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Refusing to Look Away: Museum Bergerak 1965

The ‘1965 Tragedy’ that happened fifty years ago in Indonesia is considered the worst tragedy in the political history of Indonesia. The incident claimed the lives of over a million victims from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. The army trained militias all over Indonesia with a directive to eradicate the “followers of Communism” and anyone who was thought to be supporters of the ideology. Mass killings, disappearances, exiling, imprisonment and horrendous torture have left a dark stain in the history of the nation.

The New Order systematically controlled the socio-political narrative and silenced other versions of historical truth. For instance, every year students were required to watch a film on the 1965 Tragedy entitled̳, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Betrayal of the 30th September Movement/Indonesian Communist Party). The film propagates that communism is “fundamentally evil”.

The fall of the New Order and the emergence of the reformation era in 1998 have triggered the people‘s curiosity to dig deeper into the truth behind the 1965 Tragedy, in order to provide an alternative discourse of history different from the mainstream version. This counter-movement realized itself through alternative documentary films, theatre, literature, posters, conferences, art exhibitions and much more.

Efforts to keep memories of the events of 1965-1968 alive continue to be made by victims of the persecution and civil society. Museum Bergerak 1965 came to be a bridge, connecting today’s generation to victims and survivors, to discuss memories of the humanitarian tragedy through popular ideas. This project was organized by collectives in Jogjakarta such as Kampung Halaman, ELSAM, EngageMedia, kotakhitam Forum, Kunci Cultural Studies, Fopperham and many more. The goal being to struggle against forgetting and ignorance of the truth, moreover, to prevent any remaining New Order propaganda from producing a generation that becomes more silent and apathetic.

Museum Bergerak 1965 meant to be an interactive public space for young Indonesians to observe and appreciate archives, stories and memoirs that came directly from victims and survivors. Clothes, shoes, photos, sketches and bicycles were installed to what was referred to as a museum, in a small corner of Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. To their owners, the exhibited objects were treasures, helping them recall the experiences they had 50 years ago. For example, there was a collection of letters by Tedjabayu Soedjojono, an ex-political prisoner. He still keeps those letters that he wrote to his family when he was kept in isolation on Buru Island, far away from Java.

Jembatan Ruang Kelas Tragedi was one of the sub-events at Museum Bergerak 1965, which was called a “classroom bridge”, because it hosted daily seminars and conferences on several elements related to the 1965 Tragedy. The classroom setting was created to be a counter-narrative to the version offered by the New Order in the educational syllabus. One of the “classes” discussed the relation between music and tragedy by Taman 65, a group founded by the children of Balinese survivors who were executed in 1965. One of the speakers, Roro Sawita, who has spent several years researching and documenting Bali’s dark past, said that Taman 65 recomposed the Prison Songs that political prisoners wrote and sang in detention.

Another session was presented by Pak Mars Nursmono. Formerly a student at the Bandung Institute of Technology, he joined a movement of student organizations called CGMI (Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia or Unified Movement of Students of Indonesia), linked to the Communist Party of Indonesia. He was then arrested and exiled to Buru island. As a smart and progressive student, he sketched out what he saw in the prison, including layout of the building and even daily activities.

Another interesting presentation was by a theatre group who performed slapstick musical theatre to criticize the price of the goods at the time that were becoming increasingly expensive. This critical arts group had existed in East Java even since before the coup, but was forcibly disbanded when “the world turned to chaos”.

Similar experiences were also had by Pak Tikno and Pak Panut when they were arrested by the military. They were in jail for a number of years but were never given a trial. During their time in prison, they began learning acupressure and acupuncture because they were sure that the government was not going to allow them to find any kinds of jobs if they were released. And what they imagined was real. They never got a job upon their release because they were labeled E.T. (Eks Tapol or ex-political prisoner), and they have since run an acupressure and acupuncture practice from home.

Museum Bergerak 1965 and Jembatan Ruang Kelas Tragedi has become one of the new mediums for writing history, reflecting upon many cultural elements and fields to keep reminding the people of some of the darkest chapters in Indonesia’s story. It hopes to encourage new generations to free the country from the social and political impact of the 1965 tragedy.