Interview With Agung Alit

Agung Alit discusses the ruptures created in his family by the 1965 Massacres in Indonesia, how those tensions continue to strain his relationships as different groups within his extended family hold opposing views of his father’s role as a PKI sympathizer, and the after-effects of the public and personal memory narratives on contemporary Indonesia.

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Born in 1961 as the son of a PKI sympathizer, Agung Alit recalls receiving sympathy from his elders in his childhood, for having lost his father (and 5 other relatives) to the killings. Aged only 4 when the violence erupted, Alit has very few personal memories of the massacres, but heard stories from his uncles and grandmother of his father’s arrest and death. His only personal recollection was of his house being burnt down by Tameng paramilitary forces, such that his family had to flee and stay at the temple. As a child, he did not understand the danger he was in, and felt happy to move to the temple.  He was later informed that his father was calling out for him as he was loaded onto a military vehicle and taken away. His uncle even carried him to the place his father was buried at. At home, his elders rationalized the tragedy of his family as being karmic.

Having a known PKI supporter in his immediate family background also made it difficult for him to enroll in school, and he was only able to gain admission when one of his uncles who had been a perpetrator of the killings interceded with the school. At school, students were taught that the PKI was cruel and to be despised. Students were compulsorily made to watch the state’s official propaganda film on the G30S uprising and the subsequent killings, on the anniversary of the event. Alit also reflects that he did not face overt discrimination at school for his family background. However, he knew that the teachers spoke about him behind his back, and warned the other children not to mix with him.

Within his extended family, on the other hand, he was more openly discriminated against. He explains that while his father’s PKI affiliation was undoubtedly a cause of this, the primary reason for his ostracization in his Balinese Hindu community was the fact that he was orphaned. His mother was also seen as a rebellious person for having vices, which tarnished relatives’ view of her children. Some relatives still refuse to associate with him and those who maintain a relationship with him to this day. He also recounts his nephew’s experience of losing his place at university in the 1990s because of the family’s history with the PKI. These experiences of discrimination inspired Alit to read law at university to become a defense counsel. In his years at university, he had a close share with the law, when a tourist he met at the temple unknowingly mailed him a banned book on Marxist anthropology, which the authorities detected and interrogated him for. He also recalls an occasion when Intelligence officers directly contacted him to instruct him not to screen the film “Tan Malaka”.

Alit continued to search for an understanding of what had happened to his father and the reasons for it. Beyond the philosophy of karma, he searched for an avenue for reconciliation, even building a memorial - Taman 65, to commemorate the massacres in the 2000s. However, this was met with harsh opposition from his family members. He describes his family as presently living within a “fake harmony”, civil but still divided over the legacy of the Massacres. When he began the project, he also came under the surveillance of intelligence authorities, who monitored his home by setting up a stall outside as a front.

He also explains that the direct triggers for the killings, and the immediate conflict on the ground was far more complex than a mere anti-communist purge. In Alit’s view, the military was primarily responsible for creating the dangerous climate where people could only choose between killing or getting themselves killed. However, the perpetrators often killed victims for personal reasons unrelated to ideological differences, such as wanting to eliminate a relative to seize their lands, share of inheritance, or even their wives. Perpetrators often pushed the blame to superiors or state authorities, showing little understanding of the ideological divide of the Cold War. Alit believes that one aggravating factor that drove his family apart was his relatives’ jealousy that his father was appointed to the committee for the major temple ritual in 1963, as he was seen as a religious deviant for advocating a simpler and less lavish form of worship.

The memory of the 1965 tragedy continues to haunt Alit and later generations of his family, who are still being taught the state’s propagandistic narrative which casts the PKI in a negative light. Alit tries his best to correct these distortions and to pass down his understanding to his children and younger relatives.

Interview Agung Alit

Friday, August 7th 2020.

16.00- 17.30, WITA

Taman Baca Kesiman, Denpasar, Bali Indonesia

1 hour 20 minutes,

Interviewee: Pak Agung Alit - witness/victim (6 members of his family killed during 1965-1966 events), born in 4th July 1961

Termana, his nephew also attending the interview (pointed also as T)


Alit: I’m Agung Alit from Kesiman. I was born in 4th July 1961. (About) 1965 tragedy… at the beginning I don’t know (remember)… (It happened) when I was in elementary school, I can say. People were talking about it, always people (were) hiding to talk about ’65. Many of the old men in our family, hometown, every time they saw me, (when) they met me, they (were) crying and after (they said): “Oh, my God!” And then I listened, you know, the story (how) they killed my father. After that… That is annoying, to be honest. It’s better not to know. Because maybe (questioning himself): “why were people always crying and then feeling sorry (sad) to see me”. That’s stuck since that time.

INTERVIEWER: Did it create a trauma?

Alit: (Some) kind like that. Ok. And then I just end up (with) my family. I have my sister, his mom (pointing to his nephew, Termana), my brother, the one in the film and then me. Normally in the family, my parents, my father especially they agreed (about) the name always using the word Karma. The name of my sister, Karmadi, my brother, Santikarma, Degung Santikarma, his mom, Mayun Karmadi and me, I supposed to use (the name) Astukarma. But when I was a little and started to go to school… I almost (did) not go to school because it was difficult. Maybe at that time they thought I’m the son of a communist, (some) kind like that. My grandma was confused and my mom got married again. At that time my grandma didn’t know nothing about the school. She just wanted me to go (send me) to school. 

It was difficult to find a school. My brother (was) in Surabaya and my sister was already ok at the school. (There was) no problem because she was already going to school before ’65. I started after ’65. It was a little difficult for me. My brother (was) in Surabaya with the family and then when (it was) my turn, my grandma was confused to find (a school): 

Grandmother: “How can you go to school?” 

At that time she contacted one of our family (members)... One of our uncles is a perpetrator. He saw my grandma with me in the small river near my house: 

Uncle: “How is your grandson? He is not going to school?

Grandmother: Please help him because he cannot go to school.

