The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, November 29, 2019



Expat blogs praise the joys of living in Bali.  A low-cost paradise, they say. Sundowners with fellow retirees while a maid (‘a real treasure’) prepares dinner and ‘our’ gardener trims the lawn. Good time to bitch about deemed interest rates on pensions.  Below the green paddy, the cheerful reapers.

This is Indonesia.  So is East Java, though unalike Bali on every measure. A peek next door.

 All our street’s a stage
 And all the men and women in it mainly hawkers.                                                      
They have their exits and their entrances                                                                              
And all in their allotted time must play the scene.

The late Kiwi ethnomusicologist Jack Body used the dawn chorus of Java’s towns to compose strange soundscapes of vendors’ horns and hails, jingles and drums.

The welder bangs a spanner on an acetylene cylinder in his pedicab. The vegie seller sings out sayur.  A rhythmic rap on hollow wood announces the bakso (meatball soup) cook.

He’ll boil a breakfast broth on his kaki Lima (five foot) pushcart while the neighbours in pyjamas collect to chat.  Semi-feral cats gather and yowl in season.

The language is Javanese, an ancient hierarchical tongue where a wrong word can cause offence.  Fortunately we’re egalitarian so all use the common version Ngoko.

The parade is thinning.  The jamu lady vanished last year.  She carried a basket of bottles on her head, stirring a herbal mix on the spot to fix most moans - menstrual cramps, a sore back, inflamed throat.

Now the shops sell sealed packs of traditional medicines.  Stock up - no waiting for the pedestrian pharmacy’s cure-alls.

Though nothing for hangovers, an unknown condition in this dry community; we were pushed into prohibition a decade ago by Muslim enforcers demanding all adhere to their interpretations of piety.

These include setting the time. Alarm clocks are unnecessary.  The 4.15 wakey-wakey comes with azan, the taped call to prayer through loud screechers.

Not all are as considerate as our local Al Ma’shum mosque which has dialled down the volume; others claim the shriller the din the holier the message.  The blessings of uproar aren’t exclusive to Islam; Christians can be equally raucous in the eastern islands where they control the knobs. 

Sawojajar is a suburb of Malang, eight degrees under the Equator.  It’s a hilltown 444 metres above and 90 kilometres south of the provincial capital Surabaya, the Republic’s second biggest city and a major port.

Malang is a start point for the mainly European tourists heading to Mount Bromo, the spectacular volcano nearby.  It’s named after Brahma, the Hindu creator god who once ruled all but now treads lightly on this land where 90 per cent are Muslims. 

On its slopes live maybe 100,000 Tenggerese, remnants of the Majapahit Kingdom which ruled before the arrival of Islam in the 15th century.

Either that or a volcanic explosion or maybe both forced the royals and their followers to flee east to Bali, which may be why the island remains largely Hindu.  Away from Bromo there’s a few scattered settlements. 

In the hills behind our suburb is a modern Hindu temple and school, well hidden. It was trashed last century, then rebuilt.

Our street has 70 semi-detached cottages.  When built 30 years ago all were single storey.  Now second floors are common as prosperity rises; there’s only space to grow up and we’re doing the same.

No building permits required.  What’s the load-bearing capacity of this crossbeam?  Mmmm – looks OK. Whaddya reckon?

This is dicey and DIYCE (DIY + Civil Engineering ex Google) while hoping the wire-and-nails bamboo scaffolds hold.  Health and safety laws - insurance?   Sorry, not with you.

The workers were recruited through mulut ke mulut (word of mouth).   Facebook is fast though less efficient. The rate is 100,000 rupiah ($11) a day per tradie plus coffee and cakes for smoko. 

The guys start a bit before 8 and knock off around 3.30, six days a week.  They’re jacks of all trades and licensed in none. They’ve mastered everything from plumbing to power on the job.  On Fridays one takes a long break to pray.  The others slumber.

I’m a bule – meaning Caucasian. Or londo, long nose.  It’s assumed I’m from the Netherlands or the US.  Few guess Australia, which is probably just as well. 

This year the ABC’s extraordinary Australia Talks poll of 54,000 found 80 per cent ‘expressed distrust’ of Indonesia.  Although no such survey here I imagine a similar result. 

Our national reputation has been corroded by spying on a past president, a proposed embassy move to Jerusalem and securing East Timor after the 1999 referendum.  That last action is defensible.

In local tabloid tales of fantasy and fear, Australians are coarse kafir (unbelievers) planning to splinter the Republic and plunder its riches.
Yet personal discrimination is rare.  Neither government policies nor crass Okker behaviour in Kuta bars have been smeared on this head-down foreigner. So far no fist-shakes, only handshakes. 

The only non-Indonesian within coo-ee is a Dutch businesswoman married to a local and with three wee boys.

Next August there’ll be a Big Bash.  The 17th marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of modern Indonesia in 1945 with the proclamation of independence by Soekarno. 

The Dutch ignored him and then jailed him as they set out to recover their lost colony.  A four year guerrilla war took the lives of at least 100,000 before the Hollanders quit. 

Australians were not passive onlookers as we are now with West Papua killings.  The Jakarta Embassy says it plans to re-publish in English and Indonesian an old government-commissioned photo-filled book Australia and Indonesia’s Struggle for Independence. 

Commented Ambassador Gary Quinlan: ‘Today’s generations, certainly in Australia, don’t know how important Australia’s energetic support for Indonesian independence was. We lobbied for Indonesia in the newly-created UN Security Council and were chosen by Indonesia as its representative in the UN discussions which led to independence.’

Opposite my mother-in-law’s house is the city’s Heroes’ Cemetery with hundreds of graves of those who died fighting on their own soil to create their own country.  Most cities have similar fields of remembrance.

National pride in evicting the powerful Europeans after three centuries of occupation, dread of disunity and maintaining religion are the bedrocks of Indonesian culture and the bricks of identity.   The most contested is religion.  Officially the nation is secular.  Unofficially it’s Sunni Islam.

Shia Islam, practised in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan is banned in Indonesia and its supporters persecuted.

Citizens must follow an approved faith which is stamped on ID cards -   Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian.

Australians would protest such gross invasions of privacy; Indonesians accept it as right and proper.  However not all are committed.  Society is split between the largely rural Abangan – who tend to blend traditional beliefs with Islam - and the more orthodox Santri who are more likely to be city dwellers and better educated.

Atheism is not allowed.   Kebatinan, the original faith of Java has the official status of a folk tradition though still practised by millions, usually quietly.  We know – we’ve witnessed under full moons in the ruins of once glorious temples built when Europe languished in the Dark Ages.

Al Ma’shum’s kyai looks like a cartoon preacher with white beard and matching robes; he’s a friendly fellow, waving to this lapsed Presbyterian on his dawn strolls. The parishioners nod as they head home to change from whitewear into work gear.

The women in mukenah (prayer shawls) sit apart lest their shapes and scents distract.  Indonesia is not a Gulf State, but women are still in the rear – in this case literally – and presumably immune from lustful dreams about slim-hip lads in the front rows.

Separate are the misanthropes of the Saudi-funded Al Ashr pesantren (Islamic boarding house), just 300 metres and several centuries behind; young male ascetics chant inside high walls daubed with Arabic slogans.  They’re good at glaring.

Seeing the satpam (security) knocking off triggers a reminder: Today it’s our turn on the refreshment roster and to pay 25,000 rupiah ($3) towards his monthly service.

He’s a bluff guy employed to frighten scavengers who upend bins seeking plastic bottles and aluminium cans, and put up red-and-white bunting on national days.  Like the US, every house has a flagpole.  He’s usually dozing or watching TV sport.

Like most men he’s soccer-mad, though Indonesian teams are spectacular losers. Football is big business, wildly popular and more wildly corrupt. The Archipelago has skilled players, lousy coaches and primitive facilities. Expect some changes now it will host the U-20 World Cup in 2021.

By 6.30 the babes are being nursed by plump carers while Dads and Mums head to work.  The littlies kick balls around the commuters’ motorbikes. Whining kids with satchels and shining morning faces creep like snails unwillingly to school.

The stroke victims catch the sun in wheelchairs.  All five are late middle-age.  Once were smokers.  Their wives look exhausted.

