Two years ago the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission published report on the bloody events of 1965, the first publication by a state agency on the pogrom of the left for decades. Joshua Oppenheimer’s landmark documentary film The Act of Killingas well as his The Look of Silence, and Indonesia’s weekly Tempo’s special report on the perpetrators’ perspective, have likewise sparked public attention. They all provoked growing public interest in Indonesia on the1965 massacre and its aftermath. The interest and fear surrounding the issue reflect the very depth of its roots and impact.

Indonesia has gone through painful experience as a result of deep seated conflicts in the 1960s — much like Spain after the 1930s. Unlike Spain, however, Indonesia has not been able to make meaningful steps toward healing the trauma and overcoming the nation’s tragedy.

Spain was fractured for decades as a result o fCivil War (1936-1939). A revolt launched by General Franco caused about a half million deaths, disappearances, baby kidnappings and hunting of exiles. Two ‘patriots’ illustrate the tragedy. Angel Salamanca, a supporter of Franco, helped Hitler’s army to crush the Soviet Union and Luis Royo, an anti-fascist leader, ran to France to join the struggle against the Nazis.Three decades after the death of Franco in 1975 they became symbols of a broken nation in a new democracy. Yet when they were selected for a parade of national reconciliation in 2004, it turned into a great fiasco.The liberals and the leftists saw Salamanca as “great humiliation” of their struggle against fascism just as the conservatives considered Royo a “traitor”.

Unlike Spain, there can’t be any Indonesian ‘Salamanca’ and ‘Royo’. For the state would presumably not acknowledge their equivalents as symbols of the nation’s divide nor would the society be ready to do so. But Spanish experience could teach some lessons.

Seven decades after the Civil War, Spain, despite the 2004 fiasco, produced the remarkable Memoria Historia (Historical Memory, 2007) — the laws that enable the state, in tandem with political parties and the civil society, to review key aspects such as General Franco’s role, Franco-related monuments and Church support, the communities to dig up mass graves, war victims to demand reparations, the families to search their lost children, the exiles to return home safely, the historians to rewrite history, and the school children to learn new historical aspects etc.

Spain’s memory politics and obsession with the nation’s self-image should inspire Indonesia as the nation will commemorate the half-century anniversary of the massacre next year. After all, Suharto was a Franco-like fascist. And, like in Spain, a number of human rights organizations in Indonesia, too, have since 2000 attempted to reverse the process of amnesia and impunity. However, even in post-Reformasi Indonesia, the society is not prepared to review the role of our Salamanca’s nor to tolerate the Royo’s. Indeed there have been attempts to hold seminars and conciliatory public meetings to find lessons learned by inviting various past-protagonists’ relatives such as children of the 1965-killed generals, of the Darul Islam – and of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) leaders. They were not exactly equivalents, though, of Salamanca and Royo.

Former political prisoners, families and relatives of 1965-victims, once stigmatized for decades, now live more peaceful life since the late 1990s but not all of their civil rights, notably concerning their former properties, are restored and respected. Many, including leftist exiles, have published their memoirs at home. Hundreds of exiles chose to remain abroad for lack of both political and social security. Efforts to find and dig up mass graves were initiated by human rights activists, the Gusdurian communities (supporters of late President Abdurrachman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid) and survivor associations. Mass media now widely reported 1965-related issues with less precautions. Films related to the 1965 events have been screened locally. The most remarkable attempt to reflect the past tragedy and hail the trauma has perhaps been the Tarekat community training program organized by Muslim woman activists in Central Java in the early 2000s when a new generation of activists and survivors met in face-to-face dialogue with former perpetrators.

None of these efforts, however, were organized on a national scale or involved state administration — agencies or parliament — with a remarkable exception of the Palu mayor of Central Sulawesi, who was involved in the 1960s backlash and recently reviewed the events and initiated a reconciliation. Elsewhere, fragmented attempts to dig up mass graves, exhume victim remains, survivors meetings and critical publications reviewing the period, frequently meet fierce local resistance, though they may also stimulate local awareness of the issue.

Such were Indonesia’s various mini versions of the Spanish model of reflection and reconciliation. They are either mere symbolism with little substance or only locally meaningful. Meanwhile academic researchers have started to map out graves sites in Central and East Java, Aceh and Eastern Indonesia.

What happened in the two countries since 2000 has been beyond imagining for decades. Their experiences may differ much on the context and nature, but the contrasting attempts at reflection and reconciliation may be instructive. Neither Spain in the 1930s nor Indonesia on 1965 attempted to proceed (in the case of Spain) or has been successful (in Indonesia’s case) with implementing transitional justice.

In both cases, the post-authoritarian transformation to rebuild the existing structures into a democratic state did not allow much space for contemplation on historical crimes. The establishment’s political interests and ideological legacy of the military and conservative religious institutions are sustained by old power structures that remain. Those responsible for crimes — Francoist officers and Indonesia’s New Order generals — were respectively given full amnesty and enjoying silent impunity.

Hence, it takes decades to revisit the historical crimes. In 2000 new interest in archives triggered the genesis of Spain’s Historical Memory movement. It was the courageous move of intellectuals, artists, human rights activists and a few political parties which were crucial in Spain, but significantly lacking in Indonesian case.

Without society’s pressure and state initiatives, reconciliation attempts will remain insignificant as long as the organizers and participants are lacking the political will to find the truth in the quest for justice. In Indonesia, state initiatives have been non-existence while much of the civil society’s actions were fragmented. The lesson one could learn from Spain, notwithstanding the conservative resistance in both cases, is that society, or some sectors of it, needs to take courageous initiatives and the state must end impunity.

On occupied East Timor, now independent Timor Leste, however, Indonesia has succeeded to get rid of its human wrongs precisely because the 2008 Joint Timor Leste-Indonesia Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF), an agreement not sanctioned by the United Nations, allows both to maintain impunity for those responsible for crimes against humanity. With the CTF, though, Indonesia has for the first time explicitly acknowledged that the state — and specifically the military — is responsible for the crimes against humanity.

Now on the greater tragedy of 1965, dubbed ‘the Never Ending Year’, Indonesia alone has to resolve it. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general who grew politically mature under the Suharto regime, has in 2012 confessed before rights activists that he would not raise the 1965 issue “out of fear for my seniors”. The new president Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, a man without any link to Suharto’s New Order, has promised to resolve “the remaining human rights issues” but insisted that it will not be its first priority. Not surprising given the current problems amid possibly obstructive opposition by the coalition led by the defeated presidential candidate, the disgraced ex-general Prabowo Subianto.

Plans from among society to commemorate the 50th anniversary ofthe tragedy next year, which include an International People”s Tribunal for the 1965 massacre and its impact, will prove how far the country has come in the attempt to come to terms with her own past.

Aboeprijadi Santoso has worked for Radio Netherlands Worldwide for the last two decades, including as Jakarta-based correspondent.