The existence of the long banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) still remains a highly controversial political topic more than 50 years after the country’s bloody anti-communist purge. Hoax spreaders have been arrested in recent weeks for sharing fake news about PKI members killing Muslim clerics and just yesterday a fight broke out at a discussion on communism after the organizers read a declaration stating the PKI did not exist and the issue was being politicized.
The discussion, entitled “The Issue of the Reawakening of the PKI: Reality or Propaganda” took place yesterday at the Grand Sahid Jakarta and was organized by the Indonesian Youth Caucus (KMI). The discussion was supposed to be a rational examination of the evidence surrounding the PKI issue, the rumors of the banned party’s resurgence and whether the issue was being used for political gain.
Speakers from both sides of the issue were invited to talk at the discussion. Experts from groups such as the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) spoke about the impossibility of a PKI reawakening in the modern age and how the current rumors were fueled by hoaxes, while far right figures such as writer Taufik Ismail and former general Kivlan Zein discussed in vague terms a “new style” of communism that had infiltrated the government.
But the discussion got derailed after an announcer said he was about to start reading a declaration titled ‘Stop Exploiting the Issue of the PKI Reawakening’, which stated that there was no evidence that the communist party still existed and that the rumors of its existence were based on fake news.
According to media reports, that’s when many of the discussion’s participants became upset as no such declaration had been included in the event’s agenda. Some of the participants were from groups that flatly disagreed with the declaration, while others feared that simply being associated with it could be used to attack them as being pro-PKI. This led to many asking that their names be stricken from the list of participants at the discussion.
The secretary general of KMI, Andi Ulah, said that the declaration was meant to help dispel the fake news about the PKI that had been spread on social media.
“Actually, we did want a declaration with the goal of moving the issue forward on social media, we wanted to prevent (the issue of PKI) being used as a divisive issue,” Andi said as quoted by Tempo.
The declaration also allegedly included allegations that the PKI issue was being used as a political tool by certain parties such as PKS, Gerindra, and PAN, which some participants objected to as well.
After the shouting and arguments died down the discussion dispersed. In the aftermath, the head of the Anti-Communism Youth Movement (GEPAK) said his group would report the event’s organizers to the police for violating Indonesia’s laws banning the propagation of communist ideologies.
“We will report this activity because it was blatantly (a communist) event, the law does not allow for communist activities to take place openly in Indonesia, and they have violated that,” GEPAK chairperson Rahmat Himran told CNN Indonesia yesterday.
Over the last few weeks, the Indonesian Police have arrested several people accused of being members of the Muslim Cyber Army, a loosely-knit online organization that allegedly created and disseminated a wide variety of hoax news stories, including many pertaining to the PKI and their killing of Islamic scholars.
There is no credible evidence that the PKI exists in any shape or form in modern Indonesia. But decades of anti-communist propaganda under Suharto’s New Order regime has allowed conspiracy theories about secret PKI plots to flourish even today. Hoax spreaders have often accused President Joko Widodo of secretly being a member of the PKI, despite the fact that he was only 4 years old when the party was banned in 1965.