The Battle For History After Suharto
Gerry van Klinken
When President Habibie announced in late January 1999 that an independence
ballot would be held in East Timor, teachers there panicked. The teachers association
pleaded with Jakarta to transfer the non-locals among its teachers out, saying they were
being constantly harassed. “Their presence is rejected by the bulk of society,” the
association said. Soon after, money was made available to move thousands [sic] of them
A year later, the same thing happened in what is now officially called Papua
(formerly Irian Jaya, or West Papua in Western activist terminology). History teachers in
remote highland postings in February 2000 found themselves fleeing to the safety of a
town after parents threatened them for teaching a version of national history in which
Papuans had no role.
Nor was the post-authoritarian revolt against official versions of history confined
to Indonesia’s ‘colonial’ periphery. In West Kalimantan, a teacher confessed: “To be
honest, our students often accuse us of lying to them, for example about the Communist
Party and about Supersemar [the way Suharto came to power]. It hurts, but it is an
Thanks to Asvi Warman Adam, Ed Aspinall, John Butcher, Lance Castle, Mochtar
Pabottingi, Sylvia Tiwon, Michael Vatikiotis and especially Herb Feith and Richard
Tanter, for helpful comments on earlier drafts. An earlier version appeared under the
same title in Critical Asian Studies 33, 3 (July 2001: 323-50).
occupational hazard. We’re just sticking to what the government has laid down.”
Pressure of this kind - as well as internal criticisms that often preceded public outcry - led
Habibie’s Education Minister to initiate a review of the school curriculum. As we shall
see, the review limped along for a couple of years and was then buried under the weight
of institutional inertia.
Ever since nationalism became a key new element in the nation-states of Western
Europe in the early nineteenth century, history has been conscripted by states in order to
define a national identity that suits modern demands. In Indonesia, the historical
argument early on became an important weapon in anti-colonial discourse.
independence, the precariousness of the state, as most Indonesian elites soon perceived it,
lent the ‘history for nation-building’ project a sense of urgency, and raised its stakes.
Nationalism has inclusive, democratizing forms that emphasize the attachment to
a set of political ideas and institutions (sometimes, following Kohn
, called ‘civic
nationalism’), as well as to exclusionary, essentialist forms highlighting myths of origin
(‘cultural nationalism,’ or ‘ethnic nationalism’). The nation-building project in Indonesia
has made use of both, but coopted them for a statist ideology that was asserted in the
2. “Ketika sejarah membingungkan guru”, Kompas, 29 April 2000.
Anthony Reid, “The nationalist quest for an Indonesian past,” in Anthony Reid and
David Marr (eds), Perceptions of the past in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Heinemann,
Hans Kohn, The idea of nationalism, A study in its origin and background (New York:
Macmillan, 1945), pp 18-20.
mass media and especially in the classroom.
School history lessons, ignoring every other
social, cultural or economic dynamic, turned the previous three centuries into one
continuous struggle for the Indonesian state against an array of enemies - first the
colonial Dutch, then internal enemies such as communists and separatists.
The loss of faith among Indonesian pupils in 1999-2000 signified a revolt against
a historical discourse that has been mainstream since the Japanese Occupation. Klooster,
in his survey of Indonesian historiography, describes how the Japanese introduced the
anti-colonial historiography of Muhammad Yamin and Sukarno into Indonesia’s formal
schooling during 1942-45.
In the 1930s, these two ardent and romantic nationalists had
developed a three-stage concept of Indonesian history for use in their struggle. Sukarno
called it the trimurti:
What about activating nationalism? How do you bring it to life? There are three
steps. First, we show the people that the life they led long ago was a good life;
second, we intensify the realization that theirs is a dismal life today; third, we turn
their gaze to the bright and shining rays of a future day, and we show them ways
to reach that promise-filled hour.
See Barbara Leigh, ‘Making the Indonesian state: The role of school texts,’ in Review
of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 25, i (Winter 1991:17-43). Also Jean van de Kok,
Robert Cribb and M. Heins, “1965 and all that: History and the politics of the New
Order,” in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 25, ii (Summer 1991: 84-93).
H. A. J. Klooster, Indonesiers schrijven hun geschiedenis, De ontwikkeling van de
Indonesische geschiedsbeoefening in theorie en praktijk, 1900-1985 (Leiden: Foris,
In other words, the PNI [Sukarno’s Nationalist Party] aroused and activated in the masses
an awareness of their “bounteous past,” their “dark ages,” and the “promise of a brightly
The first national school history text, written under the Japanese, remained in
print for many years. Its author, Sanusi Pane, was a mild-mannered and sophisticated
intellectual. He later acknowledged with some regret that his was a history of wars. Other
authors followed, equally gifted yet equally unable to extract themselves from the idea
that history’s main task is to create patriots. Muhammed Ali was Indonesia’s major
historiographer during the Sukarno period. He, too, held sophisticated, original ideas,
wanted to write a history of ‘ordinary’ Indonesians, and rejected Yamin’s romanticism
about the past. Yet he approved of government intervention in history writing to promote
a national mentality. Only one participant in the History Seminar that brought together
In Sukarno, Indonesia accuses! (Edited, translated, annotated, and introduced by Roger
K. Paget) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975 [Original 1931]), p.79 (italics in
original). Bintang Prakarsa points out that Sukarno's trimurti was incorporated into the
second paragraph of the opening of the 1945 Constitution, was then promoted as the
‘perspectivist’ view in the official historiography under Sukarno, and was finally
incorporated, renamed ‘trimatra,’ into the official historiography under Suharto by Kharis
Suhud (Y Bintang Prakarsa, Penguasa Orde Baru dan sejarah pada 1980a: Pembicaraan
dalam beberapa makalah Seminar Sejarah Nasional III-V, Yogyakarta: Gadja Mada
University, 1994 (S1/ BA thesis in History), p. 24.
