Category Archives: Indonesia

Hundreds Died “as a Result of the Indonesian Elections”

It truly looked grand, impressive – the fourth most populous country on earth voted in general elections, which were held on 17 April 2019. Hundreds of positions were for grab: that of the president, the vice president, members of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), and members of local legislative bodies. There were 190 million eligible voters in the country, and sixteen parties, including four new ones.

The only “tiny” spoiler of this magnificence was that, as always in post-1965 Indonesia, not one single political party was really representing the people. All of them were pro-business, all controlled by the oligarchy. Almost all the candidates were ‘competing’ with each other, trying to prove to the increasingly fundamentalist Muslim majority of the country, how Islamic they really were.

In Indonesia, Communism is banned. Atheism is forbidden as well. Belief in market fundamentalism and religious zeal are the two ‘norms’, expected from any individual who is aiming at any important political office.

On 17 April 2019, people voted. Or more precisely, they came to put pieces of paper into boxes, as they were told by their Western handlers.

In the end, it was down to two main choices: an incumbent President “Jokowi” (Joko Widodo by his real name), and the retired General Prabowo.

Jokowi, originally a humble furniture-maker and later a mayor of the city of Solo in Central Java, could be defined as ‘progressive’, but only in the Indonesian or Southeast Asian political context. He looks so attractive because his challengers have mainly been mass murderers and outright kleptocrats.

However, during the first term in the highest office, Jokowi did almost nothing to stop the genocide and plunder in West Papua, or the alarming surge in the influence of Wahhabism (Saudi-style Islam, supported by the West), which is blocking Indonesia from any intellectual (scientific, artistic, philosophical) achievements.

Whenever accused of being a ‘Communist’, Jokowi bent, going out of his way to prove that he has nothing to do with the real Left. When attacked for ‘not being Muslim enough’, he immediately began ‘leading public prayers’, bringing Muslim politicians into his team, and acting religiously. He failed to defend his former allies who were destroyed by the Islamists, including highly-popular former governor of Jakarta – Ahok – who recently spent time in prison for ‘defaming Islam’. Periodically, often at the request of the United States, Jokowi antagonized China. That’s when his critics from the extreme right were attacking him for getting ‘too chummy’ with Beijing. Indonesia is racist, and many Chinese (as well as members of other ‘non-mainstream groups’) here died during the countless pogroms committed throughout past centuries.

“Don’t pay attention, all this is just a political maneuvering,” it was said by his supporters. But if that was so, it was a terribly ugly maneuvering, to be frank! Just an example: One lady teacher, who exposed her sexual harasser and as a result was thrown into jail, got zero protection from President Jokowi. The increasing Islamisation of Indonesian society, often unconstitutional, goes unchallenged. Compared to the era of the progressive Muslim cleric and past President, Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia is regressing, increasingly resembling the oppressive Gulf States.

The correct argument of many (at least relatively secular) Indonesian citizens, is that, were the other main candidate – the retired General Prabowo – to win these elections, the country would basically collapse; go back to Suharto-style fascist, military dictatorship. Prabowo is actually married to one of Suharto’s daughters. And he has a record, almost a ‘career’ of being a mass murder: from East Timor to Java itself. He surrounded himself by the most conservative Muslim cadres, as well as by the anti-leftists and the oligarchs.

Once before, during the previous elections, Prabowo lost to Jokowi. Most likely, this – 2019 elections – was his last chance.  Joko Widodo and his PDI-P won, with 55.5% votes, while Prabowo Subianto ended up with the support of only 44.5%.

On 21 May 2019, the General Elections Commission declared “Jokowi” and his running-mate Amin as the winners.

Prabowo and his team disputed the election results, and protested against Jokowi’s victory.  One day after the results were announced, deadly riots erupted.

Around the time election results were released, Reuters reported:

Indonesian police arrested a man on Friday accused of creating an anti-Chinese disinformation campaign to incite racial hatred, amid a proliferation of rumours alleging Chinese involvement in post-election unrest that has raised fears of ethnic violence.

Police say the suspect created a viral hoax using a photo of three Indonesian police officers at protests this week with a caption describing them as secret Chinese soldiers based on their “slanted eyes”.

*****

Of course, we all knew that it was coming. One week before the disturbances, I was still in the Indonesian capital, filming a group of insane-looking women, gathering in front of the Sarinah shopping center. Their hair covered, maniacal expressions on their faces, they were shouting into my camera:

We love Prabowo! He is good; he is so smart, he is our President!

Almost the entire extreme Islamist apparatus stood by the former genocidal General. Many housewives obsessed with military uniforms, were ready to support him, unconditionally, until the bitter end.

Life in Indonesia is empty and monotonous. The 1965 US-orchestrated coup destroyed much of the culture and spirituality. Intellectualism had been wiped out, and so were the arts. Political diversity eliminated. Only cheap pop is now available. Pop, as well as the most fundamentalist forms of religion.

No wonder that in such a ‘climate’, elections as well as the World Cup (to which Indonesia never qualifies, but which it follows with maniacal loyalty), manage to fully mesmerize the society.

And in a nation which since 1965 has perpetrated 3 genocides and various deadly unrests, an excessive obsession with anything, is never constructive, in fact, is often devastating.

To some of Prabowo’s ‘obsessive supporters’, he impersonates power, machismo, righteousness and “Muslim values”. The people he killed or gave orders to kill? Who cares – they were all some ‘separatists’, commies, atheists. That’s how the majority sees them.

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On 22 May, 2019, the pro-Prabowo camp rioted in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. 6 people were murdered and 200 injured. That has been a very ‘conservative’ estimate, although both sides were accused of manipulating numbers (Jokowi’s camp downwards, Prabowo’s upwards).

Muslim jihadi cadres were apparently involved, too, accused of stabbing and intimidating.

Armed forces crushed the riots. It had to be done, as the rioters were mainly paid thugs and Islamic fundamentalists.

Counting votes in Pontianak, Borneo. Hardly a strenuous task

Earlier, some 600 died, during “the lengthy voting and counting process”. The official numbers were 569, while the unofficial spoke of 700, even 800. Yes, the counting process was very taxing, but perhaps no other elections in the world (in peacetime) registered such a high mortality rate among officials and volunteers. But then again, Indonesia is a very poor country, and many of its citizens are suffering from various undiagnosed diseases. Long hours and difficult conditions during the elections put great pressure on the volunteers. Still, such a mortality rate is unprecedented.

Supporters of Prabowo in Jakarta

Prabowo’s team immediately claimed “the deaths were linked to fraud that disadvantaged him.” Most likely, it is not the case. However, Jakarta and the provinces remain tense.

*****

Most likely, Prabowo was defeated, for good. “Goodbye, General!” But the fact that a genocidal cadre like him managed to get 45% of votes is by itself extremely alarming.

Now, in what direction is Indonesia going to go, under the “second Jokowi term”?

Even after monstrous slaughter of men and women belonging to left-wing organizations during Suharto era, Communism and socialism are increasingly vilified once again. Religions are force-fed to the de-intellectualized and badly informed population. The treatment of women in Indonesian society is despicable. Capitalism is glorified, in fact, it is never even publicly challenged.

Jokowi has been flying all over the world, begging for more foreign investment, while his cabinet was promising to ‘liberalize’ labor laws even further.

The environment of Indonesia is thoroughly plundered, as its economic growth (sluggish, considering unbridled population increase, but still at 5%) is fully dependent on the export of commodities.

There are no doubts that Indonesia will continue decaying and cannibalizing itself under the extreme capitalism regime, while intellectually regressing under Wahhabi Islam.

Jokowi may improve ports, airports, and build few new highways, mainly in order to facilitate the extraction of raw materials by local and foreign companies. But unless he fully reverses the course on which Indonesia was forced to embark after the 1965 Western-orchestrated coup, no essential improvements can be expected. There are no indications that he has the capacity or stamina to challenge and change the regime. After all, he is himself a product of the post-1965 era.

For now, extremism and fundamentalism have been defeated, although by an alarmingly narrow margin. However, it was not a revolution, but destructive inertia that won once again.

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Indonesian Elections: Two Right-Wing Candidates Claiming Victory

She deserves better

In Indonesia, both presidential candidates have declared victory, just a few days after the elections that were held on 17th April, 2019. Both of them are pro-business, both Muslim, and both insist that the Communist Party should continue to be banned. Neither of them is even thinking about stopping their country from committing one of the bloodiest genocides on earth, that in West Papua; or ending the unbridled plunder and environmental disaster on the third largest island in the world, Borneo (in Indonesia known as Kalimantan).

Country is tense. The final results will be announced on May the 22nd, but anything could happen before that, including violence and clashes between the two camps.

If both candidates are pro-business and anti-Communist, then what is the fuss about, really? What makes these elections so different from the previous ones, and what makes the situation so volatile?

The explanation is simple: while the current president ‘Jokowi’ (his real name is Joko Widodo) is a former furniture-maker from a city in Central Java – Solo (also known as Surakarta) – who first became the relatively successful mayor of his city and then governor of the capital Jakarta, before being elected as Indonesian president in 2014, his rival Prabowo Subianto is the Indonesian answer to Bolsonaro: a man who was trained in the United States at Fort Benning, and who was deployed in East Timor in the early 90’s, becoming the commander of Kopassus special forces, committing mass murder there, and using the notorious hooded “ninja” gangs, during the so-called operation “Eradicate”. His murderous career did not end there: In 1996 he embarked on terrorizing villages in the occupied and plundered West Papua. Two years later, in 1998 his troops kidnapped and tortured at least nine anti-Suharto activists.

His military career ended there, after he publicly took responsibility for the kidnappings.

But in Indonesia, brutal deeds are hardly ever condemned or punished. The killers who participated in the 1965/66 US-backed coup and consequent mass murder of between 1 and 3 million leftists and intellectuals, are still proudly appearing on Indonesian television shows, bragging about committing monstrous assassinations, raping women and children, and about ‘saving the country from the Communist menace’. They usually receive standing ovations, as documented in Oppenheimer’s film the “Art of Killing”.

Most likely, Jokowi won by approximately a 10% margin, but against him, there is an entire force of increasingly influential right-wing Islamist groups and movements. They want extreme capitalism, they want strong conservative rule, they want a physical crackdown against the leftists (particularly ‘hidden Communists’), some want Sharia Law and a Caliphate; in brief, they want Prabowo.

The election campaigns were dirty and low. Prabowo’s people tried to accuse President Jokowi of being a closet Communist (and a secret sympathizer of the once powerful political party PKI, that was crushed in 1965 and banned until now), and of being a ‘non-Muslim’.

In Indonesia, these are extremely dangerous accusations. People blamed of siding with the ‘Communists’ or even leftists, are often confronted by physical violence and could face prosecution in the courts, and then lengthy prison terms. Without exception, they are banned from participating in political life. Being ‘non-Muslim’ or even worse, being branded as ‘anti-Islamic’, means that a person has all doors slammed in his or her face. To illustrate the point: the extremely successful governor of Jakarta, ‘Ahok’, was both Chinese by blood, and progressive by political belief. As a result of his socialist reforms, he was thrown into jail after being accused of ‘insulting Islam’, a ridiculous and never proven charge.

The fact that Jokowi is interested in participating in China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), has gained him an avalanche of accusations from Prabowo’s camp, that he is ‘pro-China’, and therefore a Communist.

In extremely racist Indonesia, which perpetrated three genocides and countless pogroms against its minorities in little more than half a century, being ‘Chinese’ is another ‘crime’. Between the 1965 coup and the reign of President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) who lifted the ban, everything Chinese was forbidden: from spoken and written language, to films, names, traditional lamps and dragons, to cakes.

The West, of course, has been admiring and supporting all this, from 1965 until now. It cherishes fascist, anti-Chinese, extremely capitalist Indonesia, ruled by brutal military and increasingly radical (pro-Western) Wahhabi Islamists; a country that allows, even encourages the unrestrained plunder of its own natural resources; enriching North American, European and Australian companies,while impoverishing its own indoctrinated, uninformed religious and obedient population.

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President Jokowi is no hero. While pushing for some very moderate reforms in such areas as medical care and slowly although reluctantly improving Indonesian infrastructure, he is refusing to defend victims of Islamism and of regressive local culture, which brutally oppresses and intimidates both minorities and women, and which still bans both ‘atheism’ and many of the left-wing ideals as well as all Communist movements.

“He is Javanese,” a local architect explained. “He never confronts his enemies directly.”

But some are now beginning to question: “How much compromise becomes really ‘too much’?

