Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Thousands march for independence and democracy

Thousands march for independence and democracy

By Chris Latham

On May 21 student protests in Jakarta marking the first anniversary of Suharto's resignation were attacked by the Indonesian military (ABRI). The protests reflected growing anger among students that the "new" regime in Indonesia has not brought Suharto to justice for the crimes of his New Order dictatorship. ABRI attacked the students when they had attempted to march to the Indonesian parliament building.

In Australia the next day, thousands of people participated in actions in solidarity with the students struggling for democracy in Indonesia and independence for East Timor. The international day of action, organised by Resistance and Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET), demanded: End Australian military ties to the Habibie regime, Indonesian troops out of East Timor, Disarm the pro-integration terror gangs in East Timor, and Free the political prisoners in Indonesia


From Sydney, Bea Brear reports that 300 people participated in a vibrant march through the city streets. At Town Hall, Jenny Munro from the Metropolitan Lands Council launched the rally with greetings from the Aboriginal community.

Harold Moucho from Fretilin, Andrew Ferguson from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Jon Land from ASIET, Andrew McNaughtan from the Australia East Timor Association and Maung Maung Than, general secretary of the All Burma Student Democratic Organisation, addressed the crowd at different stages of the march.

At the Australian defence department building the protesters showed their condemnation of the military ties between Australia and Indonesia by burning the ABRI flag. Outside the United Nations' office, speakers criticised the UN-backed plan for East Timor's August 8 vote on autonomy which makes ABRI responsible for security.

The march ended at the office of Garuda airlines where a hunger strike from Resistance spoke about the political prisoners in Indonesia. The 24-hour hunger strike organised by Resistance in the city and Sydney's west raised more than $1000 for the campaign to free the political prisoners.

Stuart Munckton reports from Adelaide that 60 people gathered outside foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer's electorate office for an angry protest addressed by activists from Resistance, ASIET, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) and Campaign for an Independent East Timor. A solidarity message from Indonesia's People's Democratic Party was received with loud applause.

Despite intermittent rain, about 150 people expressed their solidarity with the East Timorese independence movement in Brisbane, says Andy Gianniotis. Each speaker symbolically "cut military ties" with the Indonesian regime before going on to the podium.

Speakers included Mike Byrne from ASIET, former Queensland maritime union organiser Bob Carnegie, Alfonso Corte-Real from the East Timorese community, Damien Legoullon from the Brisbane East Timor Action Coalition, and Ursula Oertel and Stella Riethmuller from Resistance. Carnegie told the protesters: "It's our duty as working-class people to do everything humanly possible to make East Timor a free and independent country."

The protesters marched from King George Square to the Garuda travel centre and the Defence Forces Recruiting Centre chanting "Stop the killing, stop the lies end all military ties".

Two hundred people joined a lively march in Melbourne from the Indonesian consulate to the Victoria military barracks. Speakers included Grahame McCulloch from the National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU), Jo Williams from ASIET, Resistance member Sharon Simmons, Joaquim Santos from Fretilin and Sharan Burrows from the Australian Education Union.

In Lismore, Nick Fredman reports, members and supporters of Resistance, the DSP and Lismore Friends of East Timor held a speak-out at which many passers-by stopped to collect information and sign petitions and a giant postcard addressed to the Australian government.

Sean Martin-Iverson reports that more than 150 people gathered at the Perth Cultural Centre where speakers included Sandra Rodriguez from UDT, Francisco Soares from Fretilin, secretary of the WA Trades and Labor Council Tony Cooke, Sarah Stephen from ASIET and Jane Black from Resistance. The protestors marched to the offices of Garuda airlines chanting "Free East Timor Indonesia Out!". Once there, an Indonesian flag was burned.

In Hobart, says Viv Miley, around 75 people gathered on the Parliament House lawns for the rally addressed by Nikki Ulaslowski and Huw Lockwood from Resistance, Edwina Foster from ASIET, Jenny Herrera from the East Timor Committee, Lynne Fitzgerald from the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council and Kamala Emmanuel from the DSP.

David Lam and Kylie Moon report that Resistance and other solidarity activists participated in a rally and march on the military barracks at Parramatta in Sydney's west. Crosses representing the atrocities of the Indonesian regime in East Timor, Indonesia, West Papua and Aceh were planted, and there was a symbolic burning of the Timor Gap Treaty.