Indonesian historians for the first time in 1957 argued that history should not be used to
Official nationalist history took a martial turn under Suharto’s New Order not
unlike that once promoted by the Japanese. Its mandarin was Nugroho Notosusanto, who
directed Pusat Sejarah Abri (the Center of Army History) before becoming Minister of
Education and Culture in the early 1980s. Under Nugroho’s supervision, the historical
establishment churned out one cardboard cutout ‘national hero’ biography after another.
Nugroho also directed the writing of the final, sixth volume of the official ‘National
History of Indonesia’ (Sejarah Nasional Indonesia, 1975) which dealt with Indonesia’s
living history, 1945-65. It was largely this volume (or rather the school-texts based on it)
that provoked the annoyance described above. Its stark anti-communism privileged the
military as national saviors at every crucial moment. The sheer anti-intellectualism of this
particular, martial view of national history, reinforced by monuments, films, and national
commemorations must bear much of the responsibility for the appalling historical
ignorance even among liberal arts university students today.
In private, Indonesian historians often squirmed at the manipulations that this
monological project required of them. So many biographies (no doubt interesting in their
Soedjatmoko later edited the interesting volume, An Introduction to Indonesian
Historiography (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1965).
On film, see Krishna Sen, Indonesian cinema (London: Zed, 1994). On monuments and
museums, see Klaus Schreiner, “History in the showcase: Representations of national
history in Indonesian museums,” in Sri Kuhnt-Saptodewo et al (eds), Nationalism and
cultural revival in Southeast Asia (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1997), pp. 99-117.
own right) forced into the narrow mould of the ‘national hero.’ So many internal conflicts
(the seeds of change in any unconscripted history) written out of the record. So much
context abandoned to see great men and glorious moments better. Yet when the
publication date approached for a new school textbook, they usually complied: the
alternative, they told themselves, seemed to be confusion and chaos.
leading elder historian, Sartono Kartodirdjo, said in 1997 that he had not changed his
mind on the importance of history in the nation-building project since the History
Seminar of forty years earlier. National history was a “symbol of Indonesian national
identity,” he said, and therefore had to have a high “affective value” for its young
More to the point, most historians were dependent on the state, in ways that
shaped how and when they voiced their dissent. Bintang Prakarsa has shown that protest
against what the historian Taufik Abdullah called the “hegemonic knowledge” of the
state in the historical area was limited to a few individuals. Mostly western-trained
A glimpse into this soul-searching among historians can be had in a book of papers by
a team set up by the Education Department to weed out historical 'errors' in school text
books. See the chapters by A.B. Lapian and R.Z. Leirissa in Anhar Gonggong (ed),
Pemikiran tentang penjernihan sejarah (Jakarta: Direktorat Sejarah dan Nilai Tradisional,
Proyek Pembinaan Kesadaran dan Penjernihan Sejarah, 1985).
Sartono Kartodirdjo, [chapter title? Correct, GvK:] “Ideologi kebangsaan dan
pendidikan sejarah,” in Sixth Kongres Nasional Sejarah, 1996 ([this is entered as the
book title:]Subtema Perkembangan teori dan metodologi, dan orientasi pendidikan
sejarah) (Jakarta: Depdikbud, 1997), pp.118-134.
academic historians, they felt out-numbered by the well-endowed and well-connected
‘state intellectuals’ and their equally dependent ‘educator’ colleagues, and thus kept their
Yet all notions - even those of national identity - are fragile. When the press in
1998 exploded some of the key historical myths upon which the nation-building project
had been built, and parents began to accuse hapless teachers around the country of
teaching ‘lies,’ the custodians of national history faced a difficult choice. They could
transform their subject into something more popular and less statist, or try to hang on to
the old formula. Thus far, they have chosen the latter course. Their indebtedness to state
officials, and hence their inability to respond creatively to societal pressures, exacerbated
the eroding legitimacy of Indonesian nationalism created by Suharto’s militarism.
Y Bintang Prakarsa, Penguasa Orde Baru. Taufik Abdullah himself provided the
strongest and most consistent criticism. [leave as now entered in the master bibliography
as just the edited volumes without specific articles GvK]See for example his writings in
Taufik Abdullah and Abdurrachman Surjomihardjo (eds), Ilmu sejarah dan historiografi:
Arah dan perspektif, (Jakarta: Gramedia, 1985), and in Koentjaraningrat (ed), The social
sciences in Indonesia, (Jakarta: Indonesian Institute of Social Sciences, 1975). Taufik
used the phrase ‘hegemonic knowledge’ in “Taufik Abdullah: Orba memang murid
Snouck Hurgronje yang paling patuh,” in Panji Masyarakat, 29 September 1999.[GvK:
popular magazine interview with his name in the title, no author. is this a
magazine/newspaper article? Is Taufik Abdullah the author AND part of the title? Now
entered in the master bib as author only.]
However, the battle for history after Suharto did not belong to historians alone.
Out in the market of ideas, now much less controlled by state censors, were a host of
alternative histories, whose persuasive power could determine not merely the future of
the nation-building project, but perhaps that of the Indonesian nation itself.
‘History,’ in what follows, is not the stuff of specialized academic journals .
It is the
important stories about the past that, to some extent, have become common property.
Everyone can read them in school texts, in newspapers and books, or see them on films
and television, and then discuss them. In reality, there is no single Indonesian history, but
numerous histories. The processes by which those many histories are reduced to a
handful of more or less ‘accepted’ ones within the nation tell us how power, together with
resistance to it, shape what is seen as national history.
The Challenge of Alternative National Histories
Under the New Order, ordinary Indonesians had their past served to them from
above as a ‘legacy,’ merely requiring passive assent. Suharto’s New Order history
textbooks, like their Stalinist counter-parts, were mind-numbingly dull accounts, liberally
sprinkled with bad photographs of soldiers and rows of grim men at diplomatic
After Suharto’s resignation in May 1998, a much freer publishing environment
saw long suppressed historiographies reemerge and vie for new adherents, similar to the
Thai experience as it emerged from military rule. Thongchai observed several currents of
historical discourse emerging in that country after the student anti-military protests of
For example Sejarah (Indonesian Academy of Sciences, LIPI), or Lembaran Sejarah
(Gadjah Mada University).
