Mohammed Suharto dead at 86.
January 27, 2008 12:38 AM   Subscribe

Indonesia's former President Mohammed Suharto, who towered over Indonesian politics for 32 years, has died in hospital aged 86. Accused of amassing billions of dollars in ill-gotten wealth for himself, his family and friends, Indonesian officials were never able to find any evidence of this ill-gotten wealth. The BBC remembers him in pictures.
posted by Effigy2000 (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Good riddance.
posted by slater at 12:50 AM on January 27, 2008

Here here.
posted by pompomtom at 12:57 AM on January 27, 2008

Sure, he was a crook, but... HE KICKED DUTCH COLONIALIST ASS!!

Still, seconding slater's "good riddance".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:57 AM on January 27, 2008

Not much to say that wouldn't be unPC and disrespectful to the dead.
posted by Phire at 12:58 AM on January 27, 2008

posted by Rumple at 1:07 AM on January 27, 2008

I am reminded of this quote:
They say only the good die young. Generalissimo Francisco Franco was 82.
posted by vapidave at 1:33 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

well, at least he was pro-american **ducks**, i remember back when when we eased out/toppled his predecessor sukarno (a communist), and as a teenage philologist, thinking that just a two-syllable change might be enough to disprove the domino theory i'd heard so much about.
posted by bruce at 2:24 AM on January 27, 2008

that would be "two-consonant". **ducks again**
posted by bruce at 2:28 AM on January 27, 2008

His flayed carcass writhes in Hell.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 2:30 AM on January 27, 2008

So he's finally gone to the great crocodile pit in the sky.
posted by Lucie at 2:59 AM on January 27, 2008

Timeline of Indonesian history.

Indonesia has an incredibly varied culture.

Suharto was yet another dictator the CIA helped put in power and was directly involved in the slaughter of about 105,000 Indonesians.

Concerned about Sukarno's political direction and the powerful Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to foment a coup in 1958. The coup failed, but its planning linked the CIA and Pentagon with Suharto and other Indonesian military officers who saw an opening to power.

The Year of Living Dangerously, an Oscar winner and also exceptionally good film 1982

Sukarno: helped the country win its independence from the Netherlands and was President from 1945 to 1967, presiding with mixed success over the country's turbulent transition to independence. Sukarno was forced down from power by one of his generals, Suharto, who formally became President in March 1967.

Suharto: seized power from his predecessor, the first president of Indonesia Sukarno, through a mixture of force and political maneuvering against the backdrop of foreign and domestic unrest. Over the three decades of his "Orde Baru" (New Order) regime, Suharto constructed a strong central government along militarist lines. An ability to maintain stability and an avowedly anti-Communist stance won him the economic and diplomatic support of several Western governments in the era of the Cold War. For most of his three-decade rule, Indonesia experienced significant economic growth and industrialization. His rule, however, led to political purges and the deaths of millions of suspected Indonesian communists and Chinese-Indonesians, and enaction of legislation outlawing communist parties and ethnic Chinese.

Translating "political purges in this instance " it means genocide. And the CIA helped; the CIA is known to have supplied the Indonesian military with a list of 10,000 suspected communists. Ironically, a CIA study of the events in Indonesia assessed that "In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.

Good riddance to a monster. My heartfelt wishes that the present Indonesian politicians find a healthier, saner national path.
posted by nickyskye at 3:31 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Was his name really "Mohammed Suharto"? I've always just heard "Suharto", and his Wikipedia page and the Wikipedia page on Indonesian naming customs seems to verify that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:46 AM on January 27, 2008

He was a scumbag.

And Tommy, if you're a MeFi reader, you're a scumbag too.
posted by mattoxic at 4:51 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good riddance indeed.

posted by fourcheesemac at 6:22 AM on January 27, 2008

Was his name really "Mohammed Suharto"?

