Interview With Sudi Subidi

Sudi Subidi discusses the events of the 1965 Massacres in Indonesia through his own experience as a leader in Ansor’s performing Arts group Lesbumi, focusing on the competition for popular support between the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and Nahadatul Ulama (NU).

Tags & Keywords

Subidi begins by discussing the major flashpoint of conflict between the PKI and Ansor before 1965, when the former’s affiliated Indonesia Farmer’s Union, the BTI, attacked and illegally harvested a rice field in Degan Hamlet, to which Ansor responded with a counterattack. A staunch believer in Islam and a proponent of traditional Javanese culture, Subidi views PKI’s activities as unlawful and opposed to the Indonesian state and public. The PKI’s strategy was to build their numbers, stage a rebellion, and officially seize power in the General Council. South Blitar was used as its hideout base, where PKI forces could safely retreat to, if the revolt in Jakarta were to fail.

He also explains how the PKI only had a small following in the Soro-Siwi region and thus aimed to build popular support by reaching out to impoverished agrarian communities. It promised them a future of equality without wealth disparities between classes, if the Party rose to power. This vision resonated strongly with the agrarian masses, even though they did not have strong belief in Communist ideology. He also shares how farmers, galvanized by the BTI, unilaterally pegged and seized forest land that was not their own. While they would have known in their consciences that this was wrong, he feels that they merely followed instructions from PKI leaders.

Another arm of PKI’s outreach was through performing arts. They understood that youth enjoyed traditional performances, and developed an arts organization, Lekra, to stage Ludruk traditional theatre performances with ideological messaging. Lekra also grew in popularity amongst youth as it allowed the intermingling of both sexes through dances on stage. Subidi shares a story from his uncle who worked in Risik Village, where the village chief was a PKI-affiliated shaman, and had invited Lekra to perform. He collected a fee from every household for the performance, and kept records of the funds, which served as a social security net. As a result, all the men of the village were arrested as suspected PKI members and detained, regardless of their true political orientations. Subidi had friends who both died, and some who managed to evade capture.

A particularly offensive production, Lekra’s play The Birth of God wounded the religious sentiments of Muslims. The Islamic group NU sought to develop a counter organization, Lesbumi, to promote tablo traditional Muslim theatre with Islamic plays. They integrated orchestral music with Muslim instruments, which was well-liked by the younger crowd, to enhance their appeal to youth. Subidi explains that everyone had to choose their color red (PKI) or green (NU) and settle on one political alignment. Yet, people were still able to get along with their neighbors who made different political choices. Subidi himself, who had joined Ansor prior to 1965, and became a leader in Lesbumi, still enjoyed Ludruk performances by Lekra, merely disagreeing with the ideological subtext and its potential to lead Indonesian youth away from their Islamic faith.

These social connections within the village communities came to be tested during the events of 1965. Like many at the time, Subidi believed that the central PKI leadership developed “kill lists” in every sub-jurisdiction and ordered the local PKI branches to murder their enemies, often NU figures, according to a schedule. They were also emboldened by the fact that some soldiers themselves had joined PKI; and they even had supporters among the Siwi Hospital staff. Subidi discusses a few such successful murders by the PKI. While he did not directly engage in hostilities with the PKI as an Ansor member, he built posts and prepared youth members for the task. Ansor also successfully retaliated, killing PKI figures, with the support and authorization of the military. The youth militia felt very driven to stand up against the PKI, which symbolized anti-Islamic thought, as a form of protecting their own faith; members signed up enthusiastically to attack PKI members. Subidi recalls how his branch was close to Mr Sanin, a military official who had to contend with the possibility of having PKI double agents in his unit, such that he placed his trust in Ansor. The military also provided them with official name lists of suspected PKI agents to be killed.

Ultimately, however, the social and cultural ties people built within the community persisted even amidst and after the 1965 Massacres. For instance, the PKI was never able to mobilize its members to kill Grandpa Sani, the local village shaman and spiritual healer. Despite their political differences, local PKI members still felt indebted to him for providing spiritual care and assistance to them prior to the events of 1965. After the hostilities ended, the villagers who had organized under the PKI’s banner returned to their former lifestyles, resuming their participation in communal Islamic prayers, revealing that they had not been too deeply indoctrinated by Communist ideology.


