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

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

Consider it or not, however many years in the past, Indonesia was a socialist nation, the cradle of the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’, with the progressive and fiery President Soekarno main the nation. The Communist Celebration of Indonesia (PKI) was then the third largest Communist Get together in the world, after these of China and the Soviet Union, and was it not for the US-orchestrated coup of 1965; it might simply have gained elections in 1966, democratically and comfortably.

President Soekarno landed

All the key pure assets of Indonesia have been in the arms of its individuals and the authorities; firmly and uncompromisingly. Indonesia was turning into one of the world leaders: nonetheless a poor nation, however optimistic, decided and full of hope.

Soekarno was a dreamer, and so have been his Communist comrades.

However apart from being a ‘political poet’, Soekarno was additionally a practical civil engineer, who knew a factor or two about each structure and metropolis planning.

One of his nice visions born at the finish of the 1950’s was to construct a brand-new capital for his monumental nation of hundreds of islands. It’s believed that someday he calculated the exact location of the ‘geographical center’ of Indonesia, inserted a pin there, and declared that that is the place the new ibu kota (capital or ‘mother’ metropolis) can be constructed.

The proverbial pin had marked the space which, in actuality, was in the center of the impenetrable jungle of Kalimantan (Indonesian half of Borneo), some 200 kilometers from the nearest metropolis of some measurement – Banjarmasin.

Earlier than development started in 1957, there was solely a village – Pahandut – quickly to develop into the capital of the new Autonomous Area of Central Kalimantan, with Soekarno’s comrade, Tjilik Riwut accepting the position of the first governor. One yr later, nevertheless, the future metropolis was renamed, turning into Palangkaraya.

The duty of designing the city space got here 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 typically carried out duties of a metropolis planner and, along with Soekarno, he was decided to erect the ‘second Moscow’ in the center of Kalimantan/Borneo, with magnificent analysis facilities, theatres, live performance halls, libraries, museums and public transportation, in addition to fountains, large avenues, squares, parks and promenades.

Soviet architects, engineers and staff, (but in addition academics) have been invited to assist with this mammoth activity.

In the center of the wilderness, between two tropical rivers, Kahayan and Sabangau, one of the biggest Asian tasks of all occasions was slowly starting to take form.

President Soekarno inaugurating future capital metropolis

It was launched by President Soekarno himself, who on 17 July 1957 marked the inauguration of the monument in the center of a brand new roundabout, which was anticipated to develop into the very middle of the new metropolis, of the new province, and ultimately of the whole Republic of Indonesia (RI).

The venture began to maneuver ahead, feverishly, and enthusiastically. Soviets, side-by-side with their Indonesian comrades, have been constructing roads and erecting buildings.

There have been even plans to assemble tunnels, virtually bomb shelters, towards potential assaults by the Malaysian and British forces; tunnels which might, sooner or later, be additional deepened, widened and function the primary infrastructure for the underground public transportation of the metropolis (metro).

The revolutionary zeal of Soekarno’s idealism was igniting each native and overseas (Soviet) builders. It was that chaotic however marvelous ‘nation and character-building’ interval typically described by the biggest Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer – with none doubt the biggest period of the in any other case gloomy historical past of the archipelago.


Then, all of the sudden, full cease!

On September 30/ October 1, 1965, the West, along with treasonous Indonesian army cadres led by Common Suharto and by the spiritual cadres, overthrew the younger socialist democracy, and put in one of the most brutal fascist dictatorships of the 20th century.

What adopted was genocide. The nation misplaced between 1-Three million intellectuals, Communists, atheists, artists and academics. Rivers have been clogged with corpses, ladies and youngsters gang-raped, virtually all progressive tradition banned, along with the Chinese language and Russian languages.

Communism and atheism have been banned, too. Even phrases like ‘class’ have been forbidden, along with the Chinese language dragons, muffins and purple lamps.

The Palangkaraya ‘project’ got here to an abrupt halt. Soekarno was put beneath home arrest in Bogor palace, the place he later died.

