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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

Learn wisely from history

The following is an account by Swie Liem (not his real name), of Chinese ethnic background from Magelang, Central Java. In 1969, because he had once been a participant in a ‘revolution cadre-ization’ training course devised by Sukarno, he was suddenly arrested. He was detained at first in Jakarta, where he had been working as a journalist, but in 1971 was exiled to Buru island in Maluku. He remained there until 1979.

This interview with Swie Liem was carried out by Chandra Halim, a member of the History Commission of PUSdEP, a graduate of the history department at Sanata Dharma University and the masters program in history at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

My name is Swie Liem, and I now live in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. I was formerly a journalist on the Sin Min newspaper in Semarang, and I come from the area of Blabak, which is not far from Magelang.

Keeping to themselves

I was born in 1940 into the Tan clan. When I was in class 5 of primary school, I moved to the city of Magelang. I attended school in Magelang from primary school through to upper high school. In 1960, when I was 20, I moved to Yogyakarta to go to university. While there were race riots in 1963 in Cirebon and in many other parts of West Java, in Yogyakarta nothing happened. I married a Chinese with Yogyakarta palace connections, and our extended family held a large gathering once a month. The Chinese aristocrat, TDS, from whom our common ancestry was claimed, was actually not originally Chinese. He was the son of a Javanese who was brought up by a Chinese.

My wife was the same generation as Werdoyo, who wrote the book TDS: Dari Kapiten China sampai Bupati Yogyakarta (TDS: From Chinese Captain to Yogyakarta Regent). Whenever there was one of the large family gatherings, my wife and Werdoyo would always meet, and often chat. This is Werdoyo here [Swie Liem shows a photo of the large family gathering –ed.] This is proof that at that time relations between Chinese and Javanese were just fine.

It is true that there were some Chinese who felt an ‘allergy’ towards Javanese. But this was probably because of their own experiences when mixing with Javanese. But not all Javanese are bad, and not all Chinese are good. My students who come here for Mandarin lessons are also not all of Chinese descent. It all depends on how we act in society.

At that time many of the Chinese in the city of Magelang were what is called Singkek so they preferred to keep to themselves than mix with Javanese. However, those who were Christian, or many of the ‘Peranakan’ (those whose families have lived in Indonesia for many generations), usually tended to choose ‘assimilation’, as long as that was with other Christians.

Recurring violence

In 1963, President Sukarno asked Oei Tjoe Tjat to be Minister, and created a training course to anticipate racial problems. At the time, I already had my B.A. From around August 1964 until early 1965 I was invited to join the ‘revolution cadre-ization’ that Sukarno formed at the suggestion of some of his staff, and in Jakarta I met Prof. Dr. Tjan Tjoe Som (lecturer at UI) who was charged with preventing racial tensions like those of 1963. So, in the end I joined. I was studying in the Faculty of Letters at the Teacher’s College (IKIP) Yogyakarta, and luckily I got the offer to join this cadre-ization and was able to meet Mr Tjan Tjoe Som. So off I went. Tjan Tjoe Som was the older brother of Prof. Dr. Tjan Tjoe Siem, a Javanologist. In the same group as me were Tan Lip Nio SH and Lay Oen Kwie from PSMTI.58 Lay Oen Kwie was an important figure. He was the one of the founders of PSMTI.

The name of this training course was ‘Revolution cadre-ization’. Those who passed the course got the title ‘Manggala MANIPOL USDEK’.59 In the course I attended in Jakarta there were 600 other young Chinese. The course had no connection with the organization Baperki [Badan Permusyawaratan Kewarganegeraan Indonesia, Council for Deliberations on Indonesian Citizenship]. The participants came from all regions of Indonesia. Sukarno hoped that these 600 people could create a good atmosphere and familiarize people with his ideologies. By ‘good atmosphere’, what was meant was avoiding the sort of things that had happened in 1963. The training course was only 5–6 months. Now, at this course I got to know Pak Nas [General A.H. Nasution], Pak Yani [General Ahmad Yani] and Pak Ali Sastro [Ali Sastroamidjojo]. They happened to be teachers on the course. After I graduated from the course, my fellow colleagues and I taught in mass organizations all over Indonesia. We were sent off, back to our respective regions. It was the same sort of thing done in the Soeharto era with the P-4 upgrading course on the Directives for the Realization of Pancasila.