Finally, Subidi also notes that during the killings, many victims were not even proven PKI sympathizers or on the kill lists. While Subidi and other Ansor leaders attempted to restrain the violence and limit themselves to the official lists, many other victims who were killed were mere thieves and petty criminals who were known within the community. In this way, the 1965 killings in the Soro-Siwi region evolved from a weakly ideological clash into a more localized conflict, defined by more immediate concerns of personal beliefs and religious identity than about the potential threat of Communism. In closing, Subidi recommends that people also visit the Kresek Monument in Madiun to understand the PKI’s motives from the late 1940s, alongside the Trishula Monument, reflecting his own beliefs.

Question: What was happening to NU-Banser in 1965? (Nahdlatul Ulama; Revival of the Ulama; Banser: Barisan Anshor Serbaguna)

Sudi Subidi: At that time (1965), because of its various interests, something was overlooked by the parties, namely that the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia; Communist Party of Indonesia) wanted to control Indonesia through illegal means. Doing what illegally? Building strength. By arranging strength in each region. When their forces were ready in the regions, a rebellion would be carried out, called the General Council  (Dewan Jendral). That was the goal. The General Council was an entry point to legally dominate Indonesia. However, because there were principles in our territory, Indonesia did not abandon its eastern and divine customs. That's what became a cornerstone of Indonesia's strength there. Why? Because the PKI did not have a divine basis. Finally, they entered Indonesia, which at first did not seem to be able to control the field immediately, because the PKI's strategy was not through normal means but through agriculture. PKI knew that if the agricultural agrarian community was controlled by the PKI, all of them could be recruited.

So, from there the PKI used BTI (Barisan Tani Indonesia; Indonesia Farmer Union) as its vehicle. That’s how the BTI came to resonate with/grew connected to most people.

Question: Especially for people across Siwi to Soro?

Sudi Subidi: Yes. At that time, understand that agriculture was linked to worldly and property affairs. In relation to property affairs… All the poor people were given hope that if PKI won, later there would be an egalitarian life. It means no rich people. All the wealth of the rich people would be distributed to poor peasants through BTI. Then an event occurred in Dio’s rice field, on the north side of the mosque in Degan hamlet, around the time of the rice harvesting season. Many people from Kidul attacked the rice field. Kidul was PKI’s nest. Suddenly, the people would crop the yellow rice. Seeing these events, Anshor members from Gajo village and Siwi arrived  on the field. It happened at the north side of the mosque (near his home).

Question: Did it happen during the day?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, it did. At that time PKI felt they had strength. Because? There used to be a General Council who supported them. They had the power. Yes, they had an army. It lent them legitimacy. Then, in Agung village there was a forest. Trees in the forest never grew big. If they did, they got cut down. Once upon a time the forest was ever pegged (demarcating land ownership boundaries). After pegging, they built a hut. They took over the forest area. It happened at Agung village.

Question: Were the perpetrators BTI members?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, they were. At that time we knew about it, and  knew that pegging forest land was wrong, but had no power as Anshor members. At that time the power lay with BTI and their leaders were in the army. Indeed, poor people were supportive of that, then the land was left to be cultivated, and they became enthusiastic. My uncle also witnessed something like that. At that time my uncle was on duty at Perhutani. His job was in Risik village. The village head was in PKI. They had art programs, it did not matter if one was a member of Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat; People’s Cultural Institute) or not. Because of who ran the village at that time, each head of the family was charged a fee. Then all residents’ contributions are recorded in writing. So, when the 1965 incident broke out, the record was revealed as a kind of social security. All residents whose dues were recorded were taken to be members of Lekra. Finally, all the men in Risik Village were taken to Blitar. Two of my friends were brought to Blitar, one named Sarju, the other named Sijo. Sarju died in Blitar, Sijo could go home. His condition was sad, his body was very thin, his head was shaved. Yes, there (in the prison) it was crowded because there were many people and they only ate corn once a day.

Question: How long were they held in Blitar?

Sudi Subidi: Range of around 2 years. I am sure it was more than a year.

Question: Was the prison in Blitar?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, the prison was at the south side of city-field (alun-alun). There were no interrogations because there were too many prisoners. They were noted down, then given corn to eat. These were my uncle’s stories. Meanwhile the leader of Risik village was gone first. Yes, I remembered that I had often gone to his house together with my friend. My friend’s name was Sarju. The village leader was related to Sarju. The village leader cult of Sambut sites in the village. Every time we went to the village leader’s house, together with Sarju, we asked to go to the site to give food to fishes in the pool. Then we will be treated to a delicious meal by the leader of the village. At that time the village leader already had his son being schooled in the Soviet Union.   

Question: So, the leader village of Risik was part of PKI?

Sudi Subidi: Right. He was also a shaman besides being the village leader. The shaman part was what gave him a cult following. At Risik he was the longest serving village leader.

Question: When the 1965 event broke, where was he?