Not long ago, Jokowi stepped back and let his friend and political ally, Ahok, be tried unfairly, consequently ending up in prison.

Prison in which Ahok was held

When a lady teacher got sexually harassed by her superior and publicly denounced abuse, demanding justice, she was arrested, tried and thrown into jail. Not her tormentor, but her! Instead of stepping in and ordering her immediate release, Jokowi cowardly remained ‘impartial’, and even refused to ‘pardon her’.

He also does absolutely nothing to stop the genocide and plunder of West Papua. Instead he is building new roads there, to help to move the loot extracted by the foreign and local mining and timber companies. The Papuan opposition and freedom fighters are hunted down, tortured and killed.

On the island of Kalimantan, unbridled plunder and the environmental destruction goes on and on, unchallenged and unquestioned.

Devastating floods in Jakarta

In the meantime, draconic laws are curbing free flow of information and are now muzzling all potential left-wing opposition.

The extremely low level of education and knowledge (after the demise of the greatest Indonesian [Communist] writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the country does not count one single world-class thinker, writer or scientist) is happening to uphold the depressing status quo. It often looks like the country of 300 million is basically involved in only two major activities: the plunder of its minerals and timber, and the ‘business’ (selling all that is being looted).

It is important to repeat again: this is precisely where the West wants to have Indonesia, since 1965. And this is where it has it now.

So what is the response of Jokowi, when he is accused of being ‘pro-Chinese’, or a ‘Communist’, or ‘non-Muslim’?

The response is shameful: Whenever attacked, he truly ‘bends’, and immediately begins officially distancing himself even further from left-wing ideals. He makes ridiculous gestures (like not going to the 2nd BRI Forum in Beijing, whereas both the Malaysian PM Mahathir and the president of the Philippines, Duterte, are proudly attending). Or, he goes to Mecca periodically, to show how devoted he is. He publicly leads prayers, and above all, he had chosen as his running mate Ma’ruf Amin, a former Indonesian Ulama Council leader.

Earlier, in 2016, Jokowi appointed General Wiranto (another murderous military cadre from the Suharto’s era), a Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, an extremely powerful position. What next, ‘appeasing’ the Indonesian fascist, regressive forces? Nobody knows.

*****

In the past, perhaps the most important Indonesia’s artist, 82-years old Djokopekik, had survived imprisonment, isolation and censorship. Now he lives with his wife and eleven dogs, on the outskirts of the historic Javanese city of Yogyakarta, on a vast compound, near, as he says, a ‘ghost infested river’.

Great Indonesian painter Djokopekik

Political and ‘red’ to the core, Djokopekik appeared in my feature documentary, about the 1965 massacres. Now, predicting that Jokowi gained the majority of votes, he appears to be cautiously optimistic:

Of course, the victims of this government’s slowness are already mounting… but Jokowi never had it easy. You see, he used to be just a small businessman, and then a mayor of Solo. Only in Jakarta, after teaming up with Ahok, he learned about the politics. There and then, all that hate was thrown at him…

Jokowi was born in 1961, and in 1965 he was only 4 years old. Like others, he was greatly influenced by Suharto’s ‘New Order’ propaganda. He is not yet a political animal; not savvy yet… But if he would be really brave and determined, chances are that there would be another 1965; another coup.

Just to illustrate to you how bad are things here: If Prabowo would win, many of Jokowi’s supporters would be gone; killed…

So, what do the supporters of Prabowo say?

Mr. Reza Esfan Asjoedjir, former General Manager of a fertilizer producing company, Pusri, shared his thoughts for this essay:

Maybe Prabowo is not the best candidate. But in more than 4 years, the performance of the government of Jokowi is far from good. Whether when it concerns economy, or good corporate governance… and they don’t care about the interests of the Muslims. I am sorry, but the indecisiveness towards the PKI (former Communist Party of Indonesia), is irritating, too. After all, we still have the laws that ban the Party, right? Also, Jokowi opted to be close to the People’s Republic of China. Other issues include his positive attitude towards LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender). Also, he already broke many promises.

Now in Indonesia, many families are bitterly divided over politics. Arif (not his real name), an up and coming filmmaker from Central Java, is not hiding his disgust with the present situation in Indonesia:

I am ‘golput’ (against voting). But my family not only voted for Prabowo; they are actually actively campaigning for him.

Prabowo secured a clear and decisive victory in Aceh, West Sumatra and West Java, the strongholds of Islamism, conservativism and backwardness.

In most of the villages of Central Java, including Plaosan (known for its ancient temple complexes), most of the local farmers are supporting Jokowi. However, the ‘other side’ often comes and intimidates them.

Ms. Rum, a small coffee and noodle stall owner:

There were many visitors to the temple asking me whom I voted for, but I did not tell them. I just laughed, noncommittedly. But I voted for the candidate that has already proven to be able to rule, which is our current President. During the 2014 elections, there were many issues that were thrown in Jokowi’s face, such as being anti-Muslim, or a member of the PKI, and many other things. But we were not convinced hearing such things. During these elections, they did not dare to use those issues anymore; at least not here. But they said that ‘how come Jokowi who comes from such a humble background could become a mayor, then governor, and then president; that is, if he is not using ‘black power’.

Ghosts; Indonesia is too obsessed with ghosts, with black magic and other irrational beliefs.

Now, many farmers at least get some help from the state; not much but at least some, and some food, if they are in need. And this goes a long way here, in a still desperately poor Indonesia.

Ms. Ponirah, craft-maker and seller:

I voted for Jokowi. He is the best, especially for the ‘little’ people like us here. During the previous administration of SBY, what we received as aid for the poor people was only very bad-quality rice. We couldn’t even eat it. Now we get good rice and also some other basic necessities. In this village, Jokowi won! Jokowi Yesss!

*****

All this is still very far from ‘real changes’; far from where other countries in Southeast Asia that have broken away from the traditional ‘client states of the West mentality’ are right now: Vietnam, and even the Philippines.

But it appears that the ‘worst scenario’ has been prevented: the ‘Bolsonaro development’, or worse still: a scenario that would take Indonesia back to the days of the military dictatorship of the murderous imbecile – General Suharto.

If his re-election is confirmed, Jokowi should toughen up and do what the deposed left-wing President Abdurrahman Wahid (a progressive Muslim cleric, a socialist, and until his death, my dear friend) tried to do on behalf of Indonesia; to apologize to the Communists, to tell the truth about the genocides of 1965 and in East Timor, to stop the on-going genocide in West Papua, to halt the plunder of natural resources all over archipelago, to curb savage capitalism, legalize both Communists and atheists, and thoroughly reform education, upholding the secular Constitution of Indonesia.

Like in South Africa, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere, those who collaborated with the West, murdering and torturing their own citizens, should be exposed, arrested, and tried for treason and violation of basic human rights, instead of being allowed to join the government, or to run for office.

For Indonesia to prosper or at least to get out of the horrific state it is now in, it has to return to the pre-1965 era, and resume an independent, patriotic and socialist course, the sooner the better.

It is clear that Jokowi will not have guts to do all this. But at least he should create conditions for others to do what he, perhaps, does not even dare to dream about, yet.

In the meantime, the regressive forces have to be stopped. Indonesians should not allow themselves to be reduced to the level of Afghanistan, where the West has implanted and then supported the Wahhabi Mujahedin, in order to destroy socialism.

Right now, the two presidential candidates of Indonesia are claiming victory.

Polls are indicating that this time, again, Jokowi is the winner. However, at least 40%, and perhaps more, voted for a former fascist and murderous general.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

BRI Forum in Shanghai and how Western “Reports” are Smearing China

The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation is about to open in Beijing. It will take place from 25th to 27th April, 2019. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to deliver the keynote address.

It is expected to be an event of tremendous proportions and importance: leaders from 37 countries will participate, including Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and President Duterte of the Philippines. Beijing will host 5,000 guests from 150 countries, as well as 90 international organizations.

Africa – BRI: New China built highway

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has already been reshaping the world, fundamentally. Previously at the mercy of the Western imperialist powers, their armies, propaganda apparatuses and brutal financial institutions; Africa, the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia have suddenly discovered that they have alternatives and choices. For various parts of the world, decades and centuries of stagnation and humiliation under colonialist and post-colonialist regimes have begun to come to an end. Entire nations have been freeing themselves, realizing their great hidden potential.

All this because of BRI; because of China as well as its close ally, Russia.

Entire huge railroad projects in East Africa as well as in the once devastated Laos (devastated by the insanely brutal Western carpet-bombing campaigns, which are still called a “Secret War”) are now connecting continents. Along the railway lines, schools are growing, and so are medical facilities, community learning centers and cultural institutions.

BRI Project:  China building high speed train

The BRI is not only about the economy, not only about infrastructure and development, it is also about the well-being of the people, about the culture, health and knowledge. It is aiming at connecting people of different races, life philosophies, and beliefs.

And the rulers in the West are horrified. Nothing outrages them more than the prospect of losing absolute control over the world. For them, it is not (and never was) about improving the lives of hundreds of millions of impoverished people. They had centuries of absolute power over the planet, and all they did was to enrich themselves, murdering and robbing in all corners of the globe. For them, it is about ‘winning or losing’, about maintaining its colonies and ‘client’ states; by all means, even by the most brutal ones.

For China, (through BRI), it is all about spreading wealth everywhere. The firm belief in Beijing was and is: If the world is doing well, China will prosper, too.

*****

And so, in Washington and London, and in so many other centers of Western might, thousands of ‘professionals’ are now employed and busy smearing China and its most ambitious international (and internationalist) projects. Smearing and spreading nihilism is an extremely well-paid job, and for as long as China is rising and the West declining, it appears to be a permanent one. There will be no deficit when it comes to funding all those anti-Chinese ‘academic reports’, fake analyses and articles. The more of them, the better; the more ridiculous they get, the better remunerated they are.

Take this one, for instance: “Grading China’s Belt and Road”.

With all those footnotes and ‘references’, it looks professional and academic. It can impress millions of China-phobes and China-bashers in Europe and North America. Suffering from complexes of superiority and “Yellow-Peril mentality”, they are searching for, and then welcoming all vicious attacks against Beijing and its initiatives.

Look closer, and it is ‘reports’ like this that are clearly nothing more than thinly disguised propaganda work ordered by those who are aiming at discrediting China and its internationalist efforts.

In its Executive Summary, the report states:

Since its launch in 2013, what China calls “One Belt, One Road” has emerged as the corner- stone of Beijing’s economic statecraft. Under the umbrella of the Belt and Road, Beijing seeks to promote a more connected world brought together by a web of Chinese-funded physical and digital infrastructure. The infrastructure needs in Asia and beyond are significant, but the Belt and Road is more than just an economic initiative; it is a central tool for advancing China’s geo-political ambitions. Through the economic activities bundled under the Belt and Road, Beijing is pursuing a vision of the 21st century defined by great power spheres of influence, state-directed economic interactions, and creeping authoritarianism.1

As Beijing prepares to host the second Belt and Road Forum in late April 2019, countries that once welcomed Chinese investment have become increasingly vocal about the downsides. This report is intended to serve as a resource for governments, corporations, journalists, and civil society groups now re-evaluating the costs and benefits of Belt and Road projects…

In brief, it is propaganda; anti-Chinese propaganda, anti-Communist (or call it ‘anti-central-planning- propaganda).

It is also a tool for all those who are ready to criticize China, defining its marvelous efforts as a ‘debt trap’, among various other derogatory terms.

A leading academic at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), Roland G. Simbulan, agreed to analyze the origin of the CNAS report for this essay:

The April 2019 Report “Grading China’s Belt and Road” by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) seems to be one of the latest findings and studies of American conservative think tanks which are in fact aimed at discrediting China’s economic thrusts through China-financed infrastructure, land and sea transport, investments, etc. These are China’s answer to the U.S.’ global military build-up and encirclement of its fast rising rival superpower. China is trying to avoid the mistakes of the Western powers including the U.S. and the former USSR by not engaging in a tit for tat arms race. Instead, it is answering back with its Belt Road Initiative as well as other economic and market initiatives aimed at reinforcing China’s strengths while avoiding a direct attack on where the U.S. is strongest and has more advantage: the U.S. global military forces.

It is obvious from the backgrounds of the CNAS fellows who are authors of the report that they are all connected with the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. National Security Council. The American Enterprise Institute is a quasi-U.S. federal government think tank composed of recycled officials of the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of State. It is also obvious that they have consolidated the economic and political reports of all the U.S. intelligence community which are coordinated by the U.S. National Security Adviser.