On this street stage there’s child care, aged care and everything between, blending, organic. The bitumen is a sports ground, a market, a community hall, a thoroughfare.   Come weddings, wakes or circumcisions the road is closed and a tent raised.  All attend, if only for the feed.

A quarter of Australians are reported to be lonely.  Again no similar studies in Indonesia (mental health is not a front-page issue here) but chances are that there’d be only a few suffering solitude.

No need to open a smartphone app to know what the neighbours are doing and saying. Just open the gate.

The women run an arisan, a monthly get-together and microfinance business.  Subs are pooled and distributed, and visits to the sick or bereaved are organised.

Indonesians engage easily in conversations with strangers.  The steps into familiarity start with asking where you’re going and rapidly lead to questions about the family’s origins, age, the number of children and religion. 

In the west we’d open with a weather comment and maybe venture into mention of work.  Fertility and faith are off limits till much later but in Indonesia they’re the ice breakers.

Every year we elect a Rukun Tetangga, a neighbourhood leader.  This is now a voluntary position and powerless as the formal local government bureaucracy has moved in, but the RT is still handy for whinges about things like potholes and telcos’ broken wires.
Rukun means harmony.

The Great Australian Fear of millions of Asians happily quitting their ghettos and pouring into the empty land below does not apply to Javanese, even though their island is already overpacked. Rindu Kampung Halaman is the common phrase for feeling homesick.  The Javanese are not like the Chinese and Indians who move overseas, settle and adapt.

This is neither Struggle Street nor a Hollywood neighbourhood comedy.  An old crank opposite gets shitty because my pigeons poo on his washing. Street parking causes friction.  The avenue of mango trees lures scrumpers.

Yet rage is rare.  When living is close, rukun must rule; keeping the peace is a task for all.   That’s Java style.

 First published in Pearls and Irritations, 29 November 2019.  See:

Thursday, November 28, 2019



It’s so obvious, and so is the question: Why wasn’t it done long ago?

The logic of geography is clear; on one side a huge under-populated continent efficiently producing vast amounts of food. Next door an overcrowded archipelago that can’t grow enough to satisfy its almost 270 million citizens.

Clearly the two should get together and trade. No doctorate in economics needed to see the sense, but understanding the social and political realities helps explain why it hasn’t happened.

A New Platform for Deepening Economic Ties tries to untangle the almost completed Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA).

The 36-page report is from the USAsia Centre - ‘Australia's leading think-tank for the strengthening of relationships between Australia, the Indo-Pacific and the US’. Most funding comes from governments. It’s based at the University of WA.

The report’s clunky title and bland text suggest authors Poppy Winanti and Kyle Springer have been seduced by the negotiators’ bureaucratese. Fortunately clever infographics lift understanding. Here are the issues:

‘Indonesia’s share of Australian trade has remained far smaller than Australia’s trade with other nations in the Indo-Pacific region. It has consistently sat at around two per cent of Australia’s trade, with no growth trends for the past ten years.

‘Not only does Australia trade far more with distant economies in the region than with its closest neighbour, Indonesia-Australia economic ties suffer from the lowest bilateral trade volumes of any contiguous pairing within the G20.’

Minus jargon, the IA-CEPA is a free trade agreement between Australia and Indonesia that rubs out tariffs and other barriers. These have long boosted Jakarta and Canberra tax takes, but made buying and selling across national borders costly and onerous.

Inevitably many traders have given up and looked elsewhere for easier deals.

It took more than a decade to create the IA-CEPA and it’s still unsettled. The eager Aussies have done their bit; now they’re waiting for Indonesia’s April-elected parliamentarians to say OK.

They probably will, as their advisors recommend uncapping pens. Last year President Joko Widodo urged Indonesians to shake off any inferiority complex and see their potential as international business stars.

The talks have been arduous and tough. However the walk ahead may be even longer as rent-seekers won’t lift barricades that quickly.

Another fear is that an unforeseen event might tip the deal on its side before it gets traction. Like a blown tyre on a motorway can lead to a roll-over and a pile up, so perceived insults to national pride could shut down the show.

This happened in 2013 with revelations of Australian spies tapping the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his late wife Ani. Unsurprisingly the trade talks shuddered to a halt.

When about to restart Indonesia executed two Australian drug runners, ignoring mercy pleas from the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

This is why all the urgency in getting this deal moving is being fuelled by Australia.

The IA-CEPA gets a run almost every week in the mainstream media Down Under, and often outside the business pages. The rural press has gone gaga with forecasts of huge sales. However it’s rare to read much in the Republic.

This suggests there’s more here for Australia than Indonesia, though the report points to the benefits ‘anticipated to boost Indonesian exports to Australia’. Electric cars get a mention – though they’re way down the road - along with furniture and textiles.

Even with a showroom-polished IA-CEPA some Indonesian exporters won’t buy; complex quarantine rules and quality controls stay put, making the small Australian market too bothersome unless profits are sizeable.

Also contentious is the increased quota on work and holiday visas eventually allowing 5,000 Indonesians a year into the Great South Land. Australian unions have objected yet these visas are unlimited for most European backpackers who labor on market gardens and farms.

After an IA-CEPA handshaked by all, bulk carriers of Australian wheat won’t necessarily offload straight into Surabaya’s silos. If Black Sea growers can deliver quality grains cheaper than the neighbours, then that’s where the bakers will buy.

Service industries like education and health care will be open to Australian providers. Getting approvals may be the easiest part; the labyrinthine Indonesian bureaucracy

is infamously corrupt, opaque, and untouched by the IA-CEPA. Only the most persistent and flexible entrepreneurs will survive.

The Australian industry-backed group Sustainable Skills has been struggling for three years to develop trade training in Indonesia. It’s still talking. So are German providers who’ve also spotted a market.

President Widodo has been calling for foreign money but lenders are wary. According to the report Australia has $5.6 billion invested next door, compared with $720 billion in the US and $480 billion in the UK. Even little Luxembourg gets four times more in deposits from Australia.

The reasons for this weird imbalance include Indonesian nationalists’ fears of relying on a Western country for loans and food security, and a flawed Investor State Dispute Settlement system. In short – distrust.

Ironically trade was flourishing long before European colonialists arrived in the region and started imposing rules. Makassan adventurers were regular visitors to the Kimberley coast, gathering shellfish and sea slugs for Chinese medicine.

They brought iron cookpots, metal tools, cloth, rice and exotic plants like tamarinds in their multi-hulled prau. Some returned to South Sulawesi with Aboriginal wives and artifacts. Where trade treads, friendships follow – another reason for pushing the IA-CEPA.


First published in Strategic Review, 27 November 2019:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Australian Alert!  Your neighbor has changed                       

Telling Australians their ideas about Indonesia are out-of-date can be a head-banging exercise.

Ambassador Gary Quinlan knows this well.  The boss of Australia’s Jakarta Embassy has been back to his homeland five times this year promoting the positives of his posting and telling listeners to update the software between their ears.

On one trip to coastal New South Wales where he was raised and educated, Quinlan spoke to Newcastle University staff and students.  His message was clear:  Their big neighbor was young, dynamic, keen for investors, and democratic. 

His speech wasn’t covered by the print media though Quinlan is a local lad made good, having won high academic and national recognition for his long and distinguished public service. 

Before starting work in Jakarta last year he was Australia's chief negotiator with Timor-Leste over the East Timor maritime boundary dispute. The parties reached agreement.

On future trips to Australia Quinlan hopes to say the same thing, though louder, to editorial boards of Australia’s major media organisations.  It will be a tough sell in a scorched earth market of shriveling sales.  In this ill-explored digital landscape bemused managers flounder while trying to determine directions.

Some overseas newsrooms in Jakarta, like Australian Associated Press, have closed.  Others have slashed staff or followed The Australian broadsheet and re-titled their journalists ‘Southeast Asia correspondents’.  These busy reporters are expected to cover a region of ten nations and 640 million people.

To the annoyance of serious writers Indonesian stories most likely to get a run Down Under are quirky tales of Aussie teens getting smashed on drugs or motorbikes and finding Indonesia police react differently to cops in suburban Sydney.