Sudi Subidi: At that time he disappeared. Because his shamanic ability was strong and also his most cult to Sambut site. The story was that after his disappearance he reappeared in Sambut. How true the story is, I don't know.

Question: Captured or…?

Sudi Subidi: Just disappeared, and no further information.

Question: You already told me that a rice-field to the west side of Degan mosque was attacked by BTI members from Kidul. When was that, before or after the events of 1965?

Sudi Subidi: Before 1965…

Question: Shortly after, or later?  

Sudi Subidi: A bit along … The easy target of the PKI was poor people. They were promising a future of neither a poor nor a wealthy life, but an equal life. Everyone would receive a share of part land wealth ownership. This was a most resonating PKI program. And the Lakung area was a PKI base. Actually, the villagers had not known about ideological politics. They were just followers in politics. The villagers were just tempted by a promise that resonated with the poor people.

Question: How did the people of Degan hamlet react at that time?

 Sudi Subidi: At that time the people of Degan hamlet held firm. Anshor was solid despite their simple equipment. Their members had contacted one and another. Finally, BTI failed to take over the harvest in Dio’s rice field. Dio was a very rich villager in Degan.

Question: Did BTI, after this event, dare attack again?

Sudi Subidi: Never. However, humanly people would know that it was not right to steal the rice harvest, their conscience would have known. It was not his plants and belongings. Their courage comes from the influence of other parties. 

Meanwhile, there was significant opposition between groups in Rawa village, so the revolt created lasting problems for a long time (Kidul). When a PKI revolt broke out at Kidul, it was planned beforehand. It was related to PKI revolts in Jakarta. If the revolt in Jakarta was not a succes, they would run to south Blitar. It was well prepared. In Blitar, everything was prepared. There were cages for hiding. South Blitar was BTI’s base.

Question: When did Grandpa Sudi Subidi register in Anshor?

Sudi Subidi: Before 1965. I forgot when exactly. I used to join my friends in Anshor. That was a personal choice. You either go red or green. If you go with the red group, you have no religion. So we follow this green one, and enter Lesbumi (NU, Anshor).

PKI wanted to persuade villagers through ludruk performances held by Lekra. In the ludruk, Lekra performed “The Birth of God”.

Question: Did that really happen? 

Sudi Subidi: Yes. It happened in Gajo. We lived together in one village, so everyone knows about it. Lekra held traditional Java music performances (karawitan), there were dances accompanied by the song “Genjer-Genjer”. It turns out that “Genjer-genjer” was an abbreviation for gerakan numpas jendral (the general quell movement). I memorized the song. I wasn’t friends with them, but the song was staged so often that it became familiar. Through Lekra stages, they spread the influence of PKI values. 

So, if PKI influenced villagers through Lekra, NU influenced villagers through Lesbumi. PKI had BTI with its agrarian elements to influence the villagers. It was PKI’s power. The power of PKI from the bottom. Lekra grew fast because they had free dances between boys and girls on the stages. 

Even in Lakung area (Kidul, south of Blitar), because they did not know of the religion, many women from Gerwani trained to march in line. Gerwani was really tough. Their understanding of PKI ideology was deeply embedded. Gerwani was the abbreviation of Gerakan Wanita Indonesia (Indonesia Woman Movement). 

Question: How was Lesbumi born? Was it born as a reaction to Lekra?

Sudi Subidi: No. Lesbumi is an institution, part of NU, whose formation is legal. Then there's Pertanu: NU agriculture. In art there is Lesbumi.

Question: What was your position in Lesbumi?

Sudi Subidi: I was leader of the Lesbumi branch in Siwi subdistrict. Because more youths liked orkes (orchestral music with Muslim instruments), so we made orkes group. But in Anshor I was one of the officials in the Blitar regency. Blitar regency was a large area, so I was asked to manage Anshor in part of Blitar. I didn’t directly face PKI. At that time Anshor was going to face PKI in my part of Blitar, so posts were built. In Siwi I built three posts, i.e. in Kabar, in Kaman in the south side of Pasar Siwi  (traditional Siwi market), and in Sekan. 

To facilitate communication, from each branch of Anshor village I asked 10 people every day to work. Likewise, the food rations were donated from the branches. The activity was apparently successful. The government at that time needed manpower to help clean up. At that time the  30 September 1965 Movement was over, but the South Blitar (incident) had not yet occurred.   

