Wed, 23 Aug 2000

The other side of RI's history

The following is based on a presentation by historian Asvi Warman Adam from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). It is based on a presentation for a symposium on East Timor and Indonesia, held in Portugal last month.

LISBON: Indonesian historians have been faced with a dilemma. Should they remain in their ivory towers or should they respond to the wishes of the people? This dilemma is clearly reflected in Indonesian historiography, which can be broken down into three stages.

The historian Kuntowijoyo claims that the first stage was marked by the decolonization of Indonesia's historical perception. During the first seminar on national history in Yogyakarta in 1957, the issue of the decolonization of history dominated the talks, with the Euro-centric historians pitting themselves against the Indonesia-centric movement.

The second stage was characterized by the dominant use of social sciences in history, as was evident in the subsequent seminar held in Yogyakarta in 1970.

One benefit of this social science approach is that it is neutral in the face of authority. Yet it also marked the alienation of history from the public.

The third stage was marked by a commitment to abandon the ivory tower and face certain historical realities. This development can also be called the history of the victims and these victims, mostly those of politics and violence, have started to make themselves heard.

After Soeharto resigned in May 1998, Indonesia's historical course changed dramatically. While there was only one version of the country's history in the past, today we have a wide array of versions.

Among the people who spoke up were those grouped in the Foundation for the Investigation into Victims of the 1965/1966 Mass Killings. This organization is led by Sulami, a former secretary-general of the much stigmatized Indonesian Women's Movement, or Gerwani.

The writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer and his colleagues are compiling notes covering the period between 1945 to 1950. Two installments, Kronik Revolusi Indonesia, Vol I which covers the year of 1945, and Vol II which covers 1946, have already been published.

The current trends have their weaknesses, however.

The official history of the New Order, especially the part that deals with the 1965 coup attempt, is dominated by sources originating from the military trial hearings of 1966.

In varying degrees, and not only in Indonesia, examinations of suspects may involve interrogation techniques which include torture. The results which later become part of court proceedings carry very minimal historical value.

On the other hand, the studies by the "leftists", including those on the excavation of the mass graves in Java, tend to be amateur. They may be serious, but knowledge of methodology is lacking.

What would be a middle way?

During the New Order era, it was not possible to publish any history books that did not conform to the wishes of the regime.

The time is now ripe for the publication of a number of historical dissertations on the 1965-1966 period.

Among those already published, to mention a few, is a publication by LIPI's researcher Hermawan Sulistyo originally titled The forgotten years: Indonesia's missing history of mass slaughters (Jombang-Kediri, 1965-1966), a dissertation he wrote at the Arizona State University in 1997.

Another valuable work would be the one written by sociologist Iwan Gardono Sudjatmiko of the University of Indonesia titled The destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party: A comparative analysis of East Java and Bali, written at Harvard University in 1992.

A dissertation on Gerwani, written in the Netherlands, has also been published in Indonesian. The book by Saskia Wieringa, titled The politicization of gender relations in Indonesia: The Indonesian women's movement and Gerwani until the New Order state, shocked many with the revelation that all the dioramas at various historical monuments, such as at Lubang Buaya in East Jakarta and the National Monument in Central Jakarta, are based on fabricated facts.

Wieringa asserts it is not true that a sadistic torture occurred at Lubang Buaya, let alone the mutilation of the generals' genitals as has been described in history books throughout the years.

The reports depicting such actions by the women's organization Gerwani, which was associated with communism, soon led to mass anger, which in turn drove Indonesians to commit the largest slaughter in the country's history.

A thesis from the University of Indonesia's postgraduate program in history, titled Accounts of political prisoners on Buru island, completed in 1997, will soon be published by the LP3ES research center.

The public can now learn more about the making of well-known films believed to be based on history. New books on the subject include those by Budi Irawanto who writes about the military's "hegemony" in Indonesian cinema.

The publisher, Media Pressindo in Yogyakarta, has also issued a study on a communist-related movement in Yogyakarta's Gunung Kidul regency in 1959 to 1964, known as the Movement of the Hungry (Gerayak). Originally a final thesis for the Gadjah Mada University, it analyses "politics of peasant radicalization."

To a certain extent the publication of these books has managed to fill the void in historical research. All the above books can be said to have met the requirements in terms of data source and methodology.

Indonesian history, as taught for 32 years under the New Order, will be too difficult to replace within a short period of time. Therefore, any effort to straighten history should be carried out with all available means including the utilization of strategies that have been employed in the past, such as films and literature.

I was involved with the team assigned by then minister of education Juwono Sudarsono in 1998 to write a guideline for those teaching history. (This was shortly after Juwono said in October 1998 that teachers and school principals had agreed to give additional "proportional information" on national history - Ed).

I was not involved in the writing, but I attended most of the meetings. It was evident that writing a guidebook for history teachers is far from easy. The main purpose of the book was to clarify a few controversial events in Indonesia's history, such as the attempted coup, the 11th March 1966 document (justifying former president Soeharto's rise to power), the birth of Pancasila and the integration of East Timor.

The choice of the chapter's title, Integration of East Timor, clearly indicated that the events of 1975-1976 were not regarded as an invasion.

The first paragraph read: "Integration of East Timor into the state of the Republic of Indonesia officially took place on July 17, 1976, or two days after the plenary meeting of the House of Representatives of the Republic unanimously passed Law No. 7 of 1976, which stated that East Timor became Indonesia's 27th province."

It continued: "As far as the Indonesian government and the prointegration groups such as the Apodetis were concerned, the East Timor issue was over. However, anti-integration groups, especially the Fretilins, were of the opinion that the East Timor issue was not final. Differences in views and interests of the parties have led to controversies on the integration process."

The Balibo Proclamation of East Timor's "integration" was discussed in three pages, but the 1991 Santa Cruz slaying in Dili was not touched at all.

The history of East Timor must be rewritten. Should we treat the Indonesian soldiers who were killed in East Timor as heroes and martyrs, or bandits? Such a question is based on historical perception and interpretation.

One solution would be to limit the history taught in schools to the past 30 years. Students could first be taught the country's history from the pre-historical era up to 1970. Books could then be updated every five years, to prevent revisions every year. General knowledge, on the other hand, would still encourage students to remain updated on contemporary developments which constantly change and are therefore not suitable material for history teaching.

Difficulty in providing comprehensive, revised material is reflected by the fact that until today the attachments for history teachers regarding various rewritten historical events is yet to be completed.

Given such difficulties, the subject of East Timor, for instance, would be more feasible to teach in 2005, after more reflection on the events in a much less heated atmosphere.