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Indonesia's Suharto Left Iron-Fisted Legacy


Welcome to the program.

M: Thank you.

INSKEEP: What are some of the things that Suharto allegedly did?

M: Well, he has a long record of completely curtailing basic freedoms of association, expression, assembly and so on, basic civil rights. He has been accused of at least encouraging and endorsing, if not actually ordering, the killings of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party, and there are an estimated - maybe 500,000 people who were killed in the purges that followed an attempted coup. He's accused of authorizing and indeed supporting the invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to, by some estimates, over 100,000 deaths. And...

INSKEEP: There were massacres in East Timor going years after that invasion until the country was given its independence, right?

M: And I think that there are a range of other kinds of human rights violations that Suharto is accused of, but I also think it's important to keep in balance that there are many people who see his period of rule as a time of stability and prosperity.

INSKEEP: Maybe that leads to our next question. How did he manage to die outside of prison?

M: He was seen as someone who was effectively untouchable, and it's not completely clear why, except that many of the people who took positions of power following his resignation were people who had grown up under the new order, as his tenure is called, and people who benefited from his rule. So there was a reluctance to actually see him brought to account.

INSKEEP: Are there people in Indonesia who remember him fondly the way that people in the former Soviet Union remember Soviet times fondly now?

M: So among ordinary people on the street there actually is a lot of remembrance of that as one of the good times, the period when they were doing well, better than the present.

INSKEEP: You mentioned non-Muslims. This is a majority Muslim country, one of the largest countries in the world. Did he leave behind a basically stable country?

M: So as Indonesia struggles with democracy now, they're having to deal with that legacy on a day-to-day basis, just very weak institutions and no tradition of democratic rule.

INSKEEP: Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group. Thanks very much.

M: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.