It turns out that in South Blitar, the leaders were not local people. Hutapea leaders came from Medan (North Sumatara). Others I don't remember. People are smart. Local people are only used as tools to save themselves. Then Mr. Sanin, the high official of the East Java Military Commander, needed (people to) clean up. So, the Anshor members I coached in those three places were used for the cleaning movement. Anshor Siwi subdistrict was rationed to provide its members, then also from other sub-districts.

At that moment, the soldiers were also confused. Why? Because many army members joined the PKI. Because of this confusion, Pak Sanin's trust lay with Anshor. He himself was still suspicious of the members. This was evident in Rawa village, Bina subdistrict. During the day the situation was normal, as if there were no soldiers. Even though the soldiers are protected by local villagers. In the village there are two mosques. One of the mosques belongs to a friend of mine named Najat, in Dungbendo hamlet. During the Isya prayer in congregation suddenly the soldiers appeared and threw bombs. Alhamdulillah (thanks God), the bomb did not go off. Because they did not erupt, the soldiers pushed their way into the mosque. Najat, my friend, immediately jumped out of the mosque. Dungbendo's geography is very conducive for escaping, especially in the village itself. Najat jumped over the cliff so that his pursuers would lose his track. He was safe.

Question: Did this event occur before Gestok (30 September 1965 Movement)?

Sudi Subidi: After that. The rebels were soldiers who were pinched. The rebels built power over there. So, they spread. It was well programmed. If Jakarta broke (and failed), they countinued in south Blitar. As I told you, the villagers in south Blitar had received training beforehand. 

In Rawa village there was a cleric named Pak Alif. He was shot by a soldier. Fortunately, the bullets didn’t penetrate his body. He was immune and safe.

The event occurred at night. At that time PKI hated clerics. During the 30 September 1965 Movement, the central PKI instructed all members of PKI including those branches in villages to kill NU figures. Indeed, the main opponent for PKI was NU. It was carried out, and in every village they noted whoever was listed to be killed.

Question: Did that also happen in Degan hamlet?

Sudi Subidi: Yes. In Degan hamlet the people who got recorded were Grandpa Sani and Mr. Tifi (in the kill list). Each PKI village branch had recorded who was killed, including the body that was buried behind the old Siwi hospital building. PKI dug a large area behind Siwi Hospital to be used to bury corpses. It’s been prepared in that hospital. Indeed, there were many PKI employees at Siwi hospital. Many hospital employees, almost all the members were caught.

Question: Did you yourself know about that hole?

Sudi Subidi: I didn’t know before the event in 1965. So, the plan was a PKI secret related to the September 30th 1965 Movement. So, I didn’t know … Finally, with the death of the army generals in the center (Jakarta), across different regions there were various reactions to their actions. Some were brave, but others didn’t dare to kill local figures.  For example in Degan, that was a natural behavior. How can a neighbor in Degan kill Grandpa Sani who was his own neighbor? However strong the political influence upon that individual, it is impossible for him to kill his own neighbor. No matter how heavy the political influence he received, he didn’t feel like he could kill his own neighbor. 

So, people in the outer regions rarely dared to act. No one in Siwi dared. Besides, Anshor was really fierce. So, Anshor was brave and excited because they knew the secret that their clerics would be kidnapped. These Anshors became enthusiastic about defending their clerics.

In terms of equipment, support, protection, the PKI was very ready, including what I told you about at the hospital earlier. But, reality finally prevailed. For example, local residents from PKI were ordered to kidnap and kill Grandpa Sani, but it was impossible for that to happen. We were villagers who asked a lot for help from Grandpa Sani (a cleric and shaman), asking for prayers, asking for their dreams to come true, asking for healing, and so on. It was impossible for the local PKI to kill Grandpa Sani.

The ones who stood out for their courage to fight were in south Blitar. They had minimal religious knowledge, our people (NU) there were minimal, so it became a PKI nest. Mr. Sanin was taken by truck to south Blitar. They were lined up. There were forests, mountains and caves facing the South Sea. Anshor's troops were lined up to surround their hiding place. The location was remote so there was no food supply. Even if there was, it was difficult to reach these Anshors. So they made do with what was available. There was young corn that grew there, whatever was found was eaten.  

Question: What did the PKI dare to do in Degan and its surroundings?

Sudi Subidi:  There was none in Degan. There used to be the PKI, but the PKI there is  small and innocent. What stands out is Gajo. However, even though they were conspicuous, they actually did not understand the ideology (communism). This ignorance was exploited by the PKI. PKI made accommodations for traditional music (gamelan-kerawitan) or ludruk so that it flourished. But the PKI’s ideological problem was not too obvious. In the central part of Blitar (including Soro, Siwi), religious understanding was generally strong. In the past, obedience to clerics was the main tenet. Clerics provided a place to ask questions. The cleric himself was lenient in dealing with situations.