No, and I'm kind of annoyed that the Official MeFi Death Post promotes that bit of Islamist flimflammery. His name was Suharto, period. As the Wikipedia says, "In contexts where his religion is being discussed he is sometimes called Haji or el-Haj Mohammed Suharto, but this Islamic title is not part of his formal name or generally used."

Oh, and good riddance.
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on January 27, 2008

Another CIA-backed fascist scumbag's death is always good news. Too bad it was in a hospital bed instead of up against a wall.
posted by signal at 7:14 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by beagle at 7:43 AM on January 27, 2008

Well, that worked on preview.
posted by beagle at 7:44 AM on January 27, 2008

. .

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm generally unhappy when brutal dictators end up dying peacefully in bed instead of a painful, public and humiliating death (like the Ceausescus received).

It's not a good object lesson for future would-be dictators when they see this.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2008

You used to see the name mistake happen with Sukarno, too: some French reporter in the 50s couldn't bend his brain around the idea that the name was simply "Sukarno", so he invented the first name "Achmed" for him, which was totally imaginary. The error was copied and persisted for decades, even being printed by a lot of supposedly "reputable" or "professional" sources and organizations in journalism and academia.
posted by gimonca at 9:26 AM on January 27, 2008

Hey, Suharto, that'd be one of the USA's own kin, wouldn't it?

Is there any other country that expends as much effort in fucking-over other countries as the USA does?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2008

The "bloodthirsty fascist" meme does not tell you about the Suharto years. If you want to talk about problems with Suharto's very long stay in power, the word is korupsi: corruption. Making your family one of the wealthiest in Asia and the world, getting a cut on every big project for family members (his late wife, Tien Suharto, got the nickname "Madame Tien Percent"), allowing your children to behave like, well, crass douchebags in pursuit of rent farming, shady deals and sometimes outright appropriation.

Another key word in criticism is premanisme, preman being an Indonesian word for "street thug". Not well-organized, spit-polished Gestapo thugs, but briefly recruited ordinary criminal types to do your bidding. Suharto in consolidated power, from the 74 "Malari" riots down to the mid-90s, was all about sending goons off to rough up journalists and trash their offices while maintaining a not-very-believable veneer of plausible deniability.

In a country founded just in 1945, where the foundations of a solid legal system were sometimes in question, all that was sad and corrosive, and the problems are still being cleaned up after today.

Can the president do whatever he wants? In 1983 there were the Penembakan Misterius or "Petrus" events. The short story is that petty criminals or people believed to be troublemakers at that level started showing up murdered in back alleys and such in major cities. Nobody was publicly willing to say why. Years later, being interviewed for a bio, Suharto basically said that he was behind it, they were cleaning up the streets, sometimes you gotta do what ya gotta do. Less Hitler, more Tony Soprano. The received rumor or interpretation is actually that it wasn't so much "lets battle this crime wave" as it was "lets get rid of people who won't play along", that it was one faction rubbing out the other. But the breathtaking disregard for the rule of law that Suharto was willing to acknowledge and wave away was very sad indeed. We took the petty thugs and pickpockets out and shot them, the streets are safer, trial schmial, whaddya you complaining about?

The nickname "Petrus" is redolent of the code language of Indonesian social and political tensions of the time, too, though. The symbolism would be Petrus = Christian = ethnic Chinese, and Gen. Benny Moerdani, then a Suharto crony, was generally thought to be a major figure behind the killings. Suharto himself, though, wasn't much of an ideologue. He was more the person who would manipulate one side against the other to maintain an apparent balance. He'd cozy up to Chinese business tycoons if necessary--later on, he'd give lip service to Islamic activists to counterbalance them. Some of this was part of the grand rationalization of why the world was supposed to need Suharto in the first place--the country was supposed to be a huge ungovernable powderkeg that only a strongman could keep a lid on.