Uncle: Ok. I will talk with that guy”, that (is what) my brother mentioned in the film, “The Architect”. So that guy, my uncle came to him and then they talked. After that my uncle contacted my grandma, so (he said): 

Uncle: “Bring your grandson tomorrow to school. 

Grandmother: Where to go? 

Uncle: Just go to the school near my house.”  

My grandma carried me there and after that I met the teacher. Then they allowed me to go to school. And then they asked the name: “What is the name of your grandson?”, the teacher asked my grandma: “Agung”, so not Karma. So, that’s why my name is I Gusti Ketut Agung. (It’s) very different. Actually, my real name is I Gusti Ketut Agung Astukarma. But my grandma didn’t know nothing about it, so they just called me Agung. Until now they (all) call me Agung. That is a little bit the story about my name and my childhood.

After that (when I was) growing up, I went to elementary school, passed elementary school, then junior high school and then high school. That was a hedonist period… not so much (worth to remember) about that… but still stuck (the trauma), you know… When we started to go to school, to university, we slowly, slowly learnt: “Oh, my God!” (We remembered about) our home (back then). But before that we had like a stigma. They called all the family, you know banjar (hamlet), there were some instructions from the head of the village that all of our extended family (members), the relatives of my dad, my uncle: “You have to go to banjar to take a picture!” (…)

INTERVIEWER: They recorded as a…

Alit: They said they are going to make…  Nobody could question them because they were scared, (they had) trauma: “Why they wanted us to do (this)?” But they couldn’t argue. All of my family (members) came to banjar and then somebody from the head village office took pictures and then we didn’t know nothing about that.

INTERVIEWER: What was the reason (for taking pictures)?

Alit: They didn’t tell you. (They were) just taking pictures. But I’m sure my uncle who you will meet him next time, he knows. But we knew (in fact) after we grew up. There is a kind of accident, but not really accident with motorbike.

T:   Coincidentally.

Alit: Ya. There is one of my family (member), one of my nephews, he graduated from high school and then he applied for university. He was accepted in Telecommunication (University), Sekola Telekomunikasi in Bandung (School of Telecommunication), a good school. One of the requirements was that you had to get the paper (which states you are) “environmentally clean”, bersil kungan. Then he went home, came to the head of the village and then he wanted to ask for the “clean paper”. One of the person in the head of the village said that: “You cannot get that paper because you are from that banjar!” He went home and told his uncle: “They didn’t allow me”. Then, his uncle (who) was (working in the) justice (system) in Denpasar, was really upset to hear that. He came to the head of the village and (had) a big argument there and then (he said): 

Uncle: “Why did you ask my nephew about this kind of paper? Why you don’t just allow him?” (to give this paper so he could study)

Public servant: No, I cannot.”

That guy was really stubborn (such a hard to deal officer) in the head of the village office. 

Uncle: “Prove me! Show me! How can… how did you know? … He is (from) the new generation, he doesn’t know nothing. 

Public servant: But you are the relative of a PKI family. 

Uncle: Tell me!” Because he is hakim (judge).

Public servant: “Ok, you (can) stay.” 

Then he came to the room and saw all the pictures. Finally, I knew that (those were) all the pictures they took of my family. (…) “See this is… Oh my God”. And then my nephew was crying and his uncle “lost his face”: 

Uncle: “(There is) nothing I can do. Ok, just accept the reality. (Let’s) go home!”

INTERVIEWER: What year was that (happening)?

T: (…) Early ‘90s.

INTERVIEWER:  They made an evidence…

Alit: From that we know, from that tragedy, that case (1965 mass-killings), finally we knew: “Oh my God.” After that I went to university and that’s why I really wanted to study (to become a) lawyer because I wanted to talk, to defend. That was in my mind. Then I went to study Law and…

I also had a (bad) experience. I received a book (after) we met a tourist in our temple from Melbourne. We talked about our temple and then, like (the conversation) with you, we talked intimately about everything. At that time, I was in 3rd semester, I think, or 2nd semester in Udayana University. I didn’t know that this tourist, this lady (when) she went home, she sent us many books (like) Kahlil Gibran’s Diary (Lebanese poet). (Another) one (was) “Perspectives in Marxist anthropology” (which was) opened by the POS (Indonesian Postal Service). When I received the letter from the attorney, (I was): “Oh, my God!” I was so scared. (I asked myself): “What will happen now?” Then they called me and I came to the office with my brother Degung. The head of the attorneys came (and said): 

Head of attorneys:  “Are you Agung?

Alit: Yes. 

Head of attorneys:  Ok, sit down. Are you a student?

Alit: Yes.

Head of attorneys:  Where?

Alit: In Udayana, studying Law.

Head of attorneys:  Let me show you something”. He grabbed the book. “You know this book?

Alit: No.

Head of attorneys:  Do you know this person?

Alit: Yes.

Head of attorneys:  How do you know this person? 

Alit: I met her in my temple.

Head of attorneys:  Did you asked (for) this book?

Alit: No.

Head of attorneys:  Why (did) they send you (it)?

Alit: They sent me not only this book, they sent me (also) other books.

Head of attorneys:  Ok. Did you ask for this book?

Alit: No.

Head of attorneys:  Seriously?

Alit: I’m serious. I cross my heart” (laughing). I was precaut(ious) and then my brother came to talk.

Head of attorneys:  “I’m still suspicious”, that’s what he said. “Do you know about Marxism?

Alit: No”. I was just quiet.

Head of attorneys:  “I don’t get your story. Why they sent you this book?

Alit: I swear, sir. I’m only speaking here in front of you. We are both students. My brother studies Anthropology and I study Law. I never asked (for it). How can I prove to you because I never asked her for any books. 

Head of attorneys:  Ok. Yes, now I will tell you!” Then he grabs another book. “Don’t (ever) ask for this book. This is not a good book. Do you know that our country has banned any Marxist (books)? I tell you to know.” Because I (had) long hair and I looked like a beach boy, they believed that we don’t know (about) Marxism. “Now, every time you meet tourists give them this book: Pendidikan Moral Pancasila” (“Pancasila Moral Education”). Ok?

