October 25, 2010

LOOKING PAST THE PEACE, PROSPERITY AND DEMOCRACY HE LEFT BEHIND:

Suharto the "hero"?: Can this monster really be about to be rehabilitated so quickly? (Sholto Byrnes, 25 October 2010, New Statesman)

Amnesia has its uses. There is no doubt that Muslim groups, long vying for power pre-1965, were happy to take revenge for earlier Communist-wrought massacres when hundreds of thousands died at the beginning of Suharto's takeover. Many now at the top of politics served under the New Order regime - Gerindra's nominee for the presidency was Prabowo Subianto, a former general married to Suharto's daughter, while Golkar's vice presidential candidate in last year's elections was General Wiranto, who also served under Suharto and has, like Prabowo, been accused of human rights violations while in uniform.

And compared to dictatorship, democracy can be messy and disorganised. Certainly, it can appear that way to the many millions of Indonesia's poor, for whom the freedom of the ballot may seem scant compensation for the disruption of their previous lives under Suharto. A ridiculously rosy rewriting of the past? Perhaps. But it is true that for much of Suharto's rule, by contrast, Indonesia appeared to be on an upward trajectory. As the novelist and poet Laksmi Pamuntjak puts it:

Suharto's role in creating rapid economic growth in Indonesia is indisputable. For most of his 30-year rule, our country experienced a significant growth and industrialization, and there was remarkable progress in people's welfare. Infant mortality declined, public infrastructure was overhauled. Education, health care and living standards improved greatly. Despite the systemic corruption, economic inefficiencies and the hubris of Suharto's children and cronies, poverty was reduced dramatically.

Laksmi, whose novel The Blue Widow concerns the prison island of Buru where thousands of Communists and suspected sympathisers were held without trial or charge for over a decade under Suharto, is being admirably fair in conceding this.


The uncomfortable fact is that as is roiutinely the case, the fascist interlude did them much good, particularly by contrast to neighbors who succumbed to communism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 25, 2010 5:24 AM
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