Is Sari Site Sacred – Or Just Another Shakedown?

October 12, 2012

In the emotion-charged swirl of the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, many have come to Bali to pay tribute to the victims of an insane attack by anti-Western fanatics in 2002.

The deaths of 202 people from 22 countries, and the injuries sustained by another 240, left emotional scars on thousands of families and friends of the victims. The Sari Club in Kuta, site of the blast, was practically destroyed, along with the lives of the victims, and the peace of mind of their families.

The relatives and friends of those killed want closure. The survivors, and those close to them, want closure. The citizens of those countries where their murdered compatriots once lived want closure. But they’re not getting it, and perhaps they never will.

Yes, the cowards who, in pursuit of some warped religious-political agenda, thought it was perfectly acceptable to use powerful bombs to destroy hundreds of innocent lives are dead or in jail. Yes, there is a monument to those who died on a street corner nearby. Yes, there was a seismic shift of attitudes towards terrorism in the region, and a push to reduce the chances of such an outrage occurring again.

But to many of those affected, these responses, while comforting to some degree, did not bring closure. It was strongly felt by many that the Sari Club – the epicentre of the outrage – was a sacred site. They wanted the place where their loved ones died to be honoured with the creation of a memorial Peace Park, a place of contemplation and a reminder to all that violent political tactics achieve nothing in the long run, except to demean the perpetrators and their causes in the eyes of the world.

To many of us in the West, final closure is intimately tied up with places. We tend to place a great deal of importance on the sanctity of final resting places, and on the emotional power of memorials at actual sites where people perished. These provide both a spiritual focus and concrete anchor points for our thoughts and memories and prevent them from becoming too quickly diluted by time. They are how we show respect.

To this end, and with the support of the Australian government and Bali’s Provincial administration, plans were drawn up and $1,000,000 raised to implement a proposed Peace Park on the Sari site. Many words were spoken, many meetings were held, endless negotiations were entered into. It was classic NATO – No Action; Talk Only.

Ten years on, the Sari Club site is a filthy wasteland of unevenly packed dirt. Part of it is being used as rat-infested garbage dump. Motorists pay money to leave their cars and bikes all over it. A slum-like corrugated iron shack sells snacks and drinks. There is no signage and no-one shows any sign of remembering that 202 people were killed here 10 years ago. Oh yes, and since Bali has no public toilets, an area to one side has become a stinking, de-facto open sewer where those with full bladders can urinate on the ashes of the dead. The much-vaunted Peace Park has become a Piss Park instead.

What happened?

Well, for one thing, this is not a Western country. Attitudes and cultural mores are very different, and this includes attitudes to death. One Balinese explained it to me thus: “We are used to death. We die early. We die in accidents. We don’t really have graves, or memorials, or monuments. We have ceremonies.” He went on to use the term ‘continuous remembrance’, which I took to mean that the ‘monuments’ to those who die here are both internal and intangible.

That explains part of the laissez-faire approach to the disgusting junk-yard that is the Sari Club site, and the foot-dragging delays in creating what would be a true memorial in our eyes.

But the real reason why nothing has been done is that the money isn’t flowing –  the one  constant that flows through the veins of  the Indonesian body politic.

According to media reports, the land is privately owned by Tija Sukamto, a reputedly rich Javanese businessman. He in turn is said to have leased the land to Kadek Wiranatha, one of Bali’s richest tycoons, and a powerful and influential figure here. The amount raised by the Australian and Bali governments – around $1,000,000 – represents a fair market value for this land, perhaps even a little above. However, both men have steadfastly refused to sell, at least at the price being offered.

Instead, they are demanding $7,200,000 – a price which even the Governor of Bali has described as “crazy” and “unbelievable”. Why? Because they can. It’s their land. It is not sacred to them; it is sacred to us. They know that, and in their eyes, it is a perfect opportunity to drive up the price.

In my opinion, it is a battle that we supporters of a Peace Park can not win. We are motivated by sentiment, emotion and respect for the dead; they are motivated by profit. You don’t get to become successful in business if you let hard-nose financial decisions be swayed by emotion. Don’t blame them for that – it’s the way business is done here.

The ten-year stand-off can only be solved by one party beating a strategic retreat. In my view, insisting on the Sari Club as the only location for the Park is only going to drive up the price further. Let’s find an alternative site at a reasonable price, because the spiritual significance to us trumps the physical location.

Let’s do this quickly, so all the parties can at least get closure, if not comfort. And if Tija Sukamto and Kadek Wiranatha miss out on their $7.2 million windfall, or even fail to get market price for their land, well, that’s just business.

Or maybe it’s Karma.



  1. And where is this $1,000,000 now?????

  2. Bali…… Paradise of paradox
    We Expats support it

  3. Vyt, guess that’s one way to mark the day that hell came to Bali. For those of us who were here at the time, we have other things besides greed and avariciousness on our minds today…like those who we lost that day.

    • We all lost part of ourselves that day. We all want the memory of those who perished to be honoured, which is, in case you missed it, the whole point of my post. And we all want closure, and to understand the reasons why we haven’t been able to get it.
      For me at least, your sniping and morally superior tone is both petty, and demeans the spirit of what I wrote. On this day at least, leave it off, will you?