And obviously, CNAS is not hiding where it stands, ideologically. It quotes such right-wing warriors as the French President, Emmanuel Macron, the International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the Minister of Energy in the defunct and discredited Ecuadorian government, Carlos Perez, and other unsavory figures.

Roland G. Simbulan continues:

While the CNAS Report may indeed have identified some of China’s vulnerabilities in the management of its China-funded projects which can easily merit criticism, i.e., sovereignty eroding, non-transparent, unsustainable financial burdens, locally disengaged, geopolitically risky, environmentally unsustainable, and corruption-prone), let us remember that China’s BRI was only launched in 2013. The U.S. and its Western Allies, including the multilateral institutions that they have created to assure U.S. neoliberal control of national economies since 1945 have engaged in practicing these “challenges” and dangers that it accuses China of initiating through BRI projects “for China’s geopolitical ambitions.

These may be valid as in the case of the 10 case studies identified by the CNAS Report. But it is too soon to make conclusions in such a short time from 2013-2018. For these are also practices that have long been inflicted by the U.S. Empire and its allies since the end of World War 2 to assure economic, political and military hegemony. Unintentionally, the seven (7) challenges or dangers of China’s BRI identified by the CNAS are really challenges that are continually being inflicted by the U.S. Empire and its Western allies on weaker and smaller countries. Precisely, many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are turning towards alternative international institutions such as ALBA in Latin America and BRI BECAUSE of the onslaught that they have long experienced with the PAX AMERICANA i.e. the U.S. and its allies.

Can the CNAS show that their sponsors and patrons are doing better, or can do better? The best way for the U.S. to counter the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) is to show AND prove that they can offer a better deal with developing countries in need of assistance for their infrastructure and development projects.”

*****

Mr. Sidqy LP Suyitno, an Indonesian high government official and former State Finance and Monetary Analysis Director of the Ministry of National Development Planning, is also puzzled by some of the wording in the report. When asked about the BRI project to build the bullet train from the Indonesian capital Jakarta to its city of Bandung, he contradicted the report:

Geopolitically Risky? It seems NOT to be. It seems more like making bilateral relations with Japan uncomfortable. The Japanese have been enjoying the benefits when it comes to relations with Indonesia, ever since Suharto’s dictatorship: the automotive industry is more like an oligopoly for Japanese cars in Indonesia. And what do we get back? We still don’t have our own car industry, our national car or our own national motorcycles production. Even though we have a very large “captive market”; in 2018, 1.1 million cars & 6.5 million motorcycles were sold in Indonesia.

Apparently, what he is referring to, is that while the Japanese car industry flooded Indonesia with its cars and badly polluting scooters, there were no benefits to the state or to the people of Indonesia. I can go much further and point out that according to my investigation, the Japanese car industry corrupted the government officials in most of the Southeast Asian countries, “convincing them” not to build public transportation, instead choking both cities and the countryside with outdated models of private motor vehicles, consequently bankrupting citizens in the process.

In brief: Japan has managed to ruin Southeast Asian cities, preventing them from developing public transportation. And now should it be trusted in such places like Indonesia to develop a high-speed rail system? Indonesia, Laos and Thailand do not think they should trust Japan too much. They trust China much more. And the same goes for the Philippines. Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, when re-elected last year, stopped several high-profile projects with China, but now, it seems, has been discovering an appetite for cooperation with Beijing.

But the report speaks (using unacademic language, suddenly) about how China poached the high speed train project from the Japanese.

Kenya – BRI: New modern train terminal in Nairobi

Professor Mira Lubis, from Tanjungpura University in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, stated for this essay, her hope that BRI could improve life and environment on her devastated island:

From what I know about BRI, I believe that its efforts would be mutually beneficial for both Indonesia and PRC. In Southeast Asia, the focus of BRI will be what could be described as the Maritime Silk Road. Indonesia is an archipelago with over 17,000 islands. Since 2014, our government is aiming at transforming Indonesia into what it calls the ‘Global Maritime Axis’. It means, developing ports and shipping lanes among other vital projects. This would be in synergy with BRI; BRI could strengthen Indonesia as a maritime power.

My island, Borneo, is ecologically damaged. I hope that it could directly benefit from the cooperation with China and its BRI. China is at the forefront of the struggle for ecological civilization, and I believe in its wisdom. I’m optimistic that BRI might help to bring sustainable development to Borneo.

*****

The CNAS report is ‘all over the place’, selectively attacking BRI and China for its involvement in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South Pacific (Oceania).

In his essay “China’s road to a win-win ahead of BRI forum” published by the Asia Times, renowned Brazilian analyst Pepe Escobar wrote:

Relentless reports that the New Silk Roads, or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are a perfidious neo-imperial debt trap set up by Yellow Peril 2.0 are vastly exaggerated.

Beijing clinched a proverbial showering of BRI deals with 17 Arab nations, including Egypt, Lebanon and Oman. Not by accident, the forum this year was called Build the Belt and Road, Share Development and Prosperity. Up to 2018, 21 Arab nations had signed BRI memoranda of understanding

These nations are not only BRI partners, but 12 of them also went for strategic partnerships with China…

Little wonder why!

Say China or BRI in Africa, just pronounce those names, and most of the people will show great enthusiasm. Every — even the Western surveys — clearly indicate that all over the continent, people harbor extremely positive feelings forwards China.

In Kenya (where I used to live), I repeatedly heard those who were working on countless Chinese projects, repeat:

This is the first time we are treated by the foreigners like human beings.

Kenya – BRI new government building in Nairobi

People in Europe and North America love to adopt ‘politically correct speech’, but words somehow do not translate into deeds. Chinese workers may sometimes be rough, but they treat Africans like brothers and sisters. They also try to compensate them as if they would be their own.

But the CNAS report only criticizes China’s involvement in Africa, while African voices are rarely allowed to penetrate the uniform and dogmatic Western mainstream media.

An influential Ugandan analyst and opposition figure, Arthur Tewungwa, wrote for this essay:

The basic assumption of Africans is that they are stupid and ignorant of history, politics, and the global financial arrangement of the world. The scaremongering of Chinese global domination does not really wash on a continent that is still under a sustained attack from the very forces that led us into slavery, colonialism and its manifestation, neo-colonialism. Using the Ugandan opposition’s criticisms of the government’s (a staunch ally of the US and its regional sheriff) misuse and theft of Chinese aid while ignoring the fact that the same has been going on for the last 30 years with IMF and World Bank funds which the opposition has been criticizing, confirms that assumption.

Ugandans don’t view China as a dangerous hegemon; they are still too busy trying to extract themselves from the current relationship with hegemon that has had its boot on the country’s neck for the last 300 years. The opposition criticism was aimed at the conduct of America’s principal, not the misrepresented intentions of China. The IMF and World Bank have not covered themselves in glory in Africa and ignoring that fact just plays more into China’s hands.

*****

In the South Pacific (Oceania) where I also spent several years of my life (writing a book about the plight of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia), CNAS dishonestly criticizes the BRI project in Vanuatu.

Let me be brutally frank here: The West has almost ruined the entire Oceania by its unbridled consumption, by neo-colonialist policies; from the Solomon Islands to the Marshall Islands. Global warming has caused the near disappearance of such wonderful countries like Kiribati, Marshall Island and Tuvalu.

What has the West done to save them? Nothing! Just dumping junk food on Samoa and Tonga, on the Federated States of Micronesia, or on the Marshall Islands (RMI).

China has patiently and full-heartedly been trying to help: by planting mangroves, building anti-tsunami walls, elevating government offices, schools and medical posts up on stilts. It has built stadiums in order to improve the health of the desperately obese local population (on some islands, around 90% of the population are suffering from diabetes).

And what has the West done, after observing the great success of China? It went to Taiwan, and as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the RMI, Tony de Brum explained to me, began ‘encouraging Taipei’ to bribe local governments, so they would recognize Taiwan as an independent country; something that even the West has not done. As a result, predictably, Beijing was forced to break diplomatic relations and to withdrow its help. The result: Taiwan has done nothing for Oceania. Only the ordinary people in South Pacific have become the victims.

Laos – BRI. Bridge over Mekong River for high-speed train

Those South Pacific countries that ‘stayed with China’ are doing incomparably better. Why don’t we hear about all this from the West-sponsored reports? Why do we only read dirt, as well as nihilist speculation? Why not facts? Why not the truth, that it is the West that is destroying the world, and has been for decades and centuries?

*****

BRI is not perfect, yet, but on the global scale, it is the best that humanity has right now. And it has been improving, month after month.

Ugandans had 300 years of horrors of ‘Western democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Latin Americans have been beaten into submission for over 500 years.

In Washington, London and Paris, they love to say: “we are all the same”. Such ‘logic’ washes out their crimes. It means: “everyone is as greedy and brutal as we are”. But, no, we are not the same! Cultures are different, on all corners of the globe. Some countries are expansionist, aggressive and obsessed with self-righteousness as well as complexes of superiority. Some are not. China is not. It never was. It never will be. If attacked or antagonized, it defends itself; and if threatened in the future, it will defend itself again. But it does not build its wealth on plunder, and on the corpses of the others, as the West has been doing for long centuries.

BRI is the exact contrast to the Western colonialism and imperialism. I say it not because I am defending some theory on these pages, but because I have seen the Chinese ‘New Silk Road’ in action, in places where I have lived and worked: Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, Latin America and Africa. In places where almost no one dares or cares to go: except for those few tough and ‘insane’ individuals like myself, and for the Chinese internationalists! I know such places intimately. Places where local people are almost never given an opportunity to speak; they never appear on the pages of the Western mass media, or on television screens, or in reports such as the one published by CNAS.

Until recently, their voices and lives mattered nothing. Now they do. They matter a lot.

These people exist; these people are alive; they want to breath, to live and to dream. I swear they do. And for them, especially for them, now exists the BRI!

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Lethal Fluctuations: The Death Penalty in Asia

The Malaysian government last year expressed a surprise change of heart on a policy long held dear; it would reconsider the death penalty. The case of Muhammad Lukman, sentenced to death in August for the purchase and sharing of medicinal marijuana, did much to stimulate outrage.  On October 10th, law minister Liew Vui Keong announced that it would be abolished.  Doing so would leave such last bastions as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In other parts, capital punishment is either continuing its grim dance (in Singapore, usage is on the rise; in Vietnam, it remains consistently high) or getting back in business, singing its deadly siren song.  Killing people in the name of state vengeance is becoming vogue even as it retreats in other contexts.  The Kingdom of Brunei, despite having it on the books since the days of being a British protectorate, is only now contemplating, in all seriousness, putting people to death who have a liking for, or find themselves committing, sodomy.  (Lesbian reverie will see a penalty of 40 lashes and a potential prison sentence of 10 years.)

In the Philippines, an aggressive, insistent President Rodrigo Duterte has proven something of a trail blazer, scorching his way through human rights quibbles and filling the morgues.   In July 2017, he explained the rationale for using capital punishment without mercy in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).  “It is time for us to fulfil our mandate to protect our people.  Tapos na’yan.  For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue.  Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s also about retribution.”

Duterte’s view of the penal code is stripped of ornate reasoning.  It is one of vengeance and pessimism, marshalled against any hope of restorative justice or therapeutic reform.  The law, a legacy of the Spaniards and then translated into English, with revisions, “is the essence of retribution.”  The attitude there involved “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  You took life, you must pay with it.  That is the only way to even.  You can’t place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight.”

The result has been one of carnage: over 5,000 deaths between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, if you believe the official figures, or the greater number of 12,000, if you believe in activist assessments.  This pool drew on a total of 164,265 arrests (“drug personalities”, no less) as part of 115,435 anti-drugs operations.

In Sri Lanka, the interest has also been rekindled, inspired, in no small part, by the blood lust of the Philippines leader.  The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena felt moved by Duterte’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, a true “example to the world”.  “I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two.  I appeal to human rights organisations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”  From a prison population of 1299 facing capital punishment, 48 are convicted drug offenders.

The Sri Lankan case had a twist.  While Sirisena had announced an end to the 43-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related crimes, complemented by Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s clearing of the decks for five drug convicts to be dispatched, a reality started to sink in: the state lacked the necessary trained instruments of death.  The moratorium had been so lengthy so as to make the system rust.  Expertise in breaking necks, in other words, was lacking. The last executioner to reach retirement age left the post in 2014.  Three others have spent short stints gazing at unused gallows without rewarded effort.

Advertisements to fill the vacancy were duly put out for two hangmen.  In the Daily News, a call out for applications with “an excellent moral character” was made.  They would also have to pass a test of “mind and mental strength”.