Alit: Yes.

Head of attorneys:  If you meet tourists when they come to your temple, explain them about our ideology (Pancasila), our country, something good, beautiful. Don’t study this! I keep this book.” They gave me 10 PMP (Pendidikan Moral Pancasila). “If you meet both of you tourists, then just give them this book.” He was so idiot (laughing).

INTERVIEWER: How did he open your package?

Alit: Yes, they opened it. They opened everything. (…) No secret, no privacy. (…) We started when we were at the university. We built a study club and then we joined the activism. I joined Legal Aid from Indonesia and then local NGO. After that, I started to build Taman 65 (a place to commemorate ’65 tragedy in Denpasar) and then Taman Baca. This is an important place because Bali, you know already Bali, (there is) not only the romantic side of Bali, the dark side as well. The sadistic side of Bali is very strong. But the government tries to cover (up) the sadistic side. They are just telling to tourists about the romantic side, its beauty. All country is beautiful but we have to tell the truth to people.

INTERVIEWER: When you were in the elementary school, did you face any discrimination from the other kids or from the teachers?

Alit: They didn’t show you like that. (They talked) behind us, they were not telling us. But normally they told the kids: “Don’t go out with them!” Because not only I was from a communist family, because I was poor (too). I got nothing at home. (I was a) wild kid also. We had no parents… To be honest, this was a good lesson for myself. I learnt a lot from that and I don’t want to repeat that thing. It’s good to have that background. 

Balinese families are really cruel, I tell you, when you have no parents. They are not treating you really well. You are really second class (person). Especially from my family experience. That’s why I wanted to be a lawyer: to fight at home. Because (our) family took us (as) no good, so one day I will grow up and talk to you, with the family. They were treating you differently.

INTERVIEWER: So, mostly the discrimination you have faced, was it within your family?

Alit: Yes, in the family. Not only from the state. But family controls you. Even when I built Taman 65, my family wasn’t agree. They invited us to the big family meeting:

Family member: “Agung, sit down! Why did you build this Taman 65? It’s like you open an old wound, luka lama

Alit: Thank you for your invitation. I’m happy to be here. Actually, I have a question for you. Why are you not happy to build this? But in fact that we lost 6 of our uncles, how could you survive and you are still alive now? Where were you at that time? Why don’t you feel guilty that we lost 6 members of our family?

To me that’s a big thing. I lost my dad, I made this because I want to commemorate my dad. I’m not going to take a revenge. I have to tell the truth. I have my son, my daughter and I have to tell them! Who can guarantee that this won’t happen again? I don’t understand why you don’t want to have this thing? Maybe you had a share to kick out my dad. I don’t know.” Until now, no more meetings. No answer.

INTERVIEWER: Is he the one you mentioned at the beginning of our interview that is a perpetrator? Or is he somebody else from your family who you are assuming is a perpetrator? 

Alit: All my family believes that one of my uncles is a perpetrator. But they don’t have any evidence whom they killed. Maybe they know, but they don’t want to (tell). And then…

INTERVIEWER: How did you (they) know that he is a perpetrator?

Alit: Gossip. Not everyone… Not gossip… Everyone talked behind, cannot speak bluntly like this. Normally, how to say… I heard a lot in our family that he is a perpetrator, but I don’t know whom he killed. But sometimes they said he killed your dad. And then I didn’t believe… Because we asked him: “How did you know that…?” He couldn’t explain why he killed…

Alit: “Did you see?

Uncle:   No…”

We believe that he is a perpetrator, yes. (We heard) not only from our family, from outside of our family (too). We heard that “that guy was so cruel before”. And then when he died, he also died the same, like repeating the story because we heard he was cruel at that time and then he was executed by his nephew. Because you have to remember that people in Bali believe in Karmapala

(There was) again a big rumor about ’65 because he did a lot in ’65. “This is the proof of the law of karma”. On one hand, it’s ok, but for me it’s not ok. We have to go to the national law not just (reminding about) karma law when we talk about reconciliation. We have to talk about the truth and the punishment also. Justice. The karmapala is just finishing the thing but the reconciliation is different. Reconciliation was one of our aims to build Taman 65, at least reconciliation among the family. I can say it worked well because of him (pointing to his nephew Termana), his generation, with our family. We have two family perpetrators and his son, his grandson, one of his sons and then grandson hang out with him. He brought them there and we started to talk and… Our relation wasn’t good before but then we became close and (we) talked (to each other). But, on one hand, we were successful, on the other hand, not so. Finally, we split again.

T:  Half of our family is not agree with what we do. 

Alit: His uncle is not agree: “Why are you talking about that? Your grandpa is not…” something like that. He also wasn’t strong enough like us. At the beginning, they loved us, but now, since they got married, they don’t want to talk about that. They don’t want… Little bit, how to say… to me, we really want them to talk (with us), to be part (of this). Frankly, this is not… when we talk about victims, both are victims, perpetrators (too.) Who wants to be perpetrator? No one wants to be a killer, but there is an external vector, driving them to be a killer. That’s what we expect them to be, you know: to be critical. (…) The problem is that he is not there enough to argue with his uncle.

T:  He was quite good before… He criticized us: “Taman 65 is a place only for the victims. Where is my place? If you said that perpetrators are also victims. You only talk about survivors, survivors, survivors, victims… What about me?”

Alit: He wrote in our book… but he wrote about my grandpa being a perpetrator: “I love my grandpa”. I think in that sense, we were progressing. But unfortunately his uncle, he was scared (because of) this uncle. After that he decided to get married and after we didn’t hang out anymore. He went back to his conservative family and now (he is) not very often (meeting) with us.  

T:  He doesn’t really want to talk about that anymore because his uncle also said: “You just better shut up! You don’t know anything about that thing”. He knows a lot…

Alit: Many (members) from our family weren’t also happy that we built Taman 65. They tried to convince us so we wouldn’t do such gathering.

