Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21: the anniversary of the fall of Suharto . . . I was there in 1998 taking pictures

  I worked in Indonesia a long time.  I was in Jakarta when Suharto was in power, and for the majority of that time the situation was grim. Suharto had been a general under Sukarno and came to power in 1966 after a coup.  He wasted no restricting civil liberties and freedom of movement, and eventually even his own party became fed up with the way in which he manipulated the legislation to keep being “re-elected” 5 times, until 1998.  Opposition factions were jailed, or worse.  The economy had grown during his regime, but the economic crisis of 1997/98 along with world attention on Indonesia’s participation in the genocide in East Timor, as well as Suharto’s participation, as a general, in the 1965 massacre of over 500,000 Chinese Indonesians, pushed the public over the edge.  

In the beginning of May 1998, students across Indonesia were holding peaceful protests against skyrocketing fuel prices and civil liberties violations, demanding that President Suharto step down.

 On May 12, a planned march to Parliament was stopped by police and four students were killed.  Then the riots began in earnest, (some say incited by the military) and for two days Jakarta was a war zone. At least 1,000 people died, some say it was as many as 5,000 across the country.

Many victims died in burning malls and supermarkets but some were shot or beaten to death. A government minister reported the damage or destruction of 2,479 shop-houses, 1,026 ordinary houses, 1,604 shops, 383 private offices, 65 bank offices, 45 workshops, 40 shopping malls, 13 markets, and 12 hotels.

And so I decided to leave my house, located in the middle of all this, and go take some photos.
Much to the shrieking protest of my friends and colleagues.

So in honor of the May 1998 riots that were the precursor to the fall of Suharto, I present a few of the photos I took.  As you can see, I was not harmed or menaced; in fact, many of the looters wanted to pose for pictures.  It was a strange time.

Without going into the sociopolitical history behind Suharto’s resignation, it’s fair to say that the jig was up.  General Prabowo (remember him?  Our favorite jackbooted thug/presidential candidate?) professed loyalty, but so did Wiranto, who might have been fibbing; he allowed the students to occupy Parliament and told Suharto he no longer had the support of his army. Suharto was forced to resign on May 21 and was replaced by Habibe, his Vice President.

--> There wasn't much peacekeeping going on during those days; in some of these photos you can see the military just standing by while looting, burning and violence is happening.

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