Such debates about the formalised death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka avoid the obvious point.  Where to with the death squads who have donned extra-judicial uniforms?  Duterte’s encouragement of police brutality and extra-judicial killings (“my only sin,” he claims) is the stuff of legend.  Sri Lanka can also count itself as an enthusiast in the extra-judicial killing game.  In some states, the death penalty, dormant or otherwise, is a reminder about how state operatives go about their business of sowing terror when they prefer to avoid courts.

While the death penalty has, at its core, a flawed philosophy, its attractiveness often lies in its sheer conclusiveness.  Such decisions are final, doing away with the problem.  They are economic – a corpse is less of a strain on the public purse than a living inmate.  To that end, imposing the death penalty can result from trivial impulses.

Such monstrous triviality was recently in play in Thailand. In Phuket, the airport authorities have been entertaining the possibility of grave punishments for those taking “selfies” on Mai Khao Beach, a site known for sightings of low, incoming aircraft.

“People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos,” an emphatic Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam has claimed.  He issued further warnings: no drones, no shining lights, quite frankly nothing at all to distract incoming planes, would be tolerated.  Violating the provisions of the Air Navigation Act was a matter, quite literally, of death.  “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”  Distractive idiocy, the authorities in Phuket suggest, is no excuse.

Lobbies and Belated Groundings: Boeing’s 737 Max 8

Lobbies, powerful interests and financial matters are usually the first things that come to mind when the aircraft industry is considered.  Safety, while deemed of foremost importance, is a superficial formality, sometimes observed in the breach.  To see the camera footage of the wreckage from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 was to be shocked by a certain irony: cameras were found lingering over an inflight safety cards on what to do in the event of an emergency.  For those on board that doomed flight, it was irrelevant.

The deaths of all 157 individuals on board the flight en route to Nairobi from Addis Ababa on Sunday might have caused a flurry of panicked responses.  There had been a similar disaster in Indonesia last year when Lion Air’s flight JT610 crashed killing 189 people.  Two is too many, but the response to the disasters was initially lethargic.

Concern seemed to centre on the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), deemed vital to prevent the aircraft from stalling.  Sensors within the MCAS might, according to accident investigator Geoffrey Dell, have sent “spurious signals to the flight management computers and resulting in the autopilot automatically pushing the nose of the aircraft down”.  If so, then the ability to manually counter those actions, a safety design feature of previous aircraft autopilots, would have to be questioned.  Troubling Dell was another question: why did the pilots fail to disconnect the autopilot when it played up?  Ditto the auto throttle system itself.

When it comes to safety in the aviation industry, powerful players tend to monetise rather than humanise their passengers.  A company like Boeing is seen as much as a patriot of the US defence industry as a producer of passenger aircraft. The company’s presence in Washington is multiple and vast, characterised by the buzzing activity of some two dozen in-house lobbyists and twenty lobbying firms. Lobbyists such as John Keast, a former principal at Cornerstone Government Affairs, have links with lawmakers such as Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi nurtured since the days he was chief of staff.  Wicker spokeswoman Brianna Manzelli was, however, keen to narrow that influence supposedly wielded by Keast in a statement made to CNN.  “While at Cornerstone Government Affairs, John Keast lobbied for a variety of clients including Boeing on defence issues only.”

Such combined lobbying efforts cost $15 million last year alone, which makes Boeing’s contribution relatively small to trade groups, but significant in terms of outdoing such competitors as Lockheed Martin.  Added to the fact that CEO Dennis Muilenburg has an open channel to the White House, the campaign favouring the Max 8’s continued, and unmolested operation, was hitting gear.  A Tuesday call made by the executive to Trump after the president’s tweet on the dangers posed by complex systems suggested some serious pull.

For a time, it seemed that the lobby was doing its customary black magic, and winning, attempting to douse fires being made by the likes of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Union calling for a temporary grounding of the Max 8.  Certain pilots had noticed control issues while operating the Max 8 over US airspace.

Boeing initially convinced the Federal Aviation Administration, which failed to note in a surly statement from Acting FAA administrator Daniel K. Elwell any “systematic performance issues” worthy of grounding the model.  “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.  In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”

This statement stood in stark contrast to that of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.  “Currently, there is no clear indication for the actual cause of accidents in Indonesia & Ethiopia, and no evident risk management measures or any mechanism to ensure the safety of 737 Max 9 aircraft from the aircraft manufacturer.”

The lobby’s traction has gradually slowed on the Hill, and its tittering has, at least for the moment, started to lose conviction.  Calls started to come from lawmakers that the 737 model needed to be looked at.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested grounding the aircraft as a “prudent” measure. “Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public.”  Democratic senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) were also itching to convince the FAA to ground the Max 8 “until the agency can conclusively determine that the aircraft be operated safely.”

Other lawmakers, ever mindful of Boeing’s influence in their states, preferred to leave the regulators to their task.  Till then, the planes would be permitted to continue taking to the skies.  “Right now,” cautioned Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chair of the subcommittee overseeing aviation and a political voice for a state hosting an important Boeing facility, “the important thing is that relevant agencies are allowed to conduct a thorough and careful investigation.”

It was President Donald Trump who ultimately decided to reverse the earlier decision by regulators permitting the aircraft to continue flying.  The emergency order put the US in step with safety regulators in 42 other countries. “I didn’t want to take any chances,” explained Trump.  But ever mindful of Boeing’s shadowy hold, the president added a qualifying note. “We could have delayed it.  We maybe didn’t have to make it at all.  But I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of other ways.”

The FAA’s continued “data gathering”, previously deemed insufficient to warrant a grounding despite the quick response in other countries, had led to the opposite conclusion.  This included “newly refined satellite data available to the FAA”.  But Elwell was unwilling to eat anything resembling humble pie. “Since this accident occurred we were resolute that we would not take action until we had data.  That data coalesced today.”  A coalescence demonstrating, in more concrete terms, how safety, while important, tends to lag in the broader considerations of profit and operation in the aviation industry.

Southeast Asia Terribly Damaged but Lauded by West

Come to Southeast Asia and enjoy beaches, cheap sex and raunchy massage parlors. Hang around this part of the world in whichever way you like; wearing flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts. You were told that ‘everything is easy here, that things are cheap and people are friendly and happy’. Do what you want, as almost everything is allowed, especially if you are from the West, and have plenty of cash and some credit cards in your pockets.

That’s what your simplified perception of Southeast Asia is supposed to be. This stereotype has been created, refined and fine-tuned, then finally hammered into the subconscious of the people in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. It has been done consistently, for many years and decades, until these lies, repeated a thousand times, have replaced reality. As a result, tens of millions of holiday-makers, sexual tourists, adventurers and single men on power trips, descend on Southeast Asia, annually. Most of them do not see anything, and they do not hear. Most of them leave for home after getting suntanned, a bit fatter, and much more confident. They come with clearly formed ideas, and they leave without learning much.

Most of the ‘visitors’ do not want to be disturbed by reality, because the reality could be extremely unsavory, even horrifying.

The ‘hidden’ and extremely uncomfortable truth is: most of Southeast Asia is actually absolutely unfit for tourism. It is deeply, and terribly injured, even, a broken part of the world which has never been allowed to leave its brutal, feudal system behind.

Its people are barely surviving in the straight-jacket of extreme capitalism. All sorts of imported rubbish, from brainless pop music to the lowest grade of Hollywood films, junk food, mass media and ‘fashion’ as well as ‘me-me-me habits’ have been put to work in order to irreversibly ruin their traditional cultures. Generally, people here are unhappy; often thoroughly confused. Societies from Thailand to Indonesia and the Philippines are becoming increasingly violent. At the same time, the politically ‘pacified’ population does not rebel against the rulers in the West or its own servile elites: right-wing political and religious extremism are often the only ‘answers’ to popular outrage.

The land of Southeast Asia is devastated, as it is nowhere else on our planet; in fact, it has been totally plundered by unbridled mining, logging, palm oil and rubber plantations. The extraction of natural resources is done in a monstrous fashion; often by poisoning rivers with mercury, by cutting most of the primary forests down or by flattening entire mountains. From an airplane, places like the island of Borneo or Peninsular Malaysia appear as nothing less than hell on earth.

This vast part of the world with a total population of around 650 million, does not count on any renowned thinkers or scientists, and with the exception of Vietnam (which is Communist and therefore to a greater degree different) on even one single globally renowned writer or a film director.

All this is not supposed to be discussed ‘like this’; in this fashion. Writers and filmmakers, local and foreign both, are discouraged from describing and documenting what is right in front of their own eyes.

But why? How come that Southeast Asia has managed to escape almost entirely all the scrutiny by the Western mainstream media?

Half-wreck of Southeast Asia

It is because what I have just described above is nothing else other than a result of the monstrous mass murder, plunder and destruction, which has been perpetrated by the West. It has been happening all over here; in all corners of Southeast Asia. The destruction has been so appalling and frightening, that almost no liberals in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Canberra or Washington are willing to acknowledge it, instead sticking to bizarre clichés and glorification of the state to which the victims have been reduced to; in which they are forced to live.

Entire teams of academics, notably those at the Australian National University (ANU), but also at several other institutions, continuously repeat the official Western dogma, which describes Indonesia as ‘a normal country’.

But isn’t this what the so-called Western ‘political correctness’ is all about? Doesn’t it work like this: “A country is attacked, left-wing government gets overthrown, corrupt leaders put on thrones; then natural resources get plundered, and extreme right-wing ‘elites’ fully subservient to the West quickly steal everything from their country and people, while dutifully sharing the booty with Western corporations. The population gets indoctrinated, totally brainwashed and the opposition either murdered or scared into submission. And then, and then, the West ‘shows great respect’ for that local ‘culture’ and for ‘local people’. Read: respect for its own Frankenstein; for its own creations.

It goes without saying that this gangrenous monster which the West first created and then ordered everyone to ‘respect’, has nothing to do with the culture and ‘the people’.

In the end, the victims themselves, get methodically conditioned with tools such as mass media, ‘education’, and continuous propaganda dispensed by the political regime. They stop being aware of their own conditions. They become resigned.They become religious, submissive. They blame and fight each other, but never the true oppressors; never the regime.

The victims often feel they are not well, but they have no idea, why?

*****

For centuries, Southeast Asia suffered terribly at the hands of the French, Dutch, US and British colonizers. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the US forces brutally massacred around 1 million Filipinos, in their Asian colony.

Official independence from European and North American colonial masters did not stop the suffering of the people.

After WWII, no other part of the world endured more Western massacres and terror than Southeast Asia. Not even Africa, the Middle East or Latin America. The numbers are truly striking.

The West’s lovely ‘holiday destinations’ inhabited by ‘friendly locals’, were carpet-bombed, and poisoned by chemical weapons. Millions of people were slaughtered; by injected military regimes, by monarchs, by elites and military juntas. Not unlike in Latin America, but with numbers astronomically higher, because the West never considered Asian people to be equal human beings (For instance: around 2 million Indonesians were slaughtered during the 1965 military coup of General Suharto. The coup perpetrated by General Pinochet in Chile, in 1973, took lives of 2-3 thousand people. Adjusted to the numbers of people living in both countries, Indonesia still lost approximately ten times more people than Chile).

Everyone knows about the suffering of Vietnam, under French brutal colonial rule, and then, during the terrorist war unleashed against the country by the US and its allies. But no one really knows, precisely, how many Vietnamese people died. The number of victims goes in to millions. At least 4 million Vietnamese citizens vanished.

 

Laos and the so-called ‘side-kick’ or ‘Secret War’ was even worse, on a per capita basis. Hundreds of thousands vanished in this sparsely populated country, which is inhabited by humble and gentle people. Strategic B-52 bombers were deployed against farmers and their water buffalos, using evil cluster bombs that are, to this day, killing thousands, all over the Laotian countryside. There was no reason for this brutal, monstrous genocide, except some abstract ‘concern’ in Washington that this poor nation could follow Vietnam’s example and ‘go Communist’ (it did, after it tasted true Western ‘democracy’, literally on its skin).

Cambodia – a country where the West nurtured corrupt and brutal elites in Phnom Penh, and then began the same monstrous carpet-bombing campaign as in Laos, against unarmed, desperately poor peasants, using B-52s, killing hundreds of thousands, and displacing millions. People lost their minds from the horrors of the bombing. They were also driven from their land, and began dying from famine. Dismal situation opened doors to Khmer Rouge, which the US decisively supported (on the battlefield and at the UN), even after this deranged murderous group got defeated by heroic Communist forces of Vietnam.

