Since the Asian Financial Crisis
has been limping
along trying to recover from the crippling
blow to its econony
. With the fall of the dictator Suharto
, reforms were finally made to begin reconstruction
of the country
. The economy
hit the native Indonesians
prices to rise quickly, making some people unable to buy food
It turns out that most of Indonesia's shop owners are ethnic Chinese. This does not mean that they speak a different language or separate themselves. They have been part of Indonesia for generations and speak Indonesian. However, they do run most of the private businesses in Indonesia. They are not significantly richer, but there is a gap between the average Chinese Indonesian and the native Indonesian in terms of wealth.
When the riots began, the obvious targets were the Chinese Indonesians. They had the food, after all. Anti-Chinese sentiment is also deeply rooted in Indonesian culture for the past 50 years. However, it did not end at mere looting like it usually does. It turned into an anti-Chinese movement sweeping across Indonesia, due to the financial troubles the country was experiencing. The Chinese had all their possessions taken from them, all their shops and establishments wrecked by raging mobs, and some of them were savagely beaten, some to death. Christian churches were burned to the ground as they were mainly used by the Chinese population.
It did not end there. Needing a scapegoat for the financial crisis, the extremely corrupt Indonesian government used the army to incite further riots against the Chinese. Soldiers dressed as civilians were seen raping Chinese women and killing Chinese civilians. This triggered even more looting and killings. It even happened in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.
Rape was the most brutal punishment for the Chinese (mostly women, but sometimes men as well). Since there is a stigma surrounding the issue of rape, most of them went unreported. And in Chinese traditional culture virginity is highly prized. Many of the people who were raped committed suicide afterwards. The "encouragement" from the government only made things worse.
Many Chinese fled to nearby Singapore, or to Sydney Australia. The racist culture in Indonesia against the ethnic Chinese is so deeply rooted that it is impossible to completely remove, even years from now. Now the atrocities have died down. But so many lives have been ruined and lost already by the practically state-sanctioned hate crimes that were committed between 1997 to 1999 in Indonesia.