(Sanur beach in front of the Bali Beach Hotel, early days)
The towering Bali Beach Hotel, casting a shadow over one of Sanur’s sacred temples, was another of Sukarno’s pet projects. Construction started in the early 1960s with Japanese war reparation funds. The contracts were awarded to PKI-supporting contractors, which meant the workers on the scaffolding were automatically PKI unionists, although they had little idea, as they were working not for the revolution but to keep their families fed. But by doing so, they had inadvertently sealed their fate.
The PKI leadership, though, down through the local area secretariats, were dedicated Marxist-Leninists intent on gaining leadership of the country. It seemed likely that with Sukarno’s blessings they would do so via at legitimate political process. The US State Department, the British and Australians, all were pretty gloomy at the likely prospect of Indonesia going Red. To what extent the Americans (the CIA in particular) schemed to stop this from happening is one of the controversies of the Gestapu affair.
In Bones of the Dark Moon, one of the Balinese characters says, “You have to understand something. It is easy to have sympathy for losers. But the Communists were not going to show any mercy. Cadres marched with banners saying Death to Capitalist Dogs. Effigies were hung and burned. This wasn’t just propaganda. They meant it. They made up death lists and plans to cleanse the country. Graves were prepared.”
I’m drawing on personal experience here, because in Klungkung where we lived, a man my folks knew insisted on volunteering to be our gardener. He dug a very large hole out back of our house. For garbage, he said. We would later learn (from captured documents that my father was given) that the local PKI secretariat had planned for that hole to be our graves. Other large holes were also dug around the island. (And lest I be thought to have fascist tendencies, in counter balance to this, another character says, “We can’t judge what could have happened, we can only judge what did happen—and surely what happened was wrong.”)
The mass organization principle applied to other leftist organizations, such as the Gerwani, the Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, or the Indonesian Women’s Movement. Gerwani was founded in 1950 and by 1965 reportedly had over a million members. A feminist organization years before Western women started burning their bras, Gerwani was active in various areas, including politics:
In this photo, taken in Denpasar, Bali, Gerwani women demonstrate their support for the inclusion of Papua as part of the Republic of Indonesia.
They were also actively involved in social work, such as community health:
Here a Gerwani activist teaches a health class. Written on the blackboard is “Kebersihan pangkal kesehatan.” Cleanliness is the foundation for healthiness. That’s what we all keep telling our children today.
I’m emphasizing Gerwani because the organization plays a central role, not so much in the events of Gestapu but in the subsequent Suharto regime state mythology. Gerwani also provides one of the narrative threads of Bones of the Dark Moon.
By the end of September, 1965, Indonesia was a country on the edge, economically and politically and socially, with threats and counter-threats and machinations to match Game of Thrones. The events of Gestapu, the mass killings that followed, didn’t blossom out of vacuum. Indonesia was a time bomb on top of a tinder box within a pressure cooker…and on September 30, 1965, the country exploded.
The final installment next Monday….
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