His four new streams were: a critical reaction to the conventional nationalist
school, a Marxist economic history school, a non-racist revision of early history, and a
greatly increased interest in local histories. Indonesia has not seen the greatly increased
enrolment in university history departments that Thongchai reported, but it has seen a
similar proliferation of historical debate in the public arena.
We can identify four historiographical streams in post-New Order Indonesia. The
first is (1) the orthodox nationalist stream, which remains dominant even after Suharto,
though challenged from within on some details, and increasingly disbelieved without.
None of the three others are unprecedented, as we can see from Klooster’s survey, but
each has emerged with fresh energy.
We might call them (2) societal historiographies
on the national level, (3) ethno-nationalist historiographies in some sub-national regions,
and (4) a renewed interest in (not necessarily political) local histories that can be seen as
the local equivalent of item two above.
Studies of historical discourse in other post-authoritarian countries suggest that,
even under sustained challenge, myth making is too useful to be simply abandoned.
Much more likely is that the effort is redirected to new ends.
In Indonesia, too,
Thongchai Winichakul, “The changing landscape of the past: new histories in Thailand
since 1973,” in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 26, 1 (March 1995), pp. 99-120.
In his Indonesiers, Klooster implicitly distinguishes nationalist, ethnic/ regionalist,
islamist and marxist history writing (op. cit. pp.55-59). I have not considered Islamist
history-writing a separate category, and have added local histories as a new category.
For example, post-Soviet Russian school texts replaced communism with an ideology
of ‘Russianness’ that highlighted Dostoyevski, no longer the defender of the poor but of
authoritarian nationalist historiography is by no means dead. It has abandoned Suharto,
but not the central role of the army in more recent national histories, nor the statist
ideology that underpins it.
The post-Suharto reaction was initially directed mostly against a version of recent
Indonesian history in which, despite Suharto’s feigned protests against a ‘personality
cult,’ his role had been elevated to almost superhuman heights in films, monuments,
museums, and annual ceremonies. Two films made at the height of the New Order
depicted Lt-Col Suharto’s heroic role in a historical episode of Indonesia’s war for
independence in 1945-49.
The city of Yogyakarta had been the revolutionary capital of
the Republic of Indonesia, but Dutch troops seized this last key stronghold on Java in
December 1948. When republican troops managed to re-enter it on 1 March 1949, albeit
briefly, they helped turn the tide of world opinion, and this led to international
recognition of Indonesia’s independence by the end of 1949. By placing the military,
under Suharto, at the center of this event, Suharto’s admirers were implying that he
“a unique and superior Russian culture that is hostile to Western bourgeois
individualism” (see, e.g., Elena Lisovskaya and Vyacheslav Karpov, “New ideologies in
postcommunist Russian textbooks,” in Comparative Education Review 43,4 (November
1999), pp. 522-43).
Janur kuning [FILM: create film list at end of article] (‘Young coconut leaf,’ directed
by Alam Rengga Surawidjaja in 1979) and [FILM] Serangan fajar (‘Dawn attack,’
directed by Arifin C Noer in 1981). See Budi Irwantono, Film, ideologi dan militer:
Hegemoni militer dalam sinema Indonesia, Analisa semiotik terhadap ‘Enam djam di
Jogja,’ ‘Janur kuning,’ dan ‘Serangan fajar' (Yogyakarta: Media Pressindo, 1999).
personally had brought the nation to birth. The message was reinforced in two huge
Yogyakarta monuments built in the Suharto era - one to commemorate the 1 March 1949
attack, and one to commemorate the return of Yogyakarta to its position as the republican
capital four months later.
Suharto also played the central role in the film “Pengkhianatan G30S/ PKI” (‘The
treachery of the 30 September Movement / Indonesian Communist Party’)
. This violent
account of the way Suharto decisively took over the reigns of power in the days
following the coup attempt on 30 September/1 October 1965 highlighted the
‘treacherous’ role of the Communist Party. Communist women were portrayed as
frenzied killers at Lubang Buaya, in Jakarta’s air force base, where several generals were
murdered. Every 1 October for nearly two decades, this film was all but compulsory
viewing. Television broadcast it in prime time. Although school children accustomed to
violence on screen increasingly found it slow-moving, whole classes were taken to see it
at the local cinema (at their own expense).
Like the 1949 event, the 1965 event was immortalized in massive monuments and
graphic museum dioramas - the latter routinely included in school history tours. Every 1
October, President Suharto led a solemn ceremony at Lubang Buaya named Hari
Kesaktian Pancasila in honor of the ‘supernatural efficacy’ (kesaktian) of the Pancasila
state ideology. The message of the ceremony was clear: on this day the nation was saved
from communism. Nothing was said about the murders of hundreds of thousands of
communists and others that followed this event.
Moreover, Armed Forces Day,
Arifin C Noer, director, 1981.
On Lubang Buaya, see the PhD dissertation by Kate McGregor, “Claiming History:
Military Representations of the Indonesian Past in Museums, Monuments and other
commemorating the 1945 birth of the military on 5 October, underlined the same
message with large military parades. Finally, 11 March 1966 was another sacred date in
the New Order’s ‘hegemonic knowledge.’ On this day each year, newspapers carried
‘eyewitness accounts’ of the decisive manner in which General Suharto restored order by
arranging for President Sukarno to sign over most of his powers.
Various challenges to these versions of Indonesian history emerged during the
years of the New Order, along with persistent attempts to deal with them by censorship
and book banning. Over 2,000 books are estimated to have been banned over the three
decades of Suharto’s rule.
A report on these bans discusses twelve historical titles in the
last decade alone. Most dealt with the events of 1965-66, but others took up the regional
revolts of 1957-58 and the role of Indonesians of Chinese descent.The attorney general
maintained that the banned works “inverted the facts,” which could “lead the public
astray” and ultimately “disturb public order.”
In the New Order’s later years, , increasingly, hegemonic knowledge was being
undermined by new technologies: the uncontrollable internet began to flourish in the mid-
1990s and combined with the photocopy machine, it reached large numbers of people.
