Jale Sultanli, Alison Castel and I presented at Columbia University this week on a different approach to transitional justice for Indonesia. There was a genocide in Indonesia 1965, you might not remember because you were not alive, perhaps breezed over it in the press, or because it just wasn't taught in school. But not remembering is quite different than not being allowed to remember, as in the case of Indonesians today. Those who survived the genocide still keep their mouths mostly shut as the state narrative remains largely unchanged. There was a coup and suppression of the communists was required to keep things in order. This happened with U.S. blessings. The missing pieces are that a major coup attempt was never really proven and of the 1,000,000 or so killed for being "communist" only a small percentage even really knew what communism was. Without state acknowledgement, truth commission or reparations, what role can transitional justice have in indonesia?
In our paper, we discussed several ways in which transitional justice is occurring on the local level. And while there is still much desire for more national efforts, these local efforts seem to have great promise and do not necessarily upend the healing that such macro processes could incite. For example, a Truth Commission could re-open the divide between victim and perpetrator. Living side-by-side in the years post 1965, many have had to look beyond those divisions. Some local efforts help do that.
During this past summer in Indonesia, we learned of local projects by self-funded individuals who collect narratives of survivors simply to record their stories. They are not part of a university or NGO. People simply tell their stories the way they wish. In doing so, a new kind of discursive space (Maria Pia Lara) is opened up. In open interviews, people do not need to respond to the state story (master narrative) or be historically accurate. They can just tell what they remember and how they feel now. We saw this as transitional justice. We also learned of some physical spaces created in commemoration where locals now meet to discuss all kinds of political issues. This physical space allows people to upend silence as a means of control. By commemorating the past, they are able to challenge it. Challenging how the past is understood seems to help people feel a greater sense of agency...an agency they now invest in addressing current problems. They are imagining a better tomorrow.
While not considered "transitional justice" in the traditional sense..there are no legal proceedings or government documents resulting, we saw local efforts as a powerful part of the post-atrocity healing process. We applaud and support these efforts.