Thailand – country which has been choked by car industry and monstrous form of extreme capitalism, while upholding its backward feudal system. Thailand with countless military coups designed to sustain pro-Western monarchy. Thailand, which accepted on its turf part of defeated Chinese anti-Communist army, and ‘put it to work ‘almost immediately’, allowing it to massacre substantial part of its own left-wing movements. Thai state that massacred and raped its own students, and butchering thousands of Cambodian refugees. Thailand that technically attacked both Vietnam and Laos, by flying Air America missions against those countries, opening its airports to the West, while selling its own women in countless brothels in Pattaya and elsewhere, to the Western pilots and ground staff.

Indonesia, where the 1965 US and UK -sponsored military coup against left-wing President Sukarno and (then) the third largest Communist Party in the world (PKI), took the lives of between 1 and 3 million people, installing perhaps the most grotesque fascist extreme-capitalist regime on earth. Indonesia, where all the great artists and thinkers were killed, or imprisoned in the Buru concentration camp, and, where the West helped to install a totally brainless system de-intellectualizing the nation and forcing it back to the Middle Ages. Indonesia, where secularism is now collapsing, and where, during the upcoming April 2019 elections, voters will decide between an inept and weak pro-capitalist leader, and a truly fascist military mass murderer.

East Timor (Timor Leste) – a tiny country which was overrun by Indonesia in 1975, shortly after it gained independence from Portugal, under the leadership of the left-wing FRETILIN movement. The right-wing dictator of Indonesia – Suharto – declared that he was ‘not going to tolerate a second Cuba near its shores’, and got a big pat on his back, as well as full support from the US, UK and Australia. The result: around 30% of the entire population of East Timor vanished during the occupation. Countless Indonesian leaders, including the former President ‘SBY’, served there. If Indonesia was a ‘normal country’, these individuals would now be facing long jail sentences for genocide, or in some cases, a firing squad.

In West Papua – hundreds of thousands of people have already died, also under the Indonesian genocidal occupation, which is fully supported by the West, because Papua, like Borneo (which is known in Indonesia as Kalimantan) is getting thoroughly plundered by multi-national companies, of course, under the careful supervision of Indonesian military forces. Horrors like the state-sponsored ‘trans-migration’ policy, designed to make people of Papua a minority on their own island, are ongoing and relentless. The people, who have lost everything under the occupation, are forced to convert to Islam, and they are also forced to abandon their way of life and their land. What Indonesia does in West Papua is nothing less than genocide. It is not only the killing and rape, of which its military could be accused of.

The plunder of Papuan resources is as deadly for many other reasons; it is like if the force would be used to ‘open up’ vast parts of the Amazonia or Orinoco basins in South America – areas inhabited by indigenous tribes that have never come in contact with the outside world. Even the most insane right-wing presidents of Brazil or Venezuela (of the past), would never dream about such brutal genocidal undertakings (although this may change under the fascist presidency of Bolsonaro in Brazil). In West Papua, dozens of fragile cultures are disappearing. People who have never come into contact with the ‘outside world’ are being forced out of their rainforest, as trees are cut down and mining companies, backed by the Indonesian armed forces, ransack the land. Defenseless tribal people are dying from diseases and hunger, at the same time as corrupt Indonesian officials and businessmen are burning money in Jakarta’s overprized malls, as well as in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong. And now, thousands of Western tourists fly into West Papua, to Raja Ampat, which is becoming an ‘in place’ for diving!

Malaysia had its own share of inter-religious conflicts, although never at the level of neighboring Indonesia. Nature in Malaysia, almost like in Indonesia, is totally devastated, due to massive palm oil plantations and mining.

The Philippines lived through horrific decades of US neo-colonialism, experiencing the similar extreme capitalism that has been imposed on Indonesia. Only in the recent years, sound social policies have been introduced, and a moratorium on mining, at least in some parts of the Mindanao Island, has been enforced.

Brunei, one of the richest exporters of oil on earth, is now governed by Sharia Law, which, at least in theory, allows amputations, flogging, stoning and other religious practices. Another place where such regressive brutality is officially allowed is in an autonomous province of Indonesia – Aceh.

*****

I worked in this apart of the world for decades. I covered countless horrors and conflicts in Indonesia. I used to live in Hanoi, and I covered in-depth the situation in Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Papua. I covered East Timor, during the occupation, and was tortured there by Indonesian forces. It happened after I exposed mass rape in Ermera town.

Right now, I am working on a detailed and shocking documentary film about the total environmental destruction of Borneo.

As a local (I actually feel like a ‘local’ in all parts of the world), I often look at the Western travelers visiting this part of the world, and I am wondering, sincerely: are they really so ignorant about the past and the present of Southeast Asia? Or perhaps, are they making sure not to know?

Are they ‘enjoying themselves’, surrounded by devastated nature, privatized and ruined beaches, and a deranged culture? Do they feel powerful, unique, superior, because their countries managed to destroy the entire Southeast Asia, bringing it into shameful submission? Is it, at least partially, why they are here?

Don’t they see? The Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok have become thoroughly grotesque: everything has been stolen along the coasts, people forced out of their dwellings, and the culture has been fully ruined. Bali suffers from traffic jams and pollution, from over-population, poverty and filth. There is hardly anything pristine there, now. ‘Culture’ is only for sale!

The coastline of Thailand is totally finished. The once pristine islands are now dotted with mass-produced, low quality market towns, with makeshift bungalows and ugly concrete structures. There are standardized, repetitive ‘offerings’, most of them of extremely low-quality. There are Thai and Western ‘beach food’, bad old (Western) pop music, countless massage parlors and ersatz bars. There is almost nothing truly Thai left on the Thai coastline. Thai women, the poorest of the poor, many from the north of the country, walk in flip-flops and tasteless T-shirts hand in hand with Western grandfathers, some of them in their 80’s. What a sight!

Everything feels ‘forced’, unnatural, and in terrible taste: in Indonesian ‘resorts’, on the Thai coast, and in the bars of the Philippines, as well as in Cambodia.

In and around Phnom Penh, ‘genocide tourism’ has reached its peak. It is fueled and sponsored by countless Western NGO’s, which are literally pimping the terrible Cambodian past as ‘proof’ that ‘Communism is evil’. Not a word about the fact that most of people who died here, were actually victims of the Western carpet-bombings and consequent famines, and that the Khmer Rouge was in reality a US-sponsored band of freaks, who knew very little about Communist ideology (I spent substantial time talking to them, deep in jungle, and most of them admitted that they had no clue about Marxism or Communism, when they were in power). But to the Westerners, genocide tourism is something thrilling, it represents ‘something new’; ‘something they did not experience before’. It is good for selfies and for colorful pub stories back at home. And Cambodia is now making huge money out of all this, willing to twist its own horrid past, just to gain some cash. Go to the villages and talk to people: they know the truth. But almost nobody goes. Not even the Western media.

The West has totally stolen historic narrative, all over Southeast Asia. Academia in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand is deeply influenced, and manipulated from abroad. ‘Soft power’ is being used; scholarships, funding and invitations to the ‘academic exchanges’.

Both the academic narrative and the mass media in Southeast Asia, are now much more “Westernized” than in the West itself.

*****

Clichés about this part of the world are mostly incorrect, in fact, surreal.

Despite the fact that it is suffering from the horrid religious intolerance, racism and perpetual conflicts and tensions, Indonesia is portrayed in the West as ‘tolerant’. Not having one single political party that would represent the majority (which is poor), it is branded as ‘democratic’. A place where a Chinese, black, white or Papuan person can hardly make few steps without being insulted on the street, or being mocked for his or her appearance, Indonesia is described by the Western mass media as ‘friendly’.

 

Artwork at BACC, before Thai election

Thailand is the same.  A staunch ally of the West during the so-called Vietnam War, and ‘fight against Communism’, the Kingdom is portrayed as ‘Land of Smiles’. In fact, it has higher homicide rate per capita than the United States, and more female tourists are raped here, annually, than in South Africa. Smiles are reserved only for those who are ready to pay any price, without demanding much in return. Any confrontation here can easily deteriorate to violence. The West hardly ever criticizes outrageous capitalist models of Thailand or Indonesia, as well as collapsed infrastructure and inhuman city planning that is prioritizing motor vehicles and ruthless real estate developers over people. Bangkok and Jakarta are much more polluted than the Chinese cities, and Thai and Indonesian governments do almost nothing to change the situation. But, cliché says that it is dangerous to go to Beijing due to the air quality, while Bangkok or Jakarta are hardly ever mentioned.

*****

In Southeast Asia, deafening noise is often administered, in order to silence fear. Thinking is discouraged. It is considered impolite to discuss, to face terrible past and the present. Brainless banging into the phones is recommended. Social media is used here much more than anywhere in the world. While some countries like Indonesia have the lowest readership of books on earth, per capita.

In Hanoi:  Monument to Western Atrocities

Southeast Asia had been living through genocides, coups, and total submission to the Western masters and to savage capitalism. It has been robbed of its nature, and of natural resources. Its population has been ‘pacified’, forced into obedience and submission. Extreme religious concepts have been injected and upheld from abroad. Only in the Philippines is the situation now gradually changing. In Vietnam, the state is still strongly resisting subversion from the West, although the country had also been damaged to a great degree, by Western NGOs and social media. Elsewhere, it is getting much worse.

Laos is now moving closer to China, which is literally pulling this beautiful and sparsely populated nation out of slumber, building a high speed rail system, infrastructure, factories, dams, schools and hospitals. But the more China does for Laos, the more it is demonized by the West, by its press, academia and the NGOs. It is now one big battle over Laos. However, it is clear that the Laotian people are benefiting greatly from their proximity to China, after being literally ruined by French colonialism and the Western “Secret Wars”.

On purpose, here, I don’t mention Burma, as there, the situation is extremely complex, and ‘specific’. But later this year, I expect to publish a detailed report on the topic.

*****

Southeast Asia is clearly a victim. It is also an ‘untold story’. Deep, dark story.

With the exception of Singapore and to some extent Malaysia, it is a devastated, an impoverished victim. It is also a ‘time bomb’. People here are discontent, often desperate. Often, they do not know why. Unlike in Latin America and Africa, where the political awareness of the victims is extremely high, here the victims often believe that they are treated justly and that ‘this is the only way how the society can be arranged and governed’.

If someone travels here, searching for ‘culture’ and ‘new ways to understand life’, they should think twice. In most of Southeast Asian countries, the local culture was thoroughly uprooted. What they will see are some folk shows for foreigners, hardly ever attended by locals. Most of the native music venues, as well as theatrical and other art forms, have been replaced by the most vulgar Western entertainment, by video games and naturally, by social media.

Western men often feel good here. It is because in Southeast Asia, ‘they have won’. They are often ‘respected’ here, just for being both men, and white. They are respected, the same way as the French, Dutch and British colonialists used to be respected here, a century ago. Not loved, not admired, but esteemed for belonging to the race and culture that managed to conquer, destroy and then to give orders.

In fact, for those who want to relive those days of imperialist ‘grandeur’, this is the perfect place to visit.

Naturally, Southeast Asia is glorified by the West, with the exception of the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos (and Burma, for different reasons) — countries that are trying to get away from Western dictates.

It is because this part of the world is ‘perfect’ in the eyes of rulers of the Empire. Here, human lives are freely sacrificed for the profits of corporations, both Western and local, like when a pedestrian here has to wait until the cars pass by; entire villages have to give way to the mining venues and to palm oil plantations. Social services for the citizens are not something secondary, but tertiary, almost irrelevant. Profit is all that matters. The well-being of the citizens is hardly considered.

The West is almost never criticized here. Like in any ‘good’ feudal society, the West is seen as a ‘daddy’. It is severe, but always right. It beats its ‘children’, but gives directions. Religions help to reinforce this sort of obedience, which in many other parts of the world would be synonymous with the Middle Ages.

The local ‘elites’, in the meantime, are ‘having a ball’. They govern unopposed. They are only accountable to the much bigger, mostly Western, power. They can do anything they want with their subjects. They drive their super expensive sedans and SUVs, purchased with funds stolen from the poor, and the poor bow, and bend, prostrating themselves in great respect, fear, servility and admiration.

And they do the same in front of the West.

In brief: perfect societies, observed from New York, Canberra, London or Paris.

And in Bali or Phuket, women dressed in traditional clothes dance in 5-star hotels, roll their big eyes, and twist their slender arms. In order for the foreign visitors to say: “What a great culture!” While, of course, the true great culture was killed by the military pro-Western regimes; choked and murdered in the concentration camps and inside the army barracks.