Natalie Zirngast reports from Darwin that 130 people participated in the rally and march through the centre of the city led by East Timorese women drummers. The protest ended with an all-night candlelight vigil outside the Indonesian consulate.

In Newcastle, 25 people participated in a speak-out in the Hunter Street Mall. East Timorese activist John Dos Santos, Bob Burghat from Christians for Peace, an activist in the NTEU, Jane Beckmann from the DSP, Resistance's Graham Williams and Chris Latham from ASIET spoke. Ben McKinnon read a statement of solidarity from the Newcastle University Students Association to the students of Indonesia.

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Wednesday, May 19, 1999

West Papua: resistance continues

By Chris Latham

Since West Papua was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian control in 1963, the region has been subject to continuous human rights violations by the Indonesian regime and its armed forces.

In 1969, the Indonesian regime organised a phony "act of free choice" on West Papua's status. Only 1000 of the 1.8 million West Papuans were able to vote. Those who did were threatened and intimidated into voting for integration with Indonesia.

Since that time, any indication of support for an independent West Papua has been met with violence and repression. In 1977, villagers in the southern highlands, near the giant US-owned Freeport copper mine, were bombed because they were accused of collaborating with the Free West Papua Movement (OPM). OPM fighters cut the pipes taking the copper slurry down the coast.

In 1979, the Indonesian military killed 3000 members of the Dani tribe in the central highlands because they refused to swap their traditional clothing for trousers. In 1996, 22 West Papuans were massacred in the region near the Freeport mine.

In response to the political turmoil inside Indonesia, protests escalated in 1998. On July 2, 700 people in Biak raised the West Papuan flag and declared independence from Indonesia. The Indonesian government flew in troops on July 6 to remove the flag, killing five people and wounding 150 others in the operation. In the following week, the body count reached 70 as Indonesian troops hunted and killed independence supporters.

This crackdown sparked an angry response. Thousands of people raised the West Papuan flag in defiance of Indonesia. In February, Habibie was forced to hold a meeting with 100 West Papuan leaders, who demanded independence.

On May 14, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer confirmed that there had been a new crackdown in West Papua. There are now 48 West Papuan political prisoners in Indonesia's jails. The police have banned discussion of the February meeting with Habibie. Many of the 100 West Papuans who attended this meeting have been harassed and intimidated by Indonesian authorities.

This article originally appeared in Green Left Weekly #361

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Wednesday, May 5, 1999

Indonesia: Towards revolution or chaos?

The movement that developed last year in Indonesia, culminating in big upsurges in May and November, was based on concerns arising out of economic insecurity, and growing anger and rejection of the undemocratic and repressive regime.

The mass unrest was sparked by anger at Suharto's re-election to his seventh five-term as president. This occurred against a backdrop of increasing economic turmoil. Economic problems facing the people included massive price rises; the cost of essentials such as food, medicine and cooking fuel had exploded by 200-300%. Unemployment was on the rise as factory closures rapidly increased. These problems dissolved Suharto's last vestiges of legitimacy.


Suharto's resignation did not solve the problems. By October, 80 million people were below the poverty line, up from 20 million in 1997. The regime's inability to solve the economic problems combined with a growing recognition that the Habibie regime was no different from the Suharto regime.

Preparations began for protests against the November meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which would decide on the laws governing the general elections in 1999. These protests reflected recognition that the MPR was the same body that had elected Suharto in March, and would reflect the interests of Suharto and his cronies. The broad student movement also demanded the end of the “dual role” of the military (ABRI).

These mobilisations reached truly mass proportions in Jakarta, with more than 1 million students and urban poor on the streets. When ABRI attacked the mobilisations on November 13, killing 12 people, the response was even greater mobilisations the next day. By November 15, however, the movement dissipated, because of the illusions the movement had in parliamentary reform.

The movement hoped that the loyal opposition of Megawati Sukarnoputri, Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid would take power on the back of the student and masses' mobilisations. These opposition figures had no intention of playing this role. This left a power vacuum that no section of the student movement was able or willing to fill.

Prospects for further upsurge

Since November, the economic crisis has worsened. Although the rupiah has now stabilised, prices have continued to increase. The International Monetary Fund now controls the bulk of the economy, and has embarked on a wave of closures to recoup and protect the investments of Australian, European, US and east Asian capitalists.

These closures have resulted in a new wave of sackings, throwing more people into poverty. In January it was estimated that the number of Indonesians living in poverty had reached 130 million.