In places like southern Blitar, which did not have a cleric figure, they had consequently gone wild. That way, it would be easy to accommodate becoming a PKI member. Many were brave in southern Blitar.

Question: As a Lesbumi leader in the Siwi branch, what was your program before September 30th 1965?

Sudi Subidi: Internally, to protect against ideologies that deviate from religion being spread through art forms. That was our program. So, protecting our residents from PKI influences. As art performances grew, many youths just loved it but didn’t understand their orientations. So, they followed PKI. That had to be avoided. That was Lesbumi’s role.  

Question: Do you mean youth followed Lekra?

Sudi Subidi: They joined Lekra because they hadn’t understood its orientation. Lekra wanted to take them into their ways, and these youths didn't know. They knew they just liked gamelan, so they came to play gamelan. That's the reason Lesbumi stood and was strengthened to fortify against such influences. It was a pity to see our children choose the wrong (institution) just because they liked art. Lesbumi is the abbreviation of Lembaga Seni dan budaya Muslim Indonesia (the Indonesian Muslim Cultural Arts Institute).

Question: What was Lesbumi’s main program at that time?

Sudi Subidi: Lesbumi’s main program was not in art at that time. We observed the state of the field first. At that time, Lekra had popular traditional theater, ludruk and ketoprak. Then, Lesbumi competed with it through tablo performances. Tablo was Muslim theater. So, a stage was set for the shows. At that time I honestly didn't understand what tablo was. What language it used, I didn't understand at that time. But it was in Lesbumi. Then the stage was set up, the music was modified dangdut music, there was martial arts, there was an orchestra, hadrah. All of that was still sustainable until now, except that tablo is not there now. But in the Jember area it still exists. Madurese people love this show.

Question: What stories were performed at the tablo stages?

Sudi Subidi: Stories about the histories of prophets in Islam, Khulafaur Rashidin, heroes of Islam. The goal was to inculcate Islamic faith through arts. Muslim heroes such as Umar bin Khatab, Tengku Umar. Yes, like ludruk, but the stories were about Muslim heroes.

Question: What costumes were they wearing?

Sudi Subidi: The costumes were like Arabs. An Arab-like robe. They included the Islamic way of dancing on the sidelines. There were songs too.

Question: Was the performance during the night or day?

Sudi Subidi: Night.

Question: Was the performance on the stage?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, on the stage. We used kerosene lamps to light the stage. Not electricity…

Question: Was a loudspeaker used?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, there was a loudspeaker. Using batteries. The funnel was rounded above so, sometimes it sounded, sometimes it didn't… well that was the situation. But happy to do so because there are rivals. Who would not get angry when the ludruk stage play "The Birth of God" was performed. That's very insulting. The feelings of Muslims, their dignity, was being trampled upon by this play.

Question: How did Muslims feel about that?

Sudi Subidi: Muslims felt called to fight back. Also given how BTI did not plant, but wanted to harvest rice. That’s why Muslims felt called to fight for themselves. Naturally, there was a sense of volunteering to take part in protecting the field of families or neighbors. So, when BTI took unilateral actions, spontaneously the Muslims gathered to guard their fields.

So, the tablo performance saw fast growth at the time. The tablo star in subdistrict Siwi level was from Nandes village.  Their costumes were very good. Surely many village elites funded the tablo from Nandes. There were many tablo from villages, but a few tablo were notable. 

Question: Was the tablo performed every night?

Sudi Subidi: No, they performed when invited by villagers or on a big day’s anniversary. At that time these invitations to the tablo stage were in demand. First, the Blitar NU leader was Pak Taran, also jointly the Blitar member of parliament. So, our communications were very easy. The goal of NU was to save the people in this world and the hereafter. In the midst of the many groups and camps that existed at that time, the NU people were not wrong in choosing this direction. If they made Lekra, we made Lesbumi. So that the hobby of these young people was channeled correctly. 

Question: At that time there was competition between NU vs PKI. So, how were social conditions at that time?

Sudi Subidi: There was competition in the village, but it didn’t really feel like it. There remained a feeling of mutual respect between neighbors. There were those who chose red (PKI) or chose green (Lesbumi). It was your own choice, there was not so much tension. So, if you choose Lekra that's your choice, amongst other choices.    

The exception was the entry of newcomers dressed as government officials (army or government employees) who pumped up people's courage. Because the officers who dressed up, easily won the trust of local residents. That's what happened in south Blitar. In the other parts of Blitar, the PKI influence was not so obvious. Those who chose PKI and NU could mix well. Didn't really care about that choice. It only happened when there was a spontaneous invasion by the people of Kidul from the north to seize the rice harvest in the fields, people who came from outside the area.