The only victims of this ‘perfect’ state of things, are the poor; in fact, the great majority in Southeast Asia (no matter what the official statistics say). But who really cares about them?

*****

Did most of the Southeast Asian countries really gain their independence some decades ago? Were the famous merdeka shouts just a big farce? Is it true that Thailand was ‘never colonized’? Is this entire huge region still a de facto colony? And if it is, can the situation change?

These are not just rhetorical questions; they are real. And the answers to them are never simple.

The People of Southeast Asia were violated, robbed and then encircled by pseudo-reality; by lies about their past and present. They were told that they are well, happy, and that what they are experiencing is progress, freedom and democracy. They were also ordered to believe that what their usurper, the West, represents, is synonymous with ‘good governance’ and honesty. Many of them have never encountered any alternative views.

After burying tens of millions of corpses, and after having their rainforests, rivers and mountains thoroughly ruined, most of the Southeast Asians are still convinced that their tormentors are fully qualified to control the world.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Indonesian Tsunami: Thievery, Ineptness and Presidential Elections

How low can a country governed by an unbridled greed, a notorious lack of morals and ubiquitous servility to its neo-colonialist masters, really sink?

And how can people tolerate lies, the naked cynicism and fanatical incompetence of the rulers? Can the regime in Indonesia, which was created in 1965, and then nurtured by the West, really get away with absolutely everything, even, literally, murder?

As I write this report, it has been confirmed that the tsunami which struck West Java on the 22nd of December, 2018, killed hundreds of people. It is almost certain that the death toll will soon climb to thousands.

Most houses destroyed belong to the poor

Yesterday, I drove to West coast of Java. I witnessed devastation, but I also observed, as on so many previous occasions, absolute collapse of the state functions, its phlegmatic unwillingness to mobilize, as well as absolutely shocking helplessness of the victims.

During an entire day, along the entire coast, I did not encounter one single foreign journalist, while the local press, corrupt and unprofessional, kept reporting only what it was paid and ordered to report, even arranging ‘positive’ shots, instead of exposing harsh reality.

*****

I gave myself 3 hours to write this report; only 3 hours, and not a minute more. That is how long my late evening flight from Jakarta to Bangkok will last. There is no time to delay what has to be urgently said. No time for ‘flowery reporting’. People are dying. Now it is December 25. The day before yesterday it was announced that at least 222 human lives were terminated. Yesterday the count stood at 370. Now, before my plane takes off, it is close to 500. What should we expect tomorrow; a thousand? Are we going to be informed in one week that several thousand men, women and children were swept away, crashed, torn apart, drowned, and starved to death?

Miserable structures could not withstand tidal wave

As in 2004 when a quarter of million people, mostly in Aceh, vanished after a devastating tidal wave, I have to repeat now what I declared then: in Indonesia, it is not a tsunami that murders; it is not at all. The regime imposed on this miserably poor country by the West, in 1965, reduced the entire archipelago to a monolithic, unproductive, resigned, awfully religious cluster of islands stripped off almost all of its natural resources as well as original fauna and flora; islands polluted, inhabited by uneducated and increasingly aggressive and intolerant people; both victimizers and victims at the same time.

These people cannot fight or resist anymore. They only brutalize each other, never their immoral rulers.

*****

She lost everything

Mrs. Rani from Cinangka, Anyer, used to be the owner of a tiny restaurant selling fresh fish from the nearby sea. Now she is standing next to her destroyed hut. First, she appears to be angry, but then she breaks down, begins hugging us desperately as if we were her last hope, crying bitterly:

The government does nothing, absolutely nothing for us. President Jokowi passed by here, in his motorcade, but he did not even slow down, at least to ask and see how we are doing. Nobody cares about us!

When the tsunami hit, we were sleeping. And my husband and I went out of the house and ran to that coconut tree across the road; you see, over there… In my mind, I still see my grilled fish tiny restaurant (warung) as if it was standing and safe. People shouted at us to go further up the hill, towards a safer place. But when we returned in the morning, to search for our house and restaurant, we were shocked – it was totally looted out by thugs!

Now, not only don’t I have a place to live, anymore, my only source of income is also gone.

As always when natural or man-made disasters strike in Indonesia, the only things one can hear are the sobs of the victims and the ridiculous honking of the sirens and horns, most of them belonging to private cars that are pretending to be on an important ‘mission’.

Those who survived are in terrible shock

But almost nothing moves. Heavy equipment like bulldozers and excavators, are there, but standing still, drivers and operators are either smoking or just staring in the distance. The sky is empty – no helicopters, no amphibious planes have been visible for the entire day that I worked in the area (later I was confidentially told that Indonesia doesn’t really have enough choppers, and hardly any pilots trained to fly them).

The entire coast is covered by Poskos (posts) that are, at least in theory, erected there, in order to provide relief to the victims. But most of them belong to political parties, or to religious organizations, interested only in showing off and in promoting their own agenda. There are extreme-right-wing groups like Pemuda Pancasila, with members snapping selfies of each other: or having leisure lunches and dinners at what had still survived of the local restaurants.

Religious cadres laughing while promoting their own agenda

Islamists in white robes are pointing their thumbs towards the sky, laughing loudly and ridiculously, and shouting “Prabowo – Sandi” referring to the presidential and vice-presidential candidate. Prabowo, a former army general, is a brutal military man, known to have committed countless crimes against humanity while serving in the plundered West Papua, and during the anti-government demonstration that rocked the capital many years ago. His posters are visible everywhere along the coast, and his people pose for cameras and for mobile phones, promoting their movement all along the ruined beaches.

Poskos are always full of people, those individuals who are constantly pushing their idiotic speeches, shouting slogans, but above all, taking photos of each other. I saw something similar in 2004 in Aceh. While the Japanese, Singaporeans and other foreigners were working, desperately trying to save the lives of the victims, the Indonesian NGO’s and ‘volunteers’ were laughing, taking photos of each other, and promoting their religious and political agendas.

Disaster or no disaster, almost every man here is puffing on his cigarette. There is always plenty of time for religion, for taking selfies, for a little cyber chat, and, of course, for a smoke. And while everyone is busy banging into their phones and exhaling smoke, almost no one is working.

This is a perfect warning to the world: what happens to a country fully abandoned to Western neo-colonialism, to religion, consumerism, corruption, as well as intellectual and moral void.

We are passing Posko PKS Peduli (Post of the ‘PKS Care’). PKS party belongs to Prabowo’s coalition. The post is well-visible, noticeable, full of slogans. It is there solely to attract voters, not to save victims.

****

After progressing further south, we exit the main road at Sukarame Village, drive again, then walk up to a hill, towards a ‘camp’, where the people displaced by the nearby coastal disaster area are supposed to be taken care of by the authorities.

What we encounter there is self-explanatory, and I make sure to record the situation visually.

As elsewhere in Indonesia, the area is overtaken by thugs who are ‘regulating traffic’ and arranging parking spaces, for a fee. For them, as for almost everyone else with the exception of the victims, all of this is a great business opportunity. They are bossing drivers around, maximizing both space and the profits. At one point it begins to rain.

We are following displaced people. Soon, a ‘tent city’ appears.

It consists of three tents at the lower part of the hill, and of few more a bit higher up. The tents are blue, and they are not yet assembled.

“Is that all?” I ask a man who is smoking even in the rain, periodically snapping his own selfie.

“Yes, it is,” he answers, phlegmatically.

Mr. Karid from Cibenda village recalls:

My son who is the caretaker of a villa on the coast, suffers from a broken leg and he lost one of his children. This grandson of mine was only 6 years old. I had to go back and forth between taking care of my son and also taking care of the funeral of my grandchild.

No one seems to be paying attention to the victims. They were told that the second wave may hit at any moment, and they are moving up, towards the highest ground, spontaneously.

“Do they help you?” We ask.

“Not really,” comes the reply, immediately. By now, it is a quite standard answer. “They don’t even give us real food”.

Police posing, doing nothing

Then it happens: some 20 police officers on expensive motorcycles, wearing yellow wests, arrive on the scene.

They walk slowly towards those parts of the tents lying on the grass and begin… Not working, no: they begin posing!

I film.

There are two men, one photographing for social media, the other in police uniform, giving precise instruction to the police officers, how to stand and how to pretend that they are actually working.

I keep filming.

Slowly, extremely slowly, those 20 well-fed men began putting together the frame of one tent. Others watched smoking and photographing.

After one part of the tent was assembled, police officers gathered in a circle and began chatting.

It was now raining, heavily. Victims were slowly walking by: no one pays any attention to them.

Down at the side of the road, I saw something that may resemble a local TV crew, dragging the operator of a huge excavator, to his cabin. A man climbed up, put his hands on the control, and… nothing. No roar of the engine, no movement. He was being photographed from below. When he climbed down, he is interviewed, his idle heavy equipment clearly visible behind his back.

Not far from the scene, people are searching through the rubble, for their belongings, for their ID papers and who knows, perhaps even for their loved ones.

While the Indonesian public and the world is shown what they are supposed to see: a natural disaster and the nation mobilizing to help its fellow citizens.

But nothing moves. Only those countless vehicles belonging to the NGOs and the right-wing political parties (there are no left-wing parties in this country), are blocking the streets, creating traffic jams. People on board are honking, blasting sirens, trying to look macho and determined, while doing nothing substantial, except what they do all their lives: smoking, sitting in endless traffic jams, and listening to junk music.

And the people, hundreds or perhaps thousands of them, are dying just a few meters away.

*****

And the sky is still clear: there are no helicopters or airplanes, even when it begins to rain, or when it stops raining.

And there are no battleships visible near the coast.

The Indonesian army has been well known for fighting, killing and raping its women and children, after the 1965 military coup, or in East Timor or now, in West Papua. It is also very good at protecting Western mining companies against the people, local victims. It is not here to defend its citizens: on the contrary. It commonly commits treason, but instead of being court-martialed and facing a firing squad, it is being praised and continuously rewarded with cash, training and equipment from the West.

The same can be said about the Indonesian academia and media. They are not here to tell the truth and defend the nation. They are paid to be quiet and to say what is ordered ‘from above’ and from abroad.

And no foreign media would go where I am routinely working. I am always alone here, no matter what horrors are occurring around me. The fascist, pro-Western, religious regime here reduced the Indonesian people into submissive, self-centered cowards. I don’t care. They are willing to betray, even to kill, for their own privileges. So I am trying to perform their duties, instead.

It is their problem what they do. While it is my obligation to document. Alone or not alone.

*****

Some 60 kilometers further south, everything stops. By the time we arrive, it is late at night. The road is heavily damaged. This is ‘the border’. No private vehicles can pass.

Behind this point, the destruction is, most likely, even more horrid.

Were this to be a ‘normal’, read ‘not collapsed country’, there would be countless military heavy vehicles repairing the road. There would be provisory lights, thousands of experts and military men building the bridges, filling deep ditches. Helicopters would be flying, and big NAVY ships would be providing support from the sea. There would be a constant, determined fight to save human lives.

I saw it in Japan and in Chile. In Chile, after a terrible tsunami, the entire nation mobilized. The motorway was clogged with constant streams of vehicles, bringing to the devastated areas pre-fabricated wooden houses of high quality, bringing water, gas, food, medical supplies. To witness such mobilization performed by the then, still, socialist government, made one feel proud to be a human being. As a result, very few people died. Everyone got taken care of, re-housed and compensated by the government.

Here, in Indonesia, at the ghostly, destroyed village of Cikujang, we only encountered two men sitting among the rubble of destroyed house. They reluctantly explained:

Our car got stuck in a deep ditch. Engine died. Now we are just waiting that someone will rescue us.

All around – darkness and destruction. Carcasses of cars and motorcycles, collapsed houses, personal belongings of people scattered all around. I am trying to film and photograph, using the high beam of the car. What I see is not for the faint-hearted.

As I am working, I am aware of the warnings: the second tsunami wave can strike at any moment. If it does, my tiny crew and I will get fucked. But we have to work, because behind our backs, somewhere in the total darkness, there are tens of thousands of people, cut off from any help, abandoned by this monstrous nightmarish system.

Up the hill, we find an old scout center. There, many victims are gathered.

Mr. Iwan, the leader of this provisory camp of displaced people, readily explains:

 We have five people who lost their lives, 4 are already buried but we are still missing 1 person.

People are praying. No one dares to blame the government or the system. To them, it is all normal.

We are told, again and again, that there is absolutely no way to go any further. We try, but confronted with flooded road, finally turn back.

There is no activity. No action. Behind this line, most likely thousands of people are dying.