T:  It’s so interesting that me, us, those in our family who were close to him, but our big family doesn’t like that we hang out with him. At the same time, his uncle also doesn’t like that he opened (Taman 65).

Alit: He can hang out with us but not talking about the rule of his grandpa… With him, there is no problem (to talk about), but not with his uncle… It’s complicated the legacy of ’65…

INTERVIEWER: It created so many divisions in one family…

Alit: Yes, we live in a fake harmony. We have to smile although we are sick and tired to see his face. But we have to smile (laughing). F..k life, you know! You cannot be what you are sometimes. Now we are ok, but still we cannot continue our mission in reconciliation. They’re scared. They aren’t very happy that we built this. Before all the activities were there. When we talk about activism in Bali, Taman ’65 has a significant role to build a critical top…

T: (About) the beginning. It started in 2000.

Alit: Any movement started from that place. (It was) very well-known before. But now our family, they are very happy (sarcastically). Even the Intelligence has opened a kind of counter office, there in the corner of our place. 

INTERVIEWER: What kind of counter?

T:  They opened a herbal kind of store.

Alit: But pretending to sell Jamu (Indonesian traditional herbal medicine, a turmeric ginger drink). 

T:  In front of our gate.

Alit: Just to monitor our activities (…)

T:  How do we know he is (from) the Intelligence? Here if you sell Martabak (Indonesian type of stuffed pancake) you have a network, a gang (loyal clients). If you sell Pecel (a type of Indonesian salad mixed with peanut sauce), you have a gang. If you sell Jamu, you know the gang. I asked to Jamu (sellers but) nobody knows him.

Alit: He found out that nobody knows him. He was waiting for us, really. I think we had a good strategy at that time. We did it in our family home so it was difficult for them to trace, to enter inside. They just found out rumors.  

T:  And suddenly, when we didn’t have any activities there (anymore), they disappeared.

Alit: You know why he opened a counter there? Bbecause our place was visited by (Mari) Alkatiri.

 T:  (Former) prime-minister of East Timor. 

INTERVIEWER:  Made them suspicious?

Alit: Yes.

T:  Alkatiri and also one of the elders from UN. His name is al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi (United Nations special representative).

Alit: Akhdar al-Ibrahimi is a very well-known, a very respected person. Alkatiri (was) very connected with communism. That’s the reason why they built a f…ing counter there.

INTERVIEWER: Did you notice if there were some cameras or something else there?

Alit: They didn’t have. They just opened the same like Jamu (shop), but they made a hole like that.

T: Just in front, really in front of the gate (…) And nobody… they didn’t have customers, can you imagine? But they opened everyday (…)

Alit: Many important people have entered the place: (people from) the National Commission (like from Syarikat), Imam Aziz, Suciwati, Ariel Heryanto, Mugianto, the one who was kidnapped by Prabowo (former presidential candidate in the elections of 2016 and 2020, Suharto’s son-in-law). All came there. 

We have one of or family (member) as a policewoman and then suddenly that policewoman came to my sister, his mum (pointing to Termana). My sister name is Mayun: “Mrs. Mayun, why the name of your son, your brother, everyone’s name is at the police on the list?”

T: At the police quarter.  

INTERVIEWER: So she knew your family names are there on the list…

Alit: Yes and she doesn’t want, the policewoman’s family doesn’t want to get close to us. They are not allowing their kid also…

T: And after that, she was always texting me: “Do you have any things to do in Taman 65? Just let me know, ok? I want to come because I want to be smart”. Yeah, whatever (laughing). 

Alit: She is shit too…

T: Until now, she didn’t accept his friendship on Facebook.  

Alit: You know, what’s the point? (…) She is one of the family (members) who doesn’t agree with ’65. I can clearly, obviously, we understand because his daughter is a policewoman. But you know, she is really investigating us. And she is very nice to his (Termana’s) mom and then “yeah, you have so many sons. Their brother…” blablabla”. So many things… 

INTERVIEWER: What other kind of discrimination did you feel that is quite tense?

Alit: To be honest, discrimination with my life, my childhood time but not so much on (because of) PKI. (Just) because I was poor and I had no parents, I was busted. That’s all! They don’t expect you… They were more longing for their lost spoon than me. They cared more about their lost spoon than me. How to say that in English, this expression… They didn’t miss me. If I was lost, they didn’t care. It was good like that. But maybe I’m sure because they were cruel to my dad. Also, they weren’t happy with my mom. You know, when they killed my dad, my mom still (survived) because… You have to remember my mom and my dad were victims of arranged marriage. 

T: In the old days, they did like that. 

Alit: My dad married again and my mom couldn’t do that, so after (they) killed my dad, (she) married again. But before (she got) married, she was still home and (felt) very negative… Family (saw her) as really negative, the image about my mom. Because my mom was smoking, many man were coming to visit her. She was kind of bad girl, slut girl, I believe that. My mom was really good, she has many friends. They liked to visit her. Because she was really good (making) connections and our family at home wasn’t happy. So, maybe my mom felt that: “F..k to live here. It’s better for me to get out from this situation”. Maybe (she said something) like that and that’s why she married and she (got) out. It was good for her but not for us.

INTERVIEWER: Did your mother witness how your father was taken away?

Alit: They also checked my mom. My mom talked to my sister because she is a woman, so a woman to woman (discussion). She explained to my sister: “Oh, my God, if they want to come here, they want to…” At that time, she was how you call it, penerima tamu (welcoming staff) at home because Military and Paramilitary came: “Where is mr. Raka? Where is mr. Raka?” (She said): “Please sit down.” And then I remember the time they brought knife and ripped the sofa.

INTERVIEWER: The Military?

T: Military or paramilitary?

Alit: Ya, paramilitary: Tameng. I remember that my mom accepted them (invited them inside): 

Alit’s mom: “Come, sit down!

Tameng: Where is mr. Raka?” 

Maybe at that time my mom said that he is not here. 

Tameng: “Where is he?

Alit’s mom: I don’t know”. And then they all just ripped off (the sofa).