Private television, more attractive than the under-funded state broadcaster, began to test
the bounds of censorship. Publishers brought out bannable books very quickly, knowing
they could recoup their investment before officials had time to react. Newspapers
Sources of Official History from Guided Democracy to the New Order” (Department of
History, The University of Melbourne, 2002)
Academic freedom in Indonesia: Dismantling Soeharto-era barriers (New York:
Human Rights Watch, August 1998) (www.hrw.org/hrw/reports98/indonesia2/).
introduced a skeptical note into the obligatory ‘eyewitness’ accounts printed on the New
Order’s sacred dates, for example by asking where the original Supersemar document had
gone. Among the first to challenge the Suhartoist version of history openly were former
state actors whom Suharto had purged for their association with (his predecessor)
Sukarno, and although their historical appeals remained focused on statist ideas, the
challenge itself was a revelation to the public.
On 1 June 1998, not yet two weeks after Suharto resigned, Sukarno’s daughter
Megawati Sukarnoputri joined a group of retired military officers, a Sukarno-era foreign
minister, and even some serving Foreign Affairs Department officials, to commemorate
the day in 1945 on which her father Sukarno had formulated Pancasila.
eliminated the day as part of an anti-Sukarno purge, preferring to link Pancasila with his
own intervention on 1 October 1965. (Strangely, President Megawati did not go on to to
restore 1 June as a national day.)
Next, ex-officers who had been prominent in the Sukarno era teamed up with
student demonstrators to challenge Supersemar, the 11 March 1966 letter General
Suharto wrung from President Sukarno to obtain his emergency powers. Although the
original letter has never been seen in public, New Order spokespeople routinely described
it as the regime’s genuine legal basis. However, this challenge did not go unanswered. In
July 1998, the military faction in parliament told protesters that ‘straightening out the
“Peringatan Hari Kelahiran Pancasila 1 Juni 1998: Megawati - Hentikan menghujat
Soeharto,” Kompas, 2 June 1998.
historical record’ should be limited to discovering the missing Supersemar document.
late 1998 the police called in a former Sukarno bodyguard, who had challenged the New
Order account of Supersemar on some crucial details. He was indicted for ‘false
Reformers had more success with their assault on the Suhartoist version of the 1
March 1949 dawn attack on Yogyakarta. The event lay in the distant past and, more
importantly, the official version had deeply offended the then-Sultan of Yogyakarta,
Hamengkubuwono IX, who had played an important role in conceptualizing the
diplomatic thrust of the attack but had been written out of the story. That sultan had since
passed away, but his son (Hamengkubuwono X) had taken over as governor of the
Yogyakarta Special District. Hamengkubuwono X had inherited his father’s resentment
of Suhartos’ claims about the 1949 episode, and was an important figure in the
‘reformasi’ politics of 1998 that unseated Suharto.
In September 1998 retired General Nasution, more senior than Suharto in the
1945-49 revolution but sidelined by Suharto in 1966, stated that Suharto never fired a
rifle during the Yogyakarta attack, and was in fact sheltering with the Sultan at the time.
This was contrary to the claim of “official” history
, of course, and by the time the 1
“Ketua F-Abri soal Supersemar: Saatnya saksi sejarah buka suara,” Kompas, 21 July
“Soekardjo Wilardjito: Saya korban Supersemar,” Bernas, 2 February 1999.
“Pak Nas ragukan kepahlawanan Soeharto: "Inisiatif Serangan Umum dari Sri Sultan
HB IX,”’ Jawa Pos, 28 September 1998.
March anniversary came around in 1999, the impact of Nasution’s remark had swelled
into a storm of contempt. Some old guerrillas who had fought for Suharto tried their best
to maintain their commander’s prestige, but in the end they moved their commemoration
to a secret location for fear of disruption. The New Order version of history had, on this
issue, been decisively discredited.
By March of the following year, it was possible for
state radio RRI to broadcast a panel discussion of the event that completely undermined
In his stead, the prestige of the Yogyakarta sultanate had risen
considerably. On 29 June 2000, the sultan was present at the unveiling of a new (though
more modest) monument to commemorate his father’s role in the return of Yogyakarta to
“Dialog SO 1 Maret bingungkan guru dan taruna,” Bernas, 2 March 1999; “Setengah
abad ''Serangan Oemoem'' 1 Maret: Legenda Soeharto, masih ada misteri,” Suara
Pembaruan, 28 February 1999; “Pakar dan pelaku bongkar SO 1 Maret siang ini,”
Bernas, 1 March 1999; “Mendikbud instruksikan sejarawan luruskan ''Serangan Umum 1
Maret'',’ Suara Pembaruan, 1 March 1999; “Sultan HB IX: Soeharto berani terima
tantangan saya,” Bernas, 2 March 1999; “Serangan Oemoem 1 Maret 1949: Soeharto
cuma pelaksana lapangan,” Tajuk, 4-17 March 1999.
“Soeharto bukan penggagas Serangan Oemoem 1 Maret 1949,” Kompas, 1 March
2000; entered as a report: “Batara: Fakta baru Serangan Oemoem 1 Maret 1949,” (4
parts), SiaR, 1 March 2000 (gopher://gopher.igc.apc.org:2998/7REG-INDONESIA); A.
Budi Hartono, Tataq Chidmad and Sri Endang Sumiyati, Pelurusan sejarah Serangan
Oemoem 1 Maret, 1949 (Yogyakarta: Media Presindo, 2001).
The Air Force was another once powerful group aggrieved by the Suharto version
of history, especially the events of 1965. Its leadership had sided with Sukarno and with
members of PKI-affiliated groups against the army leadership for years. The propaganda
film “Pengkhianatan G30S/ PKI” depicted leftist militias training at Halim Air Force
base in Jakarta in September 1965. Soon after winning power, Suharto had removed the
Air Force from all positions of influence. Late in 1999, to considerable advance publicity,
former Air Force Chief-of-Staff Air Marshall Sri Mulyono Herlambang and a group of
retired Air Force officers brought out a book to “straighten out the historical record” and
clear the Air Force’s reputation of its alleged communist stain.
