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What’s wrong with contemporary Indonesia?

An old leftist looks back at his career in politics, and at the state of Indonesia today

Katharine McGregor

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Harsono Sutedjo

Between 1965 and 1968 half a million Indonesians were killed by the military and civilian vigilantes and hundreds of thousands imprisoned without trial. The purpose of this violence was to eliminate the Indonesian left which had wanted to introduce socialism to Indonesia. The repression targeted not only members of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) and affiliated organisations, but also Sukarno supporters from the Indonesian Nationalist Party and the military.

It is thus hard to generalise about the political views of the broad spectrum of people targeted in this violence, including those who survived the killings or imprisonment. Nevertheless, asking the survivors to reflect on the state of contemporary Indonesia is one way we can gauge what was lost from Indonesia’s political life with the destruction of the left, and to look for continuities between earlier and contemporary periods of political struggle. In this article I explore the opinions of one former political prisoner about contemporary Indonesia in order to assess what is left of the Indonesian left.

A life in politics

Harsutejo (Harsono Sutedjo) was born in the late 1930s in Wlingi East Java. His mother was an illiterate farmer who managed an aunt’s rice farm. Although she remained illiterate for life she always stressed the importance of education to Harsutejo. His father was a sugar factory employee who

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