INTERVIEWER: So, the purpose was to make her afraid?

Alit: Mungkin (maybe). She was checked for sure, to make sure there wasn’t any hammer and sickle tattoo (PKI’s symbols). That (story) she didn’t tell me. She told to my sister. They wanted to find a tattoo, but:

Alit’s mom: “I don’t have any. 

Paramilitary: Are you smoking?

Alit’s mom: Yes.” 

That is the story in our family.

INTERVIEWER: There were only Tameng (member), without any soldiers from the official army?

Alit: There were soldiers but behind (Tameng). I remember many people, but in Bali not in ’65, (I think) in ‘66’, ’67, many people came to our house when they burnt it at night. Then in the daytime they came and then they destroyed our house pillar. To me, I didn’t care at that time, I was little. In this time, they told us: “Tonight don’t sleep there! You have to move to the temple! Everyone sleeps in the temple!” So, I didn’t know nothing about that. I was just happy (because he was just a child at that time). They brought us to the temple and then suddenly they burnt the house, not in our family, our neighbor house, (their) rice barn. They burnt that and then we saw, we woke up. And I saw at that time my mom carrying the water because she was the first lady in our hometown being Hansip (security guard).

T: Hansip is like National security. On that time it was a prestigious kind of title, just only for men, but she could make it.

INTERVIEWER: So, they were burning the house after your father was taken or before?

Alit: My father was already somewhere. We didn’t know. Nobody knew where he was.

INTERVIEWER: Was he hiding in the first part?

Alit: Now, he sent the family (to be protected) not in my hometown, in Denpasar, accordingly to the family that I know after the tragedy. My dad came to the Police. He reported himself there. 

INTERVIEWER: Was he reporting (already) to the police?

T: No, he came by himself because he taught the police will protect him. (…). It’s wrong but I didn’t think that…

Alit: He was an important person at that time, accordingly to our family at home. That’s why he stayed in Denpasar. Maybe he already heard the story that “I’m sure they will kill me”. He came to the family in Denpasar although the family in Denpasar told him to run away: 

His father: “Why don’t you go to Java?

Family: We support you. We are talking care…

His father: No, no…”

Then the family of my step mom also told him to go out. “No, no. I’ll go to the Police. It’s better”. So he came to the Police but somebody from family told me that he ate a tablet for… 

INTERVIEWER: Poison? Cyanide? (…)

Alit:  Tablet like ecstasy…

INTERVIEWER: He (took something) like drugs…

T: To make him less stressed... Yes.

Alit: Because he knew he is going to be killed. 

T: So he took the pill to make him (feel) less stressed.

INTERVIEWER: Drugs or medicine?

T: Medicine.

Alit: That’s the story I heard, true or not. After that he was locked up in the city’s Police office and after that (he was) moved out. Then (he went with a) kind of big convoy and they saw: “this is PKI, this is PKI”, (something) like that. And then he was brought to Kesiman, to our hometown. Somebody told me also when I was a little that “I saw somebody who kicked out your dad and took your dad here”. After they were in the hometown (…) they threw him away in the truck and then he called my name: “Alit! Alit! Alit!”

At that time there were some witnesses after (the situation became) quite, cooling down. They came to our grandma: 

Witness: “Which one is Gung Alit?

Grandmother: Why you ask that question?

Witness: I heard that somebody executed him, threw him to the truck and then he called the name.

Grandmother: Oh, ya…”

I couldn’t see him. He just wanted to know he found… he asked (the name of) one of our family (members). But after that I didn’t see him. He already passed away. 

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any clues about where was he buried?

Alit: Yes. My uncle carried me (there)… You know that in Balinese tradition we have to make a ceremony for my dad. That was in 1971. Then my uncle carried me to go to the cemetery because witnesses said that… He knew where the body of my dad was. After that we went, we crossed the river behind our house, now better-known as Gatot Subroto Street. There was a cemetery there, a public one and when we came to cemetery I saw many people because all wanted to do this cremation (ceremony). They tried to dig all the bodies and I remember one of my uncle found a bone (saying): “This is mister Raka?” My father’s name is mr. Raka. “This is mister Raka?” “No.” After that I witnessed (something that) I cannot tell. Not before, here. After that… too many bones, too many skulls. “This one? “This one?” “No, no.”

INTERVIEWER: It was a mass grave.

Alit: Yes, a mass grave. Too many people in there. That’s what I remember. Then my family went home without that thing, just a symbolic… to take the soil only. It was 1971-1972. The story was like that.

INTERVIEWER: Was that place marked afterwards like it’s buried there somebody? Some names or just a mark?

Alit: No, no.

INTERVIEWER: So, it’s like an unmarked…

Alit: No mark. It was difficult to identify because they already use now that place for a market. The story (mass graveyard) had disappeared. 

INTERVIEWER: It’s underneath the market. (…)

Alit: I don’t know why my family is not happy with us. I just told you that before marrying with my wife, at that time she was my girlfriend. Because (she was from a) different (social) class, she was a city girl, rich girl and we came from the bottom. Then my family informed my parents-in-law: “Don’t allow the girl to marry to that guy! He is a son of communist.” Then they banned me to come, they just continued and then... They are not happy to see us. I don’t know (why). That is a kind of craziness in Balinese family. They didn’t allowed me… My wife loved me and then… 

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that PKI, communist (stigma) is only the reason for them to hate your family... for being communist? Maybe any other factors…?

Alit: Good question. Both. I’m sure those are the reasons, but they didn’t have a heart to tell (the true reasons). Actually, the root of discrimination is because I’m a PKI (sympathizer’s son), but they didn’t dare to say what they felt… Too cruel to say that. I don’t know… maybe, I believe it’s not about the land (inheritance). What I heard, since my dad was gone, they took over (my father’s) land. It means that they were more grateful that my dad was dead. It’s better to finish him off, so it would be safer, maybe (that’s what they thought). That’s also what my uncle said. Since my dad was gone, all (my dad’s properties and land) were taken. That’s also my question, why he was still alive. 