The stories get pushed higher if the alleged offender / victim is a sporting hero.  Laws targeting blasphemers and gays are also good for a few paragraphs. 

Readers might forget economically important Closer Economic Partnership Agreements for Bilateral Trade, but they’ll surely remember the ‘bonk bans’, proposed laws to jail unmarried couples found in the same bed.

The politics of Indonesia are so complex comment is usually restricted to academic journals.  The doings of Washington and Whitehall are equally knotty but cut-and-paste copy from the Anglosphere doesn’t need translating.

 “Improving people-to-people relationships is a big challenge because it depends ultimately on the attitudes of Australians and Indonesians to each other, not just on government policy,” said Quinlan.

In the past year the Embassy has run more than ‘25 major public diplomacy programs’ plus film, fashion and food festivals.  Seminars have been held on millennials and democracy, artificial intelligence, and women in business.

Australia’s multiculturalism has been promoted but Quinlan knows this can be misunderstood as the two countries have different understandings of the term.

In Indonesia it means a mix of citizens from the Republic’s 34 provinces and 300 ethnic groups.  In Australia it refers to settled migrants. About 30 per cent of Australia’s 26 million people were born overseas.

Demographic trends suggest that by 2030 Indonesia’s population will be around 296 million and heavily skewed to youth; the median age is currently 28 compared to Australia's 38.
In this year’s Lowy Institute survey of Australian public attitudes, 59 per cent disagreed with the statement that ‘Indonesia is a democracy’ – which it has been for all this century.

The poll revealed Australians think their country’s ‘best friend in the world’ is New Zealand, then the US and UK.  Four per cent reckoned ‘China’, just one per cent ‘Indonesia’.

Against these facts Quinlan’s work is all uphill though he praised government-to-government dealings.  In a recent speech he said:  ‘Politically, our relations are not fragile; in fact, they're very resilient.

‘Like any countries, especially close neighbours, we can always be hostage to events, but both countries have a fundamental interest in strong good relations and both are seriously committed to that.’
Maybe, though not enough – which will always be the case when Indonesians outnumber Australians more than ten to one.   Here are some more headaches:
In 2014 the Australian Government started the New Colombo Plan for young Australians to study in the region.  Indonesia tops the list with 7,554 short-term ‘mobility grants’  of up to AUD 7,000; however only  65 have chosen Indonesia in the past six years for the prestigious scholarships  worth AUD 69,000. More popular locations are Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.  

Meanwhile Australia has been slashing aid to Indonesia. In 2015 it cut funding by 40 per cent from AUD 542 million to AUD 323 million.  Next year the knife will slice deeper to AUD 298 million.  

Well over a million Australians fill Bali’s bars and beaches every year, yet the Institute says its long-term polling ‘has demonstrated the wariness with which Australians and Indonesians regard each other.’  

Many visitors think Hindu Bali is a separate state and not a province in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, just a short ferry ride across the 2.4 kilometer strait, but a formidable barrier for unadventurous Aussies.  Money changers in Australian airports sometimes advertise ‘Bali Money’.

 “We have to move on - there’s too much ignorance among many Australians about Indonesia, often based on out-of-date images,” Quinlan said. “Indonesia is growing so quickly and developing so fast, there’s widespread creative energy among young Indonesians.

" We need to tap more of this potential, especially for young Australians.”

First published in Indonesian Expat 25 November 2019:

Sunday, November 24, 2019


BTW: What’s free about Free Trade?

On occasional trips to Australia my wife heads to a major no-frills store that sells almost everything.  Here she buys bras that fit, are comfortable, long lasting and cheaper than in her mother country. 
They’re made in Indonesia.

She also stocks up with a brand of Indonesian noodles she won’t buy in her homeland.  She reasons that exporters have to meet Australian quality and content standards, so consumers in Indonesia get second class goods or foods with additives not allowed Down Under.

Sounds daft – but maybe she’s right.  Garden tools bought in Oz are still snipping sharply after their local equivalents – three times more expensive - have rusted away.  

In the Australian store domestic electrical appliances, also from Indonesia, are guaranteed for a year.  If a purchase is crook (defective) it’s speedily swapped,  plus an apology. Try doing that in Indonesia where complainants are considered criminals out to swindle.  

Australian politicians have been crying hallelujah over a new free trade deal, the clumsily titled Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA).

After ten years in the talking the agreement was signed in March.  It’s waiting for the new politicians in the DPR  to uncap their pens and sign away some tariffs.

In reality the underwear and kitchenware now on shelves Down Under didn’t jump excise hoops as none have existed for many years.  So the agreement is no big deal to flexible Indonesian exporters.
They’re the smarties who’ve learned that one size doesn’t fit all markets.

Indonesians want cheap so get cheap.  Australians also want cheap, but with quality that’s enforceable by law.  So the  kettle or toaster on display in Australia may have been built with more care than those on sale in the Republic, though both came from the same factory.

Tariffs are taxes often added for political rather than economic reasons.  Nationalist governments use them to shield slack producers from cheaper imports.  

When you’ve finished enjoying this BTW take a peek in your pantry.  If you’re prone to xenophobia best sit down before reading the small print on the sack:  the Archipelago’s staple food may have come from Thailand or Vietnam where they grow the white grain cheaper than in Java.

Australian cockies (farmers) are highly-mechanized growers of wheat, sugar, rice and other foods in such huge quantities they need to sell overseas.  Importers want the goodies but don’t want to upset farmers or self-sufficiency advocates.

If the IA-CEPA is eventually waved through, we shoppers have a question:  Will prices plummet?  Let’s be optimistic:  the chances are about equal to sea levels dropping and Jakarta air becoming refreshing.  

There are many other outstretched hands to fill  before Indonesians get a taste of Australia – particularly if it’s alcoholic.  Here the issue is religion for Muslims aren’t supposed to booze.  So no free trade here.

A bottle of red or white wine starts below AUD $10 (RP 96,000) in its state of origin.  Jakarta doesn’t want us suffering hangovers and Islamic organizations getting stroppy, so slaps on taxes of up to 140 per cent.

Indonesian exporters face similar imposts, like quarantine and packaging rules. This nation is a mighty producer of tobacco but Canberra doesn’t want citizens getting lung cancer so adds a 70 per cent tax.

Nicotine addicts should not expect  packs below AUD $35 even though the Indonesian product retails for under $2.  If you’re thinking of stuffing  fags in your bags check your credit card limit; only 25 sticks are allowed duty free. A fine reason to quit.

Is the deal being oversold? It’s certainly complex (21 chapters plus annexures and schedules) so not a holiday page-turner. A business organization survey this year found many members unmoved by the FTAs which so excite politicians.

The ABC's business editor Ian Verrender claims FTAs ‘have very little to do with trade, free or otherwise. (They’re) diplomatic agreements, designed to cement relationships and shore up political and defence alliances.

‘The very idea of a free trade agreement is a contradiction. You don't need a complex agreement to trade freely.’

So here’s a holiday tip: To back Indonesian businesses, lift standards and help the nation’s economy, go shop in Australia. Though not for smokes.

 First published in The Jakarta Post 23 November 2019

Thursday, November 21, 2019


Color brightens lives twixt rail and river    


It’s embarrassingly compelling.  Like a lecher at a bedroom keyhole the sight draws and repels. 

Trains heading west out of Malang station slip through a dense forest of ramshackle houses.  Rail companies usually clear land flanking the line.  Not here. If the carriage windows opened passengers could snitch fruit off breakfast tables.  Check the washing lines - Wow! those undies are so brief.

Safe behind tinted glass passengers squint into bedrooms and kitchens while the occupants notice only moving metal.  It’s rude, but it gives outsiders a chance to see the intimacies of kampung life.

Now voyeurs don’t need to travel.  Instead of furtive guilt-laden glances they can see and be seen, strangers and locals on the same level discovering their common humanity.

“It’s no problem, we don’t care,” said Valentinus Sutrisnanto (above) as a tour group passed his home’s open doorway.  “We smile and they smile back.  We talk - I hear most are happy to wander around and look at our murals.  They certainly take many selfies.”

