21 Jun 2019

Text and Translation: Corinna


Indonesia, a Dutch colony until 1948, was hit by a wave of violence between October 1965 and March 1966. The mass murder of the communists was never processed and the perpetrators were never punished. Today, they are still celebrated as heroes.

IndonesienPhoto: www.pixabay.com/Creative Commons

In the 1960s, the “National Liberation Movement” under President Sukarno united many different parties and ideas into the concept of NASAKOM (Nationalism, Religion, Communism). President Sukarno tried to lead the country in the left political direction and therefore turned away from the West and the UN and towards the communist states of Asia. The PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) profited most from this approach. In the mid-1960s, Indonesia’s economy collapsed and the PKI gained more and more members. Thus, in the midst of the Cold War, with about 3.5 million members, it became the largest non-governmental communist party in the world.

#Coup or Plot?

In the night of 30th September 1965, something happened that, until this day, has not been fully clarified. A group of mid-level communist officers of the Indonesian army kidnapped and killed six generals, a lieutenant and fatally wounded the 6-year-old daughter of the defense minister. The group called itself the “September 30th Movement” (G-30-S). They claimed to have committed the act to prevent a coup by right-wing military forces. Major General Suharto then launched a retaliation campaign on 1st October 1965, with the aim of cleansing the country of all Communists.1

It remains questionable to this day whether the event was actually a coup or a plot. According to previous findings, some PKI officials probably knew about the coup attempt, but the party was not behind it. The public didn’t care: the press claimed that the killed generals had been tortured and mutilated before their death. “Gerwani”, a women’s movement associated with the PKI, is said to have ripped out the eyes of the victims, cut off their genitals and celebrated a orgy. They were described as “bloodthirsty and sexually sadistic monsters”. An autopsy report testified that these were lies, but this was never published.2

IndonesienPhoto: www.pixabay.com/Creative Commons


All members of the PKI and its allied organisations (up to 23 million people), but also Chinese living in Indonesia, were hunted, arrested, tortured and killed like animals. The victims were mostly killed and dismembered at night by machetes. In some cases it is said that the perpetrators have drunk the blood of the victims.3 While the military preferably shot the victims, the militias chose a much more brutal way. They beat up their victims, slit their throats or beheaded them. The bodies were disposed of either in rivers or in mass graves. The low point of tastelessness was reached when the bodies were piled up on rafts and sent down the rivers with a waving PKI flag.4

“I did not kill people. I killed wild animals.”5

Women were treated particularly brutally. In Bali, thousands of them were taken to the regional offices and examined for sexual activity to prove membership of the Gerwani. Often the women were raped, hacked to death or slit open; not even pregnant women were spared.6

The violence spread throughout the country, but had their epicentres mainly in Java and Bali. Probably between October 1965 and March 1966 500,000 to 1,000,000 people died. Exact records are not available as Indonesia did not keep any records.7


The leader of the mass murder was General Suharto and his loyal generals. The main perpetrator was thus the Indonesian army, but had help from local militias and civilians. The military organized and armed young leaders of anti-Communist and religious organizations and trained them for a few days.8

At the local level, the material component of the conflict was more important than the ideological, as there was a dispute between the peasants about land rights, but also about economic and social inequality. For the military elite and their allies (political, religious, social and economic conservatives), belonging to communism was crucial, as communism was considered a danger.9

The victims had no real chance to defend themselves because there was a great imbalance between the perpetrators and the victims. The mass murder was carried out quickly and in a coordinated manner by the state. The perpetrators were even given lists with names of alleged communists by the US embassy. The victims, on the other hand, knew nothing about the G-30-S movement and were literally overwhelmed by the wave of violence.10

IndonesienPhoto: Riza Nugraha/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#International Community

In the case of Indonesia, there was no intervention, neither from outside nor from within. The perpetrators did not stop until, in their opinion, they had killed enough Communists. The perpetrators remained in power even in the following decades and were able to continue their ideology in the neighbouring state of East Timor. No one asked what had happened in these six months, there was neither an investigation nor punishment. On the contrary, since the mass murder happened during the Cold War, the destruction of the Communists was seen as good news in the Western world. The USA was satisfied with the elimination of enemies and threats in the region. The allies of the USA did not give a damn about the crime. China kept the whole thing dead, because they didn’t want to attract attention and the Indonesian communists were poorly prepared for the situation, and they wanted to avoid raising critical questions about their own leadership.11

#Mass Murder or Genocide?

The Indonesian military tried to free the country from all communists. Strictly speaking, this event does therefore not fall under the legal term of genocide, since the Genocide Convention does not consider political groups worthy of protection. For some time it was tried to argue that the murders were aimed at the Chinese living in Indonesia, but that would only be another form of denial and disrespect for the other victims. All communists, regardless of ethnicity, were considered enemies of the state and were to be wiped out as a group. Indonesian society was to be completely reconstructed, a “new order” and “clean environment” was created. Therefore, all descendants and relatives of the murder victims were discriminated against in the following years. If one wanted to work in the civil service, one had to be certified that one had no connections to communism. In the opinion of the state, political identity was therefore not chosen but inherited.12


# Spencer, P. (2012) Genocide since 1945 – Making of the Contemporary World. London and New York: Routledge.

# Thaler, K. (2012) “Foreshadowing Future Slaughter: From the Indonesian Killings of 1965–1966 to the1974–1999 Genocide in East Timor“. In Genocide Studies and Prevention 7, no. 2/3. Available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1038&context=gsp (Accessed24.05.15)

1 Thaler (2012) S. 205- 206
2 Thaler (2012) S. 206
3 Spencer (2012) S. 59
4 Thaler (2012) S. 208
5 Thaler (2012) S. 206
6 Thaler (2012) S. 209
7 Spencer (2012) S. 57- 58
8 Thaler (2012) S. 207
9 Spencer (2012) S. 59- 60
10 Spencer (2012) S. 59- 60 / Thaler (2012) S. 208
11 Spencer (2012) S. 61
12 Spencer (2012) S. 60

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