Alit: I think they are not happy with us. I have that background. Also, my dad was rebellious, I heard the story. He tried to gain the…

T: Big ceremony… 

Alit: Big ceremony, mass simplifying the ritual (he promoted a simplified form of Balinese Hindu rituals). Because the ritual is a sociological thing, nothing to do with God. 

INTERVIEWER: So, the big family saw your father as a less religious man?

Alit: Yeah, because he is the only one progressive in mind. He went to China by plane at that time. It was something very… I saw the photo at that time in front of the airport of Ngurah Rai (Bali airport), in front of the airplane. I’m sure some of them were jealous. Then PKI and then ’65 (happened). Accumulation of many things.

T:  It wasn’t about being religious or not, was it?    

Alit: The propaganda about PKI (sympathizers) in Bali was (referring to them as being) atheist. It’s not true. They made drama on every banjar (hamlet). They tried to pick (impute him) the story from Mayadenawa – local story about a figure which doesn’t believe in God and when you bring (up) the ritual, they kick out (destroyed) the ritual (explanation). It’s propaganda. But my father was appointed as a one of the (members of the) committee for the big ceremony of Besaki (temple) at that time. But earlier, Agung volcano had erupted in 1963 so it was canceled. Then, it was 1965 tragedy and he died. But I think (a part of my) family was jealous so…  

I think we have to talk about that. We have to open that case. I agree. That’s the reason why we built Taman 65. I’m sure many people from Bali are hiding this thing and they don’t want to talk about this because they consider it “too political”, maybe too complicated. For me, I prefer to tell people, to be open. It’s a good way to (do) reconciliation or whatever. We have to tell people the truth. That is the most important side. 

INTERVIEWER: Why do you think the authorities want to keep still buried the subject of mass-killing?

Alit: It’s simple because they have “dirty hands”, blood on their hands, too. Look at the political parties, many from the Angkatan Darat (Indonesian Army). I think that’s… ‘65 is too cruel... (it was about) military war… it was about the… many political parties, the majority of political parties are owned by the highest Command of the Military, the former highest commander of Military. They don’t want to open that case. Look at the… when we had the People’s Tribunal in Netherlands, they weren’t happy with that. They don’t want to open… One political party from Suharto is going to nominate Suharto as a hero. Isn’t that an insult to us? This country is so…

INTERVIEWER: Isn’t this party leaded by his son, Tommy?

T: Yes.

Alit: Yes.  And then he will work together with Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party) maybe and then (with) Democrat (Party) Hanura, (all being from) the highest command of the military.

INTERVIEWER: What about Prabowo? Who is…

Alit: Why is this country like this? Because of that too, I think. (Either you) like or dislike, I think I’m sure that it’s a part of the scenario for this country. There are two things that you are not allowed to talk about: Papua and 1965. About 1965, although people already… communism is already not as strong as before but still they use that kind of issue. PKI is already dead.

INTERVIEWER: But it’s revived from time to time for political (purposes).

Alit: They use that. Because of that political party (Golkar). They use Muslim fundamentalists. That’s why I’m pessimist about this country, especially (because of) Jokowi.  You can expect nothing from him now. He is not really putting any agenda on human rights. (His concern is just on) infrastructure only. Without justice, without human rights, sooner or later, the country will have troubles. Now, if activists try to criticize the government, they just ban you, saying you are a communist. Many people told me the story that you cannot be pessimist. But I’m pessimist in that context. Many left groups came with Jokowi but nothing happened. 

INTERVIEWER: During your studies, especially in the school time, did you encountered some products of official (anti-PKI) propaganda, like Army’s propaganda about the events? I mean, for example, they were screening that official movie every year in 30th of September. Were you forced maybe also to see it?

Alit: Yes, it was compulsory at school.

INTERVIEWER: It’s around 4 hours long, right?

Alit: Yes, for 4 hours. It was boring. I didn’t understand it. But you had to watch it. 

INTERVIEWER: During your studies, did your teachers tried to explain, enforce this idea that PKI were treacherous and…

Alit: Yes. Teachers always were telling us about that, even to my daughter in the International school.


Alit: Yes. She was in Taman Rama, which is a study school. She went to school (one day) and (when) she came home, she came to me: 

Daughter: “Dad, tell me the story about grandpa! Is that true that PKI was very cruel?”

And she was crying. 

Alit: “What did the teachers told you?

Daughter: That PKI was very cruel, killing many high generals.

Alit: No, no. It wasn’t the story like that”. (It happened to) my daughter in this era, in 2005. 

Alit: “Your grandpa wasn’t like that. He was a nice guy.” I showed her his education certificate. “PKI was a legal party. Not allowed to kill”. But I had to explain: “Oh my God!” 

My daughter is very rebel now. It’s difficult to believe that issue. My grand-daughter will be taught about that too from my daughter. This country is insane. They locked that issue. Even this one, Taman Baca, there is already a stigma (related to it): “Oh, that is (owned by) a son of communist”. I don’t know where that’s coming from. A friend of mine told me that: “Taman 65 moved now to Taman Baca. Taman Baca is very ‘left’ (communist) and then (it’s) the legacy of PKI family.” 

T: It still lives.

Alit: We can do nothing and I don’t care. It’s difficult, ya, it’s weird. Imagine in this era, in 2020 that issue still exists. (…) 

Just keep telling the people the truth. Don’t be scared. If they catch you, they catch you. Don’t care! We had a discussion here about Papua, about 1965, more intelligence (agents were) coming there than the participants. They called me when we wanted to watch the film “Tan Malaka”. They called me ten times. I was in Java at that time.

Intelligence agent: “Mr. Agung, you own the place?

Alit: Yes.

Intelligence agent: Are you going to broadcast the film ”Tan Malaka”?

Alit: Yes.

Intelligence agent: Can you cancel it?

Alit: Why?

Intelligence agent: Because now it’s not conducive.

Alit: What do you mean by that? Why not conducive? Who said that?

Intelligence agent: Yeah, I don’t want to tell you details. Please, if it’s possible, cancel it!

