There’s recently been a noticeably rise in anti-communist paranoia amongst Indonesian officials, who have cracked down on everything from t-shirts to toys bearing hammer and sickle logos (we were even ready to believe they arrested a fish for being a dirty commie – though that turned out to just be some perfectly targeted satire).
Obviously many people think things are getting pretty ridiculous. Even Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan (not known as the biggest defender of free speech) said that police needed to be more selective and not “go overboard” when it comes to cracking down on anything that has a hammer and sickle on it.
Of course the police argue that they are only enforcing Indonesia’s law, specifically a law from 1966 that makes discussion and propagation of communism, socialism and related ideologies a criminal offense. The law was enacted in response to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and its plot to overthrow the government in 1965, which led to a an anti-communist purge that claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people.
Many would question whether such a draconian law, written over 50 years ago, is still needed in Indonesia today – not just because it is getting people in trouble for selling heavy metal t-shirts but also because it is regularly used to attack freedom of speech, particularly discussions of what really happened in 1965 and any ideas linked to leftism.
But President Joko Widodo apparently doesn’t see anything wrong with the law. At a meeting with senior officials from the police, military and his own staff, the president apparently reiterated his support for the anti-communist law and told the police to continue to strictly enforce it.
“We have been given the directive [by President Jokowi] to, at all levels, perform legal measures to contain communism and to prevent it from being broadcast or developed. That means whatever shape it takes, be it shirts or symbols or film that teach communism,” said National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti, as quoted in a statement released on the Cabinet Secretary of Indonesia’s official website.
A whole generation of Indonesian grew up watching anti-communist propaganda/horror films like “Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI” that were used to justify Suharto’s New Order totalitarianism, and so we can understand why older politicians continue to hold onto those fears – especially when they can continue to use those fears to manipulate people and silence those with leftist ideologies that might hurt the power of the political establishment.
But there’s a whole generation of Indonesia becoming adults now who know can see that propaganda for what it is. And ridiculous police actions like criminalizing t-shirts with communist symbols will only further demonstrate to them how foolish and undemocratic those old anti-communist laws are. President Jokowi should consider which side of history he really wants to stand on.