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On the Indonesian paradise island of Bali, unmarked mass graves hide a bloody past.
Part of the problem in uncovering the truth is that there is little reliable documentary evidence of what happened since the killings were spread across the entire island. And unlike the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Indonesian officials kept few records.
“I think virtually every village in Bali has a mass grave,” Suryawan said. “And all elements of society were involved in some way with the killing.”
Another problem is that mass graves and mass tourism are not happy bedfellows. With Bali's heavy reliance on the tourist industry, it is understandable that many Balinese are reluctant to discuss the events of 1965.
“I have spoken to developers who frequently come across bodies when digging foundations for tourist hotels in Kuta and Sanur,” said a history student at Denpasar University in Bali who asked that her name not be used. She has interviewed more than 50 people in her efforts to uncover the truth on her own about Bali's mass graves. “They instruct the builders to ignore the skeletons and to keep on building.”
While Indonesia has made significant progress in its transition to democracy since the downfall of Suharto in 1998, boasting a free press as well as a body of new human rights legislation, Harsono believes its failure to address the bloodiest aspects of its recent past is problematic.
For a country emerging from three decades of authoritarianism, establishing transitional justice mechanisms is seen by many as an important part of the nation-building and post-conflict recovery process. The killings have been largely omitted from Indonesian history textbooks and the country's increasingly active censors are particularly sensitive about films that attempt to tackle this time period. Many young Indonesians are ignorant about what happened in 1965 and those generations that bore witness to it are rapidly disappearing.
Suryawan said there is still a lot of bitterness that lies beneath the surface.
“People know for example that ‘your father killed my father.’ Anger is not expressed directly but it is played out in other ways,” he said, pointing to violent clashes that flared up during Bali’s 2004 local elections.
Nesting in the trees that fringe Petulu's lush paddy fields are tens of thousand of white egrets. According to local folklore, these hauntingly elegant birds arrived en mass in 1966 and are the restless souls of those massacred and buried without proper rites.
“It was a bad time” Ramin said, gazing at Petulu’s unmarked mass grave. "A very bad time."