I returned to Yogyakarta at that time, and to Magelang. When the October 1965 event happened and there was the cleansing of Communist Party members and sympathizers, I was actually not affected. I went to work in Jakarta as a journalist. This was 1967. But then, one evening in 1969 – I do not know who gave information about me being in Jakarta – I was forcibly arrested by the police. I had just returned home from work at the time. I was put in Salemba prison. My detention was marked by violence. Then in 1971 I was moved to Buru island as part of the second group. There I got both valuable experience and spiritual torture. I and other political prisoners were ordered to do forced labour. Some had to repair chairs, tables, cupboards, and others worked in the gardens and so forth. In 1979 I was finally released from Buru. I was also confused: so suddenly arrested, without examination or court appearance, and then just as suddenly released.

Position of the Chinese

Oh yes, I remember another thing. It was in 1968. All schools teaching in Mandarin in Yogyakarta were closed. In Jakarta, Ureca [Universitas Res Publica] which was owned by Baperki, was closed. People like Harry Tjan Silalahi, the Wanandi Brothers and Junus Yahya, the majority of whom were supporters of LPKB ([Lembaga Pembinaan Kesatuan Bangsa, Institute for the Development of National Unity], they were the ones who urged the government at the time to close Ureca. Ureca was nationalized and its name changed to Trisakti University. Many of my friends from Yogyakarta were students at Ureca. Ureca’s branch in Yogyakarta, housed in the National Sports Hall (Gedung KONI), was closed too. Back in Dutch times, the KONI building used to be the Chinese social centre (Soceitet Tionghua), then later it was used by Chung Hua Tjung Hui (CHTH) together with Baperki, and Ureca used the space at the back. The person who managed the building was called The Hong Oe. Ureca also opened a Faculty of Pharmacy in Surabaya.

Soeharto harboured grudges. He was offended when he was stepped down from the Diponegoro Division in Semarang and moved to SESKOAD (Sekolah Staf dan Komando Angkatan Darat, Army Staff and Command Training) in Bandung. By chance, at SESKOAD he was mentored by the lecturer Colonel Soewarto [reputed to be a CIA agent, ed.]. While at SESKOAD, Soeharto was a classmate of D.I. Panjaitan60 and Abdul Latief. A fellow who was senior to him was Lieutenant Colonel Untung.61 When Colonel Soewarto asked Soeharto to be class leader, Panjaitan objected. But Soewarto forced it. And Soeharto was chosen as class leader. It was Panjaitan’s objection then which later made him a victim of the G30S (30th September Movement, 1965). The CIA Mission to overturn Sukarno appeared to be successful, and the one used to do the overturning was Soeharto.

About Soeharto coercing and putting pressure on the Chinese, this was not his own initiative. Behind him, there were many Chinese who supported putting pressure on other Chinese. And at that time, amongst Chinese there were two political groups, namely the pro-Baperki group and the pro-LPKB group.62 Soeharto himself was actually very close to the Chinese. Don’t forget that when he was in Semarang, he had many good friends among the Chinese. For instance, Liem Sioe Liong, Bob Hasan, and Oei Tik Kiong. Soeharto really respected Oei Tik Kiong. He always listened to him. Oei was the one who connected Soeharto to rich Chinese, and vice versa. If the Chinese conglomerates had a problem related to government policy, it was Oei who played an important role in helping them. Soeharto was very afraid of Oei Tik Kiong. I never knew why. Perhaps Oei was head of the ‘Macao Mafia’ or maybe there were certain secrets between the two of them.63

If I have to reflect upon the 1965 tragedy, I would say that there’s nothing wrong with politics. But being in politics has consequences, namely the ‘3B’s – Buron, Buang, Bunuh – hunt down, banish, kill. That is why one should study history wisely.

58 One of the founders of PSMTI (Paguyuban Sosial Marga Tionghoa Indonesia)

59 MANIPOL, The Political Manifesto; USDEK, 1945 Constitution, Indonesian Socialism, Guided Democracy, Guided Economy, and Indonesian Identity.

60 One of the Indonesian military officers kidnapped and murdered on 1 October 1965.

61 Colonel Abdul Latief and Lieutenant Colonel Untung were two leaders of the ‘30th September Movement’ who kidnapped high ranking military officers on 1 October 1965.

62 LPKB was a Chinese organization that was pro-assimilation, urging and supporting name changes for all Chinese to Indonesian names. Its position was the opposite of Baperki which the New Order considered to be under the Communist Party.

63 On the relationship between Soeharto and Oei Tik Kiong, see Baskara T. Wardaya, Mencari Supriyadi: Kesaksian Pembantu Utama Sukarno (Yogyakarta: Galangpress, 2008) pp. 131–136.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