Soviet engineers and staff have been flown to Jakarta and unceremoniously deported. All Indonesians who got here in contact with them, with out exception, have been both killed, or ‘at least’ detained for a minimal of one yr; interrogated in detention, tortured and in the case of ladies, raped.

The ‘Killing fields’ weren’t solely in Java, but in addition each north and west of the metropolis of Palangkaraya.

The grasp plan, drawings, actually, virtually all info associated to the ‘second Moscow’ in the center of Borneo, all of the sudden ‘disappeared’.

Palangkaraya is now geographically the largest metropolis in Indonesia, nevertheless it counts on solely about 250,000 inhabitants.

Like all different cities of the archipelago, it has insufficient infrastructure, infamous absence of cultural life, and it’s dotted with depressing slums. It has completely no public transportation.

Huge goals absolutely collapsed. However not solely that: now, virtually nobody in the metropolis or anyplace in the nation, is even conscious of these grandiose plans of the previous, of that big undertaking to construct a ‘different Indonesia’. A very unbiased, anti-imperialist nation led by President Soekarno and the Communist Get together of Indonesia (PKI), has died; was smashed to items. The stepping down of Common Suharto modified nothing. No renaissance of socialism ever arrived. The Communist Social gathering and ideas are nonetheless banned.


Whereas engaged on a documentary movie about the pure devastation and collapse of the third largest island on earth – Borneo – we got here to Palangkaraya, the first time, in October 2018.

What impressed us the most was how completely the regime has worn out the whole lot associated to the metropolis’s previous.

Individuals have been scared to speak, or they merely ‘did not know’. As I recorded on movie, youngsters knew completely nothing about the previous, besides these few misleading and primitive barks that have been forcibly injected into their brains.

We searched, however couldn’t discover any detailed references or drawings – right here, and even in Jakarta, Bandung and overseas. All gone!

Clearly, the nice previous of Indonesia stays categorised, as ‘top secret’. It’s as a result of the distinction between the revolutionary goals and monstrous present-day actuality, is just too nice and probably, ‘too explosive’.


Pararapak Village, South Barito District, Central Kalimantan Province.

Mr. Lanenson, a 78 years previous Dayak man seems to be the solely one that can nonetheless ‘remember’, and is prepared to speak brazenly about the Soviet individuals and their involvement on this nation.

Mr. Lanenson (Photograph:  Andre Vltchek)

Mr. Lanenson is a robust, decided man; he’s proud. His face is animated, and he speaks loudly, passionately, as virtually all progressive males of his era (be it the biggest Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer who has already handed away, or the extraordinarily gifted Javanese painter Djokopekik who continues to be lively and full of spite in the direction of the current regime), are succesful of talking.

He labored with the Soviets, intently, side-by-side, like a comrade. Earlier than 1965, he was employed by the Kalimantan street undertaking company (PROJAKAL), in the human useful resource division.

Soviets constructing new capital in center of jungle

And he was one of those that have been later arrested, jailed and brutally interrogated, just because he interacted with the Soviet residents, and as a result of he was making an attempt to construct, collectively together with his overseas buddies, a a lot better Indonesia. He spent a whole yr in Suharto’s prisons, with out one single cost being formally introduced towards him.

After the coup of 1965 which befell in Jakarta, there have been arrests and massacres of individuals who have been suspected of being associated to the PKI, or for being ‘Soekarnoists’. Everybody associated to Russia had been taken away. I used to be held in a detention camp in Palangkaraya.

Military handled prisoners inhumanely. Each morning we awakened and have been crushed and shouted at. Guards have been brutalizing us.

Mr. Lenenson’s eyes have been shining with pleasure when his thoughts started wandering to the bygone days earlier than 1965:

Russians, they’re very hard-working and good individuals; they have been by no means confrontational in the direction of the native individuals. I even keep in mind all little particulars about spending time with the Russian individuals. In the afternoon after we completed working, we performed badminton and typically soccer, collectively. At occasions, Russian associates would ask me to catch a wild pig, a boar, so we might roast and eat it collectively. I nonetheless keep in mind the identify of a Russian instructor -Ms. Valentina. However Muslims have been very confrontational even then; some have been ‘anti-Soviet’, solely as a result of most of the Soviet individuals weren’t spiritual.

