Transcribed by Bridget Keown
James: Welcome to Breaking History, a production of the Northeastern Graduate History Student Association. This is an independent, three-part episode, featuring a special guest who lived through the massacres, repression, assassinations, and government upheaval in Indonesia, during the tumultuous political period following independence from the Dutch, about which many Americans have not heard. It is our intention that this episode can serve an oral history source to document these events. This recording was made on April 28, 2017, with Kemal Taruc, James Robinson, Bridget Keown, Jamie Parker, Matt Bowser, and Professor Heather Streets-Salter. This is Episode Three. In this episode, Kemal traces his life after leaving the university, including his work as a professor, and subsequent international engagement. He also gives us his insight into political resistance and offers advice to students today.
(Breaking History Music)
James: So, you were a pretty active student activist, and as the new order started to crack down on academia, how did they let you become a faculty?
KT: Well, this began by coincidence, by accidents, because I had just got the Humphrey Fellows from my former colleagues at the development technology center, his brother was a Hubert Humphreys Fellows at the time the fellows try to get another family there, so they gave me this, then I came back from Cornell. I re-apply for continue my graduate school, but they rejected me [Laughter]. I had the money, and paid to continue my tuition fee as a PhD student, but because I don’t have the money, I re-apply for my next, you know, semester as a graduate student, and they reject—there is no place to take—so many students, you know, apply, there is no place. I’m already here! [Laughter]. But I don’t have the money, I’m nobody or anything, and I didn’t have any sponsor. But then I return, since this is, like, chasing after, I need to go back here. So, I apply to different universities, get accepted here and there, waiting a miracle that somebody will give me a scholarship. I got accepted to several, including Rutgers at the time, because the school of planning was one that was considered a good school and I accepted. In this piece of the campus newspaper, there is a small advertisement, “a US Ed scholarship for (unclear: 3:35) development for the re-groupment of the new faculty of the business school, this is established by one of the Sukarto’s right hand, this Bustanil (ED: See here), the chief of the logistic, national logistic agency, the one that got all the moneys. So, he established this business school with Professor Sudoma (ED: See here), with the help of the retired professor of Harvard Business School, so our business school is a Harvard model, so I did just a Harvard thesis, because we serve the international corporation, Amex, Visa, the interim company, there were a former student of mine, as well. My junior students…they normally go to, went to school. So, I got through refurbishment, hey, I cannot buy this one! [Laughter], severed my obligations, and went through the interview, went through all faculty, and a good thing, because it’s USA money, the final decision is through the committee of the US professors. So, they learn my CV, they know I am have been Humphreys, all this thing, they know I work on the education issues campaign, so pretty much I made a good impression by them, so they voted to accept from among all the candidates, and I have to wait in the room outside, and finally, Captain Goodman the name was probably, I think, came up, “Kemal, congratulations, you just got the scholarship.” “Oh thanks, Captain. May I ask question?” “Yes, what?” “I bet all the Indonesians that sat in the room, they voted against me.” “How did you know that!?” [Laughter] He just like “How did you know that?!” [Laughter]. Just my good guess because of the Bustanil kind of cronies, but this is American money, and you have to do if their paying you. And at the time, the dean, Dean Molloy, is a graduate of the Cornell Johnson School. So, was a nice coincidence, because it’s like “Oh, you’re from Cornell!” “Yes, but I’m not at the Business School!” “Eh, we talk about that on campus.” “Eh ok, (muttering).” “Yes, but we have to go,” “Yes, easy”. So, this is where I, I get a good job on campus, and they elect me, for that moment, so they I took their scholarships, but there’s only one seat. It’s a kind of miracle, because when I ask how many applicants for that particularly scholarship, I’m competing with 265 [Laughter. Background: “wow”]. “This is a business school, it’s very prestigious one, they’re coming in already with their masters, and some with their PhD, but I don’t understand how they took me.” Oh, I win the lottery. So, I make the argument, I don’t want to be an MBA. If you want me to be a faculty member, so get me to the PhD program, in science or whatever. “Eh, Kemal, this scholarship is for the MBA. Just take it, please, so I can close the whole process. While you’re there, it’s up to you, you don’t have to do this once in US. Just take it!”, Ok, so I’ll just take it. So, I just got through my Rutgers application, sent a letter, I have to change my subject now, just easy to switch to Business School, then I went back to Jakarta, I have to teach now, because of the US’s funding, that’s the story! [Laughter] So, thanks to you all, guys, it’s your money, really, that made me. [Laughter]
