In the early 1980s, Indonesia witnessed the extrajudicial killings of thousands of hoodlums by security forces. The victims’ bodies were left at prominent public places. Because the authorities did not admit to any involvement, the Indonesian media termed the killings “Petrus,” which means “mysterious shootings.” This thesis aims to analyze the ruling style of Suharto’s regime by considering the mass killings.
From the beginning, the Suharto regime regarded Indonesian society as a legitimate target for intelligence activities and machinations, as symbolized by the existence of Operasi Khusus (Opsus); this was initially a team set up for the army’s intelligence work in Malaysia, but later became institutionalized to rule over Indonesian society. Applying intelligence and machinations to maintain domestic rule may be considered a rational step for the authorities. Given that other strong political ideologies still had deep roots in society, it was extremely difficult to create the Golkar system based on the state-sponsored Pancasila ideology by means of repression alone. Thus, the government had to rely on intelligence operations, such as machinations, provocations, and propaganda that justified the repression of potential enemies.
This thesis, based on interviews, seeks to show that many victims of Petrus were hoodlums who had been recruited as agents for covert operations. They were organized under Ali Moertopo, the head of Opsus and Suharto’s right-hand man in the early days of the regime. Though there has long been a speculation that the real target of Petrus was Moertopo’s network, the rumors have not been substantiated.
My argument is as follows. The Suharto regime, in its effort to build up the Golkar system, often used intelligence machinations toward members of its own society to eliminate or weaken potential enemies. This ruling style naturally alienated a specific societal group and created social divisions. The target of Petrus (or in any case, one of the main targets) were the hoodlums who had been used as a tool for such machinations. After their mission was over, the hoodlums came to be seen as unnecessary and dangerous; they were eliminated themselves through another huge machination—Petrus. In this context, Petrus symbolized a fundamental contradiction in the Suharto regime, which sought the thorough permeation of “harmonious” Pancasila ideology, but, in reality, could not rule the country without dividing society.