And leave many rupiah.  Although the entrance charge is only Rp 3,000 (US 21 cents) Kampung Kesatrian, aka Kampung Tridi (Three Dimension), visitor numbers jump into the thousands on public holidays according to gatekeeper Habibah, 26. (left)

“People come from Russia, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia,” she said.  “They hear about us from Facebook and the Lonely Planet tour guide.”  Instead of tickets she gives souvenir key-ring hearts she’s sewn.

Many among the 240 families squashed higgledy-piggledy between the rail and the river Brantas have set up cafes and food stalls.  Guests negotiating the narrow stairs and streets can buy refreshments, then rest on the steps and seats.

If that was all, just a cramped urban village which lets people pay to peer, then this story should end now.

However the tale is larger and more colorful.  Literally, for every building, rooftop, wall and sometimes even the sidewalks have been painted in pastels, green and yellow, pink and orange.

On these backgrounds are murals of pop stars, Disney characters, international landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and wayang kulit puppets, jumping out of frames to create a 3D effect.  Leaping lions are a favorite for this is Arema soccer heartland where fans reckon players are the big cats, not oligarchs in Jakarta.

Before retiring Sutrisnanto, now 64, was a station official waving all clear so locos could roll.  In 2011 he won a three-year term as Rukun Warga (RW), the local administrative official.

The 240 families must reckon he does a signal job because he’s been re-elected three times.  Again, what’s so unusual?  Let’s turn the page.  No, don’t.  This next bit is important.

The RW is a Catholic, his wife Anita Albertina a Protestant, while almost all the other thousand residents are Muslims.

Readers may remember when former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) was jailed for blasphemy.  He was a Christian and some Islamic authorities claimed a verse in Al Koran means only Muslims can lead other Muslims.

Half a million placard-wavers packed Jakarta’s Monas Square 212 demo in early December 2016 to agree.

“That hasn’t been the situation here,” said Sutrisnanto, “we’ve had no conflict.”  While he was talking to The Jakarta Post a neighbor in traditional Islamic garb came for a chat, seemingly unconcerned he was facing a cross and flanked by pictures of Jesus; also present was a lady sweeping the floor for a  service to be held in the RW’s living room.

So what are the problems?  “Trash.  We’ve told everyone to use bins but garbage still gets into the Brantas.  We never see stuff thrown during the day but some do at night upstream.

“This concerns me; I know foreigners who otherwise like our village get sickened by seeing plastic on the riverbank.”

To underline his point a young Dutch couple wouldn’t get off the steps leading to the water.  “We don’t see this in Europe,” they said staring at putrid black blobs that didn’t invite close scrutiny.

Nor will they encounter anything quite like Kampung Tridi in their homeland or other Western countries.  The initiative wouldn’t get past the first planning bureaucrat because nothing would meet health and safety regulations, while public-risk insurance premiums would be steeper than the railway embankment.

Motorbikes share space with pedestrians. Some lanes are just one-person wide. Steps are uneven. Bricklayers forgot to use spirit levels and the mortar crumbles easily.  The paint, supplied free by a manufacturer, covers many blemishes so visitors aren’t repelled – unless they look too closely. 

Away from the river everything is clean – which wasn’t the situation a few years ago when tourists feared to tread.

“The kampung was filthy,” said Sutrisnanto.  “We had petty crime, thieves, beggars, drunks and drugs.  The police were often called.  Now we don’t even have security guards.”

He claims the turnaround came when residents decided they wanted a better environment.  Nearby were two other painted kampung drawing tourists, so they went one better with 3D murals.

The key was not to look for advice from social workers or get feasibility studies, but to return to the traditional Java principles of gotong royong (mutual cooperation) and musyawarah (consultation and consent.)

Meetings were held weekly. Jobs were found for layabouts so they felt belonged.  No government department has been involved, so no concrete memorial signed by a minister.

“We did everything ourselves,” said Sutrisnanto stopping to chat to a mixed group - two German women and a cluster of Jakarta Moms. “The money from ticket sales is used for maintenance and to help widows, single mothers and the poor. 

“We distribute sembako (nine essential foods) to households twice a year.  All our income and spending is audited and made public.

 “As you can see, it’s been a success.  The secret is constant communication, talking to people face-to-face, listening to their complaints, advocating for them, explaining what’s happening and why.”

Which sounds like a formula for politicians to follow.

First published in The Jakarta Post 19 November 2029

Monday, November 11, 2019


        Blood on the stoles:  The role of Catholics in the 1965-66 post-coup genocide

Duncan Graham*
In 2018 Australian academic Dr Jess Melvin proved what had been long surmised - that the Indonesian military engineered the genocide following the 1965 ‘coup’.[1]
The Army wasn’t alone. Less well known [2] is that it was backed by elements of the Catholic Church.  Some had links to Australian politicians and spies.
A key agent provocateur was Dutch Jesuit Joop Beek who trained cadres to be fervent anti-Communists.  Their role in fomenting political, social and personal hate cannot be quarantined from the deaths of maybe 500,000 or more real or imagined Communists.  This is still a deeply sensitive issue across the nation and particularly on the island of  Flores.[3]

Around Maumere on the Northeast coast between 800 and 2,000 Catholics were murdered by their pew neighbours while only two priests offered last rites. [4]

Despite earlier promising to open discussion of the killing times, President Joko Widodo has recanted; it’s unlikely there’ll be moves towards national healing by his government in its second five-year term. [5] [6]

However a truth and reconciliation commission initiated by the Church, alone or alongside liberals in other faiths, could start the process of restorative justice.

Through field research including personal interviews with priests and laity, this paper will examine why some clergy ‘failed to distinguish between throne and altar’, [7] betrayed their beliefs and shattered their congregations. It also asks how society can prevent similar events recurring.

  • Duncan Graham, M Phil (UWA) is an Australian journalist living in Indonesia. He has a Walkley Award, two Human Rights Commission Awards and several other prizes for his work. For much of this century he’s been writing for the English-language media in Indonesia. More details:
Note on style:  Single quotes indicate a written public reference; double quotes are from personal interviews.

Thanks:  To my wife Erlinawati in Malang, Dr Anton Lucas in Adelaide and Dr John Prior in Maumere for reading early drafts and suggesting corrections. However the final responsibility lies with me.


This paper is by an Australian.  It’s about genocide and a particularly evil event in Flores where Catholics slaughtered Catholics while their priests stayed silent.

It’s also about reconciliation.  Some might assume it’s another prescription from a smug Westerner telling the neighbours what to do because Australia has got its past sorted.

If only.  The sands of my country are also stained with blood and only now, after more than a century, is our guilt being slowly exposed as the truth is revealed.   The Parliament apologised to the First Australians ten years ago but has since done little. We are still arguing about constitutional recognition.  The wrongs remain.  Australians are in no position to preach.

So although many individuals are guilty for what they did – or didn’t – do, this paper is not a general criticism of Indonesia or the Church. The issues are universal.  Rather it’s a damnation of all nations and leaders, lay and clerical, who reject moral principles, then refuse to recognize the wrongs of the past and work to heal the wounds. 

It’s also a warning; zealotry, tolerated to boost a seemingly righteous cause, can lead to the justification of heinous acts that come to haunt later generations.

Human rights know no borders.

First presented at the Indonesia Council Open Conference,
 ANU Canberra, 19-21 November 2019

A Church corrupted, congregations betrayed
There’s no power worth defending by bloodshed of the people.  Abdurrahman Wahid [8]logo

On most days Egenius Pacelly (EP) da Gomez can be found reading on his verandah just outside Maumere on the road to Ledalero.  If absent he’s likely to be in the East Flores city’s Nusa Indah bookshop looking for the latest Tempo news magazine or fresh stock.

He’s long been a widower but doesn’t hang around mourning; the 79-year stays intellectually alert through following national politics, though his mind often wanders back to a searing moment in his life – Sunday, 20 February 1966. At the time he was a Catholic Party activist and called to a meeting of Komop (Komando Operasi) and local officials.
Attendees were told ‘instructions’ had come from Jakarta, 1,700 km to the west, to ‘secure’ all Communists and their sympathizers, and that every political party had a quota to fill.  There were then about 2,000 people in Maumere, [9] perhaps ten times more in the surrounding Sikka Regency.  Many citizens knew each other if not casually or as neighbors, then through intermarriage.

