Indonesia, Soeharto, president, museum, Rio Rizalino

16 years after a people’s uprising ended the three decade long rule of General Soeharto…a growing numbers of Indonesia are looking fondly on his reign.  In recent survey by local polling group nearly 40 % of people named his as their favor president. 

They say that amongst other things, it was time when goods and petrol were cheaper.

Soeharto’s son-in-law and presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto has promised that if elected he will award Soeharto with national hero status.

And a new Soeharto memorial museum was open recently in Central Java- paid for by the former president’s family.

Kiswoyo has brought his students on an overnight train from Jakarta to Jogyakarta to come here to this museum dedicated to the life and times of former President Soeharto.

“We want to learn about our history, about the life of Pak Soeharto…about his childhood.  The students are very keen to learn about this.”

His students are too young to remember what it was like living under Soeharto’s three decade long rule.

Not surprisingly-- given that the museum was paid for by his family—they are being given a very positive picture of Soeharto’s legacy.

Muhammad Arief Ramadhan the museums manager says it’s time Soeharto was viewed as a national hero. 

“The museum commemorates Suharto’s legacy and what he gave to this country during his military career.  We hope people will now have a better understanding about Pak Hartos life and his legacy.”

There is no mention here of Soeharto being named the world’s most corrupt leader by international anti-graft group Transparency international.

No where in this museum will you find the allegations that he hauled in 5-$35 billion US dollars during his rule.

What student Yudha Yogandra has learnt is that how the province of Papua became part of Indonesia.

“I know now that Soeharto invaded and capture Irian Jaya and made it part of Indonesia and what other good things Soeharto did for Indonesia.”

Around 10 kilometers away from the museum….in the bustling market of Malioboro, Soeharto’s face has also made a come back. 

Anto sells up to 60 shirts a month with the former presidents face on them.

“People are buying this shirt a lot. Here’s the line: it’s better under my era, right? People say it’s better during the New Order era because everything is cheap.”

Amongst other things, Soeharto’s era was time when goods and petrol were cheaper.

And many people think the charms democracy have long since faded.

Corruption is rampant and elected politicians have disappointed many.

“Everyone buys this shirt! Even foreigners buy it because they like the figure of Soeharto.”

Soeharto’s former son-in-law Prabowo Subianto is using Soeharto’s image in his campaign to become Indonesians next President.

His election team that includes Golkar party chairman Abu Rizal Bakrie are reviving the ghost of Soeharto in the hope it will win them votes.

“We know that for 32 years with Soeharto as our leader, as the founder of Golkar, he said that Indonesia must be prosperous. And thank God… do you agree that Indonesia prospered? Agree?....(crowd) AGREE!”

What they are hoping the public will forget are the gross human rights abuses that took place during the Soeharto era.

The killing and abduction of students in the 1990s,  the mass killings in Aceh and East Timor and one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, the massacre of suspected members of the communist party in the 1960s.

80 year old Mbah Karno was working as a teacher in village in East Java when he was accused of being a communist. 

With-out trial he was tortured and thrown in jail. 

“I don’t know anything about Marxism or Leninism. In the name of God I promise that I don’t know anything. I’m not involved with any party. I was only a teacher.”

Soeharto blamed the communist party for a failed coup and banned it.

The Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights estimates that in the purge that followed between half a million to a million people were killed.

Mbah Karno says he was severely tortured.

“I was beaten a lot. I was never given a day in court.  If my answers were wrong they beat me.  I just nodded and said yes all the time.  I could have been killed at anytime.”

Asvi Warman Adam , Indonesians leading historian in this period of history, has not doubts about who was responsible.

“I often ask myself the question: Who was responsible?  It’s clear it was not Soekarno because he was no longer in power. He even asked the killings to be stopped. It was Soeharto that ordered the murders.”

A documentary about this dark period of Indonesians history was nominated for Oscar this year but it can not be released in Indonesia.

And at the Soeharto museum there is no mention of the killings…..or any of the other human abuses that happened during Soeharto’s rule.

“I miss Soeharto alot. I don’t believe that Soeharto was involved. There’s no proof that he’s guilty.”

Mbah Karno who has had to live with the labeled  of being an ex-political prisoner and a national traitor all his life would like to have his name cleaned as well.

“I hope that I and my innocent friends can have our name cleared and for us to be compensated for the atrocities that were done to us.” 

The National human rights commission has recently called for that to happened.

Rival Presidential candidate Jokowi has promised that he will push for pass human rights abuses to be resolved.

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