Does he nonetheless keep in mind the enthusiasm of Soekarno period; the ‘different Indonesia’ of goals, exhausting work, and of ‘nation and character building’?

The optimism and enthusiasm have been there; I felt it when working along with the Soviet individuals, constructing the metropolis of Palangkaraya.

He additionally strongly believes that if the coup of 1965 had not occurred, Palangkaraya can be a completely totally different place.

He spoke a number of phrases in Russian to me – easy and disconnected phrases, however surprisingly, with good pronunciation. Rabota – work. Zdrastvuite– good day…

At one level, it started to rain. A heavy, tropical downpour. I couldn’t report nicely, however he was unwilling to cease.

“You can stay overnight,” he prompt.

‘Like in Afghanistan’, I assumed, ‘whenever I work there and begin to speak Russian’, individuals need to host me, feed me. They need to converse and keep in mind. As a result of the goals of the previous is all they’ve left now.


Again in Palangkaraya, Ms. Ida, Tjilik Riwut’s daughter, sits in café that she owns, surrounded by black and white photographs of her father, the former governor of the province, who’s in them working, talking and travelling along with President Soekarno and numerous different prime officers, in addition to with many widespread native individuals.

She and her daughter Putri, have no idea a lot about the 1965 massacres. Or they are saying they don’t know. Many subjects, together with this one, are absolutely taboo, till now. Or particularly now, that the island of Borneo is completely ruined, mined out, deforested and poisoned by overseas firms and native thugs described as ‘businessmen’; those that acquired into the driving seat after the 1965 genocide. Maybe, they merely don’t need to handle the matter. I’ll by no means discover out. No matter it truly is, ‘they don’t know’.

However Ms. Ida speaks, brazenly, about the days when the metropolis was born:

I nonetheless keep in mind when the Russian engineers have been constructing the infrastructure right here. Palangkaraya was constructed from zero. Russians, along with the native Dayak individuals, have been slicing via the forest, placing super effort changing wilderness into the metropolis.

Behind her again is an previous photograph of her father, together with his well-known quote engraved on prime of it:

It’s my obligation, to battle for this area, and additionally it is my obligation to take heed to the voices of the individuals. It’s as a result of we’re servants of the individuals and our nation.

We hear principally the similar issues from a well-known native journalist, Mr. T. T. Suan. Sadly, we discover him bed-ridden, in grave medical situation. We don’t need to disturb him, however his household insisted that we are available and sit at the edge of his mattress. Throughout the trade, his daughter held his hand and shouted into his one good ear (he’s deaf in the different ear, after being crushed, brutally, after the 1965 coup, as he was accused of ‘collaborating with Tjilik Riwut’).

With weak however decided voice, he defined:

I nonetheless keep in mind that period, once we, along with the Soviets, have been constructing progressive Palangkaraya Metropolis. This was period full of enthusiasm and self-discipline. Sure, Russians actually taught us about self-discipline: once we got here to the workplace in the morning, and deliberate our actions, you possibly can guess that by night time, the whole lot can be carried out.

We requested him about the disappeared grasp plan of the metropolis.

Misplaced in goals, he started recalling particulars that he nonetheless remembered by coronary heart:

The primary roundabout – that’s the place the large lake was presupposed to be. That might be the middle of the metropolis, the place all protocol roads can be rising from. Round there, the most essential and spectacular buildings can be situated: authorities workplaces, Nationwide Hospital, library, college, museums, theatres in addition to Nationwide Radio of Indonesia.

Indonesian individuals and the world aren’t purported to know all this. However it needs to be recognized, documented, and defined. Earlier than it’s too late, at the beginning disappears, earlier than individuals who can nonetheless keep in mind will move away.