The book traced the
1965 event to rivalry between the services, with the army as the bad guy, and not to
ideological conflict within society. Former Air Force Chief-of-Staff Omar Dhani,
imprisoned in 1965 and not released until thirty years later, kept his lips sealed, but
published his 1966 defense speech.
Similar accusations that Suharto had sacrificed brothers-in-arms under the cloak
of an ideological civil war he himself had helped instigate could be read in books
published by an old navy man and a key Sukarnoist soldier. A.M. Hanafi was a former
Aristides Katoppo et al (eds), Menyingkap kabut Halim 1965 (Jakarta: Sinar Harapan,
Benedicta Soerojo and GMV Supartono. [GvK: correct! ? Tuhan starts the title??]
Tuhan, pergunakanlah hati, pikiran dan tanganku: Pledoi Omar Dani (Jakarta: ISAI,
marine, a Sukarno loyalist, and in 1965 the Indonesian ambassador to Cuba.
important was the defense speech of Abdul Latief, an infantry commander in Jakarta in
1965 and a Sukarnoist. He was arrested on 11 October 1965 for his involvement in the
kidnapping and murder ten days earlier of six generals whom he and his colleagues had
suspected of plotting against Sukarno. He was not sentenced until 1978. After suffering
terrible privations, he was finally released on 25 March 1999. His book accused Suharto
of complicity in the murder of the generals of which he himself had been accused.
Largely under pressure of this internal kind by former state actors, interim
President Habibie’s Education Minister Juwono Sudarsono announced in October 1998
that he had formed a team to review the school history textbooks and produce a more
Juwono then said he had ordered changes in five areas: the 1945
birth of Pancasila, the 1 March 1949 Yogyakarta attack, the 1 October 1965 event, the 11
March 1966 Supersemar, and the 1976 ‘integration’ of East Timor into Indonesia.
AM Hanafi, AM Hanafi menggugat kudeta Jenderal Soeharto: Dari Gestapu ke
Supersemar (Lille: Edition Montblanc, 1998)
Abdul Latief, Pleidoi Kolonel A Latief: Soeharto terlibat G30S (Jakarta: Institut Studi
Arus Informasi (ISAI), 2000). The introduction was written by Ben Anderson. See
Suharto's rebuttal in what may turn out to be his last coherent published interview:
“Wawancara eksklusif dengan Pak Harto,” Tabloid Siar (19-25 April, 1999: 12-19).
“Suharto’s murky past written into history,” The Australian, 3 October 1998.
“Education ministry introduces major changes,” Jakarta Post, 30 December 1999.
However, rather than a new curriculum, the Education Department on 19 October
1999 issued a guide for teachers - apparently one of several for different school levels -
on how to cope with the discrepancy between ‘official’ (resmi) and media accounts of
The project was coordinated by the Departmental historian Anhar Gonggong, a
protégé of Nugroho Notosusanto,.
and illustrates how little enthusiasm for fundamental
change there still was within the political and cultural establishment in the post-Suharto
period. The reason given for writing the guide was that “uncertainty” would end in
“negative consequences for national togetherness [‘kebersamaan’].” It did not, however,
challenge the orthodox nation-building historiography of the New Order, and did no more
than faithfully reflect the slight shifts within the power elite after Suharto.
Meanwhile, the military remained powerful enough to suppress other dissident
accounts. Sukarno’s Foreign Minister Subandrio, imprisoned by Suharto for thirty years,
also prepared his memoirs, but his Jakarta publisher backed off from the project and
Pedoman bahan ajar sejarah bagi guru sekolah lanjutan tingkat pertama (SLTP/MTs):
Kurikulum 1994, Suplemen GBPP mata pelajaran ilmu pengetahuan sosial (Jakarta:
Depdiknas, Dirjen Pendidikan Dasar dan Menengah, 1999). This is the guide for junior
high school only. I have not seen the others.
“Anhar Gonggong: Suplemen pelajaran sejarah tak dikte guru dan murid,” Kompas, 8
April 2000. His office's publication record included a history of East Timor that angered
so many East Timorese in early 1999 (AB Lapian & JR Chaniago, Timor Timur dalam
gerak pembangunan [Jakarta: Depdikbud, 1988]).
destroyed all 10,000 copies of the print run just before release in late 2000.
negative reactions to historical revisionism were evident, as
in May 2001 a newly formed alliance of anti-communist vigilante groups held a public
burning of books they considered ‘leftist.’ The alliance, which the press alleged had links
with both the Suharto-era state political party Golkar and the army, threatened to raid
bookstores on 20 May, National Education Day. In response, big bookstores removed
books by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and other titles from their shelves.
In March 2000, President Abdurrahman Wahid took up the demand of a group of former
civilian communist prisoners to revoke the ban on communism brought down by the
People’s Consultative Assembly in 1966.
On 14 March he issued an unofficial yet
unprecedented apology on behalf of the Islamic organization Nahdatul Ulama he once
led, for the violence its youth organization committed against communists at that time.
The storm of establishment outrage that greeted Wahid’s announcements highlighted the
failure of reformasi. Without the military needing to raise its voice, civilian
The manuscript circulated in photocopied form before finally being brought out by a
small Jakarta publisher. [GvK: yes include. Include in bibliography, or no?] It was
reviewed in the mass media. (Dr H Soebandrio, Kesaksianku tentang G-30-S (Jakarta:
Forum Pendukung Reformasi Total, 2001; Asvi Warman Adam, “Kesaksian seorang
kepala intelijen,” Tempo, 4 February 2001).
Stanley [GvK: as published. first name??], “Opening that dark page,’ in Inside
Indonesia no.63 (July-September 2000: 6-7); “Sulasmi [sic]: "Saya punya obsesi
membongkar pembunuhan G30S,”’ Tempo, 30 August-5 September 1999. The ban is
known by the designation Tap No 25/MPRS/1966.
commentators from all sides of parliamentary politics united to depict Wahid as an
‘unpredictable,’ ‘controversial,’ and ‘confusing’ figure. In May 2000, all factions in
parliament rejected Wahid’s proposal to lift the communist ban. Wahid had been isolated
and appeared to be the only liberal figure in government.