James: You’re welcome
KT: I’m very clear on it. Yeah, man. Thanks to you, otherwise, I wouldn’t get any support from the Indonesian side. [Background: “Wow”] Because, unless it’s to pick apart [Laughter]. I’m a bad guy, a Communist snitch, all these politics things. So that’s the answer, why I got to the school. Until then, I was under the reformation, this was ’93, I joined the school, but then they forced me to run, as I got seconded as a CEO of the first internet service provider. “This is part of your obligation as a faculty member, to learn about the real business, you become a CEO, I put you CEO.” “Of what company?” And I learn the company is…Bustanil’s kid! (Unclear: 8:18-9) So they put me as a nanny for these kids? So, ok, ok. I’ll take the company. So, I’ll practice my business management skill. I call my friend who knows about the finance stuff, I don’t really know finance, my specialty is organizational studies, more about organization than and people. So, help me on all these things, and I roam around and got connections, I got Japan investors, big company, Itochu, to put their money in, and be the one to serve the whole Japanese company in Jakarta, I made a good…they promised me, “Just one year, Kemal, for just your seconded position.” After one year, I reported I’m done. “Just another year, because we still need you.” They want to trick me here, to be the nanny of the kids with this company. When Itochu comes, I reported the boss, Bustanil, and his son, I said the company, Japan wants to invest, because in internet you invest and invest, because you stop at a certain level, your service is dropped. You have you improve with a bigger server up until you whatever marker you have, so it’s heavy, intensive, technology- intensive and capital. So, we get the Japanese company Itochu, a big one, and I’m happy. But Bustanil said, “Make me understand what you intend to do, Kemal. We don’t need the big money, I can’t contact this guy, if I need.” I mean, he just ran this company as we now have. “Let the kid stay there, and you just take care of these kids.” And they really spoiled me, and asked more money, so this company and these kids are always coming in. Whenever a new car model’s coming in, “Oh, come on, let’s go to the show room. We have to—we need to change a car. We are the directors, the share-holders, we need a new car, so we spend the whole day in the show room and just, what car they want to buy! [Sigh] They are terrific, these kids! [Laughter] And this goes on. So then, I resign—I resign? I enroll to Bath School—Centre for Action Research Program, I enroll, and use my savings to make my first trip to the first semester and I told them I’m enrolled already. “Oh, you can do your PhD while you’re still in the company. Don’t worry, we’ll pay for you”. Ok, and then they pay me for the next ticket, they say, it’s an extra part-time program, so you come in, a workshop, and off again, because it’s an action-research type of program, so you’re doing your own things. And then, I resigned, because I want to focus on my PhD program. “Oh, sorry, you didn’t say anything,” says Bustanil, and I return to my office, and the mailbox, in the hall, the whole stack of my admission document that I give it to the school because they want to pay me, all in this mailbox. They’d written it without saying anything. [Laughter] And I remember, this is Friday, I have to fly on Saturday if I want to catch this Monday class. I went to my finance office, “I already booked my ticket, so can you just give me the money to pay my ticket?” “Kemal, I put the money, already required for you, but I have instructions not to give it to you.” “Oh, ok.” “But the money’s there. The instructions is by call, so there’s nothing written.” “Just give me a little memo, then I’ll give money to you, because it’s already there.” “No, no, you have to work according to what your boss said.” [Laughter] “How about you, huh?” “That’s my problem, go on.” Ok, because I rejected this big boss’ request, and the people just said, he’d never been rejected by anybody, Kemal. He’s the big boss, he’s kind of a yakuza type of leader, if you look at his program…[Laughter]
James: Like a water buffalo?
KT: No, no, not the water buffalo [Laughter] like a Don Corleone type. [Laughter] Ok, so. [Murmuring], so I’m just trying to play dumb…it took me, like, two years, like the past two years, so what’s wrong with it? He’d never been rejected by anybody. “So, what did you get?” “Nothing.” “Nothing? You get nothing?” Anybody that left his company would get anything! [Laughter] You don’t think the company’s caring for you? No, it’s a company! He said, come up the car, he said, “Everything, anything, you want. It’s kind of like a bonus for you to leave.” I said, “I don’t want to take it.” “Ah, you stupid guy!” Everybody’s blaming me because I resign, and when I resign, he said ‘take anything with the company’. [Laughter]