Alit: I know I have the place but I cannot use my power like that. There is a procedure in our Taman Baca. We have to talk with the team. I cannot just use my power: Don’t do this, don’t do that! Sir, sorry.

Intelligence agent: Ok, I believe you.” 

After that, they called me again.

Intelligence agent: “Did you talk? What is the result? 

Alit: Not yet.

Intelligence agent: Ok, when? 

Alit: Because our team is not complete.

Intelligence agent: Ok.”

After that, they called again.

Intelligence agent: “Mr. Agung”, pretending they are from the family. “I’m from POLRESTA (City Police), how is the plan for the film?

Alit: Not yet, pak, still talking with the owner of the film. 

Intelligence agent: Ok.”

Then the last, not the Police, the owner of the film called me to cancel the event:

Film owner: “Agung, I’m very sorry. I withdraw my film. I will not broadcast that film anymore all over Indonesia.

Alit: Why?

Film owner: To respect our friends in Dinas Kebudayaan (governmental department of Culture).

Alit: Oh, ya, I’m so sad, so sad. I’m disappointed”, this is what I said. 

Film owner: “Yeah, I know… I’m sorry, ya.

Alit: Why you do that, you know? When you will broadcast that?” 

T: Why you want to make a movie when you don’t want to broadcast it? (…)

INTERVIEWER: There would be no spectators.

T: Yeah. (laughing)

Alit: Whatever and whenever, they will always monitor. Why you just broadcast it and accept the risks? If they ban it, they ban it. Then, (go to a) newspaper. Simple. Just don’t cancel it. 

Film owner: “Ya, I’m sorry. 

Alit: Ok. This is your decision. I’m not happy with that.”

INTERVIEWER: So you had to cancel the movie afterwards?

Alit: Yeah, because they own the film.

T: He came here and wanted to screen it here. We were agree.

Alit: And then what? To me after phone (after I received the call I would) just make the broadcast and Police will come and they will ban it. And then call the journalists. You (should) explain to journalists, not me. The Police, the Intelligence (agents), you have to explain (they should explain), not me! Like the moderator of Reader-Post people before, they invited us (to talk about) ‘65, Termana (was invited too). And after that they ban it. You can ask him about the story. It supposed to be Termana as the speaker there.


Alit:  Yeah, in Ubud. Then (it was) cancelled. After that there was a group of the Saskia Wieringa, launching her book there. There was a committee (member) of the festival who called me: 

Committee member: “Can you do that in Taman Baca?

Alit: No. Why here?”

They already set up the festival there (in Ubud). Why were they scared? That was a part of the program: “Why (would) you bring it here when you have problems?” “No.”

Then it (happened) a good thing because it was organized by an activist woman from Jakarta. They didn’t want to cancel the program: “If not tomorrow, later I’ll do it in another restaurant. Saskia with her gang and then with Nursa Bani, the activist lawyer and then with Tudung Mulia Lubis came. Then Saskia called me: 

Saskia: “Agung, can you come? 

Alit: Yes, I’ll come.”

Wow, so many Intelligence (agents were there). I didn’t care. I just came. It was good to be there. And nothing happened. Finally, the committee made their own censorship. They censored themselves, not the police (censoring them). They were scared. Already twice held? It could (become) big news if they canceled that, (as) the police tried to cancel that. It was difficult. Here we weren’t (afraid). Like the Police called me to cancel that and after that we had about Papua. They came to me from Angkatan Darat’s Intel (Indonesian Army’s Intelligence):

Intel agent: “Agung, so who organized this? 

Alit: Pak, this is an open space. You can look that our door is open. Nothing to hide. Why don’t you come join us and talk?  If there is something not true, you can directly counter (contradict).

Intel agent: Yeah. No, no, it’s ok, you can…”

They were more than us. The thing we could do was just to keep going. 

INTERVIEWER: What do you think there were the main motives for the perpetrators to use violence and to kill?

Alit:  I got a good question. 

T: Yeah, I don’t know, in the…

Alit:  In the context of Bali…

T: It just depends on who, like layer (people), right? We cannot say all they have the same motives, right? Simple, like…. this tension between PKI and PNI before that. Both the parties… and they were quite intense.

Alit:  But not one single reason. I think there were multiple reasons. First, they created the condition, a kind of not a choice: kill or be killed. Secondly, personal (reasons) because they had motives in their family: “This is a good moment to kick him out so I can have his land.” “This is a good moment to kick him out because I can sleep with his wife.” Something like that, it could be. Because that happened a lot. So, (there were) multiple motives. I can say that was a good moment to deliver their own agenda by using that momentum.

INTERVIEWER: So, they were opportunists?

Alit:  Opportunists, something like that. All the perpetrators said that (when asked):

  • “Why you did that?

  • Because that was the instruction.

  • Did you see the instructions?

  • No.

  • Who told you? 

  • The head of banjar at that time because I’m strong enough and they told me to be a perpetrator.

  • Then you killed?

  • No. Some of them… I just took them to the cemetery, but somebody else from another area killed him. 

  • And then?”...

You know they also killed people and after that… Because so many, like in our hometown and their wives were beautiful, they…

T: That was at the grassroots (level) but also the Military supported it at a higher level. 

Alit:  Military created that condition in the first place, I think. The rest of it are the motives.

INTERVIEWER: Just motivating militias to act without impunity, without any responsibility…

T: Yeah, without impunity. The command said “supat”. They cleaned also the yields there. The killers also gave them like a ceremonial kind of thing.

Alit:  Some of them were telling that even when you killed them, they sucked the blood. That’s many here (that happened many times here) to kick you out from the sin (to be absolved from sin). 

T: So to keep (it) holy. Killing is an act of holiness, holy act.

INTERVIEWER: Was this religiously driven too? Like for example, were the perpetrators incited from religious leaders from Bali to commit these atrocities?

Alit:  Religiously, no. 

T: (…) Oh, motives. If they killed because of the religion? No.

