Banser (Indonesia)

Country: Indonesia
Details of Formation: Banser is the civilian militia wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a Muslim movement with up to 40 million members in Indonesia. The NU and its youth group Ansor created Banser in 1968. After Abdurrahman Wahid (aka Gus Dur), who was the Chairman of the NU for 15 years, was elected president in 1999, Banser became politically more active (group was very pro-Dur). It acted as the party’s police and as the President’s safeguard. The date formed refers to the date Gus Dur is elected president. The first activity of the militia was recorded in 2000.
Details of Termination: The group fought violently (e.g. protests and suicide squads) to keep the President in office. Gus Dur was removed from the presidency in 2001 and so Banser ceased to be a PGM because it did not support the successor Megawati Soekarnoputri. Banser still exists as a group.
Purpose: The group was used by Dur as a personal force and support base, therefore the main tasks of the group are often related to his position. It took action against Dur’s critics, displayed support for and guarded Dur, and trained suicide squads in support of Dur. It was also used for security-related activities such as controlling crowds, securing party assemblies and security tasks normally part of the military’s scope (breaking up strikes, guarding factories). In the private sector it guarded businesses, helped with community events and guarded weddings.
Organisation: The PGM is the paramilitary wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which supported Gus Dur. The group was loyal to President Gus Dur, who was also influential in the NU, and under the formal control of NU’s youth wing. It acted as a kind of police for the National Awakening Party (PKB). Suicide squads were formed out of Banser members, who were trained by the militia.
Weapons and Training: The group armed itself with weapons such as clubs and heavy sticks. A large number of members received training from former members of the Marines, Kopassus and the police.
Size: According to the group itself, there were 520,000 members as of January 2001. Other sources estimate the number at 400,000 in the same month. A source from July 2001 reports that there were 600,000 members.
Reason for Membership: Fanatical loyalty to Gus Dur to the extent of being willing to die for him suggests that this was an incentive for membership. There was also the allegation that the group was involved in racketeering and used its position to tax businesses, which may have resulted in material motivations to join. The strong links to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) also suggest religious motives for joining Banser.
Treatment of Civilians: The role of the group is ambiguous, with reports of positive influences on the population such as guarding civilians, providing security and attempting to maintain order at demonstrations against Gus Dur. It was used to fight Gus Dur’s opponents and news sources report that demonstrations in support of him turned violent with involvement of the PGM. The activities of the group were seen as detrimental to the state of democracy.
Other Information: Banser is the paramilitary wing of the Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Former President Gus Dur, to which the group was closely connected to, ran for the National Awakening Party (PKB). This party was created in 1998. Gus Dur and the NU were involved in that process. Therefore, the party link is the PKB but Banser is part of the NU and was controlled through this group. The name of the group is short for Barisan Serba Guna (all-purpose troops). The uniforms worn by members were similar to those of the Kopassus/Kostrad/Marines or other military branches. There was also a religious component in the training of the group.
References: Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD.