[Read directly on TheJakartaPost.com.]
by Jennie M. Xue and MJ Rahardjo
Sixteen years ago in mid-May, we were in Jakarta. We saw firsthand the burning of properties and cars on the streets. Masses of people looted houses and stores. Until this very day, the alleged masterminds and the alleged perpetrators have not been prosecuted.
Despite being an allegedly planned political show of force by certain “unknown” individuals, it felt like a pogrom toward Chinese-Indonesians.
The “official” causes, approved by the Indonesian government, were: economic problems, including shortages of food, and mass unemployment.
The riots were widespread nationwide. The cities most affected were Medan, on May 4-8; Jakarta on May 12-15 and Surakarta on May 13-15. An estimated 1,000-plus people died, 168 women were publicly raped and the economic damage cost more than Rp 3.1 trillion (US$269 million). It was indeed a colossal tragedy.
The May 1998 riots were an important milestone for Indonesia, when millions of people’s minds shifted from one level of consciousness to a higher one.
For those who grew up under the relatively safe and prosperous Soeharto administration, this tragedy was a total wake-up call.