Question: How about people from here?

Sudi Subidi: The villagers didn't really have much influence. In parts of Blitar, people already had religious beliefs (Islam) even though they did not practice them. I gave an example earlier, for example, (people here) were told to kill Grandpa Sani, but that would not be possible. People here respect Grandpa Sani because they often ask for help, ask for prayer. It is also impossible to murder Mr. Tifi. He was an NU figure, although not yet a cleric. He was a religious teacher, and his younger brother was Grandpa Sani. With that, no matter how different the flow, different political choices, it was impossible to do harm to Grandpa Sani and Mr Tifi. 

 Question: How were conditions after Gestok (September 30th 1965)?

Sudi Subidi: Pak Sanin’s program after Gestok held a clean-up at the nest in south Blitar…

Question: How were conditions in Soro and its surroundings?

Sudi Subidi: Soro and its surroundings were safe. After Gestok, Ansor's running got even smoother. They were put in boarding houses instead. If the dormitory asked for a quota of 10 Anshor youths, there were even more than 10. This was related to the guiding background that the PKI did not have God and were committing treason against the state. That belief greatly facilitated the Anshors' path. Then these Anshors' food rations flowed easily from villagers. The committee only had to roster food rations from each branch. Which branch on Sunday, the next day which other branch... Everything went well.

Then the problem emerged that something was out of control. It was because of the enthusiasm of these youths that they were indiscriminate. Sometimes non-PKI members were also killed. How can you control them? … This is mostly because of hate. In this area, most of the people who are killed are ordinary criminals. There were many who  lost control. Thieves, robbers... The real PKI here was invisible. They were only BTI. They only wanted wealth, wanted the program (PKI) to have the same taste. Wanted their welfare to increase. "I don't have a rice field, I'll be given a rice field later," they just thought like that.

Yes, like the Agung village forest that was pegged, and huts were erected there. It was tied to the citizens. They were really working on the land, even though it was not theirs. Conditions at that time were chaotic, so no one cared about it. But as far as I remember, they didn't harvest because Gestok had already erupted.

Question: After the Gestok, you said that Anshor and Banser were given a good position. How was the process?

Sudi Subidi: What are you asking this in relation to?

Question: About not being controlled? 

Sudi Subidi: We couldn't control all the branches. No commands were issued and they walked alone. They knew every day, for example, that that person was a thief, so there was a chance that he could be killed quickly. Walk alone and it happens a lot. In Agung there was once a robber, a former robber, an ex-thief. These Degan people took them and they were killed at Sopo's grave. Then Mr. Gato from Gajo, then Niba … they were not PKI. They were thieves who were taken and killed. Because there was that opportunity. They were not PKI, they just followed suit. Usually, those who carried out these murders were kodo-kodo (naughty) youths. 

There was a story of a leader of hamlets from Pace village. He was a PKI administrator. The person was powerful, immune to stabbing. Chased during the day, he climbed a coconut tree. When his coconut tree was being cut down, he threw coconuts down from above. Then they used a table to shield against the thrown coconuts. Then someone fled to cleric Dita in Bara to find his weakness. They were given instructions to look for sembukan leaves. When the tree had fallen, his body was roped off with healing leaves. That's the story of the late leader of Pace hamlet. Then, another story in Kenan hamlet, Raka village.

Question: If not the PKI figures were also kidnapped, Grandpa?

Imam Supardi: No, that was just the thieves and the robbers (who got kidnapped). If they were  our people we would clearly control them. Only those uncontrollable rogues. No command. Because the person who was murdered had been in prison (a criminal case). What else could we do...

Question: How long was this situation?

Sudi Subidi: How long… this is just an estimate… a maximum of six months.

Question: What happened for those six months?

Sudi Subidi: The situation was chaos. There wasn’t a role model. NU was a clear role model for a cleric. But the government was still confused. Mr. Sanin, apologetically, was confused too because many army personnel were PKI. Mr. Sanin was confused about who were his supporters and who were not. Mr. Sanin, high official of the East Java Military Command. Even though he was ordered to clean up the PKI, while within his own unit it was not clear which one was in PKI and which one was not. For example, what happened in Rawa village was that clearly, PKI soldiers shot cleric Alif.

Jagat: There was a NU leader killed in Gadi (Soro village)…

Sudi Subidi: Yes, the victim was Mudi in Gadi.

