Thursday, January 24, 2008

Truth and reconciliation for Soeharto necessary for Indonesian prosperity

Former Indonesian President Soeharto is being kept alive by technology, reportedly so that he can secure a last minute pardon which would enable his children and their children to enjoy the spoils of Soeharto's New Order plunder of billions.

One lively discussion I have been having as part of general musings around "what should be done with Soeharto" has been over on Lowy's The Interpreter. The issue is soeharto's responsibility for Indonesia's version of the Killing Fields, the massacres started in October 1965 that saw probably around 500,000 people murdered mainly in Java and Bali. I could go into depth on my view of what happened but in the interests of holding your attention, skip past the next paragraph.

Or keep reading for a little 1965 there was an extremely dodgy and failed (or did it?) coup that was supposedly aimed at Soekarno and blamed on the Communist Party (PKI) who had been in a struggle with various other factions in Indonesia. The army steps in, Soeharto assumes control, and payback killings and jailings are instigated against the PKI, left wingers, Chinese and just about anyone who could have threatened Soeharto's consolidation of political and economic power. Soeharto then used the fear of communism and the PKI as a political tool during his 32 year reign, including against those who were deproved of land as part of "development projects", such as the Kedung Ombo dam. Any descendant of a former PKI member has his/her ID card stamped and is never able to get a job in government and pretty much anywhere else. Lost you yet?

Ok, let's just say that I reckon Soeharto didn't order every individual killing but he directed them and then used the killings to build and then shore up his political and economic power base. And he and his mates should be held responsible for that.

Peter McCawley's assertions are first that nobody, including Soeharto, was in charge of the country , let alone the killings, during this tumultuous period. Robert Cribb deals with that nicely here. Second, McCawley asserts that Indonesia would be wasting precious and scarce resources on an effort to instigate an Indonesian form of a truth and reconciliation commission.

McCawley's view is valid from a purely budgetary point of view. Indonesia has limited resources, much poverty and many urgent and competing interests. However we are talking about people and people don't always act in the best interests of the government's budget. When people experience awful and debilitating trauma, there must be a process for healing and acknowledgment to enable them to move on. Look at Cambodia and South Africa to see that on a grand scale. Think of it like a mental illness, which not only causes great suffering but, like any illness, holds a person back from living their fullest and most productive life.

When people get treatment for mental illness they can start to move on and return to being productive and happy members of the community. And when you do this on a national scale, it sends a message to the broader national and international community which goes something like this..."you can trust us, we are gunna protect you. If someone abuses that trust, we are gunna make it right." People need to feel that security, it's just human.

I agree that any truth and reconciliation process has to be Indonesian-led and run. It shouldn't suffer interference like the important effort by the Cambodians. Yes, there will be a need for donor funds and other assistance, something that our AusAID and and universities could show leadership on. I think the forum started by Ilham Aidit, Amelia Yani and others shows how important this issue is to Indonesians. By satisfying their needs for truth and reconciliation, Indonesia's prosperity will be more secure.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Australia's greatest political, foreign policy and cultural crisis? Where are you PM Rudd?

Australia is facing what is fast becoming our greatest ever political, foreign policy and cultural crisis and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is nowhere to be found. Bigger than the dismissal of PM Whitlam in 1975, bigger than Pauline Hanson, bigger than Tampa...of course I am referring to the aftermath of the 2nd cricket test between Australia and India.

Having been back in the country for a month, I have been waiting for the right moment to reactivate this blog. This appears to be it.

The situation is simple: India and Australia played one of the most exciting tests in memory, if not history. There were some very dodgy umpiring decisions. Indians and Australians are obsessed with cricket. The modern game is very, very competitive and huge bucks are at stake. Men's egos are especially fragile when you combine these factors and given the stress, it was a tinderbox waiting for a match.

Now I love cricket as much as any Australian (and almost as much as any Indian) but the reality is - GET A LIFE!!! Do we really have nothing better to do than overanalyse what the behaviour of some emotional men means for the characters of Australia and India? I dunno, maybe we could spend this time on HIV/AIDS, I.T., climate change, education, trade liberalisation...

If you think I am going too far then a few facts for you:

* Almost every news site has articles and 100s of comments ranging from the mild to the obscene;
* Peter Roebuck's article is the SMH's most read article today;
* Prominent political and foreign policy blogs, such as Larvatus Prodeo, Catallaxy and Lowy's The Interpreter, have weighed in;
* Politicians are weighing in, eg the Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson. I am surprised I haven't received an email from GetUp!;
* People are analysing the financial impact almost as if it were a market crash.

It is very clear that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's holiday absence has led to a general breakdown in Australia and our international reputation, our social fabric is being torn apart by petty rivalries and bruised egos. Have a strong cup of tea and get back to the office, PM! Your country (and the Kevolution) needs you!