Hostility to ‘communism’ remained the key conviction of the great majority of
state actors. True, President Habibie’s Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah cancelled the
annual broadcast of the unpopular “Pengkhianatan G30S/ PKI “ , but a less bloodthirsty
anti-communist film was screened in its stead.
In 1998 and 1999, President Habibie still
led the 1 October Hari Kesaktian Pancasila ceremony in honor of the murdered generals,
just as Suharto had done since 1966. In 1999, newly elected PDI-P parliamentarians
boycotted it, saying it was time to ‘desacralize’ the day, although by the next year all was
Renamed the ‘Commemoration of the National Tragedy due to the Betrayal of
the Pancasila,’ the year 2000 ceremony watered down the military emphasis but remained
an occasion for anti-communist speeches.
Clearly, the long-established New Order
version of history had been little dented even by the tumultuous resignation of its central
Societal historiographies at the national level
The new film was Bukan sekadar kenangan, directed by Tatiek Maliyati and J
Sihombing, [FILM (reference to, not cited.)] of which little has been heard since then.
“Anggota legislatif PDI Perjuangan tolak hadiri upacara di Lubang Buaya,” SiaR, 1
October 1999. It was the day they were sworn in as new MPR members.
“Betrayal of Pancasila tragedy commemorated,” Jakarta Post, 2 October 2000.
The reactionary official nationalism described in the previous section, part
intellectual inertia among opinion-makers still comfortably dependent on the state, part
persistent interests of powerful state officials in the post-Suharto period, shows how little
had changed within the power elite. However, if it were to succeed in recovering even
some of its former dominance, the elite would have to deal with a variety of counter-
hegemonic movements whose combined effect was stronger than anything it had ever
One element of this resistance is an intellectual ennui that parallels the protests of
primary school pupils, described above. The deceits of the New Order, remembered amid
the multi-dimensional crisis the nation faced in its aftermath, had gone so deep that for
some, little remained to inspire the thought that Indonesia as a nation-state remained a
worthwhile project. The journalist and historian Parakitri Simbolon chose to open the
thick end-of-millennium volume 1000 Tahun Nusantara with the following pessimistic
During the crisis [of the last two years] it became clear that Indonesia really is a
‘make believe’ country, a heap of delusions. Of all the ideals that have been
paraded for decades and that people have believed in, not one could survive. Even
so, this harsh reality was still not strong enough to produce any satisfactory
Parakitri T Simbolon, “Indonesia memasuki milenium ketiga,” pp2-16 in J. B.
Kristanto (ed), Seribu tahun Nusantara (Jakarta: Kompas, 2000).
This was a rarely heard view, suggesting the possibility, of which Robert Cribb
has written briefly elsewhere, of a loss of the will for empire at the center.
often crumble not from the edges in but from the center out. Emerging Turkish
nationalism, Cribb recalled, caused the Ottoman Empire to collapse at the beginning of
the twentieth century, while at its end resurgent Russian nationalism helped topple the
Societal or populist historiographies on the national level present
themselves as histories of ordinary Indonesians struggling for justice against an
oppressive state. Most are leftist, but some are Islamist. While always outvoted within a
deeply nationalist establishment, leftist historiography has long been important. Its most
significant difference with the nationalist mainstream is that it recognizes the reality of
conflict within Indonesian society, and traces it to the greed of the powerful. Its best-
known early exponent was Tan Malaka, who rejected the glorious first phase of
Sukarno’s trimurti (discussed above) because he saw nothing but authoritarianism and
feudalism in the distant past.
Another variety of leftist commentary on the past was spurred by Sulami,
former secretary-general of the women’s organization Gerwani that was banned early in
Robert Cribb, [new reference for bibliography] “Independence for Java? New national
projects for an old empire”, pp. 298-307 in Grayson Lloyd and Shannon Smith (eds),
Indonesia today: Challenges of history (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies,
Tan Malaka (transl. & introd. Helen Jarvis), From jail to jail, (3 vols) (Athens: Ohio
Univ Press, 1991).
the New Order. Active in women’s movements since late colonial times, Sulami was
arrested by the military early in 1967, tortured, and only sentenced in 1975. International
pressure helped free most political prisoners by 1979, but she was not released until 1984.
In April 1999 she and some other ex-political prisoners set up an organization to recover
the historical truth about the 1965-66 massacres. One of her associates in this
organization published a thick autobiography with the provocative title ‘Struggle of a
A re-emergent leftist historiography goes far beyond the demand for justice for
one’s own political group. With the New Order’s xenophobia seriously eroded, long-
ignored investigations of the 1965-66 killings by several foreign authors began to appear
in translation, and Indonesian commentators felt free to publish work they researched
overseas and to quote foreigners who would once have been described as ‘anti-
The list of books about 1965-66 now runs into the dozens, too many to list
here. Many are by long-silenced witnesses, others defend the New Order viewpoint.
Hasan Raid, Pergulatan Muslim Komunis: Otobiografi Hasan Raid (Yogyakarta:
LKPSM/ Syarikat, 2001).
Translations of foreign works include Harold Crouch, Militer dan politik di Indonesia
(Jakarta: Sinar Harapan, 1999) and Saskia Wieringa, Penghancuran gerakan perempuan
di Indonesia (Jakarta: Garba Budaya & Kalyanamitra, 1999). An Indonesian who
published work researched overseas was Hermawan Sulistiyo, Palu Arit di Ladang Tebu:
Sejarah pembantaian massal yang terlupakan (Jakarta: Gramedia, 2000). [new reference
for bibliog.] See also I.G. Krisnadi. Tahanan Politik Pulau Buru 1969-1979 (Jakarta:
LP3S, 2001), and the neglected . Books published in the West included Frank Stewart &
John McGlynn (eds), Silenced voices: New writing from Indonesia, Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press (Manoa, special edition), 2000); Geoffrey Robinson, The dark side of
paradise: Political violence in Bali (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995); Robert Cribb
(ed), The Indonesian killings 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali (Melbourne:
Monash University, 1991); Carmel Budiardjo, Bertahan hidup di Gulag Indonesia (Kuala
Lumpur: Wirakarya, 1997); MR Siregar, Tragedi manusia dan kemanusiaan: Kasus
Indonesia, sebuah holokaus yang diterima sesudah Perang Dunia Kedua (2d edn.)