Jagat: Before the event, I saw an army truck stop in front of a shop in Gajo. Soldiers bought cigarettes. That night we held a puppet performance in Gajo. I saw about ten soldiers. Shortly after the news spread that Mudi died, shot by soldiers…

Sudi Subidi: I knew these stories….

Question: What stories?

Sudi Subidi: At that time, there was a wedding in Agung. The groom was a soldier from Malang, the bride from Agung village. I knew Mudi whose house was south of Pasar Soro. Mudi was present at the wedding that night. From Malang the groom was among a group consisting of several trucks. Meanwhile in Agung the stage was prepared for Lekra’s performance. If I'm not mistaken they performed ludruk. At that time I also watched the performance.

After the event was over, you know, the soldiers were invisible. They were gone. I didn't care at all. I enjoyed ludruk shows. The Ludruk also comes from Malang. Only then the next day there was news that Mr. Mahisa from Gadi was kidnapped. Then he was dragged to the north a little, on the west side of the road; to be precise in an empty yard, there was a sugar cane garden. It was in the garden that Mr. Mahisa was killed. Meanwhile, his wife survived. It turned out that it happened.

The troupe to deliver the bride and groom turned out to be soldiers aiming to kill Mr. Mahisa. There was Drapso, I knew him. The army too ... That's why when Pak Sanin was given the job, he was confused which one was his real friend and which one was not. It was confusing to tell the difference. Finally, Pak Sanin’s trust was placed in Anshor.

Question: Was the Pak Mahisa incident before or after the Gestok erupted?

Sudi Subidi: The Gestok eruption had not yet occurred. Approximately, the Pak Mahisa incident occurred some months before the Gestok, but less than a year. The situation was hot and heated. We knew an eruption would occur, but not exactly when it would occur.

Question: Was the hot situation really felt?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, the atmosphere was getting hotter and hotter. And they (PKI) were getting bolder and bolder. PKI became more and more daring because they had the support of the soldiers. How daring they were.

Question: How did NU members react after Mahisa’s death?

Sudi Subidi: Instead, it strengthened the unity among us (NU). Made more visible who was red (PKI), and who was green (NU). PKI branch level officials became increasingly visible in villages. 

Mr. Mahisa was the supervisor of the NU Soro Village. The NU generation at that time was still there, now most of them have died. We who are still alive are given a long life.

Jagat: I always remember that when I was training at Lesbumi, Grandpa Lanit was always there. I still remember…

Sudi Subidi: Grandpa Lanit was our spiritual shaman. We believe in his magic power. Grandpa Lanit was our shield. 

Question: Has Grandpa Lanit been powerful since he was young?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, he was known since young. Grandpa Lanit was the nephew of cleric Dita. 

Question: Has Grandpa Lanit been with Lesbumi since he was young?

 Sudi Subidi: Yes, since he was young, sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn't ...

Question: So, PKI was getting bolder, huh?

Sudi Subidi: Yes. Near the Gestok, it was obvious that their leader (PKI) was the army. Just then their courage triggered it. It was in south Blitar. But in this area it was not really felt. For example, the PKI leadership in Kamis-Pace kept being ordered to kill Grandpa Lanit, right? That would not have happened. Yes, most people have asked for help and were given by Grandpa Lanit a prayer of safety; goodness. Grandpa Lanit did not discriminate. Everyone will be given a prayer when they ask. Grandpa Sani did likewise. Everyone who comes to him will be given a prayer, regardless of the color of his political choice.

Question: So the Soro area was not the epicenter of the hostilities? 

Sudi Subidi: Yes, it's not frontline here. The frontline one was south Blitar. There was a small number of santri, apart from that, the army sided with the PKI. Supported by PKI central leaders frequently surveying the area. There PKI was very united. The PKI women there dared to kill.

Question: Then, what was PKI like in Soro-Siwi after Gestok occurred?

Sudi Subidi: Before Gestok, the PKI in Soro-Siwi was not too obvious, and especially after the Gestok, it was no longer there. In terms of bravery, PKI lost to NU. Anshor members killed as soon as they were asked to. Because this was related to their faith. If they were asked to kill by common people, they didn’t care, but when asked by cleric, it gets done as soon as possible. That's Anshor's strength. Even if its numbers are small, it's still brave.

Question: After Gestok, where did PKI members go?

Sudi Subidi: It disappeared, don’t know where they went. Some then went home, some disappeared. At that time I had a carik (village secretary) in Sopo Village, a PKI figure. His name was Mr. Sandi, who later lived in his son's house in Mojokerto, or maybe Surabaya. Mr. Wandi survived and was not killed. Meanwhile Mr. Bari, a PKI leader from Sopo Village, left. When he returned home, he was arrested and then sent to Buru Island. Upon his return from Buru, he lived in Sopo and died. On Buru Island they were banished and interned by the government.