KT: So then, I said, I don’t know what to do, so next, I just called my former student, this is actually my junior ITB (ED: Institut Teknologi Bandung) who I did business for. I said, “Here is the tell you this bad day me” “What’s happened to you, Kemal” “It’s this,” I told him the story, “What! They did this to you! No way! You cannot be treated like that! Just buy the ticket!” “Whose? What money?” “I will pay for you! Let’s show to this guy that we—meaning the ITB—can order up esprit de corps. We can do without his money.” “How can I pay you back?” “Don’t worry! You will…You will be back. I still have a pay list, I can pull you in as my consultant and you can pay me back as my business partner, or whatever. Just now, print your ticket, go to the UK, show them you can do without his money.” So now, the back of this, you know this [Laughter] I am so touched by what he said, it was kind of like a surprise. So, I think the big surprise of the big guy in the scholar’s world, finally I went. And because he said so, so then I changed my topic, instead of my top choice, which would have taken a long time, I’ll get some more practical issues that I can work with. This is my masters in risk management because no one in Indonesia had a degree in that topic, and then the 1999 financial crisis hit, so the expenses like five times more expensive, so this is a good decision for me to change the subject, I finished the courses, it’s not that difficult, and then I finish get back home to Jakarta and submit my Master’s dissertation from Jakarta, so I didn’t really cost him that much, and I have this job and my friend, I help him in this businesses, but the main mission is to beat this power and money of this guy [Laughter]. And then the reformation happen, 1998-1999, I get back to this school, I’m still belong to this school, and I start my teaching. In three months they didn’t pay my salary. First month pass, I ask, “why didn’t I receive my salary when I come?” And I check with the assistant director: “Ah, Kemal! I forgot to get the salary order. I’m sorry. We’ll give you an order.” Ok. Second month, nothing. “Sir?” [Murmuring] “Oh, yeah! We’ll give instructions to this guy, so, I don’t know, just wait (muttering).” I said, “one more month, they don’t pay, it’s a sign I have to leave.” And the third month, nothing. So, I worked for three months with my degree and I didn’t get paid. So, I never resigned, they never fired me, there is no one sad—but this is already the reformation years, I just thought, goodbye, I just left. I just told everyone, my colleagues, I didn’t get paid for three months, so sorry, I have to leave here. “I don’t know what happened Kemal”, then the year after, in 1999 or 2000, Bustanil was caught on the corruption charges. He was put in the prisons, in jail, but only a couple of days, but this already big embarrassment for his family and his friends, because on the news are “Don Corrleone went to Brooklyn Jail”. Now he’s been released because of his health, his age, so he just stays at home, I suppose, [unintelligible: 16:45] but I wasn’t already in that group anymore, so I worked with the new reformation years with US Aid, all the projects—because I worked with US at the university. I’m like “I’m a US entry visitor, I want to give back your money by working with you”, “Oh, ok, well done!” [Laughter]
James: So, you came back to Indonesia in 2000?
James: Oh, ok, right when the reformation started.
KT: Because this is all when the real bloody things happened in Jakarta, I was still in Glasgow. I listened a bit and I have to go back, my tutor in my class gave his opinion from my PC program, just keep up with it, because I cannot just stay here [James: Right] studying at home things, are so abysmal, so I got home, do my teaching for three months without pay, then off, and see the newspaper [Laughter] “Any job openings?” “USAID Coastal Resource Management Program? Ah, ok!” I send a fax, there is still a fax, someone in my junior year at the office was just like “Ah, let’s give him about a year, let’s just get him”, and I get accepted into the program, after that, another USAID program would accept me. So, I’ve been in the US like about six years, and it’s a good time for me then because it was at the beginning of the years that we try to set up the new Indonesia, the local autonomy, the performance budgeting, it was supported by ICMA, the International City/County Association. It was intern-based it’s for any city, county, professionals, or association who would work with USAID, help the Indonesia counterpart to start to work with the association to get training stuff, to go back and forth, and then it’s the training of the local officials, the city officials, in exchange with the local officials here in Oregon and East Kalimantan. (ED: See here). So, I learn a lot, I learn through practice what’s been done in Indonesia during this time, with flood waters, what had been done here in Oregon this was watershed management. I know Oregon quite well, from upstream down to work, to the city meetings. The state in Salem. In four years, I would pack up—twice in a year I was going back and forth like this, during the time when Bush then put the lift station and…searching without all the proper equipment, so at Tacoma airport, you have to go a very long out of the airport [Laughter] out in a freezing river [Laughter], It was just, one by one, they put all the electric searching technology. And then these people that took from Indonesia, “You took me to America for me to charge into this kind of weather? [Laughter] They hated me, right! I know why you take me here, but the way they treat us is just like, what’s going on? “Oh, please be careful.” [Laughter]
James: Don’t fly into Takoma.