Alit:  Mostly, like what I said, they created the condition: Angkatan Darat (Indonesian Army). They created a fear atmosphere and gave people no choice: if you not kill him, they will kill you. And then, secondly: “ok, I will do it.” Then (after) kicking (him) out, he can sleep with his wife.

INTERVIEWER: Mostly like related to personal, economical reasons…

Alit:  Campur (mixed reasons).

T:  Political, economic, personal affair (reasons). (…) Some ideological (reasons), personal affair also. A mix.

INTERVIEWER: For example, was your family affected in any way after these killings occurred like your land confiscated or house taken?

Alit: Yes, after that, yes.

INTERVIEWER: All your (family) land or just a part of it?

Alit:  Not all the land, some of it. When my father was still alive, it was difficult for him to do that (to take the land), impossible for him, for my family to do that, you know. The only way (was like this), he saw it (the opportunity) so he could do it. It’s like a momentum, a good momentum. Many of the family (members) were also killed because of the land, so “we can take his land”. “Kill and take his wife”. That’s a motive.

INTERVIEWER:  Was the wife not strong enough to hold on that land, to manage and keep the land for her family?

Alit: You know that Bali is a patrilineal system (patriarchal). When you kill the husband, wife can do nothing. You are really the outsider in the family. They will never listen you: “You are an outsider. This is between man and man.” It’s like this in the Balinese family.

INTERVIEWER: There were also reports of people tortured in the prison or tortured on the way to execution fields. Why do you think the perpetrators needed to do those acts? Why they had to commit also torture not just killing? What was the motivation just for the torture maybe?

Alit: In jail or?

INTERVIEWER: It doesn’t matter. In any context of 65 tragedy.

Alit:  I think to create fear. You have to remember that the instruction was to kick out all the PKI (members). That was instructed by America’s CIA. That’s what I’ve heard: Tumpas kelor (Military operation). They must kill all of them. They didn’t want this country to become socialist.

INTERVIEWER: Tumpas kelor was the official operation of the Army? But they really call it like that? Because if you take it literally, the words mean “killing down to the roots”

Alit:  Yeah. Totally. Many people said it’s a genocide. That is the reason. And they created (the perception): “Look, if you won’t kill, they will kill you.” “He is like this, is a communist”, blablabla, like that… 

T: I think they showed especially for those in public… Those executioners… because they tried to create like a public drama (to watch): “This is what happens when you are communist!”

Alit:  “Do you want to kick out the communists from this country?”

T: This is collective memory. So people were afraid because after that they followed the regulation of (treating the) traitors. That’s why the structure is like this.

Alit: Later, you should meet with my brother, so he could answered you more. The discourse at that time was Tumpas kelor. All (communists) must be dismissed. You have to remember that PKI was a strong party with a big number (of members) (…) They tried to make them, to trick them: “Oh, my God. It’s very cruel”. People were scared: “Don’t choose PKI!” “Let’s kill PKI!” “Don’t let them to go back and lead this party again in this country!”

INTERVIEWER: What do you think about G30S movement? Was really backed by PKI or what’s your opinion about that? 

Alit:  Ok.

INTERVIEWER: About the coup d’état when the generals were kidnapped and were killed later on.

Alit:  The one (the scenario) like in the film is a bullshit. (…) That’s propaganda, but… about G30s/PKI is an absolute hoax. That is a hoax tragedy.

INTERVIEWER: What do you mean? You want to say the generals weren’t killed or the circumstances were lied about? (…)

Alit:  Not by PKI. It doesn’t have any sense. PKI was a strong party. Why they would do a coup d’état against Sukarno? It doesn’t have any sense. It was totally “engineered”.

T: According to John Roosa’s book, it’s quite clear, right? I mean, it’s not the party… PKI (which) backed up totally… (About the) involvement of persons who were in it, it could be, but they didn’t know what to do actually. Then, the fact of… like you said… Whether they used PKI or did they do the coup d’état?  But one day after they tried to say why they just brought it. I don’t see why (or what was) the correlation between 30th September movement in Jakarta and mass-killings. Because in Bali, what was the relation between the killing of the 7 generals and the killings here? Most of people didn’t know the generals. Most of the people didn’t know what happened in Jakarta. 

INTERVIEWER: Even those who were involved in the movement, in one case they kidnapped another person thinking he was the general… It was a lieutenant. 

T: Lieutenant Pierre Tendean.

INTERVIEWER:   They were acting quite like amateurs.

Alit:  To be just simple.... I don’t… How to say: PKI was strong, supported by Sukarno. Almost, it won (the elections). 

T: Why did they (want to) do coup d’état? (laughing)

Alit: It doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t read the book but how could they do the coup’ d’état to themselves, who were the killers… It’s too obvious (fiction), too clear this kind of rekayasa, “engineered incident”. To me, very simple is (asking) why PKI would do that? It doesn’t make any sense at all. This is between Military, Angkatan Darat especially and the game of Angkatan Darat, maybe. How could PKI do that? 

T: For what? They almost won. They weren’t the winners, but they almost won. And then they would be winners of the (next) elections.

INTERVIEWER: They had huge (number of) supporters.

T:  Huge supporters, strong…

Alit: Next time you can ask my uncle. I will organize.

Interviewer: Robert Moisa

Interviewee: Agung Alit

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Transcript Notes

  1. Tan Malaka was a teacher and philosopher with Communist leanings, who affiliated himself with the PKI. He taught the philosophy of Madilog (Materialism, Dialectics, & Logic).

  1. Consider the role of social relations and networks in the Cold War Era in Indonesia. What does this reveal about the nature of Indonesian society and the conflicts it was facing?

  2. Discuss the role of the public memory of the Massacre in Indonesia today, its significance and its limitations in light of Alit’s recollections.

  3. Consider the issue of responsibility for the killings and the problem of victimhood in the massacres. Can the perpetrators be considered victims in their own right?

  4. Given Alit’s reflections, consider whether the Cold War has truly ended in Indonesia today. In what ways does Cold War conflict continue to operate in Indonesian society?