A report of the meeting and the history of the horror that followed was produced eight years later by Anon and titled Menjaring Angin (To Reap the Whirlwind).  Da Gomez, who has long been a prolific writer and published historian, reluctantly agreed that he’s    the author, though he says the document was later edited by others.  [10]

Two of the 130 pages are missing.  The circumstances are mysterious.  The original Gestetner stencils were held by a priest.  When he died his belongings were allegedly ransacked and the document damaged. [11]

The report concerns ‘human beings, society and their relations with the Creator ... a search for something that if seen clearly, might be best called meaning.’  [12]

It’s also one of the few surviving papers giving a background to the murder of maybe up to 2,000 citizens by their fellow Catholics from February through Easter to May 1966 in Maumere and surrounding villages. 

No trials were held.  The men were usually hacked to death in public, their friends and relatives forced to watch, the bodies kicked into graves which are still unmarked.  [13] While this was underway the clergy betrayed their calling by offering only last rites.  Families still grieve and even now fear repercussions from the Army if they speak out.

To understand how this tragedy occurred, it’s useful to check the months in Jakarta leading to the ‘coup’[14], and what was happening within the Catholic Church.  
To set the scene here’s The Atlantic contributor John Hughes succinctly reporting in 1967: 
This attempted coup, on the night of September 30-October 1, 1965, touched off a dramatic series of events. The Army struck back, grinding the Indonesian Communist Party into oblivion with ruthless efficiency. Many thousands of Indonesians were slaughtered in a nation-wide bloodbath.
An obscure general named Soeharto was catapulted into prominence. Indonesia was wrenched back from a headlong leftward slide in both domestic and foreign policy. And eventually Soekarno, the man who had cast his magic political spell across Indonesia for so long, was exposed, discredited, toppled.[15]
This was at the height of the Vietnam War when US and Australian troops were fighting a losing battle to stop a Communist take-over of the south.  The ‘Domino Theory’ was driving foreign policy.  This imagined ferocious hordes knocking down weak states as they hurtled towards the largely empty and resource-rich Great South Land.  [16]

The Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) was then the largest in the world outside the USSR and China, with an estimated three million members.

Western governments weren’t the only ones terrified of the Red wave turning into a tsunami.  The Catholic Church had become obsessed with the reach of Communism at the expense of its holy ministry, so set out to demonise the party and its supporters.  The repercussions of this crusade have led to terrible wrongs done to individuals, their families, communities, societies, the nation and the Church.

In Indonesia the most aggressive and influential anti-Communist operator in the Church was the Dutch-born Jesuit Josephus Gerardus (Joop) Beek (1917 – 1983).  He was sent to Yogyakarta in 1938 and imprisoned by the Japanese after the 1942 invasion. [17]  He later became an Indonesian citizen.

In the early 1960s he was in Jakarta running leadership training courses called Kaderisasi Sebulan (KASBUL - Regeneration Month) rousing students against Communism. [18]
A Dutch journalist reported that Beek, who was teaching at the University of Indonesia:
… had already for years maneuvered important people towards key positions within society and had collected wiz kids around him with whom he had created [19]student cells.  These grew into a major influential power.’ [20]
Film producer Joop van Wijk wrote in a promotion for his proposed film Imitatio Ignacio that Beek was:

…the brain behind the 1965 coup in Indonesia, leading to his fingers being tainted with the blood of hundreds of thousands of adversaries of dictator Soeharto. We find out how he with his ever-growing network of followers may be regarded as the man who was by far the best-informed man of Indonesia in the turbulent 1960’s.
And how Joop Beek became crucially important for western secret service organizations such as the CIA, MI5 and ASIS in their undercover operations to support Suharto against the first president of Indonesia Sukarno who was ever further sliding to the left. [21]
It’s possible hardships endured during his years in a Japanese prison camp affected the priest’s thinking. Even so he could have justified his fanaticism by referencing the Vatican’s 1949 Decree against Communism [22] which declared members should be excommunicated. That meant card-carrying Reds could be excluded from participating in the sacraments and services.  It did not mean imprisonment, torture and execution. [23]
Beek is reported to have favoured the slogan ‘kill or be killed’, when confronting Communism, a phrase also used by others in recalling their experiences in 1965.  [24]  How all this fitted with Christ’s teachings of passivity, tolerance and forgiveness is unclear.  

Beek was regularly talking with Western security agencies and was close to the Australian Catholic political activist Bartholomew Augustine (BA) Santamaria (1915 –1998). [25] His Church and business associates funded anti-Communist movements in Australia and Southeast Asia, and supplied Western governments with information and advice.

Prominent among Beek’s coterie was Jusuf Wanandi, born Lim Bian Kie. [26] He’s now a major businessman, political commentator and Jakarta legend.[27] He’s also a complex character, harboring secrets, skirting issues, masking a troubled conscience with regrets.  These appear sincere, though fall short; he won’t open all the cupboards, instead claiming the shelves and drawers are empty.  They are not.

 At 82 Wanandi is spry, articulate and a ripping commentator on the doings of Indonesia’s political haut monde. He’ll talk openly on almost everything – except his guru – Joop Beek. Curiously the priest doesn’t feature in Wanandi’s autobiography Shades of Grey which is otherwise filled with names and details of the author’s life and influences.  [28]
In personal discussions two prominent Jesuits (the late Father Adolf Heuken (right) and Franz Magnis Suseno) have confirmed that Beek and Wanandi lived close to each other in the Jakarta suburb of Menteng in the mid 1960s, and were meeting almost daily. [29]

Santamaria gets one sentence in Wanandi’s book:  ‘Through a group led by Bob Santamaria I got to know some influential people in Manila’.  Asked to expand Wanandi would only say: “The efforts of Bob Santamaria had been sporadic and therefore with no lasting effect.”  [30]
 Australian journalist Frank Mount was employed by Santamaria to work in the region; he had close links with Beek and Wanandi who supported the bloody Indonesian take over of East Timor, though Wanandi now has regrets. [31]
In his autobiography Wrestling with Asia, Mount claims Beek set up a network of anti-Communist Catholics in Indonesia, as Santamaria had done in Australia. [32] 
In 1965 the network heard through a spy in the PKI that Soekarno was sick so assumed dramatic action was likely by the Party. [33] Beek passed the information on to Australia’s security organisations.[34]
Wanandi’s present Central Jakarta office is in the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  The 1971 founders were Wanandi and his younger brother Sofjan, backed by Chinese and mainly Catholic entrepreneurs.  They were persuaded to donate  [35] by Wanandi’s friend, General Ali Moertopo (1924 – 1984).  How that persuasion was exercised is not known.[36]
Today the organisation has an image of independent professionalism, a non-profit think tank covering social, international, political and economic issues, referenced by academics and journalists.
That wasn’t the case during Soeharto’ early years in the palace: The CSIS was then not a lobby for human rights or a centre of impartial research, but a propaganda arm for Soeharto’s Orde Baru (New Order) government. [37]
Wanandi got the CSIS into Western boardrooms, ministries and high-level conferences through his skills as an amusing, knowledgeable, cosmopolitan English-speaking inner-circle unofficial diplomat and ethnic Chinese Catholic – the congenial face of a ruthless dictatorship run by dark men in khaki.[38]
This is ironical as Wanandi later helped set up the Kompas daily, now the most trustworthy Indonesian language newspaper in the Republic – though originally established to counter Red propaganda. [39] [40]
Today the CSIS seems to have lost much of its early Catholicism.   [41] Some female staff wear jilbab, the Islamic headscarf. Open ties with the military have also been cut. Said Wanandi with some vigor: “Never trust the Army.” [42] Yet that’s what he was doing through his links with Moertopo.