KT: So there’s years is 2005, and my junior friend, that dropped out because they are too political at the time, they took his political career to become a parliament member, a cabinet minister, a now a presidential office advisor, so they would just always call me and ask me for help, just as his advisors, and then finally because I took this position, I worked with the UN project consultant, and UN HABITAT asked me to take a position in their office, so I become the country manager with HABITAT (ED: See here), so I did that until my official retirement age of the UN. Then I have to quit. But then I still have the ministry, the ministers, all my junior friend at the office, relaying with the UN, all of the people—part of the issue why I’m here, to build this connections for the new generation of the Indonesian bureaucrats, technocrats, [Laughter] hopefully I’m of a different quality compared my predecessors [Laughter] I have a good connection with you guys, it’s very easy to connect them so that the new generation, the new social movement network of the twenty-first century should be different from the past century [Laughter] They will be smarter, more innovative, but still keep the full Indonesian lives, so, this is my tenure. So, after my retirement, I did nothing, my kids already all grown up, there are two of them here, so I say, “Why did I stay in Jakarta for myself, you know, what did I do?” [Laughter] I did everything like this, so, why do I need to be here, so…I just tried to get some network back in the US, is there any possibility? And now they put the Senior Fulbright Fellows—I said, senior? They asked for the PhD students? No. As long as you have a sufficient experience and the funds to be…ok, I can do this. I have something in my mind, it’s just, just what you read in my proposals, it’s easy to make that kind of proposal in my job [Laughter]…so I said, it’s not people who just got in the field, I think it’s a senior program that admit people at my age, it happened that we all met this one [Laughter]. Hey, where is the senior? We are the senior. Your the senior? This is the senior—Then what I am? I’m a zombie, perhaps! [Laughter]
Heather Streets-Salter: Would you mind saying something about the weirdness of being an urban planner during democracy versus during—remember how you were talking about how it’s a little bit more chaotic? Even though democracy it’s good, that it’s a little bit more…
KT: Yeah, yeah, that’s from my presentation, right? This is actually the one I presented two days ago in New York.
Heather Street- Salter: I think that’s an interesting point for students to think about.
KT: Yes, the past regime I learned planning, but I know how it practiced in being abusive. If you read about the land-grabbing issues, all those things, planning has become a tool of corruptions—land-grabbing corruption, twisted the permits, and then the government got extra money, so I learned from this, I passed slowly through the parts of the planning process, because if you wanted to get a job, planning is through the government, it’s the public issues, and the government is heavily involved in planning. If you want to start planning, then somebody in the office start by saying “This company want to open this mall, and this one, so could you do the planning, but still accommodate things?” So this is from the beginning, you cannot have a free, kind of, planning thought. During the past regime, planning is part of the democratic corrupt government practices, make it simple with different kind of cases, so hopefully with the new reformation, while I learn from, like say, the Oregon experience, I went to Houston, DC, we can do this on this island? This isn’t in the book! My textbook in planning is a US textbook. There’s a chapter on landscape? (24:31) planning, crafting lanes, my transportation book is from ASTHAS: American Association of State Highway Official and Transportation, so I said remember! [Laughter]. But then we didn’t really use this, so I felt useless learning about planning as a discipline so did more on the politics, culture, kind of things. So, with the new reformation, I hope we try to change that one, I hope we push for more participatory, open, kind of process, the planning school is already different now. But then, with the openness of the participatory thing, we doubt you really educate the masses. Then, it’s like you put good clothes, a nice suit, but the person who wear it never wash their body [Laughter]. So then, back to the oppression of the textbook, you need to educate people before you give them the power to foist their ideas or whatever. This process is more political at the surface, and there is no time to really educate the people. And we, the educate class, is busy fixing the rules, regulations, new laws, the process. And we didn’t really go to the people, you know, for training, or allowed to do that. So, then it happened, the opportunity of doing a kind of planning or any public policy regarding space and these decisions, it sounds like they have some participation by the people, but behind that is the big guys with the money that will either pay them to foot this direction, or another guy against this group. So, the last governerial (sic) election in Jakarta last week was a real learning show process about how the big guys still play using democracy as a way to legitimize their decision-making. It’s already funded! It’s not me! It’s the people! For this—this has become more difficult now. Because during this Suharto time, he know, it’s this guy, his people, his general, against the public interest. Now, it’s the public who wants this decision, so the vote, it’s just—we don’t really ask if you voted, are you really serious, you just get the vote. So, it’s become, like—it’s a different game and it’s become more difficult because there are so many players, and sometimes they play on both sides, so no matter how you vote, they still win. And the reality is, even on this road, you can do many politics and everything, there’s always a way to taint it. So, then the planning, the question is, what is planning now for, if the people that we are asking to participate in the planning they didn’t even know what kind of life they want to have? So, this is kind of the whole debate about resilience that have been put as a big thing, because HABITAT, they put ‘urban resilience’ sixteen times in the document. And I have learned from Katrina, from the Sandy hurricane that this is not easy, if you remember this part of my presentation in New Orleans— “stop calling us resilient”, you know that poster? It’s a very famous one. Because if you say “resilient”, it means I have to do everything by myself. So, there is another side of resilience that can be dangerously used by the one in power to really actually abuse the power to the locals. So, I read that one. So then, in mission tech in all the documents and permission, “wait a minute, there could be some dangerous things coming here, when these kinds of views are used for this kind of purpose.” So, then, in my application for Fulbright, I said “I am going to learn about this, so then I have the time to really digest and interpret the ideas, and I have my own ideas and criticisms, I’m going to write about this.” It’s just another gimmick, actually, for what they call it maintaining order. If we want to do resilience, I have my own words, the ‘transformative urban resilient’. They pick up (unclear 29:06), to protect the existing balance now. Sounds good, the ecological one balance bounds forward, but my question for what, to where? They have multiple equilibrium, multiple regime. If multiple means this is the rich and there’s the poor, it’s there’s already multiple redefinitions. And you want to keep it this way? It’s not enough for me to see the planning and policy making. So, my work is “balance to transform”. You balance and transform to something else. Not the previous, not this one. What is something else? Ask the people! But the one for the future life after the tsunami hit, they wonder what kind of life? Let’s transform now, change the way we live. This is how planning goes, this is my theory about the new provisions, this is transformative urban resilience, the anti-ecological one. So, I don’t know, this is a thing I found [Laughter], but then I passed it at my New York lecture with the New School of International Affairs about this and he says, it’s like “Oh, is this something different?” “Yes!” [Muttering]… I spoke out about the danger of urban resilience, of the regime it is now, because now Rockefeller had to open residence program to work on resilience they work on Katrina, and the community had to be resilient on their own with little help from outside, there’s some definition like that, so this why I’m here and try to talk my idea and talk with my colleague in Jakarta, and I don’t know….
