Padang: Bookseller Yanto Tjahaja was tending to his shop when soldiers burst through the door and confiscated a dozen titles over claims they violated one of Indonesia’s most sensitive taboos: communism.
Upwards of half a million leftists were massacred across the South-East Asian nation in the mid-1960s, a bloody spectacle that ushered in the long rule of dictator Suharto, whose fervent anti-communist stance remains decades on.
The killings led to the collapse of the now-banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), once among the biggest in the world behind China and the Soviet Union.
Jakarta’s narrative was that any violence was necessary to rid the Muslim-majority country of a godless ideology.
And Indonesians are still warned from an early age about the dangers of a communist revival in the nation of 260 million, now the world’s third-biggest democracy.
The January raid on Tjahaja’s shop – part of a government-ordered sweep – has been slammed by some critics as a cynical ploy to win over voters ahead of April’s national elections, as it resurrects one of the darkest chapters in Indonesian history.
“They said the confiscated books were about the PKI. But we didn’t know. We just sold them,” Tjahaja said at his shop in Padang city.
“My wife and I are still traumatised. We were treated like criminals,” he added.
The images of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara or communist symbols like the hammer and sickle may adorn books, T-shirts and posters elsewhere in the world, but such displays can see Indonesians jailed under laws banning communist ideology and political representation.
Dozens of bookstores nationwide have been targeted recently with troops taking away titles such as Chronicle 65 and Children of the Revolution, which document the violent crackdown.
Rights groups have called on President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election, to end the raids.
“These recent raids were only done to give the impression that the government is not ignoring fears that communism is coming back,” said Asvi Warwan Adam, a political history professor at The Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
“It’s obviously linked to the elections,” he explained.
There is little evidence that communism – or the defunct PKI – is mounting a comeback.
But fears about a PKI resurrection run deep in Indonesia.
In the run-up to elections, AFP found numerous false claims online aimed at discrediting Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto – a former general who married one of Suharto’s daughters – by suggesting that they themselves are communist sympathisers.
Ronny Augustinus, head of online bookstore Marjin Kiri, said Widodo’s adminstration is tapping a well-worn, election-time bogeyman because it’s “only concerned about maintaining power”. — AFP