Question: That was the leaders. How about the PKI members?

Imam Supardi: In my view,  the PKI members had no deep faith (in communist idelogy). So, when the leaders were captured, the members went back to the way things were before. When invited to pray (in Muslem way) with neighbours they would also join. Just like that. There was no strong reactions. Their belief did not permeate their hearts, they just followed it.

Question: Is there still PKI in Gajo?

Sudi Subidi: Doesn’t exist

Question: Were only leaders captured?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, the members knew little about the organization. The members just followed. The intellectual actors were the leaders. However, when these leaders were instructed to kill the PKI’s enemies on such a schedule, in fact no one dared.

That's right. Behind the old Siwi hospital there was a large hole dug like a pond. Meant for burying the corpses of PKI’s enemies.

Question: After Gestok, how were PKI leaders taken in?

Sudi Subidi: The implementation was more orderly. Mr. Sanin from the East Java Regional Army ordered the Koramil to accompany the youths (Anshor). All PKI namelist data already existed. Their names (PKI) were already in the Koramil. The Koramil itself had confirmed it, from its superiors. For Siwi, these names, for Luta, these names, for Soro, they did not have a name at that time. All this came through the Koramil. It was Koramil that played a significant role. Then we had the Ansor youths who were boarded in those three places earlier. Their job was to take (PKI figures)  at night with the Koramil. Their strength served Anshor. So, I prepared people for south Blitar, as well as for the local Koramil. The data was from there.  

Question: They were tasked to take PKI figures?

Sudi Subidi: Yes. We used clear data. Not questionabble. Anshor Youths who were naughty were not included there.

Question: So, based on the existing name data, they took the person?

Sudi Subidi: Yes, the soldiers just came. They just accompanied you. Yes, apart from having limited personnel, the people were somewhat questionable ideologically. So it is believed that the Anshor youths had committed this murder. Tonight, bring three people as needed, let's go there, let's go there. It's legal and official. For example, if someone needed to go to South Blitar, then we planned how many (people) were sent there.

At that time the state and army were comfortable. Our personnel from Ansor were prepared. Yes, we prepared the manpower. We prepared the food too. When invited to go anywhere, Anshor always prepares everything. It was Anshor who provided assistance.

Questioner: What was the role of the police at that time?

Sudi Subidi: The role of the police was not very visible. The dominant political actor was the army. There was no visible role of the policeman, maybe I just do not know the story of the role of the police officers.

Questioner: In Soro-Siwi, the police didn't play a role at that time, right?

Sudi Subidi: No role.

Questioner: So, the army had a list of people, and those persons were taken. Once taken, where did they go?

Sudi Subidi: Right away, they got killed. There was a grave in Samim (Degan). Also in Sopo. So, they buried them in a grave.

By that time, people believed or were hypnotized into believing that killing each other was common. There was uncertainty. If he had an enemy, whether PKI or not, he was taken at night and then killed. Something like that happened. At that time the body was found in a rice field in the west of Gajo Village. Meanwhile, the orderly and official ones were done through the Koramil.

Recently I was invited to Madiun. I visited the Kresek Monument, where the PKI was in 1948. In this monument the PKI’s actions in Madiun can be best described through its diorama. In Blitar PKI can also be seen at the Trisula Monument in South Blitar. But it is still good to visit Madiun to understand PKI’s actions.***

Interviewer: Imam Muhtarom

Interviewee: Sudi Subidi

Tags & Keywords

Transcript Notes

  1. The Kresek monument illustrates the military’s suppression of the PKI’s 1948 uprising in Madiun, while the Trisula Monument.

  2. Tablo is traditional Muslim theatre.

  1.  How does Subidi’s recollections destabilize notions of a binary clash between Communism and anti-Communist governments in Cold War Indonesia?

  2. To what extent did ideology drive Subidi’s actions, and those of his peers (on both sides of the conflict) during the Cold War in Indonesia?

  3. What was the role/function of traditional values and culture in Indonesia’s Cold War conflict?

  4. Consider the various forces (social, economic, cultural, religious etc) that shaped the conflict and the lived experience of the Cold War in Indonesia. In particular, consider how these different dimensions intersected to create unique and often dangerous outcomes for the civilian public.

  5. Did Indonesia truly experience a Cold War, given Subidi’s testimony? Would it be more accurate to characterize it as a local conflict? Why or why not?