We’re frantically calling and contacting the TjilikRiwut household, which is now unfold throughout Indonesia. We’re informed that some members of this household could also be in possession of the grasp plan of the metropolis. However we obtain no reply. The grasp plan was both destroyed, or it was transformed right into a ‘top secret’ doc, and is rotting someplace in a metallic protected field. The optimism of the socialist period is banned; strongly discouraged, virtually by no means mentioned. Grand public tasks have been stopped, after the 1965 excessive capitalist and pro-Western regime had been injected from overseas, paralyzing the nation.

As elsewhere in Indonesia, fabrications and censorship of information is complete. Each the press and academia are complicit.

An architect and professor of the College of Palangkaraya, Wijanarka – writer of a e-book about Soekarno’s design of Palangkaraya Metropolis (“Sukarno dan Desain RencanaI bukota RI di Palangkaraya”), prevented assembly us, refusing to touch upon the political context of the story:

Simply learn my guide. This guide is about the search of architectural type of the metropolis. However for those who ask me something associated to the Soviet Union, I’ll inform you that I don’t know, as a result of I solely care about the architectural facet of this, not about politics.

Clearly, a socialist, Soviet-style grasp plan of the metropolis is a component of the ‘politics’, as he had proven little interest in it.


On our second go to to the metropolis, an electrical tower collapsed, after a storm. All the metropolis was coated in darkness, with out electrical energy. It was desperately darkish at night time, apart from ridiculously brightly-lit cigarette ads, banks, and a couple of inns that have been utilizing their very own personal turbines.

Collapsed electrical tower in Kelampangan (Andre Vltchek photograph)

Once we reached the village of Kelampangan the place the wreck of the high-voltage tower lay on the floor, we noticed dozens of staff smoking, laughing, and doing nothing.

As a matter-of-fact, a couple of of them referred to as me ‘bule’, a violently racist however quite common Indonesian insult which suggests ‘albino’.

“We are waiting for cranes,” one of them stated, after I requested why everybody was chatting, smoking and doing nothing.

Somebody was flying a drone above the accident website. Cops have been laughing. The town suffered, for a number of days, earlier than ‘the crane arrived’ and the line was fastened. No one complained. Individuals are used to the complete collapse of their island and the nation. Nothing is predicted, nothing is demanded from the system; in Palangkaraya, or elsewhere in Indonesia.


At the library of Central Kalimantan, an worker started to talk, enthusiastically into my digital camera and into recorder:

At the moment, after 1965, most of the educated individuals of the metropolis have been both killed or arrested, with none clear expenses… typically all the things was blurry: we by no means knew exactly what was occurring in Jakarta, every part was only a rumor… There’s not one single guide or reference about the km 27, the place the mass killings occurred, or about the killings in Pararapak village… Additionally, in the libraries, we by no means noticed something resembling the grasp plan of the metropolis…

As soon as she came upon what the function of our go to was, and as soon as she noticed my identify card, she backpedaled:

Don’t use my identify, you hear me? In the event you do, I’ll sue you!


The village subsequent to the Km 27 (from Palangkaraya) is known as Marang. I movie unlawful gold mining boats or platforms, floating on the river. There isn’t a cowl, no worry of getting caught whereas ruining the setting, illegally.

Distress is all over the place.

Once more, no one is aware of something. Individuals are brazenly laughing in our faces, once we ask about the mass killings and the mass graves.

Lastly, an previous woman, Ms. Aminah opens the door of her picket home and speaks about these horrible occasions of the 1965 coup. It’s as if she was ready for us. She got here to the door, listened to our introduction and query, and started talking:

Throughout these occasions I used to be nonetheless a youngster. I solely heard previous individuals telling tales by means of the phrase of mouth. We, Marang villagers, didn’t know what actually occurred in Palangkaraya, or in Jakarta. We solely knew, that individuals who have been registered as the PKI have been arrested and killed. I keep in mind at the moment our village was full of worry and obscurity. However right here, thankfully, nobody was arrested as a result of we had no official members of the PKI.