There has been no shift in the role of the military in politics. Despite a new formal “separation” between the police and military, ABRI and the police continue to work together against student and other demonstrations.

For example, on April 13, when student groups organised demonstrations in Jakarta, the army was used to disperse them even though the students had gone through the legal processes prior to the demonstration.

The regime has confirmed that ABRI will have a reduced representation in the parliament, but it will still retain 38 appointed members. More importantly, there has been no move abolish the territorial command system, which places military bases and posts at every level of Indonesian society down to the village level.

Diverting public anger

Since May 1998, there has been growing ethnic violence. Then, violence against ethnic Chinese massively increased, including widespread incidents of rape of ethnic Chinese women.

This has spread to include violence between Christians and Muslims in Ambon and parts of Java. This violence is not spontaneous but the result of a systematic campaign by the regime to divert public anger to suitable scapegoats such as new settlers or ethnic minorities.

There is considerable evidence that the military have actively supported and defended these attacks, including film footage in May showing soldiers helping looters in Chinese areas in Jakarta. The expansion of this violence provides an excuse for ABRI to crack down in order restore “order”.

An important part of this is the campaign by the far right to label the People's Democratic Party (PRD) and the radical student organisations such as the Student and People's Committee for Democracy (KOMRAD) and City Forum (FORKOT) as “communist”. They have been accused of being involved in an anti-Islamic conspiracy and responsible for the rape, mutilation and murder of Muslim women.

This campaign taps into the popular hatred of “communism” in Indonesia, where the regime has been able to falsely portray “communists” as murderers and rapists. This sentiment was demonstrated in November, when the students taunted the military by calling them “PKI” (Communist Party Indonesia).

The regime has recently included laws banning Marxist-Leninism in the criminal code. These laws replace the anti-subversion law.

Under the new laws, campaigning for the replacement of the state ideology, Pancasila, with communism is punishable by 20 years' imprisonment. Publishing Marxist writings is punishable by 12 years' imprisonment. Publishing communist writings that spark mass unrest, following the teachings of Marx and Lenin and organising people under communist teachings are all punishable by 15 years' imprisonment.

The attempt to intimidate the PRD has also been stepped up. Mugianto and Aan, PRD members who were kidnapped and tortured by ABRI in March, have recently received phone calls from their kidnappers asking, “Do you remember me?”.

Ending the dual function

The dual function of ABRI -- that is, the military's involvement in politics -- remains the biggest barrier to democracy. The masses see establishing democratic elections and curtailing the power of the military as the burning priority.

Only when the movement has won greater democratic space and people have learned through their own experiences the illusory nature of capitalist “democracy” will revolutionaries be able to win a hearing for socialist solutions to society's problems. The vast majority of Indonesian people see the June 7 elections as both democratic and a solution to their current problems.

The depth of these illusions can be seen in reports of rallies organised by political parties through urban poor areas, as opposed to those organised by students. During 1998, when students marched through urban poor areas, the urban poor would come to join them. In the past month, this has no longer been the case. At the same time, they are prepared to join political party rallies, showing that the urban poor have large illusions in the elections.

One important factor in breaking these illusions will be the experience of the elections themselves. The June 7 poll will be first real multi-party election in more than 30 years. After the election, no change in government policy will occur.

The major opposition figures Megawati Sukarnoputri (Democratic Party of Indonesia -- Struggle), Amien Rais (National Mandate Party) and Abdurrahman Wahid (National Awakening Party), who are likely to play a role in the next government, have stated a willingness to support both the IMF austerity measures and the military's dual function.

The PRD has launched a campaign tying the struggle for democratic demands to the ending of the dual role of the military and meeting the immediate economic needs of workers, farmers and the urban poor. These demands include a 200% increase in wages with cuts to prices; providing land to the tillers; and the nationalising of Suharto and his family's assets.

In order to win these demands, it is necessary to build organisations that can mobilise and unite the people in struggle. This process also provides the possibility to generate increased confidence and a sense of empowerment.

It is important to win all oppressed and exploited sectors of Indonesian society to this struggle; failure to convince and win these sectors would mean that they could be used against the democratic forces.

Revolution or chaos? The answer to this questions lies in the strength of the democracy movement and its ability to lead the anger and frustration of the masses in a coherent struggle against the regime and the capitalist system it supports.

[Chris Latham organised the Resistance exposure tour to Indonesia and is an activist in ASIET].

From Green Left Weekly issue #359

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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