far, these discussions are apparently on quite a general level.

A few weeks later, on December 19th, we got this message.

Hot in Jakarta

Situation in Jakarta is very hot again. Military killed one student demonstrator yesterday, so today all student groups (KOMRAD, FAMRED FORKOT, Front Jakarta, FKSMJ, FORBES etc.)had a common demonstration which tried to get to parliament house. I got there exactly when mostly KOMRAD people were clashing with riot police. Riot police fled soon and people started to run towards parliament building, but then troops started to shoot and big panic spread. Officially they shoot just rubber bullets, but here you can never be sure. Besides rubber bullets are pretty kill on their won. After the initial panic there were three hours of fighting. Demonstrators used sticks and stones, soldiers shoot teargas and rubber bullets (maybe real ones too?). I heard that four demonstrators were killed, I don't know how many injured. Tomorrow there is demonstration(s?) again, nobody knows what will happen then.

P.S: Some good news too - according to newspapers Habibie has promised to release Dita Sari, union activist and PRD member. No doubt this is because of wide international pressure for her release. Still there are many political prisoners also after this, also trade unionists and PRD members. (sadly, once Dita Sari realised the conditions attached to her release, that she could not particpate in political activity for two years, she refused to be released)

For all those interested in the PRD, their manifesto can be found on the web under the address http://www.peg.apc.org/~prdint1