  4. Vyt, as I read your post, the message was predominantly to call attention to the greed and avariciousness that surrounds the plot of land upon which the Sari Club once sat, and far less about the need this day…the 10th anniversary, to remember and reflect on the lives of the victims…both foreign and Indonesian.

    I have no issue with the need to discuss the future of that site, but I do have an issue with your timing.

    In my humble opinion, it’s simply not appropriate to be mentioning the Sari Club site today as a “de-facto open sewer where those with full bladders can urinate on the ashes of the dead” on the 10th anniversary of that horrific event.

    At the very least, such a comment is hardly sensitive to those who lost loved ones, friends and family that day, and moreover, I would find it very difficult for anyone here on Bali and who lived through that experience (like me) to feel otherwise.

    You write, “on this day at least, leave it off, will you?” That’s precisely what I am asking you.

    • There I go again, responding to yet another straw man argument where you create your own (incorrect) interpretation of what I write, and then chastise me for it. Shame on me.
      A sophisticated troll Roy, but a troll nonetheless. No more comments on this thread from you please.

  5. Vyt, I think you’re right, Pak Kadek has made a fortune from Expats & Tourists for more than 3 Decades. I am not surprised he wants even more. I understand the Government has slapped an order on the site NOT to approved for any development on that site, so whats it worth now Pak Kadek?? Might as well be a good guy and bow down. Expats unite dont use Pak Kadek’s other venues.

    • The so-called ‘order’ by the governor is well-intentioned, like his moratorium on further unnecessary hotel development. Unfortunately, the Provincial Government of Bali basically has no power under Jakarta’s de-centralisation edict – the Regencies and their heads, the Bupatis, have almost total power. They are the ones who issue all development permits and collect relevant fees and inducements to facilitate those.

      Therein lies the problem. The Bupati of Badung Regency, who is in charge of all matters pertaining to development in Kuta might have been ‘ordered’ to freeze development on that site, but in fact has the power to ignore that ‘order’ if he so wishes. Anyone with sufficient clout could easily induce him to do so.

      As to boycotting Pak Kadek’s other businesses, I personally think that would achieve nothing except bad blood. The man has a business to run, and like any good businessman, will play hard-ball when he can. That is his right. But we can walk away from a deal that we see as unreasonable. That is our right. The greater our ‘need’ for that site, the less is our power. Let’s eliminate the need, focus on a different site, and thereby regain our power to do the right thing by the victims of this outrage.

  6. people died not just at the sari club , but also on the street , and also at paddys , they have built the memorial already to honour those unfortunate souls who lost their lives that horrible day , and the bombers have since been shot or jailed …, its 10 years on now – a park wont change anything , put a flower on the monument if you have to but do realize that someone owns that land and can do with it as they please, as you can with yours , I think the land owner need to be given a break . He doesnt deserve to be drawn into any of it .

  7. Good post. If the land can not be negotiated on in the short-term; perhaps it would be better trying to negotiate some sort of sensitive & respectful redevelopment.

    That said – there is still a window. And the inclusion of a lovely garden in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Legian St in itself would be well received.

    No different from parks and gardens in and around most capital cities.


  8. “Closure” is one of those stupid words. What does it mean? When your dad has been buried in his grave, there is closure? Does closure mean that the emotion and the sadness suddenly stops? That now you can get on with your life and never cry anymore?
    Enlighten me about “closure”

    • I guess it’s different for everyone.
      “Closure” for me isn’t something I do to stop the hurt, the sadness and the emotion, nor is it an event or specific action.
      It’s something that, when I look back, I recognise has already happened after the grieving has become acceptance.

      So closure for me is a sign that I have come to a place of acceptance, even though the sadness never really stops.

      But I agree, the word itself is a pop-psychology simplification of a very complex response to trauma. I actually regret using such a banal term now.

  9. I am happy that you accept the banality of the term “closure”.

    Dead people do not need a monument. The monument is in our mind.
    Einstein doesn’t have a tomb to lay flowers on.

    The brother of my grandfather was executed by the Nazis in a roadside cafe in the north of Belgium and his body has never been found. He was not even a Jew or a member of the resistance. He was drinking a beer in that cafe, but he looked like someone the Gestapo was hunting down.

    My good friend died at sea and had a watery grave.

    No monuments. Not necessary. Only the pyramids and the mummified body of Lenin show the futility of monuments.

  10. By the way, I hugely enjoy your columns. I love your opinions and your
    exquisite vocabulary.

    I’ve been living in Indonesia for the past thirty years, and I’d love
    to meet you somewhere in Sanur in a beach side cafe.

  11. Wow! Lots of articulate and well-reasoned responses to a thoughtful writing piece,many emotionally charged comments, and understandably so. Equal to or maybe greater than the issue of the location of the tragedy and its condition is- to ensure that this kind of violence never, ever happens again. I have only been here a short while (Bali), and it does seem like the counter-terrorist effort and militia force are effective and visually appear to be tactically modern. Finally, to all the victims of that violence I am truly saddened and sorry for your loss.

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