(London: Tapol, 1995).
Include in bibliography?? Among the most important are some already mentioned:
Bayang bayang PKI, (1995); Aristides Katoppo et al (eds), Menyingkap kabut Halim
1965 (1999); Benedicta Soerojo and JMV Soeparno, Pledoi Omar Dani (2001); AM
Hanafi, AM Hanafi menggugat kudeta Jenderal Soeharto (1998); Abdul Latief, Pleidoi
Kolonel A Latief,(2000); Dr H Soebandrio, Kesaksianku tentang G-30-S (2001);Harold
Crouch, Militer dan politik di Indonesia (1999); Saskia Wieringa, Penghancuran gerakan
perempuan (1999). Hermawan Sulistiyo, Palu Arit di Ladang Tebu, (2000); Hasan Raid,
Pergulatan Muslim Komunis (2001).
Include all of this???: In addition: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Nyanyi sunyi seorang bisu,
Jakarta: Hasta Mitra (2000) (2 volumes, previously published by Lentera (1995),
Pramoedya's prison diary, translated into English as Pramoedya Ananta Toer, The Mute's
Soliloquy, translated by Willem Samuels (Jakarta: Hasta Mitra in cooperation with The
Lontar Foundation, 1999); Gerakan 30 September: Pemberontakan Partai Komunis
Indonesia (Jakarta: Sekretariat Negara Republik Indonesia, 1994), the official New
Order version still available in bookshops in 2001; Sobron Aidit, Kisah intel dan sebuan
Another significant educational effort was the film produced early in 2000 on the
1965 killings by Indonesia’s best-known filmmaker, Garin Nugroho. “Puisi tak
terkuburkan” (‘Unburiable poetry’) shows a few days in the life of a prison cell in Aceh
in 1965, where condemned leftists await execution. It was funded from overseas and did
not make the commercial cinemas, but was widely reviewed nonetheless.
A compassionate discourse on the healing importance of remembering the dark
1965-66 tragedy became, for the first time, more regular fare in the better print
media.Examples include the chapter on ‘victims’ by feminist Karlina Leksono-Supelli in
a thick end-of-millennium historical volume; a column on ‘remembering’ by political
analyst Kusnanto Anggoro; and similar columns by the scholar Budiawan and the short
story writer Seno Gumira Ajidarma: all opened up new horizons of civil discourse on
what was once the greatest of taboos.
warung (Jakarta: Garba Budaya, 2000), by the exiled brother of PKI leader in 1965, D. N.
Aidit; Putu Oka Sukanta, Merajut harka (Yogyakarta: Pustaka Pelajar, 1999), a novel by
a communist sympathizer imprisoned under the New Order; M. R. Siregar, Naiknya para
jendera (Medan: Sumatra Human Rights Watch Network, 2000), describing the 1965
events as a military coup; Syamdani (ed), Kontroversi sejarah di Indonesia (Jakarta:
Grasindo, 2001), overview of several post-New Order historical controversies including
1965-66, Tim Cidesindo (ed), Membuka lipatan sejarah: Menguak fakta gerakan PKI
(Jakarta: Pustaka Cidesindo, 1999), historical memories of anti-communist religious
actors of the 1950s and '60s, set in context of a 'PKI revival' post-New Order.
Karlina Leksono-Supelli, “Kisah dialektika kaum korban,” in J B Kristanto (ed), Seribu
tahun Nusantara, (Jakarta: Kompas, 2000), pp34-54; Kusnanto Anggoro, “Uncovering
Tempo, the prestigious weekly once banned by the New Order, ran many special
supplements detailing historical debate around key national episodes, from the
Revolution, through the 1950s regional revolts, to 1965-66. On the left, there are now
new books about (or reprinted books by) Semaun, Tan Malaka, and Marco
Kartodikromo, all late-colonial communists whose names were never mentioned in
public during the New Order.
The biggest impact was achieved during the
commemorations of the centenary of Sukarno’s birth, in June 2001. A flood of at least ten
new books, a serialized documentary on Sukarno on private television, and a thick
supplement to Kompas, the nation’s largest daily, attempted to reverse the systematic ‘de-
Sukarno-ization’ of the New Order, yet without setting him up as a nationalist icon once
the cemeteries of truth,” Jakarta Post, 7 April 2000; Budiawan, “Menyingkirkan beban
masa lalu,” Kompas, 3 May 2000; Seno Gumira Ajidarma, “Indonesia sebagai pasien
Jung: Sejarah tak terkuburkan,” Kompas, 6 May 2000.
Soewarsono, Berbareng bergerak: Sepenggal riwayat dan pemikiran Semaoen
(Yogyakarta: LKiS, 2000); Tan Malaka, Aksi massa (Jakarta: Teplok, 2000); Tan
Malaka, Madilog (Jakarta: Teplok, 1999); Marco Kartodikromo, Student Hijo
(Yogyakarta: Aksara, 2000). A translation of a 1976 biography by Harry A Poeze of Tan
Malaka was banned during the New Order: Tan Malaka: Pergulatan menuju republik
(Jakarta: Grafiti, 1988).
See the review in “Soekarno Bukan "Solidarity Maker",” Kompas 3 June 2001. A
wonderful 32-page Kompas supplement, written by 27 serious mostly Indonesian
scholars (“Bung Karno 100 tahun (1901-2001),” Kompas, 1 June 2001) explored Sukarno
That the left has been more active in reoccupying the post-authoritarian
historiographical imagination is largely due to the towering talent of Pramoedya Ananta
Toer. This man was already an important novelist when Suharto’s military arrested him
soon after 1 October 1965 for belonging to the Lekra, the Institute of People’s Culture.
