Pembantaian or Tragedi

*by Andy Fuller, Utrecht University

Ikhwan, a teenage fan of Arema, told his mother and sister that he was going off to a Qur’anic study group on the night of 1st October 2022. Of course, he was given permission by his mother to do so. He hadn’t returned the following morning though. He wasn’t always under strict supervision, but this was odd. His sister hadn’t heard from him. And she started to ask his friends where he was. It turns out that there hadn’t been a Qur’anic study group meeting that night. Her brother and his friends had gone instead, to the local derby: their team, Arema against their arch-rivals Persebaya. He wasn’t a huge fan, but it promised to be a good night out. Ikhwan – not his real name – though didn’t make it home. The game had ended and fans had stayed on in the stands, chanting. Some fans were shouting abuse – at who knows who; perhaps their own players, the referee, the police. Some fans ran on to the pitch and left it after being shepherded off. Then, another spark erupted after some other fans ran on from another direction. This triggered a heavy reaction from the police. Soon, they fired Tear Gas. Fans scrambled for the exits: but unbeknownst to them, several of the exits were closed. Bodies piled up. Some were trampled to death. Others suffocated. Ikhwan was one of them.[1]

It matters how we tell stories. It matters which thoughts we use to think with – so Donna Haraway emphasises. In thinking of the 132 deaths that night, I want to stay with the trouble of the suffocating bodies; the squashed bodies up against the metal gates; the screams of the teenagers yelling at their fellow-fans to get back. The anxiety of the teenagers who carried their classmates, random friends, unknown bodies, through the tunnels of the grandstand of Kanjuruhan Stadium. The corridors where interviews with players and coaches take place were now the passageways through which collapsed bodies were passing. I think of the rush to save others and to save oneself from the tear gas and then to avoid being forced up against other slipping bodies, shifting slowly; losing space, constricting breath. The barking dogs. The yelling fans. The police with shields, masks, helmets, protective gloves. This scene, of heavily armed police and barely armed others, is not only familiar to stadia, but also to the streets where any protest dares to take place: from May 1998 to the recent protests against RUU Cipta Kerja

Donna Haraway stays with the trouble

The words we use to describe the events of 1st October 2022 matter. Who tells the stories matter. How do the stories and narratives become mixed up and intertwined? Let’s be suspicious of any clear, single narrative which ends too neatly.

Tragedi was used immediately in the aftermath to describe the event. #TragediKanjuruhan has become one of the main hashtags to attach to tweets or Instagram posts about the events. Tempo though recently shifted the framing to pembantaian: massacre, or slaughter. The SEALANG dictionary defines pembantaian as ‘butchering, slaughter, murder’. Typing ‘pembantaian massal’ into Google one is immediately taken towards the 1965-66 mass killings of ‘communist party’ members; of which there were 500,000-1,000,000 victims. Structured, direct, systematic killing. Killings which were endorsed and covered up by multiple governments in numerous countries. The legacy of which remains, persists and is constantly recreated. The pembantaian thus of Kanjuruhan, if one is to follow with Tempo’s logic, is of a smaller scale than the politicide whose story will not end. Tragedi, in Tempo’s reckoning, absolves the guilty parties – the police, in particular – of their guilt and responsibility in the deaths of those teenagers, young adults, parents, children, siblings at Kanjuruhan. The common definition of tragedy is: ‘an event causing great suffering, destruction and distress’. 

The Tempo editorial states: ‘Menyebutnya sebagai tragedy mengaburkan fakta sekaligus menyembunyikan penanggungjawab peristiwa itu. Bukti-bukti menunjukkan kematian sebagai besar pendukung Arema tersebut disebabkan oleh kebrutalan aparat keamanan dan ketidakbecusan penyelenggara pertandingan.’ I translate this as, ‘Calling it a tragedy buries the facts and disguises who was responsible for the event. The evidence shows that the deaths of the Arema fans were caused by the brutality of the security forces and the incompetence of the people who organised the match.’ 

Tempo has many bones to pick with the police

Drawing on other witnesses, it is possible to construct another narrative: at the conclusion of the game, some fans, outside of the stadium, attacked the departing Persebaya players who were being rushed into armoured vehicles. In the chaos, two policemen were killed. Before or after this, some police fired Tear Gas into the grandstands leading some fans to rush to the exits which hadn’t been opened. Here some fans died in the crushes. There is a contestation over the actors and the roles they played: in causing or being victims of violence. Probably both subject positions are possible.

 The Economist describes the events thus: “Videos show police in riot gear chasing them off the field, beating some with batons. Police then fired round after round of tear gas into the stands, in an apparent attempt to disperse the crowd. That it did, but not without triggering a stampede for the exit. By the time the chaos subsided, at least 132 people had died, including 33 children.”[2] The Economist, famously sober in its coverage, also avoids using the more contentious term ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’ and its heading calls its ‘Indonesia’s football tragedy‘. Indonesia, regrettably, has had far more than one football tragedy.

Like much other coverage, The Economist didn’t mention the trouble (riots) that was happening outside of the stadium. The events outside the stadium, do however further contextualise the drama that was unfolding inside. @OngisnadeNet, a popular pro-Arema twitter account also argues against connecting the events outside of the stadium with those inside of the stadium. One of their tweets states: “we haven’t known about what happened outside, at what time, and what it was like. All that we know is that there were things being thrown at the armoured vehicle [rantis] and a police vehicle was set on fire. Don’t connect things that happened outside with what happened inside, as it will obscure the firing of the Tear Gas.” To borrow from Harraway again, the assembling of the stories requires us to entangle various response-abilities and sense-abilities. Excluding narratives and the non-human compromises this effort. 

Pembantaian (slaughter, massacre) brings the deaths of fans into a different realm and associates it with the structured killings of supposed communist sympathisers. While, referring to it only as a ‘stampede’ and removing it from its broader context also diminishes the ongoing systemic structural violence against the urban poor. This tragedy – the term I prefer – was caused by the police, the PSSI, the panpel of the game, and the actions of some of the fans. All are culpable in the deaths of the 132 people who died at the stadium or at nearby hospitals. How we talk about their lives and deaths matters. We need to keep in mind the trouble of their moments of death and the multiple actors which enabled events to happen in the way they did.

Andy Fuller is a postdoctoral research fellow at Utrecht University. His email address is

[1] This is an adapted account of a story associated with the Kanjuruhan Tragedy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.