Exiles from the Suharto era want an apology, Indonesia refuses 16:46 in Domestic, Abroad After the coup 60 years ago, many Indonesian students abroad were not allowed to return to their country. Indonesia now wants to correct this, but the government is not making any excuses.

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Photo from 2016 of an Indonesian imprisoned without trial for 14 years accused of communism (no link to this story)
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  • Fitria Jelyta

    editor News & Co

  • Fitria Jelyta

    editor News & Co

Sixty years after the coup by General Suharto and the mass murders that followed, Indonesia says it wants to come to terms with its past. For example, Indonesians who were exiled by Suharto’s government for their support of his predecessor Sukarno can regain their nationality. But most exiles do not want that and demand, in vain, an apology from the current government. Today some of them met in Amsterdam.

Indonesian Minister Mohammad Mahfud of Politics, Law and Security was also in Amsterdam at the end of last month for a personal meeting with the exiles. He then announced that if they wish, they can regain their right to Indonesian nationality or apply for a visa for a five-year stay in Indonesia. But there will be no excuses.

“We will not get that because the government believes that all those responsible for the mass murders by Suharto’s regime and the people who supported him have already been punished or killed,” says 84-year-old Sungkono, who was also present at the meeting today. . Moreover, the current leaders would not consider themselves the right people to apologize.

Sungkono was sent to the communist Soviet Union in the 1960s to study engineering under the government of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president. But everything changed when General Suharto seized power in Indonesia. “The government took away my passport in 1966 because I still saw Sukarno as president when Suharto came to power. As a result, I was no longer allowed to return to my own country and I became stateless.”

Only after he came to the Netherlands from the Soviet Union in 1981, applied for asylum and received a Dutch passport, was Sungkono able to return to Indonesia in 1995. “But by then my parents and other relatives had passed away. I was unable to see or speak to them for years, and was unable to say goodbye to them.” Moreover, he said he was monitored by the Indonesian government during his visits as a Dutch tourist.

This happened to many Indonesian exiles who were made stateless after Suharto’s coup, says writer and activist Tatiana Lukman. An estimated 600 Indonesian exiles are still scattered throughout Europe. In the Netherlands, this concerns about 125 people from the first and second generation, according to figures from last year.

Not just students

Lukman points out that it was not only Indonesian students abroad who were exiled by Suharto’s ‘new order’. “They were also civil servants, such as ambassadors and their staff, who were abroad on behalf of Sukarno’s government to set up Indonesian embassies.” The latter group is now also covered by the current government’s commitment, although only students are explicitly mentioned in the scheme.

“The current Indonesian government also does not want to talk about the crimes that Suharto and his soldiers committed to fight communism,” says Lukman. She is personally involved in the case: her father was executed by Suharto’s army because he was leader of the communist party PKI. Due to her father’s political activities, Tatiana Lukman was exiled from Indonesia.

Suharto in 1967

According to her, the current Indonesian leaders refuse to apologize because they also see themselves as victims of Suharto’s regime. “They say that they helped fight Suharto’s corrupt regime and that they are therefore not the right people to apologize for what his government has done.”

Lukman and many Indonesian exiles disagree with this. “The current government wants to give us back our Indonesian nationality, but that means nothing if the government does not acknowledge that it has committed crimes and does not take responsibility for past human rights violations.”

‘Preventing guilty pleas’

In Indonesia itself, people are also critical of the government’s attitude towards exiles and other victims of past human rights violations, says Artien Utrecht. She is co-founder of the human rights organization Watch 65, which stands up for the interests of Indonesian exiles in the Netherlands.

“Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo has put together a team of ministries and investigators to ‘handle’ twelve major human rights violations from the past, including the exiles in 1965,” says Utrecht. “But no legal processes are linked to this to bring perpetrators to justice.”

According to Utrecht, this has to do with the power of the military in Indonesia. “They really want the government not to make excuses,” she says. “Apologies can lead to an admission of guilt, which will cause the military to be identified as perpetrators of the mass murders from around 1965 to the early 1970s. They want to prevent this with all their might.”

Yet the exiles deserve an apology from Indonesia, Sungkono believes. “I always felt like an Indonesian, even when they took my passport away,” he says. “The exiles have done nothing wrong. And if Indonesia wants to move forward, the government must stop hiding behind the past.”

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