Indonesia's Suharto Left Iron-Fisted Legacy
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The former Indonesian dictator Suharto was buried today with full military honors. The man who led Indonesia for more than 30 years died yesterday. During that time, he controlled almost every aspect of life in Indonesia. The five-star general has been accused of corruption offenses and human rights abuses and he has died without being held to account for any of it.
We're going to talk with Sidney Jones, a senior adviser for the nonprofit The International Crisis Group. She's in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.
Welcome to the program.
Ms. SIDNEY JONES: Thank you.
INSKEEP: What are some of the things that Suharto allegedly did?
Ms. JONES: Well, he has a long record of completely curtailing basic freedoms of association, expression, assembly and so on, basic civil rights. He has been accused of at least encouraging and endorsing, if not actually ordering, the killings of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party, and there are an estimated - maybe 500,000 people who were killed in the purges that followed an attempted coup. He's accused of authorizing and indeed supporting the invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to, by some estimates, over 100,000 deaths. And...
INSKEEP: There were massacres in East Timor going years after that invasion until the country was given its independence, right?
Ms. JONES: Yeah. The massacres were mostly in the first years following the invasion. And then there were more sporadic killings that followed up until the time of the referendum that was held in 1999 and then just lots of killing and destruction that followed that particular event.
And I think that there are a range of other kinds of human rights violations that Suharto is accused of, but I also think it's important to keep in balance that there are many people who see his period of rule as a time of stability and prosperity.
INSKEEP: Maybe that leads to our next question. How did he manage to die outside of prison?
Ms. JONES: He was seen as someone who was effectively untouchable, and it's not completely clear why, except that many of the people who took positions of power following his resignation were people who had grown up under the new order, as his tenure is called, and people who benefited from his rule. So there was a reluctance to actually see him brought to account.
INSKEEP: Are there people in Indonesia who remember him fondly the way that people in the former Soviet Union remember Soviet times fondly now?
Ms. JONES: Yes, there are many people who look on his rule with nostalgia, saw his period of time as one in which, for example, all religions were protected, and the non-Muslims in Indonesia remember him with, if not fondness, at least nostalgia. There are people who believe that their daily lives were getting better economically, that it was a period of growth.
So among ordinary people on the street there actually is a lot of remembrance of that as one of the good times, the period when they were doing well, better than the present.
INSKEEP: You mentioned non-Muslims. This is a majority Muslim country, one of the largest countries in the world. Did he leave behind a basically stable country?
Ms. JONES: Yes, he did leave behind a stable country, and nothing that his successors have had to deal with have in any way rocked the country or been a major threat to security. But he also left behind a completely emasculated political institution.
So as Indonesia struggles with democracy now, they're having to deal with that legacy on a day-to-day basis, just very weak institutions and no tradition of democratic rule.
INSKEEP: Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group. Thanks very much.
Ms. JONES: You're welcome.
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