James: Sounds like an argument for privatization of services.
KT: Could be. That could be not only privatization, but government still, the public still, and the one of the multiple equilibrium, multiple regime, the current government, I mean, one of the equilibria, this government. This is the private here, co-execs. Sounds good. [Laughter] You mean, then, this kind of status quo, if there is some disparity, you mean then this disparity, under the pretext of this already-multiple equilibria, so the rich resilient from the storm surge, you know, the apartment, condos, their residence, and the poor resilient on their poor housing. They’re both resilience. Their urban setting of the condos of the rich and housing the poor is still the same, and they’re both resilience. Is this the resilience we want to maintain? I question this one, I challenge that idea. You want to be resilient? Let’s wipe out with the hurricane—gone. Let’s get a new city with completely different ideas of our own. This resilience is my way [Laughter] and my social movement, see, so that the urban initiative could be a true social movement by transforming the urban setting into a different one after the natural disaster hit, so the disaster is a good opportunity for us to transform. But you have to have a mindset, want to transform, not just being multiple co-existence of whatever you already have now. So, this is what I found while I’m here [Laughter]. So, this is my new theme now, urban resident transformative. And you have to mobilize people, because you want to try to foster something, it’s not as the planning who decides, what are you going to have in your life here? But what about the future? Do you still want to build and live in these kinds of houses? You want to build a new kind of finish or whatever? That’s the role of planning, of the courses.
Matt Bowser: We had talked about how it’s not exactly possible for you to talk about this in Indonesia, so why do you think it’s important to get this out here, and what do you think the importance of us knowing this information is?
KT: Actually, I learned while I was at Cornell, there’s a Southeast Asia program and the collection of the Indonesian and Southeast Asian Wason Collection, I saw the old paper, the Communist newspaper, the pamphlets, was kept there. So, I know that people come in, sometimes they are scholars, sometimes they are CIA officials that were sent to Indonesia, they have to go to summer training program, so there’s all this information that has been kept. But some of them are very, well, unwanted, subversive kind of things, why don’t my piece of information be put in that stack, as well” [Laughter] Because it’s just to put all the information there, so if somebody wants to learn, for whatever purpose, at least the information is there. So, about the student movement—there is no such full writing about this. I know this, I learned that some people tried to write about Indonesia, mainly about the movement, didn’t really know what’s really going on behind, so it’s not a real picture about what’s going on, about how the student activist co-opted the power and started their career in politics. Even now, my friend’s been in the position, has a very nice position, he’s become part of the regime, and used their skills of managing the campus for the purpose of the existing regime. And this is one of the dangers, so people, I just want them to get the informed, don’t take it naively that, if it’s coming from campus, it might be pure, nice things coming from a student, fresh thinking, because during my year, I forgot to mention, I got a list of 283 informants in the campus. And that year, ’76, why I got a list of the number? We belonged to the elites of Indonesia, because we went to the A-List school. So, one of my friend is the son of one of the three-star generals in the Army, so “Could you just get the information about the informant?” “Mmm, I could not ask them, my Dad…”, “Don’t ask your dad, just ask his staff. You are his son, so they are afraid of you.” [Laughter] So, we use that kind of thing. He came to his staff: “Hey, Dad asked me to get this list.” “Oh, yeah!” Then we got all the names—I remember 283 students assigned intelligence informants. So then, “Hey! This guy! Why you always come to our meeting and stay quiet?!” [Laughter]. So, the next day, we jokingly, we’re still joking, “Hey, I know what you’re doing now, ok?” And we’d smack them with the paper [sound of paper] this stupid informant, “how much did they pay you?” “What? I didn’t do…” [laughter and sound of paper] “Hey, how about this—you say you deny it?” “What?” I said, “Ah, come on, just like, it didn’t work. This is not an easy game here.” This is why isn’t not a big surprise when my former friend come back and sit in the Jeep and ask for the wait of five minutes before the bomb explodes. So, I don’t know—I want people, you guys to understand this is going on in the world, in Indonesia, maybe it’s happening in Egypt, in Turkey, these days. I don’t know—in Paris, we don’t know. So, in Egypt, the one that just happened, the coming back of the military?”