Mount wrote:
Over the years, the more capable and energetic members of Beek’s network gradually moved into political, commercial, academic and government posts and many of them have now risen to positions of great national and international importance and influence.’ [43]
Unfortunately Mount would not respond to questions about Beek.
Snuggling up to Soeharto’s ruthless regime in its early days has done the business interests of the Wanandi brothers no harm.   In 2007 Forbes magazine said Jusuf Wanandi was worth US $307 million. Sofjan started the Gemala (now Santini) Group which operates factories around the world. [44]
Wanandi’s admiration for the Muslim Moertopo is not shared by Western academics. Australian academic Dr Richard Tanter dubbed Wanandi a ‘former Opsus (Operasi Khusus, Special Operations group) associate.’  [45] Opsus was run by Moertopo and was its ‘intellectual core, which provided intellectual cover and academic legitimation’.
The late US-Indonesia expert Dr Benedict Anderson wrote that Moertopo's specialties  included ‘black  intelligence  operations,  deployment  of agents  provocateurs, behind-the-scenes  political  manipulations,  and  the  sophisticated  cultivation  of influential  politicians,  businessmen,  and  academics  overseas.’ [46]

Canadian professor John Roosa was more direct, writing that Wanandi:
… laboured for years on the dark side, helping the Soeharto dictatorship commit a variety of crimes, and he remains proud of his work as the protégé of one of its most loathsome dirty-tricks intelligence officers, Ali Moertopo. His insider accounts of the decision-making behind various massacres are often self-serving and inaccurate. [47]
Moertopo continued to have Soeharto’s ear until the soldier reportedly died of a stroke [48] while taking a nap at the CSIS where a room is dedicated to his memory. The general was Wanandi’s conduit to Soeharto and is admired “for keeping his cool” following the coup. [49]

Wanandi is not one of the grandees that fill the Indonesian oligarchy. At times he can be self-effacing which helps him steer awkward inquiries into safer streets. Like telling when he was caught by soldiers in 1965 driving a Jeep at 3 am in Jakarta with a pistol and two Sten sub-machine guns in the vehicle. [50]
His contacts in high places and silver tongue prevailed; he kept driving and kept the guns, though later claimed they didn’t work.
These jolly Boy’s Own adventures cut no ice with Roosa.  In a review of Shades of Grey published in the Australian quarterly Inside Indonesia he wrote:
Wanandi’s account shows how closely the student movement worked with the Army. The students knew in early October that they were in no danger. The PKI put up no resistance as they rampaged through the streets, ransacking and burning houses, offices, and schools.
But still they pretended as if they were brave heroes at war risking their lives. Wanandi notes in passing, without an expression of regret, that the students of the Indonesian Student Action Front (KAMI) forced people to join their demonstrations. [51]
When invited to respond Wanandi commented in writing: “I have not read the review of Roosa’s (sic) and (I’m) not interested in his opinion.” [52]
Well into the 21st century it’s difficult to understand the depth of hatred towards Communism in the 1960s – not just from the capitalist US and its allies including Australia, but from the Catholics and their Church with its ambiguous approach to human rights and support for despots like Soeharto.
In his autobiography Wanandi calls the genocide ‘the most abominable episode in our country’s history’. [53] However he’s less than frank about the role he and his colleagues played, raising the question: Did the Catholics go too far in promoting hate?  Do they have blood on their hands?
President Soekarno bore the first responsibility ... because he was still full president then ... we were activists during that period and heard about the killings, but because of the political uncertainties we did not react to those barbaric acts.
Do you ever look back - do you think because Catholics were so opposed to the PKI that you were in any way responsible for the bloodbath?
=That’s not so, because we warned Soekarno ... on the 14 November (a deputation) went to Soekarno and informed  him that he had to do something ... we knew some parts of it (the genocide) but we had no inkling of the intensity in East Java, and Central Java and Bali till afterwards. [54]

Yet declassified files from that period released by the US Government in 2017 show the killings were widely known. [55]  The hierarchy of the Church was also aware.  Letters have come to light dated 6 November 1965 and 6 January 1966, weeks before the Flores massacre, forbidding Catholics from being involved with the Army Para Commando Regiment which was carrying out the killings in Java and Bali. [56] 
What more could Wanandi and his students have done to stop the slaughter? As Catholics, where was their moral responsibility?  Wanandi:
We were the first targets of the PKI. It was kill or be killed. We were more anti-PKI than anyone else, always the first ones ... Muslims came later.  Only the Army opposed. [57]
The sensitivity now of human rights was then of a different intensity.  Who cared about human rights at that time?  It (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) was not adopted by the UN until 1948. [58] We were not responsible for the bloodbath.  Soekarno and Soeharto share (responsibility for that).. . lacuna of authority. [59]
Wanandi and other conservative Catholic leaders in Jakarta would have been aware of the awful events in Maumere involving the clergy and their congregations. The slaughter started in February 1966 after the killings had almost petered out elsewhere, yet no mention in Shades of Grey. 
It took time for the sins to be recognized and the remorse to mature.  In his autobiography Wanandi calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like the South African restorative justice process last century following the destruction of apartheid. [60]
So far little has happened.  While running for the presidency in 2014 Joko Widodo appeared to support an inquiry, but recanted once in office [61] as retired generals claimed that Communists were organizing a comeback, vigilance must be intensified and the defence budget boosted.  [62]

The scares began to get traction, spooking Widodo who was also subject to smears alleging he’d been a Communist.  [63] To blunt these attacks he appeared on television watching the ghastly 1984 agitprop Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Communist treachery of 30 September). 

This crude piece of cinema has been compulsory viewing for schoolchildren every year on the anniversary of the ‘coup’.  The President even suggested the film be updated. [64]

Unless they’re well read and in a family of liberals, today’s youngsters remain historically illiterate about their nation’s recent past which has been largely researched by Western academics working overseas; their books are usually expensive, difficult to obtain, and in English. [65]

An exception is Dr John Prior, a British-born priest with the Society of the Divine Word. He came to Eastern Indonesia in 1973 and is now in Maumere.  He’s written scholarly papers and co-edited a collection of essays in Indonesian on the events in East Flores.[66]

He’s tried to analyse why the priests went along with the Army’s slaughter and concludes the clergy had become snared by power, enjoying the prestige of being close to the government through its purge of Communists: ‘The Church ran adrift from the concerns of the surrounding society.’ [67]

The 2003 Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Jakarta referred to ‘the decoupling of faith from daily life’ [68] This began much earlier when the Church became obsessed with fighting Communism and forgot that its mission was to guide and protect its flock.  The hate was not exclusive to Indonesia. [69]

Priests allowed themselves to be lured from their responsibilities to ordinary parishioners through playing with State power, and financially benefiting from siding with killers.  They’d been indoctrinated through strident Catholic political propaganda, largely driven by foreign priests like Beek. 

They argued that Communism was so satanic killings were justified even though this ran counter to their consciences and all Church teachings. This moral code would have been known by every novice.

They didn’t differentiate between Communist ideology, open to challenge through better ideas, and those who liked some of the party’s policies such as land reform though were not card-carrying members.  It was easier to kill than change minds.

What has to change to avoid a repetition? Wrote Prior:

Their (the clergy’s) mission to save souls was buttressed by a spirituality that encouraged people to endure the trials of this world while patiently trusting in God’s mercy in the next … they failed to distinguish between throne and altar …
We need to untangle the pastoral strategies of the Church community from the unevangelical, self interested, repressive, patriarchal policies of the governing elite. [70]

Does the Church have blood on its hands?  Prior did not hesitate:  “Yes.”[71] And da Gomez who features at the start of this paper?  “We need reconciliation.  The initiative must come from the Church. The children must be educated.  To stop this happening again all Indonesians must know the true history of their country.” [72]


                The past is never where you think you left it.  Katherine Anne Porter [73]

The ‘coup’ occurred two decades after the end of World War 11 when the Nazi party converted a largely Christian country into a nation of hate against the Jewish minority.
According to one historian Nazism sought to ‘transform the subjective consciousness of the German people—their attitudes, values and mentalities—into a single-minded, obedient ‘national community’. [74]  This was the process engineered in Indonesia in 1965. 

Zealotry is dangerous, doubly so when faith-based.  The common view is that religious fundamentalists are simpletons driven by monochrome assumptions, mindlessly led by smarter demagogues indifferent to the consequences of their actions.

Yet the Jakarta Catholics associated with the ‘coup’ aftermath were well-educated, intelligent individuals.  They knew European history. How could they have been so influenced by Beek and the villainy of his ideas that they abandoned their personal moral values taught by their church.  