*****

It is now clear that the early warning system failed the people of West Java.

It was reported that it was ‘vandalized’. In fact, it was stolen. Supplied by Malaysia, Germany and UK, it was looted by local folks. And the government knew it, and did nothing at all to replace it.

In Vietnam or China, officials who allow such a disaster to take place, would be facing a firing squad, for treason.

In Indonesia, the entire system is mobilized to cover up what has taken place, and what is still taking place while this report goes to print: the ineptness of the government, of the armed forces, the tremendous greed of the NGO’s and private individuals of the country.

In Indonesia, human lives are worth absolutely nothing. Public welfare means nothing as well. The only thing that matters is profit, plus religious rituals. And the big natural disasters like this one are truly great opportunities to enrich even further those corrupt gurus of turbo-capitalism.

While thousands of families have irreversibly lost their homes and small businesses, the entire nation is mourning a pop band from Jakarta, called ‘Seventeen,’ which was performing for the elites in an exclusive beach resort, when tsunami hit the area. All band members died except their lead vocalist.

I have worked in 160 countries of the world; I have seen a lot, really a lot, but nothing so morally collapsed and corrupt as the Indonesian regime. And I have never encountered any establishment so capable of covering-up its own crimes.

*****

Now most of the reports are repeating ‘how and why this tsunami occurred’. People who know nothing about science, are repeating like idiots about some underwater plates moving, about an explosion of a volcano, and other ‘technical’ issues.

But what really happened here, as has already happened so many times this year, and every other single year, is that people died for absolutely ridiculous and preventable reasons: the unwillingness of the regime to spend money on anything that does not generate ‘profit’ (like an early tsunami warning system), pathetic, laughable ‘city planning’ as well as the lack of enforceable regulations for both urban and rural areas located in danger zones, plus the endemic corruption, terrible education and therefore lack of any vision or enthusiasm, as well as many other factors along these lines.

The victims in West Java are, as it always happens here, resigned – they are as locals saypasrah. Poor people, the great majority of Indonesian citizens, are submissive. They repeat what the ‘elites’, the West and religious ‘leaders’ want them to repeat: that they are ‘grateful to God’ even for being alive. I hear it in the slums, and in devastated areas. By now, people here have nothing against their tormentors; against capitalism or imperialism (they don’t even know what these terms really symbolize). They steal from each other, but do not dare to fight those who are robbing them on a greater scale.

By not providing basic services, the state is murdering thousands, more precisely millions, annually. Now it has done it again. The definition of a ‘failed state’ is precisely that: the ‘inability to provide basic services to its citizens’. Full stop.

And my 3 hours are now up. The plane is descending.

I have just witnessed mass murder, in Java, Indonesia. Not a ‘natural disaster’, but mass murder. There is no time for elegant reporting. This is what I saw, and therefore, this is what I write. Tens of thousands are still left behind on the coast, with almost no help. The Indonesian ‘elites’ are now making profits from their suffering.  It is already dark in Bangkok, where I am landing.

It must be horribly dark ‘back there’, in Banten: dark and frightening.

Late at night

I am writing this in order to warn the world: let us all unite against the regimes that have been implanted by the West in the colonies. Let us not allow such genocides to happen again and again!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Palangkaraya: Dreaming about the “Soviety” Capital of Indonesia and the US-Backed Killing Fields

Believe it or not, but decades ago, Indonesia was a socialist country, the cradle of the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’, with the progressive and fiery President Soekarno leading the nation. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was then the third largest Communist Party in the world, after those of China and the Soviet Union, and was it not for the US-orchestrated coup of 1965; it would easily have won elections in 1966, democratically and comfortably.

President Soekarno landed

All the key natural resources of Indonesia were in the hands of its people and the government; firmly and uncompromisingly. Indonesia was becoming one of the world leaders: still a poor country, but optimistic, determined and full of hope.

Soekarno was a dreamer, and so were his Communist comrades.

But besides being a ‘political poet’, Soekarno was also a pragmatic civil engineer, who knew a thing or two about both architecture and city planning.

One of his great visions born at the end of the 1950’s was to build a brand-new capital for his enormous country of thousands of islands. It is believed that one day he calculated the precise location of the ‘geographical center’ of Indonesia, inserted a pin there, and declared that this is where the new ibu kota (capital or ‘mother’ city) would be constructed.

The proverbial pin had marked the area which, in reality, was in the middle of the impenetrable jungle of Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo), some 200 kilometers from the nearest city of some size – Banjarmasin.

Before construction began in 1957, there was only a village – Pahandut – soon to become the capital of the new Autonomous Region of Central Kalimantan, with Soekarno’s comrade, Tjilik Riwut accepting the role of the first governor. One year later, however, the future city was renamed, becoming Palangkaraya.

The task of designing the urban area came from Comrade Semaun, who was one of the founders and the first chairman of the PKI. He graduated from the ‘Communist University of the Toilers of the East’ in the Soviet Union. He often performed tasks of a city planner and, together with Soekarno, he was determined to erect the ‘second Moscow’ in the middle of Kalimantan/Borneo, with magnificent research centers, theatres, concert halls, libraries, museums and public transportation, as well as fountains, wide avenues, squares, parks and promenades.

Soviet architects, engineers and workers, (but also teachers) were invited to help with this mammoth task.

In the middle of the wilderness, between two tropical rivers, Kahayan and Sabangau, one of the greatest Asian projects of all times was slowly beginning to take shape.

President Soekarno inaugurating future capital city

It was launched by President Soekarno himself, who on 17 July 1957 marked the inauguration of the monument in the middle of a new roundabout, which was expected to become the very center of the new city, of the new province, and eventually of the entire Republic of Indonesia (RI).

The project started to move forward, feverishly, and enthusiastically. Soviets, side-by-side with their Indonesian comrades, were building roads and erecting structures.

There were even plans to construct tunnels, practically bomb shelters, against potential attacks by the Malaysian and British forces; tunnels which could, at some point, be further deepened, widened and serve as the basic infrastructure for the underground public transportation of the city (metro).

The revolutionary zeal of Soekarno’s idealism was igniting both local and foreign (Soviet) builders. It was that chaotic but marvelous ‘nation and character-building’ period often described by the greatest Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer – without any doubt the greatest era of the otherwise gloomy history of the archipelago.

*****

Then, suddenly, full stop!

On September 30/ October 1, 1965, the West, together with treasonous Indonesian military cadres led by General Suharto and by the religious cadres, overthrew the young socialist democracy, and installed one of the most brutal fascist dictatorships of the 20th century.

What followed was genocide. The country lost between 1-3 million intellectuals, Communists, atheists, artists and teachers. Rivers were clogged with corpses, women and children gang-raped, almost all progressive culture banned, together with the Chinese and Russian languages.

Communism and atheism were banned, too. Even words like ‘class’ were forbidden, together with the Chinese dragons, cakes and red lamps.

The Palangkaraya ‘project’ came to an abrupt halt. Soekarno was put under house arrest in Bogor palace, where he later died.

Soviet engineers and workers were flown to Jakarta and unceremoniously deported. All Indonesians who came in touch with them, without exception, were either killed, or ‘at least’ detained for a minimum of one year; interrogated in detention, tortured and in the case of women, raped.

The ‘Killing fields’ were not only in Java, but also both north and west of the city of Palangkaraya.

The master plan, drawings, in fact, almost all information related to the ‘second Moscow’ in the middle of Borneo, suddenly ‘disappeared’.

Palangkaraya is now geographically the largest city in Indonesia, but it counts on only about 250,000 inhabitants.

Like all other cities of the archipelago, it has inadequate infrastructure, notorious absence of cultural life, and it is dotted with miserable slums. It has absolutely no public transportation.

Big dreams fully collapsed. But not only that: now, almost no one in the city or anywhere in the country, is even aware of those grandiose plans of the past, of that enormous project to build a ‘different Indonesia’. A truly independent, anti-imperialist country led by President Soekarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), has died; was smashed to pieces. The stepping down of General Suharto changed nothing. No renaissance of socialism ever arrived. The Communist Party and thoughts are still banned.

*****

While working on a documentary film about the natural devastation and collapse of the third largest island on earth – Borneo – we came to Palangkaraya, the first time, in October 2018.

What impressed us the most was how thoroughly the regime has wiped out everything related to the city’s past.

People were scared to talk, or they simply ‘did not know’. As I recorded on film, children knew absolutely nothing about the past, except those few deceptive and primitive barks that were forcibly injected into their brains.

We searched, but could not find any detailed references or drawings – here, or even in Jakarta, Bandung and abroad. All gone!

Obviously, the great past of Indonesia remains classified, as ‘top secret’. It is because the contrast between the revolutionary dreams and monstrous present-day reality, is too great and potentially, ‘too explosive’.

*****

Pararapak Village, South Barito District, Central Kalimantan Province.

Mr. Lanenson, a 78 years old Dayak man appears to be the only person who can still ‘remember’, and is willing to talk openly about the Soviet people and their involvement in this country.

Mr. Lanenson (Photo:  Andre Vltchek)

Mr. Lanenson is a strong, determined man; he is proud. His face is animated, and he speaks loudly, passionately, as almost all progressive men of his generation (be it the greatest Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer who has already passed away, or the extremely talented Javanese painter Djokopekik who is still active and full of spite towards the present regime), are capable of speaking.

He worked with the Soviets, closely, side-by-side, like a comrade. Before 1965, he was employed by the Kalimantan road project agency (PROJAKAL), in the human resource division.

Soviets building new capital in middle of jungle

And he was one of those who were later arrested, jailed and brutally interrogated, simply because he interacted with the Soviet citizens, and because he was trying to build, together with his foreign friends, a much better Indonesia. He spent an entire year in Suharto’s prisons, without one single charge being officially brought against him.

After the coup of 1965 which took place in Jakarta, there were arrests and massacres of people who were suspected of being related to the PKI, or for being ‘Soekarnoists’. Everyone related to Russia had been taken away. I was held in a detention camp in Palangkaraya.

Army treated prisoners inhumanely. Every morning we woke up and were beaten and shouted at. Guards were brutalizing us.

Mr. Lenenson’s eyes were shining with excitement when his mind began wandering to the bygone days before 1965:

Russians, they are very hard-working and good people; they were never confrontational towards the local people. I even remember all little details about spending time with the Russian people. In the afternoon after we finished working, we played badminton and sometimes football, together. At times, Russian friends would ask me to catch a wild pig, a boar, so we could roast and eat it together. I still remember the name of a Russian teacher -Ms. Valentina. But Muslims were very confrontational even then; some were ‘anti-Soviet’, only because most of the Soviet people were not religious.

Does he still remember the enthusiasm of Soekarno era; the ‘different Indonesia’ of dreams, hard work, and of ‘nation and character building’?

The optimism and enthusiasm were there; I felt it when working together with the Soviet people, building the city of Palangkaraya.

He also strongly believes that if the coup of 1965 had not happened, Palangkaraya would be an absolutely different place.

He spoke a few words in Russian to me – simple and disconnected words, but surprisingly, with perfect pronunciation. Rabota – work. Zdrastvuite– good day…

At one point, it began to rain. A heavy, tropical downpour. I could not record well, but he was unwilling to stop.

“You can stay overnight,” he suggested.

‘Like in Afghanistan’, I thought, ‘whenever I work there and begin to speak Russian’, people want to host me, feed me. They want to speak and remember. Because the dreams of the past is all they have left now.

*****

Back in Palangkaraya, Ms. Ida, Tjilik Riwut’s daughter, sits in café that she owns, surrounded by black and white photos of her father, the former governor of the province, who is in them working, speaking and travelling together with President Soekarno and various other top officials, as well as with many common local people.

She and her daughter Putri, do not know much about the 1965 massacres. Or they say they don’t know. Many topics, including this one, are fully taboo, until now. Or especially now, that the island of Borneo is thoroughly ruined, mined out, deforested and poisoned by foreign corporations and local thugs described as ‘businessmen’; those who got into the driving seat after the 1965 genocide. Perhaps, they simply do not want to address the topic. I will never find out. Whatever it really is, ‘they don’t know’.

But Ms. Ida speaks, openly, about the days when the city was born:

I still remember when the Russian engineers were building the infrastructure here. Palangkaraya was built from zero. Russians, together with the local Dayak people, were cutting through the forest, putting tremendous effort converting wilderness into the city.

Behind her back is an old photo of her father, with his famous quote engraved on top of it:

It is my obligation, to fight for this region, and it is also my obligation to listen to the voices of the people. It is because we are servants of the people and our nation.