Which leads to the biggest criticism of Suharto overall: the last couple of years of Indonesia as an increasingly functional democracy are starting to show that a strongman may never have been necessary after all.
posted by gimonca at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2008 [6 favorites]

Languagehat and gimonica answered the question I was going to ask, but I'd still like to know more about this aspect of Indonesian culture. Is it common for Indonesians to have only one name, or was this an attempt by the two leaders to create or solidify a cult of personality? Are "Suharto" and "Sukarno" common names in Indonesia? Are Indonesian starting to adopt the practice of having separate first and family names as the country becomes more Westernized and urbanized?

And yes, good riddance to another 20th-century mass murderer. And yes, there's something so infuriating about seeing first-class monsters like Suharto and Pol Pol get to die of old age in their beds.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:25 AM on January 27, 2008

Wikipedia, bless their hearts, links to this fascinating academic paper on the first name dilemmas.

It's not unusual at all (Subandrio and Djuanda were both notable government figures under Sukarno), but it's also possible for people to have names based on Islamic or Dutch/European precedents, names from other cultural groups in Indonesia besides Javanese, names that indicate a noble title, names that indicate a family relation (compare "Megawati Sukarnoputri", which is almost Icelandic-style). I wouldn't claim to be able to explain 100% of the ins and outs.

Compare national hero Raden Mas Hadji Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto, also written H.O.S. Cokroaminoto, where Raden Mas indicates high birth, Hadji means he made the pilgrimage, Oemar Said is Muslim, Cokroaminoto is Javanese.

posted by gimonca at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2008

Just got back from my weekly martial arts discipline (latihan) at the big Indonesian consulate in my city. The consular staff had already dutifully set up a table with a signature book and large portrait of Suharto. I resisted the urge to write something snarky in the book but I did turn the picture around when no one was looking.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:16 AM on January 27, 2008

Is it common for Indonesians to have only one name

Not only Indonesians; as Wikipedia says, "Icelanders, Tibetans, Burmese, and Javanese often do not use a family name," to which I would add Mongolians off the top of my head. (On Mongolians, see this interesting article—I hadn't realized it was the Communists who were responsible for the situation there.)
posted by languagehat at 12:14 PM on January 27, 2008

Incidentally, during the Eisenhower era, the CIA was supporting Islamic movements against the central government, because Sukarno was thought to be too buddy-buddy with Communist types.

Of course, we have always been at war with Eastasia.
posted by gimonca at 12:16 PM on January 27, 2008

I saw this on the TV news this morning and the newsreader clearly didn't know who the hell he was, breaking the news in tones appropriate to the death of someone like Nelson Mandela. By the next time the news came round, they'd straightened this out.
posted by Mocata at 12:36 PM on January 27, 2008

Thanks for the impromptu cultural orientation!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:48 PM on January 27, 2008

Interesting the wording of "foment a coup in 1958". That has been socially accepted as a savvy, educated-talk-about-politics cliché and supposedly non-paranoid way of discussing a malignant conspiracy to undermine and corrupt a government in the worst way possible.

While I do think conspiracy nutcases can be just that, nuts, paranoid, and cook up bs, "fomenting a coup" is, in fact, another phrase for a conspiracy and it pisses me off that it's not pc to use the conspiracy word these days, when it is applicable and there are, blatant, malignant conspiracies still happening. The CIA and the people backing them for corrupt reasons are still doing their "fomenting" thing in a number of countries.

Other "foments" of the USA government supporting dictatorships and getting rid of the democratic leader in power, which resulted in the mass murder of tens of thousands, or more, and often included the CIA's (paid with US citizens' tax dollars) involvement in hard core drug business:

Chile and Pinochet, the other September 11.

Fomenting in Iran.

Fomenting in the Congo.

Fomenting in Greece.

Fomenting in Laos.

Fomenting in Viet Nam.