One answer is distasteful: Some had other agendas, aware that if they picked the winners in the chaos then they’d benefit financially and personally – if they didn’t they’d be in mortal peril.  Choose wisely or perish. [75] [76]

The Catholics were in a minority, about two per cent of the national population.  The Chinese constantly suffered discrimination and knew they’d not survive without powerful patrons. The regrets being expressed today might carry more weight if those pleading for understanding were remorseful thugs realizing their earlier errors.  They weren’t.

Western governments were also culpable.  They were aware of the massacres through reports by journalists and diplomats, but chose to ignore the genocide because it halted the spread of Communism through the archipelago.  No-one comes out of this story unscathed, though one priest can still stand tall.

Near Maumere Father Frederikus Pede da Lopez challenged the military’s orders and demanded his congregation in Wolokoli be released.  So the Army contacted his bishop and da Lopez was moved to a seminary.  [77]Although his protest failed he didn’t die for his defiance.  [78]

This showed the cowardice of his colleagues who used the defence of ‘we’ll be killed if we don’t cooperate’. Sainthood was available, but declined.  Commented Prior:  “They were all Simon Peters.”

The survivors’ counter argument runs:  ‘You don’t understand what it was like – you weren’t there. Easy to sermonise now.’ True enough; none of us know how we’d respond when suddenly faced with great moral dilemmas while fearing for our lives. 

In this case the story is not about a few weak individuals, but almost all members of an institution built on the principles of sacrifice and love for humanity.[79]  Where were the dissenters?

According to two historians:
A strong stand by the Church might well have halted or at least diminished the slaughter … most clergy stood aside as silent bystanders.  The population was cowered for over twenty years; voices for justice remained mute. [80]

There seems no excuse for priests who’d taken holy orders and were supposed to have been drawn to their calling by Christ’s offering of himself for crucifixion.  They knew what was happening and that it was absolutely wrong. When they donned the cassocks, stoles and crucifix they took on a special responsibility to their congregations. [81]

Prior quotes Martin Luther King Jr:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. [82]

Should such evil times return we’ll all need to recognize and repel the seducer - hate. This can come, as it did in Indonesia in 1965 – 66, in the guise of a forked-tongue government claiming its motives were altruistic, and an amoral Church compliant in the genocide.  

The government’s failure to initiate reconciliation leaves the way open for the Church to start the process – and help wash itself of sin.

German Jesuit Karl Rahner wrote: ‘The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.’ [83]


[2] There are no references in Melvin’s book.

[3] The people of Flores pay great respect to the dead.  Many have graves in the yards and gardens of their houses.  Not knowing where the remains of their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers lie is a never-ending trauma for the families. Maumere has memorials to the 2,500 who died in the December 1992 earthquake and tsunami, but nothing to remember the pogrom.
The figure of 500,000 killed in the pogrom is clearly a rough guess.  One estimate given to Soekarno was 78,000 – later it had another zero added. Commander Sarwo Edhie (father-in-law of sixth President SBY) is alleged to have said the number was three million.  See: Kolektif Info Coup d'etat 65 :. - Dokumen   If correct that represents three per cent of the population at the time.

[4] Aritonang, Jan Sihar, & Steenbrink, Karel:  A history of Christianity in Indonesia, 2008, Brill.  pp 253-255.  See section: The tragic betrayal of 1966.

[6] See below for an account of Human Rights activist Soe  Tjen Marching questioning the President:  He stated that he still did not really understand what happened, and that this kind of thing took time. In short, he answered my question without actually answering it. It strikes me as pathetic that a president who is supposed to be ‘reformist’, claims that he does not know much about one of the biggest genocides the world has seen, that happened in his country. The deputy head of Komnas HAM told CNN that Komnas HAM had sent its report and recommendations on the matter to Jokowi on 10 December 2014. Yet, Jokowi told me he had not seen it.

[7] Prior, John:  The Silent Scream of a Silenced History.  Part Two; Church responses. Exchange 40, 2011.

[8] Gus Dur on quitting the presidency in 2001.

[9] Van Klinken, Gerry:  Postcolonial Citizenship in Provincial Indonesia, 2019, Palgrave Macmillan.

[10] The document has not been published and only a few photocopies are available. 

[11] Conversation with da Gomez, Maumere, May 2019.

[12] Translation by Dr John Prior SVD.

[13]  See Endnote 3

[14] I use quotes around the word ‘coup’ because it’s still unclear whether this was a clumsy attempted takeover by the PKI, or staged by elements in the military to trigger a purge of Communists.  These questions are important but not part of this paper.

[15]  Hughes is also the author of The End of Sukarno: A Coup That Misfired: A Purge That Ran Wild, 1967,Archipelago Press

[16] Then Australian prime minister Harold Holt declared: ‘With 500,000 to one million communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it's safe to say a reorientation has taken place.’

[17] He was also interred for some months by the Indonesian revolutionaries distrustful of the Dutch..

[18] He seems to have been Indonesia’s version of the US Red witch-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) minus the political authority.

[19] Beek was involved and important but this claim is too wide.  The main actors were the PKI and the Army.  See John Roosa in Inside Indonesia, 24 Jan 2010.

[20] Dutch TV-reporter Aad van den Heuvel worked for KRO Brandpunt news and says he met Beek in Indonesia several times. His novel Stenen Tijdperk (Stone Age) has a character based on Beek. At one visit, van den Heuvel recalls speaking with the Jesuit late in the sixties about a speech Soeharto would be giving later, and asked Beek if he knew what it would be about. 'I don't know, I'm still writing it', Beek replied.  Source:

A Dutch film about Beek was proposed.  The blurb reads: IMITATIO IGNACIO – CONFESSIONS OF A JESUIT PRIEST
In the second half of the last century an impoverished boy from Amsterdam becomes a traumatized Jesuit priest. As a true Rasputin he grows into being one of the most powerful men in postcolonial Indonesia. Driven by his obsessive religious zeal he is the brain behind the blood stained coup of 1965 in Indonesia and its legacy of massacres and terror.
On his deathbed Joop Beek looks in a feverish dream back on his life and the consequences of his actions. A quest for answers to the impossible question of ‘why?’

[22] Excommunication did not apply to all who voted for Communists or supported the party, only to people who held the materialistic and atheistic doctrines of Communism.  See The Tablet, 6 August, 1949. ($)

[23] In mid 2019 The Catholic Case for Communism  written by Jesuit Dean Dettloff and published in the congregation’s magazine America questioned the Church’s policy on Communism, arguing that many Catholic followers were primarily  attracted by the Party’s position on economic reform:

[24] ‘ …in light of the PKI’s evil plans, there was no choice but to kill or be killed.’ It is hard to believe that such language—especially coming from people in positions of authority—would not have incited or at least given licence to real acts of violence, including killing. Indeed, most accounts of the killings by perpetrators emphasize … they had no choice but to crush the PKI.’  Robinson, Geoffrey: Journal of Genocide Research Volume 19, 2017 - Issue 4.

[25] A determined anti-Communist Catholic, Santamaria founded the National Civic Council and the Democratic Labor Party in 1955.  Known as The Split, it kept the Australian Labor Party out of office till 1972.  His Asian venture was called the Pacific Community.
[26] Within a year of seizing power in 1965 the ever-suspicious Soeharto ordered ethnic Chinese to change their names, implying they were non-pribumi (not nationalists) suggesting they were closet Communists; Wanandi says he did so voluntary in a bid for recognition and assimilation, but in fact he and his colleagues had no choice.  Wanandi went even further.  He and his younger brother Sofjan (Lim Bian Khoen) left the Catholic Party and later joined the Golkar Party, as member of the non-democratic vehicle for keeping Soeharto in power.

[27] In a review of his autobiography Shades of Grey, Endy Bayuni, former editor of The Jakarta Post, describes the ethnic Chinese Catholic as ‘one of Indonesia’s most prominent political and foreign policy intellectuals’. The Jakarta Post 22 July 2012:
[28]   Wanandi e-mailed me 16 November 2018: “Father Beek has been the … Chaplain of the Catholic students in Yogyakarta and Jakarta later also for Catholic scholars.  He was the director of documentation Bureau of the Council of Bishop’s of Indonesia.  As such his ideas were influential to those groups.”
[29] Father Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ and Father Adolf Heuken SJ.  Personal interviews in October 2018. Neither is mentioned in Shades of Grey.