In the constructing referred to as Ureh (Gedung Ureh, in Palangkaraya Metropolis) everybody who was suspected of supporting PKI or by some means associated to it, was detained. Sure, tons of of individuals have been detained there, with no satisfactory amenities. Males and ladies have been pressured to be combined collectively. Some ladies have been raped, acquired pregnant. Torture was widespread. From there, individuals have been introduced right here, to KM 27, and killed.

What number of? “Many, many…” She doesn’t know, exactly. She was too younger; she was too scared.

We drive to Km 27. There’s a river, a ‘secondary forest’. Silence. No one is aware of. No one is aware of something right here, or in the Pararapak Village. At each locations, there’s lifeless silence, periodically interrupted by the badly tuned engines of scooters belonging to the villagers.

We discovered a creek the place hundreds of our bodies have been dumped. Everybody whom we strategy is laughing. It’s bit like in Oppenheimer’s movie “Act of Killing”.

These was Indonesian focus camps, of which the largest one was situated on the Buru Island, the place virtually all the intellectuals who weren’t murdered, have been detained after the so-called‘1965 Events’. Right here, outdoors Palangkaraya, those that will not be afraid to talk, name these smaller camps and killing fields “Buru in the rice fields”.

The West, which takes full benefit of the mass plunder of Borneo and whole Indonesia, calls this nation ‘normal’, ‘democratic’ and ‘tolerant’.


Balanga Museum, Palangkaraya. This was imagined to be an incredible Nationwide Museum, if the plans of Soekarno had been carried out.

Now it’s only a complicated of beat-up, one storey barracks, badly stored, underfunded and understaffed.

We visited a constructing devoted to the assortment of pictures and artifacts from the Tjilik Riwut period.

Two museum curators, or name them attendants, had completely no concept about how Palangkaraya was precisely constructed. Nothing about its grasp plan, not even exactly what the ‘master plan’ consists of.

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

The senior attendant knew nothing about the mass killings in the area. Once we insisted, she started taking a look at us with worry. She needed us gone, distant, however was too well mannered to insist that we depart the premises.

The opposite lady started explaining about the genocide:

Everyone is aware of about it, however all proof was destroyed. Tales move from grandparents to oldsters, to us, youngsters. However solely tales; nothing concrete.

Pupils – women from an area junior excessive, some of them 12, others 13 years previous first giggled, then blushed when requested about the metropolis and its historical past. They knew completely nothing about the previous of Paklangkaraya. Requested about circumstances in the metropolis, they answered, in unison:

The town is cool!

What about the future of the metropolis? We received pre-fabricated, ‘pop’ solutions:

We hope for the future of the metropolis full of automobiles, faculties…


The Indonesian author J.J. Kusni, who was born in Central Kalimantan, however spent a few years in France, is now again. Together with his spouse, he lives in Palangkaraya.

Thus far it isn’t clear whether or not he was exiled in France, or whether or not he went to review in Europe and stayed there for many years. What is understood is that in Orde Baru (Suharto’s fascist “New Order”) he was banned from getting into Indonesia.

We met him, and he defined that now he would oppose shifting the capital of Indonesia from Jakarta to Palangkaraya, as a result of the circumstances had modified, after a number of many years:

I consider that now Palangkaraya and Central Kalimantan have the traits of semi-colonies. In Seokarno occasions it was very totally different, all of it made sense: for those who’d transfer the capital to Palangkaraya, militarily, we’d have area to maneuver. And the others – Malaysia and the British – wouldn’t be capable of assault us simply. Central Kalimantan is in the center of the nation.

J.J. Kusni tells us about the focus camps, and the killing fields. He additionally paints a bleak image of despair, when talking about the current state of the metropolis and the province.


Might Palangkaraya be described as a complete failure, a cemetery of goals?

Most undoubtedly!

Palangkaraya as we speak

An unlimited territory of the metropolis is roofed, like in the relaxation of the cities of Indonesia, by badly deliberate neighborhoods. There are slums on the banks of the rivers; brutal shanty cities, some on stilts, with no primary sanitation and the extraordinarily sparse provide of water and electrical energy.

Large mosques are being constructed all over the place.

There isn’t any tradition right here, and only a few public areas.