We hear basically the same things from a famous local journalist, Mr. T. T. Suan. Unfortunately, we find him bed-ridden, in grave medical condition. We do not want to disturb him, but his family insisted that we come in and sit at the edge of his bed. During the exchange, his daughter held his hand and shouted into his one good ear (he is deaf in the other ear, after being beaten, brutally, after the 1965 coup, as he was accused of ‘collaborating with Tjilik Riwut’).

With weak but determined voice, he explained:

I still remember that era, when we, together with the Soviets, were building progressive Palangkaraya City. This was era full of enthusiasm and discipline. Yes, Russians really taught us about discipline: when we came to the office in the morning, and planned our activities, you could bet that by night, everything would be implemented.

We asked him about the disappeared master plan of the city.

Lost in dreams, he began recalling details that he still remembered by heart:

The main roundabout – that is where the huge lake was supposed to be. That would be the center of the city, where all protocol roads would be growing from. Around there, the most important and impressive buildings would be located: government offices, National Hospital, library, university, museums, theatres as well as National Radio of Indonesia.

Indonesian people and the world are not supposed to know all this. But it has to be known, documented, and explained. Before it is too late, before everything disappears, before people who can still remember will pass away.

We are frantically calling and contacting the TjilikRiwut family, which is now spread all over Indonesia. We are told that some members of this family may be in possession of the master plan of the city. But we receive no reply. The master plan was either destroyed, or it was converted into a ‘top secret’ document, and is rotting somewhere in a metal safe box. The optimism of the socialist era is banned; strongly discouraged, almost never discussed. Grand public projects have been stopped, after the 1965 extreme capitalist and pro-Western regime had been injected from abroad, paralyzing the nation.

As elsewhere in Indonesia, fabrications and censorship of facts is total. Both the press and academia are complicit.

An architect and professor of the University of Palangkaraya, Wijanarka – author of a book about Soekarno’s design of Palangkaraya City (“Sukarno dan Desain RencanaI bukota RI di Palangkaraya”), avoided meeting us, refusing to comment on the political context of the story:

Just read my book. This book is about the search of architectural form of the city. But if you ask me anything related to the Soviet Union, I will tell you that I don’t know, because I only care about the architectural aspect of this, not about politics.

Obviously, a socialist, Soviet-style master plan of the city is part of the ‘politics’, as he had shown no interest in it.

*****

On our second visit to the city, an electric tower collapsed, after a storm. The entire city was covered in darkness, without electricity. It was desperately dark at night, except for ridiculously brightly-lit cigarette advertisements, banks, and a few hotels that were using their own private generators.

Collapsed electric tower in Kelampangan (Andre Vltchek photo)

When we reached the village of Kelampangan where the wreck of the high-voltage tower lay on the ground, we saw dozens of workers smoking, laughing, and doing nothing.

As a matter-of-fact, a few of them called me ‘bule’, a violently racist but very common Indonesian insult which means ‘albino’.

“We are waiting for cranes,” one of them said, after I asked why everyone was chatting, smoking and doing nothing.

Someone was flying a drone above the accident site. Police officers were laughing. The city suffered, for several days, before ‘the crane arrived’ and the line was fixed. Nobody complained. People are used to the total collapse of their island and the country. Nothing is expected, nothing is demanded from the system; in Palangkaraya, or elsewhere in Indonesia.

*****

At the library of Central Kalimantan, an employee began to speak, enthusiastically into my camera and into recorder:

At that time, after 1965, most of the educated people of the city were either killed or arrested, without any clear charges… sometimes everything was blurry: we never knew precisely what was happening in Jakarta, everything was just a rumor… There is not one single book or reference about the km 27, where the mass killings took place, or about the killings in Pararapak village… Also, in the libraries, we never saw anything resembling the master plan of the city…

Once she found out what the purpose of our visit was, and once she saw my name card, she backpedaled:

Do not use my name, you hear me? If you do, I will sue you!

*****

The village next to the Km 27 (from Palangkaraya) is called Marang. I film illegal gold mining boats or platforms, floating on the river. There is no cover, no fear of getting caught while ruining the environment, illegally.

Misery is everywhere.

Again, nobody knows anything. People are openly laughing in our faces, when we ask about the mass killings and the mass graves.

Finally, an old lady, Ms. Aminah opens the door of her wooden house and speaks about those terrible events of the 1965 coup. It is as if she was waiting for us. She came to the door, listened to our introduction and question, and began speaking:

During those times I was still a teenager. I only heard old people telling stories through the word of mouth. We, Marang villagers, did not know what really happened in Palangkaraya, or in Jakarta. We only knew, that people who were registered as the PKI were arrested and killed. I remember at that time our village was full of fear and obscurity. But here, fortunately, no one was arrested because we had no official members of the PKI.

In the building called Ureh (Gedung Ureh, in Palangkaraya City) everyone who was suspected of supporting PKI or somehow related to it, was detained. Yes, hundreds of people were detained there, with no adequate facilities. Men and women were forced to be mixed together. Some women were raped, got pregnant. Torture was common. From there, people were brought here, to KM 27, and killed.

How many? “Many, many…” She does not know, precisely. She was too young; she was too scared.

We drive to Km 27. There is a river, a ‘secondary forest’. Silence. Nobody knows. Nobody knows anything here, or in the Pararapak Village. At both places, there is dead silence, periodically interrupted by the badly tuned engines of scooters belonging to the villagers.

We found a creek where thousands of bodies were dumped. Everyone whom we approach is laughing. It is bit like in Oppenheimer’s film “Act of Killing”.

These used to be Indonesian concentration camps, of which the largest one was located on the Buru Island, where almost all the intellectuals who were not murdered, were detained after the so-called‘1965 Events’. Here, outside Palangkaraya, those who are not afraid to speak, call these smaller camps and killing fields “Buru in the rice fields”.

The West, which takes full advantage of the mass plunder of Borneo and entire Indonesia, calls this country ‘normal’, ‘democratic’ and ‘tolerant’.

*****

Balanga Museum, Palangkaraya. This was supposed to be a tremendous National Museum, if the plans of Soekarno had been implemented.

Now it is just a complex of beat-up, one storey barracks, badly kept, underfunded and understaffed.

We visited a building dedicated to the collection of photos and artifacts from the Tjilik Riwut era.

Two museum curators, or call them attendants, had absolutely no idea about how Palangkaraya was exactly built. Nothing about its master plan, not even precisely what the ‘master plan’ consists of.

“Socialist past of Indonesia?” wondered one of them, after I asked. “Actually, honestly, we do socialize here, even now.”

The senior attendant knew nothing about the mass killings in the region. When we insisted, she began looking at us with fear. She wanted us gone, far away, but was too polite to insist that we leave the premises.

The other woman began explaining about the genocide:

Everybody knows about it, but all evidence was destroyed. Stories flow from grandparents to parents, to us, children. But only stories; nothing concrete.

Pupils – girls from a local junior high, some of them 12, others 13 years old first giggled, then blushed when asked about the city and its history. They knew absolutely nothing about the past of Paklangkaraya. Asked about conditions in the city, they answered, in unison:

The city is cool!

What about the future of the city? We got pre-fabricated, ‘pop’ answers:

We hope for the future of the city full of cars, schools…

*****

The Indonesian writer J.J. Kusni, who was born in Central Kalimantan, but spent many years in France, is now back. With his wife, he lives in Palangkaraya.

So far it is not clear whether he was exiled in France, or whether he went to study in Europe and stayed there for decades. What is known is that during Orde Baru (Suharto’s fascist “New Order”) he was banned from entering Indonesia.

We met him, and he explained that now he would oppose moving the capital of Indonesia from Jakarta to Palangkaraya, because the conditions had changed, after several decades:

I believe that now Palangkaraya and Central Kalimantan have the characteristics of semi-colonies. In Seokarno times it was very different, it all made sense: if you’d move the capital to Palangkaraya, militarily, we’d have space to maneuver. And the others – Malaysia and the British – would not be able to attack us easily. Central Kalimantan is in the middle of the country.

J.J. Kusni tells us about the concentration camps, and the killing fields. He also paints a bleak picture of despair, when speaking about the present state of the city and the province.

*****

Could Palangkaraya be described as a total failure, a cemetery of dreams?

Most definitely!

Palangkaraya today

An enormous territory of the city is covered, like in the rest of the cities of Indonesia, by badly planned neighborhoods. There are slums on the banks of the rivers; brutal shanty towns, some on stilts, with no basic sanitation and the extremely sparse supply of water and electricity.

Huge mosques are being constructed everywhere.

There is no culture here, and very few public spaces.

Just a regular Indonesian city, where the “state is unable to provide basic services for its citizens” (the definition of a failed state, in theory).

Kiwok D. Rampai, a 74 years old senior archeologist, known for his many studies about the history of Central Kalimantan, especially the culture of the Dayak people, likes to speak about the optimism brought by Soekarno to Palangkaraya:

I remember Soekarno’s era as a period of high optimism and enthusiasm. Palangkaraya was built by Soekarno, together with Dayak people of Central Kalimantan, and the foreign workers, especially those from the Soviet Unions. Everything was done with great dedication…

Unfortunately, the historical studies conducted by Mr. Kiwok for decades, have not been well promoted. Allegedly there was even an attempt to eliminate the documents, most likely for political reasons.

*****

In the library, we asked whether there are many Indonesian and foreign investigators and researchers interested in the history of the city.

“No one ever comes to ask questions similar to those you asked,” is the answer.

The Soviets are gone from Palangkaraya. Their legacy had been wiped out by the loud shouts of hatred, by blood spilling, implanted ignorance and by determined propaganda and intimidation campaigns.

Nowadays the Soviet Union is no more, too, although the strong anti-imperialist Russia, in many ways, has replaced it on the global stage.

Everyone remembers the “Russian Road”, the one that leaves the circle and moves westward.

It is allowed to mention, even to glorify this well-built artery. But only if it is done ‘out of context’. “Russians built the road; good road, perhaps the best road ever built in Indonesia.” Full stop. Nothing about socialism, Communism, the Soviet Union. Nothing about Soekarno the PKI, and nothing about the anti-imperialist mood of the young, independent – yes truly independent – country.

In reality, Russians (not really ‘Russians’, but people from all parts of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics), came to Kalimantan in order to support the newly independent, socialist Republic of Indonesia. They came to offer internationalist help and solidarity, to build the capital city, and eventually the industry, infrastructure, hospitals and schools. That’s what the Soviets regularly did: in Africa, Vietnam, and Afghanistan or in the Middle East.

After the 1965 US-backed coup, a new sort of people came, mainly from the West, but many from Java, even from Kalimantan itself. They helped to cut down the beautiful and pristine tropical forest, flatten the mountains, poison the rivers and exterminate countless endemic local species. They planted malignant palm oil plantations. They robbed people of their land and, in fact, of everything, and they advised the Indonesian regime how to conduct ‘transmigrasi’ – the program designed to turn the native population into a minority in its own land, so they could never aim at independence. They also educated, or call it ‘re-educated’ the entire nation, including the Central Province of Kalimantan: ‘They forced the masses to love their tormentors. They turned them into obedient beings. They destroyed their ability to dream, to fly, to struggle for a better future.’

The Palangkaraya of Soekarno has collapsed. It is no more.

We tried to find a quiet place to discuss the city with the granddaughter of Tjilik Riwut, who recently returned from Jakarta.

There were two places she could think of. One was a bar filled with smoke and loud shouts, as well as monstrous rock and pop fusion ‘music’. But it was impossible to talk there, due to the decibels.

The second was in one of two semi-decent hotels. But it turned out to be a whorehouse disguised as a karaoke bar.

We ended up in the garden of our hotel.

“What do people do in this city of a quarter of million?” We wondered.

There was not much she could think about. There was not much we could think about either.

We mentioned the metro, National Theatre, huge beautiful museums, galleries, concert halls, the circus, research institutes, parks with fountains, public hospitals, and universities with well-stocked libraries: all public, all for the public. We tried to engage her in a conversation about Soekarno’s and her grandfather’s dreams.

She changed the subject.

We didn’t.

And the result is this essay, and soon a book about the great socialist dream that never came through. A dream that was silenced, smashed and smeared by nihilism, servility and selfishness. But perhaps, only for the time being.

The dream was called Palangkaraya. And it was made of tremendous stuff: of zeal, of men and women, side-by-side, altruistically, building a new capital city of their new, beloved Indonesia, in the middle of nowhere, for the people – always for the people!

This dream is too beautiful. It can never be betrayed. It should never be forgotten. And therefore, we will not allow it to be forgotten.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”