[30] Ibid

[31] Roosa, John.  Inside Indonesia, May 2003: ‘He (Wanandi) led the international PR campaign justifying the 1975 invasion of East Timor but then lamented the Army’s brutal counter insurgency tactics.’

[32] Mount, Frank:  Wrestling with Asia, Connor Court 2012.  Mount pours on his admiration for Beek ‘a man of the people with powerful intellect … I was in thrall from the first moment I met him.’ (P 253).

[33] Soekarno was ill and died in 1970 of kidney failure aged 69.

[34] Wanandi said his contacts knew Soekarno was sick and that doctors had been brought in from China to conduct treatment.  This news heightened the expectation that something was about to happen.

[35] In Shades of Grey (P111) Wanandi writes that Moertopo ‘just called up a few cukong (patrons) and said ‘tolong bantu (please help) and that was all that was needed.’

[36] More on the history of CSIS here:

[37] For almost two decades after the coup Wanandi and his friends claimed they were palace whisperers, advising Soeharto.  The relationship collapsed in the mid 1980s when they suggested he step down.  Their position was taken by the Minister for Technology and Research (later to become Vice President) Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie’s Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia, (ICMI) Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals.  It was supposedly set up to fight poverty and improve education, but was more likely a device to counter the CSIS influence.
[38] The CSIS was so well funded that it ran a prolonged PR campaign across the US to try and convince government officials and academics that Soeharto’s oppressive government was legitimate and progressive. 

[39] The paper was started in June 1965 by the Catholic Party to offset Communist propaganda, and at the behest of the Army.  The name was suggested by Soekarno.  Wits dubbed it Komando Pastor because of the Catholic connections.
[40] The organisation also advocated against independence for East Timor and was involved in preparing the ‘Act of Free Choice’ Indonesian takeover of West Papua. 

[41] Wanandi told me he had ceased to attend Catholic services following the findings of the 2013 – 2017 Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and clerical pedophilia revealed in the US, Canada and elsewhere.  He said he now worships with the Lutheran Church.

[42] Personal interview 19 October 2018.
[43] Mount: Wrestling with Asia. Although he details countless meetings with Wanandi and Beek, Mount gets no mention in Shades of Grey. Three requests to interview Mount made through his Australian publisher got no response.
[44] An Oxfam report claims: In the past two decades, the gap between the richest and the rest in Indonesia has grown faster than in any other country in Southeast Asia. It is now the sixth country of greatest wealth inequality in the world. Today, the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the combined total of the poorest 100 million people.

[45] Tanter, Richard: Intelligence Agencies and Third World Militarism.  PhD thesis, Monash University, 1981.

[46] Anderson, Benedict: Scholarship on Indonesia and Raison d'Etat: Personal Experience.  Indonesia 62, 1996

[48] Another version has him succumbing to cancer.

[49] Personal interview 19 October 2018.
[50] At the time Stens were the weapon of choice for insurgents. “They’d been put there by someone else. I didn’t even know how to use them,” Wanandi said. 

[51] Roosa, John: Pretext for Mass Murder: the September 30th Movement and Soeharto's Coup d'état in Indonesia University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

[52] E-mail correspondence 16 November 2018.

[53] Wanandi, Jusuf:  Shades of Grey, Equinox, 2012.

[54] Personal interview, 19 October 2018.

[56] Two one-page letters have recently come to light thanks to Yogyakarta lecturer Dr Baskara Wardaya SJ at Santa Dharma University. The one dated 6 November 1965, allegedly from C Carri SJ, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Semarang (Central Java) reads:  Priests and clerics are not allowed to be part of the Panitia Pemeriksa / Penjelidik jang akan dibentuk oleh R.P.K.A.D.  (Resimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat – Army Para Commando Regiment.  This was the command involved in the killings in Java and Bali. The second, dated  6 January 1966, apparently came from Justinus Darmojuwono 1914-1994  (who later became a Cardinal)

[57] Dr Frank Palmos was one of the few Western journalists in Jakarta at the time.  He recalled that Jakarta in 1965 was "pregnant with danger". "It is hard to exaggerate the dangers for Europeans," he said. The PKI made gruesome signboards depicting foreigners being bayoneted. China and the PKI were urging president Sukarno to allow workers and peasants to carry arms and become a fifth force. "It was a very tense time … it was very violent. Civil war was certain."  Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Oct, 2015
[58]  This was 17 years before the Indonesian ‘coup’.  In 1950 Indonesia joined the UN and was theoretically bound by its human rights provisions. 
[59] Personal interview, 19 October 2018.

[60] Shades of Grey, P 80.

[61] See Endnote 6

[62] No credible evidence was ever published to support the claims.

[63] The President was four when the ‘coup’ occurred and the party banned.

[65] In early 2019 Dutch academic Gerry van Klinken published on Maumere.  See endnote 6.  In personal communications (May 2019) he said there were plans to translate into Indonesian, though these may take months to eventuate..

[66] Prior, John:, & Madung, Otto Gusti, eds: Berani, Berhenti, Berbohong (Dare to stop lying). Penerbit Ledalero, 2015.

[67] Prior, John: The Silent Scream of a Silenced History Part Two; Church responses. Exchange 40, 2011.
[68] Ibid.

[69] ‘Communism was never popular in America, and no American group was more fervently anti-Communist than the Catholics. The American bishops, like the Vatican, had condemned Marxism before 1900 for its atheism, its violation of natural law principles, and its theory of inevitable class conflict. They condemned the Russian Revolution of 1917 that brought Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power. They condemned American Communism in the 1930s for its adherence to the Moscow party line, its frequent about-turns of policy, and its support of the anti-Catholic Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.’  Source: Patrick Allitt, Catholic anti-Communism

[70] Ibid.

[71] Personal communication, May 2019, Maumere.

[72] Ibid.

[73] US journalist and author 1890 - 1980

[74] Kershaw, Ian; The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation; Oxford University Press, 2000; pp. 173–74.  The Indonesian military coined the term Gestapu for the ‘coup’ knowing its similarity to Gestapo.

[75] Wanandi helped set up Soeharto’s Golkar Party which became an enemy of democracy.  He also became a Golkar politician and enjoyed the president’s patronage till the mid 1980s.

[76]  Melbourne University academic Dr Justin Wejak said Pemuda Katolik (Catholic Youth) in Flores and the surrounding islands, like Pemuda Pancasila elsewhere in Indonesia, were involved in the killing of local suspected communists. My father was also forced by the local Army (KOMOP) in Lembata to become the algojo (executioner), an involuntary involvement that he silently regretted. His  PhD thesis was: Secular, religious and supernatural: an Eastern Indonesian Catholic experience of fear (autoethnographic) reflections on the reading of a New Order-era propaganda text.  Personal correspondence, 18 May 2019.

[77] The Ritapirit (sometimes spelt Ritapiret) Seminary and then Ndona parish, 150 km from Maumere. 

[78] Details:  Aritonang, Jan Sihar, & Steenbrink, Karel:  A history of Christianity in Indonesia, 2008, Brill.  pp 253-255.

[79] Two one-page letters have recently come to light thanks to Yogyakarta lecturer Dr Baskara Wardaya SJ at Santa Dharma University. The one dated  6 November 1965, allegedly from C Carri SJ, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Semarang (Central Java) reads:  Priests and clerics are not allowed to be part of the Panitia Pemeriksa / Penjelidik jang akan dibentuk oleh R.P.K.A.D.  (Resimen Para Komando Angkatan Darat – Army Para Commando Regiment.  This was the command involved in the killings in Java and Bali.

The second, dated  6 January 1966, apparently came from Justinus Darmojuwono 1914-1994  (who later became a Cardinal)F

[80] Aritonang, Jan Sihar, & Steenbrink, Karel:  A history of Christianity in Indonesia, 2008, Brill.  pp 253-255.

[81] The Societas Verbi Divini (SVD - Divine Word Society) through its Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Katolik (College of Catholic philosophy) at Ledalero, just outside Maumere in East Flores, claims it is now the world’s largest trainer of SVD missionary priests.  On its website is a quote from the German Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-84) saying: ‘The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.’

[82] Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, 30 April 1967.
[83] See 81.