Bridget Keown: Mm-hmm
KT: Colonel el-Sissi train here (ED: See this for information on el-Sissi), at the Fort Worth here, [Background: “Mm-hmm”] coming down of the—movement, of democratic movement. I have a friend, a professor at UCL, we met in solo during our open meeting, he’s Brazilian, we met with other friends, and he said, (unclear: 37:15) “I’m busy now, because they give me, the school give me a very funny assignment. I have to draft the Egypt constitution. How can they give me that assignment?! The Egypt constitution!” “So, what did you do?” “Oh, I just cut any constitution, and take different lines and copy and paste a different paragraph [laughter].” But you see after those Tahrir Square Movement, there is somebody, even up to UCL, University College London, School of Planning, Development Planning Unit, DPU, these professors get assignment to draft Egypt’s new constitutions. So, I understand that the former—what? The former president—what is this guy named? He tried to have the constitution with not so much on the Islamic kind of things—of course they hate him! You’re not supposed to do that! You just get in power, being nice, as a democratically elected president, and let me do the rest. We are drafting the constitution, the condition of power like this, and he suddenly jumping in, “Oh, I know, let’s do…” “Get rid of him.” And it’s done. And the military come in and ok. So…[Sigh] The world is strange. Very strange now, even stranger. [Laughter] So, I don’t know, I just want to be aware of this.
James: How is this history that you lived through, how is it taught and remembered in Indonesian public memory?
KT: You ask “public”, it’s difficult, because we never had any sort of fear on this opinion, or fear about this. So just, you know, randomly, get some of the opinion, just one case example. The former families, victims of the Communist party came to the office of the president’s advisors, I remember. One of the former, of the member of the advisors, used to be Sukarno’s adjutant, so he was young at the time, it was, like, ‘83, he was the Interpol police. So, he tried to get all the victims, because of the famous Sukarno, to restore their civil rights. Because if you were a Communist, you had to sign up as a Communist, on your id, to put an asterisk. With that asterisk, you won’t get any job, you won’t get any position, you couldn’t get any sort…there was this stigma on it. And then the grandson, or the grandchildren, still being remembered. So, when you asked to the office, “Why you put this asterisk?” “It’s already in the system! I cannot change that! [Laughter] It’s not mine that put that asterisk! So, don’t blame to me.” It’s the way the system work, this asterisk. It’s like somebody made a program [Laughter] that’s linked to this guy. The program says, “put this asterisk” and when you print it out, this asterisk is there, something like that. So, then they come and ask, “Please restore my normal civil life. I don’t want to talk about the massacre. That’s corrosive and
the past history. I don’t want to retaliate on the issue. We only need to move forward in normal life as a citizen. Because, we really don’t belong to that long history of ’65. My kids can’t even—my sons and daughters still know about that. So why do we still put an asterisk here?” So, when they come, the so-called Communist families, they only ask to restore the civil rights, not talking about the murders, not talking about the massacres, [laughter]. “I promise I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s forget about the past. But please give me back my civil rights.” It’s a very minimum request. And still the government don’t want to do it. Some groups: “Oh, they will be back! The Communist ideology never dies! They will transfer to their kids, grandson, granddaughter. Be careful, it will come up again, somewhere in the future. Never give them back.” The army is still, the hardline generals who make their opinion—they’ve now become easy and open. Because they’re texting in What’s App and these things. They put me in the What’s App with these generals. [Interviewer’s laughter] Yeah. Because they thought I’m already good now, with the reformation, yeah, we’ll put him here. They didn’t really see me. So suddenly, they put me in the group. So, I just be a quiet follower. So, I just now I put all the messages, I email to my own email. I copy and relay and copy. I keep it as my record. Maybe one day we’ll open up this thing! How they comment on the danger of the communists the conduct of the Communists. With the Chinese investors coming, it’s the Chinese agenda to restart the Communism, they want to strangle the Communist in the region. So, this kind of Red Scare, McCarthyism may be here, and still alive, maybe not. But in Jakarta it is very, very strong. I can prove it in this one. To put the circle…this is the one they use [indicating phone to interviewers]. But this kind of image, so…don’t give them a chance. [Sigh] We are not progressing.
Bridget: Is it possible at all to talk about the murders? For the families to talk about the people they lost?
KT: With the families?