Only a common Indonesian metropolis, the place the “state is unable to provide basic services for its citizens” (the definition of a failed state, in principle).

Kiwok D. Rampai, a 74 years previous senior archeologist, recognized for his many research about the historical past of Central Kalimantan, particularly the tradition of the Dayak individuals, likes to talk about the optimism introduced by Soekarno to Palangkaraya:

I keep in mind Soekarno’s period as a interval of excessive optimism and enthusiasm. Palangkaraya was constructed by Soekarno, along with Dayak individuals of Central Kalimantan, and the overseas staff, particularly these from the Soviet Unions. Every little thing was accomplished with nice dedication…

Sadly, the historic research carried out by Mr. Kiwok for many years, haven’t been properly promoted. Allegedly there was even an try and get rid of the paperwork, almost certainly for political causes.


In the library, we requested whether or not there are various Indonesian and overseas investigators and researchers excited about the historical past of the metropolis.

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

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

These days the Soviet Union is not any extra, too, though the robust anti-imperialist Russia, in some ways, has changed it on the international stage.

Everybody remembers the “Russian Road”, the one which leaves the circle and strikes westward.

It’s allowed to say, even to glorify this well-built artery. However solely whether it is executed ‘out of context’. “Russians built the road; good road, perhaps the best road ever built in Indonesia.” Full cease. Nothing about socialism, Communism, the Soviet Union. Nothing about Soekarno the PKI, and nothing about the anti-imperialist temper of the younger, unbiased – sure really unbiased – nation.

In actuality, Russians (not likely ‘Russians’, however individuals from all elements of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics), got here to Kalimantan with a view to help the newly unbiased, socialist Republic of Indonesia. They got here to supply internationalist assist and solidarity, to construct the capital metropolis, and ultimately the business, infrastructure, hospitals and faculties. That’s what the Soviets repeatedly did: in Africa, Vietnam, and Afghanistan or in the Center East.

After the 1965 US-backed coup, a brand new type of individuals got here, primarily from the West, however many from Java, even from Kalimantan itself. They helped to chop down the lovely and pristine tropical forest, flatten the mountains, poison the rivers and exterminate numerous endemic native species. They planted malignant palm oil plantations. They robbed individuals of their land and, in reality, of the whole lot, and they suggested the Indonesian regime learn how to conduct ‘transmigrasi’ – the program designed to show the native inhabitants right into a minority in its personal land, so they might by no means purpose at independence. Additionally they educated, or name it ‘re-educated’ the whole nation, together with 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’s no extra.

We tried to discover a quiet place to debate the metropolis with the granddaughter of Tjilik Riwut, who just lately returned from Jakarta.

There have been two locations she might assume of. One was a bar crammed with smoke and loud shouts, in addition to monstrous rock and pop fusion ‘music’. However it was inconceivable to speak there, resulting from the decibels.

The second was in a single of two semi-decent resorts. However it turned out to be a whorehouse disguised as a karaoke bar.

We ended up in the backyard of our lodge.

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

There was not a lot she might assume about. There was not a lot we might assume about both.

We talked about the metro, Nationwide Theatre, large lovely museums, galleries, live performance halls, the circus, analysis institutes, parks with fountains, public hospitals, and universities with well-stocked libraries: all public, all for the public. We tried to interact her in a dialog about Soekarno’s and her grandfather’s goals.

She modified the topic.

We didn’t.

And the result’s this essay, and quickly a guide about the nice socialist dream that by no means got here by means of. A dream that was silenced, smashed and smeared by nihilism, servility and selfishness. However maybe, just for the time being.

The dream was referred to as Palangkaraya. And it was made of super stuff: of zeal, of males and ladies, side-by-side, altruistically, constructing a brand new capital metropolis of their new, beloved Indonesia, in the center of nowhere, for the individuals – all the time for the individuals!

This dream is just too lovely. It might by no means be betrayed. It ought to by no means be forgotten. And subsequently, we won’t permit it to be forgotten.

• First revealed by New Japanese Outlook (NEO)