In 2004, a United States Senate money laundering investigation led by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) — ordered in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks — uncovered a network of over 125 securities and bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other U.S. financial institutions used by Pinochet and his associates for twenty-five years to secretly move millions of dollars.[38] Though the subcommittee was charged only with investigating compliance of financial institutions under the USA PATRIOT Act, and not the Pinochet regime, Sen. Coleman noted

According to the Latin American Institute on Mental Health and Human Rights (ILAS), "situations of extreme trauma" affected about 200,000 persons; this figure includes individuals killed, tortured (following the UN definition of torture), or exiled and their immediate families.

Fomenting a coup in Iraq.

in Haiti.

In Panama via another puppet, Noriega.

In Nicaragua via the Contras.

Fomenting in Pakistan.

In Afghanistan (very interesting interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski,
President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser).

Commonly boomeranging back onto America's inner cities, impacting the entire country (USgov sites).

When people in other countries are angry at America these days I think an entire generation, maybe a couple of them, turned a blind eye, preferring to be distracted and ignorant. Just too much bother to be interested in this vast destruction, not only to other countries but to our own country, to the USA via the damage of hard core drugs being brought in and that their tax dollars is paying for, colluding with militant ignorance. Couldn't be bothered to learn about political leaders, too hiply nihilistic to give a damn. That pisses me off too and I hope this changes, that this younger generation becomes aware, studies, learns, gives a damn and takes action with their vote, with their awareness, by talking about this stuff, by caring.
posted by nickyskye at 1:08 PM on January 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

And dying on the Australia Day holiday, strangely appropriate when Australia so often cheerfully turned it's back on the crimes happening just over the sea. Until we worked out that East Timor was sitting rather close to some natural gas and oil fields, and decided we'd better help make it independent of Indonesia so we could more easily fuck it over.
posted by Jimbob at 2:30 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sukarno and the CIA having been mentioned, I am reminded of an anecdote.

Sukarno, goes the story, was viewed as a dull orator but a shrewd politician-- one whose ambitions, and flirtations with the Soviets, were in sore need of rebuttal. That he was scheduled to deliver a speech in a setting wherein CIA assets could conveniently taint his drinks, at a moment when Langley's research into psychedelics was, as it were, mushrooming, presented a remarkable scientific and political opportunity.

Accordingly, they spiked his drink with some acid.

But Sukarno, far from spacing out, cringing, yammering, or otherwise embarrassing himself, was instead unleashed; uninhibited, passionate, seemingly colorful and improvisatory, his speech that night was thought to be among the best of his career...
posted by darth_tedious at 11:29 PM on January 27, 2008

Man they just interviewed Alexander Downer on the 7:30 Report regarding Suharto, and gee he's a nice chap now he's not the bloody Foreign Minister. He sounds like he would be a shoe-in for a job on Getaway.
posted by Jimbob at 2:18 AM on January 28, 2008

darth_tedious, great story, any links to this speech or cite?

JimBob, you got me curious, so I went to find out what Downer said about Suharto.

I've also been thinking about the psychology of this aspect, "Suharto has gotten away with murder - another dictator who's lived out his life in luxury and escaped justice," Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based monitor Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.

People hope that raging bullies will get justice, what they deserve but often, if not usually, they don't.
posted by nickyskye at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2008

And then when they do get old, people are all "oh the poor doddery old man don't be so mean". Case in point: Pinochet.
posted by Rumple at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2008

Exactomundo Rumple.
posted by nickyskye at 11:02 AM on January 28, 2008

nickyskye, offhand, I'm guessing the story was in the Jim Hougan book "Spooks," but I'm not sure...
posted by darth_tedious at 10:48 PM on January 28, 2008

crikey ran an interesting line about comparing Suharto to Saddam Hussein. The analogy bears some fruit. Except Hussein only killed 150 000 - 300 000, Suharto and cronies killed 500 000 to 1 000 000.

It all comes down to the April Glaspie quote really (no opinion about Kuwait) - Saddam would have had Suharto's standing otherwise.
posted by wilful at 4:48 PM on January 29, 2008

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