KT: My good friend, her mom was in prison like, for, I don’t know, twenty years without any process. And we asked that question. “Don’t—don’t talk about that, with my mom. She don’t want to, she wants to just live now a normal life.” So, people, yeah, people don’t want to talk. Not only about the murders, not murders, just, why she stay in the prisons without any due process, legal process. And if they release announcements about it now, about like the ‘70’s, it’s just like, “Don’t mention about this in front of my Mom. She’s happy, she’s in peace now, so just stop.” So yeah, it’s kind of, for us, like scholars, we would like to know more, get the knowledge. It’s an ethical, moral question, really sincere: do you want to disrupt people’s live for your curiosity of knowing something? [Laughter] It’s good, because you have the evil mission else somebody else can learn, but at whose cost? I think it’s a little bit tricky issue in coming to a sensitive area like this. I still get a sense…Even the son of the former chief of Communist Party, he is somehow related to my family. He was adopted, not adopted as a kid, the patron. He was actually the Red Party? General. And he was part of my discussion groups. Then he put him in the ARKO, this is the oil company where things got done. He was a geologist by training, so he worked there. So, then they sent him to the US for this kind of school of mining, college of mining, he worked with our family. He didn’t want to talk about his dad. When he was here, he just praised the American economy, democracy and everything. He sent a postcard to me, “Kemal, you have to come over here. Look at the great country here!” And I’m just like, “Hey, you’re the son of the boss of the Communist party—and you just admired the whole thing. What they did to you this brain-wash?!” [Laughter] Because he got adopted and became safe and give a job, so it’s just like, you just recruited your former enemies and our families, and so they can’t go against you and thankful to you, and they are grateful and will forgive him for what they owe your family, because they are not good. So, he’s in a very good position. And this this general died, and suddenly the government revoked his passport. So, somebody didn’t like him, but he was protected by the generals—but he’s dead. Even while we’re still in Colorado, he became stateless. And then, somehow, he went to the border of Canada, and there’s a pastor, a priest, that always comes across the border of Canada and, I don’t know, Vancouver, and Washington State, somewhere. So, then he went [sound of door closing] with the priest, and this priest got him into Canada, and just claims “This is one of my church disciples coming over.” And in Canada he got refugee status and got the UN refugee passport, and finally he got Canadian citizenship. And went back to Indonesia as a Canadian. But what happened? He didn’t want to join my—this kind group. He came back and joined BP—British Petroleum! And look at the company up to now! So, at the time, we understand that he had a life, and you have to go to any company whenever it can pay him and then he get the money. But now, you’re a free Canadian citizen, you can do anything nasty in Jakarta [Laughter] without getting caught, because you are not Indonesian, you are free. But he just sits quiet, and works quietly in the British Petroleum, has a nice life. I mean, all the oil companies pay you quite well for a senior geologist, of course. It’s just like, “What’s going on here? What has changed?” He says, “I don’t want to disturb this life. I don’t want to, really, ask this question.” But even the massacre! It’s just…I don’t know, maybe it’s another area for you to research about: how people try to forget the history, because history is so painful. To un-history the history. [Laughter]. The new history is to un-history the history!
James Robinson: There’s no sort of Truth and Reconciliation or, like the trials in Cambodia that are going on right now? There’s just—
KT: Oh no. This is what I said at the beginning
James Robinson: Yeah, yeah
KT: This is why Indonesia is kind of an exception. There is nothing talked about this issue. Where other countries, they admit it, permissive, they are open, they have a trial. If not a trial, they at least acknowledge this happened, so whenever someone tries to put a block and put in writing “The new Communist is coming, the re-emergence of the Communist. You see! Communists never die! This kid is going to be the next Communist—be careful!” So, people are going underground again. Because their old enemies are going to put them in prison, these are the two-star generals, the youth groups, the son of the armies, so the son, the families, the kids of the armies have their association, association of the kids, the children, of the armies. Oh, they are really kind of right-wingers, kind of skin-head type—and they are. Because everyone there has a gun. So, like the rifle associations, the same will of the rifles, like this. All the macho kind of army types. They are very powerful, very scary, because suddenly they can call an Army to help them, if you get them the parts.
James: There was just a Center-Left President elected in Indonesia?
KT: Center Left.
James: Yes, right?
KT: The new one was supported by the nationalist party.
KT: Like by the woman, daughter of Sukarno, so we can assume because it’s daughter of the former Sukarno, that it’s kind of, you know, inherited that Sukarno nationalist, leftist kind of ideas, for the business supported by her, supposedly. You said the ‘center left’, but for now, we know just what the left-ism. For now, who he work with? In all the big capital around him!
James: So, the military is ok with him?
KT: The military, so the killers, the three generals, they are the real murders…They surround him. The one who in 1998 the splash of the blood, is with him. The one that killed, that murdered the political parties, the open end, this is the one. That is funny, because he was entrusted with the Jakarta military command, he ransacked the political party headquarter, and people slept there, in the office, actually, about six or seven, staff. And then, this woman, Megawati Sukarnoputri Sukarno [Ed: See here], supported him to become the governor. Now he became the chief of the intelligence agency under this center-left president. And some people from this party resign, because they couldn’t stand, how can you just now take him? He is the murderer of our party! You know what the woman, the chair-woman of the party said about this incident? “I never asked him to sleep in our office.” [Laughter] Wow! So, then the questions about her position, even her sibling, the sister, now is against this Mega, because you are the betrayal of our debts, our values, kind of. And then during the last demonstration, the police took this sister, on the possible threat of doing a coup. So, they took her, and questioned her, after three days, release her. So, I don’t know, we talk about the openness, reformation, democratization, but then, this thing should be behind us, but I understand fairly well because this general is still inside. This is one. The second is the one in 1998, he fight against the Prabowo, the son of the economist (ED: See here) because the competing of the two general for the taking power after the reformation. He lost. And then he ran as president against the center left, now. Now, he just recently backed the new governor, and the governor win. So, he is back to the state, through his proxy of the new governor of Jakarta, because Jakarta’s the capital city. Even if it’s just the governor, it’s an important political position for the coming 2019 presidential election, and they play card by having the Islamic Extremists to beat again their opponents, by using the religious and ethnic—you know, thing. We are almost the same everywhere now. In France, this happened. Here, it happened. Austria, Germany, I don’t know what’s going to happen next—Turkey? It’s the same thing. It just happened in Jakarta this day. A big disappointment for us, for people like us, because we don’t really make progress yet, with the come-back of these people. And now we cannot challenge them, because it’s the vote. It’s the people’s vote—it’s legitimate. So, we don’t know whether he’s still center-left, but hiding, pretend to be whatever is accepted, meeting his own value, or essentially an opportunist—time will tell us if this is ok, or not. So, I’m not that optimistic [laughter]. Because I look at it from the players, the actors. I don’t really analyze in a political structure, or the story. You can analyze this, you can intellectualize those things. But who is the guy? And what is the history. The technical heads—they have really bloody heads. [Laughter]. This…the one that used the Vietnam-type of helicopter because the people in the village in South Sumatra, don’t want them to give up their land for the palm oil plantations, and they called them the extremists and used the Vietnam-type of things, and shot the village. “You don’t want to run away? Don’t blame me, just get the bullet.” (ED: See here, I believe KT is referencing the Massacre of Talangsari in Lampung, 1989, alleged to have been carried out by General Hendropriyono)
James: When was this?
KT: 1980…This was Suharto time. But this general now is the Security Advisor to the Madam President—the former president. So, for me, if this is still in power, there is no democratic future, then you name it. You get rid of this guy, and you put a new name. [Laughter]. But it’s not easy, just wait—I talk to my students, just wait for the natural process, they will die anyway. [Background laughter and ‘that’s true’]. They won’t last forever. Just, while they are still in power, the most important thing, we organize ourselves. We make a better plan, buying time. Organize, learn, educate ourselves. The people, once they are gone, we move in a smarter, better prepared position. It’s a new time, and we start a new fight. We don’t know who’s going to win, but at least we prepare the next state. I talk to my younger fellows, “don’t fight these guys. They are not your class. They are real professional murderers. [Sigh] They are trained to kill.” [Laughter]. It sounds extreme, but this guy, I didn’t give you a name: Wiranto (ED: See here), I’ll put down the name of Wiranto, I’ll put down here. Prabowo (ED: See here). Hendropriyono (ED: See here) is the former agent; Sutiyoso (ED: See here), this is another murderer. They all sit in the circle of this president. And they look still ok, they look still in pretty good shape. It’s just like, oh, somebody has to poison these guys! (ED: These names are assumed based on pronunciation and research)
[Laughter and murmuring]
[Voice: We’re done]
KT: Oh, thanks
James: Do you have anything else–
KT: No, just—thank you.
James: Thank you so much. Let’s wrap it up.
James: Thank you for listening to our three-part series. Some final thoughts: In the study of history, our understanding shift as the past becomes manipulated by who controls the present, and reclaimed again as we uncover facts of events that we just didn’t know about, or our perception of events evolves. Kemal’s involvement in the Indonesian student movement at the height of Suharto’s regime, and the assassination of his friend, the Minister of Public Works, alters our understanding of Indonesian history. Because of the links between Suharto’s Indonesia and the United States, our understanding of global history is also altered in a small way.
Bridget: You’ve been listening to the Breaking History Podcast, a production of the Northeastern University History Graduate Student Association. Our producers and sound editors are Matt Bowser and Dan Squizzero. Our theme music was composed by Keiran Legg, and your hosts today have been Bridget Keown,
James Robinson: James Robinson
Matt Bowser: Matt Bowser
Jamie Parker: James Parker
Heather Streets-Salter: Heather Streets-Salter
Bridget Keown: Thanks for listening.