Somehow, amidst the privations of his fourteen years on the penal island of Buru, he
managed to write prodigiously. Most of his writing is historically inspired. All of his
Buru works were smuggled out (some remain lost until today) and some were first
published overseas. Until the regime collapsed in May 1998, the New Order routinely
banned them, though often only after large numbers had been sold. Today his Jakarta
publishers are producing reprints of his older work as well as his Buru works.
Pramoedya’s historical work should certainly be read as a veiled attack on
Suharto’s militarism, but it bears broader and more universal themes as well. His first
tetralogy, Bumi Manusia (‘This earth of mankind’), was a reinterpretation of the origins
of Indonesian nationalism. The central character in that early movement (fictionalized as
Minke in Bumi Manusia) is the journalist Tirto Adhi Soerjo.
and his times in a refreshing, non-doctrinaire manner, including his leftism and the G30S
event as seen from his experience.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer's first tetralogy, Bumi manusia, Jejak langkah, Anak semua
bangsa, and Rumah kaca, were first published in Jakarta in the 1980s but each was soon
banned. They were then reissued in the Netherlands and Malaysia. The collapse of the
New Order allowed Hasta Mitra in Jakarta to reissue them. Sang Pemula (Jakarta: Hasta
Mitra, 1985) was similarly banned, and reissued elsewhere.
The next tetralogy, named after its third title Arus Balik (Countercurrent), remains
partly lost and has not yet been translated into English. Its dramatic stage is not early
twentieth century Java but the pre-colonial East Javanese kingdoms of the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries AD. These historical novels reinterpret the popular legends of these
kingdoms in a determinedly democratic, egalitarian spirit. .
In his old age Pramoedya
has addressed the 1945 revolution, bringing out a two-volume chronicle that apparently
aims to re-include long-neglected social forces, including leftists, in the dynamic history
of this period, however without engaging in a polemic.
Populist historiography, however, is not confined to the left. There is an Islamist
historiography in Indonesia (that is, one in which religion becomes the central ideological
motif). I have not included it as a separate category in this discussion because Islamism
tends to be contextual - a shade of opinion within larger streams of historiographical
debate. Some of it is nationalist, some of it regionalist. Kartosuwiryo was executed in
1962 for having led an Islamic rebellion in West Java for fifteen years. In some religious
student circles during the New Order he was revered as the model ‘radical Muslim.’ In
Pramoedya Ananta Toer's second tetralogy is Arok Dedes (Jakarta: Hasta Mitra, 1999),
Mata pusaran (still lost), Arus balik (Jakarta: Hasta Mitra, 1995), and his only play:
Mangir (Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, 2000).
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Koesalah Soebagyo Toer, & Ediati Kamil, Kronik revolusi
Indonesia, 2 vols, (Jakarta: Gramedia, 1999).
1999, two biographies of him appeared celebrating him as the ‘proclamator of the
Indonesian Islamic State.’
Muslim activists also pushed more insistently than ever before for justice for
Muslims who died in several army massacres in the Suharto era. The two key horrors
were a bloody confrontation between soldiers and demonstrators in Tanjung Priok, the
harbor of Jakarta on 12 September 1984, and an army attack on an Islamic sect in
Lampung, southern Sumatra, on 7 February 1989. Their demands met much opposition
from within the establishment - once more underlining the tenacity of pro-military views
there. Nevertheless, the relative paucity of Islamic historical revisionism in the post-
Suharto era is somewhat surprising in view of the new freedoms. Very little among the
explosion of pious literature flooding the market today is historically oriented.
Post-colonial nation building in Indonesia has taken place in the context of a
variety of ethnic units that each occupied a more or less distinct territory, usually created
by the colonial government, more or less in consultation with local elites. After
independence in 1945, the nation-building project recognized these units as ‘ethnic
groups’ (suku bangsa) rather than as ‘nations’ (bangsa); they were part of the Indonesian
nation on the basis of the national slogan ‘Unity in Diversity’ (Bhineka Tunggal Ika). In
the years after Suharto’s resignation, ethnic consciousness has grown rapidly in many
parts of the country, always informed by long repressed historical memories.
Irfan S Awwas, Menelusuri perjalanan jihad SM Kartosuwiryo: Proklamator Negara
Islam Indonesia (Yogyakarta: Wihdah Press, 1999); Al Chaidar, Pemikiran politik
Proklamator Negara Islam Indonesia SM Kartosuwirjo (Jakarta: Darul Falah, 1999).
For example, some of the more militant Ambonese on the Protestant side of the
Maluku wars of 1999-2000 announced in December 2000 that the separatist Republik
Maluku Selatan (RMS) movement of 1950 had been a valid declaration of the
independence of the “Alifuru” people, “based on history that began with the Haria
proclamation of 1817.”
In August 2000 a Greater Minahasa Congress in largely
Protestant North Sulawesi declared that the people of “Tanah Toar Lumimuut” would
demand their “right of self-determination” if Muslim interests succeeded in even slightly
compromising the religiously neutral 1945 Indonesian Constitution, for which
Minahasans had also fought.
The terms Alifuru and Tanah Toar Lumimuut had been
rarely heard in Indonesia since independence. Both evoked ethnic identities rooted in
place and ancient mythologies.
The Maluku and Minahasa statements were ambit claims made by local leaders to
pressure Jakarta. Similar claims were heard in West Sumatra, Riau, East Kalimantan,
Flores, and elsewhere. However, such claims were hardly the expression of separatist
movements: arguments about a noble history of autonomy prior to the birth of the
Indonesian Republic have become important weapons within Indonesia politics. Two
The Haria proclamation was part of the short-lived Pattimura revolt against the Dutch.
“Waeleruny: FKM wadah penegakan kebenaran,” Siwalima, 5 Januari 2001; “Basudara
Muslim mendukung RMS,” Siwalima, 30 December 2000; “Independence calls grow in
strife-torn islands,” The Straits Times, 23 June 2000.
'Deklarasi Kongres Minahasa Raya,’ 5 August 2000 at Bukit Inspirasi Tomohon
new provinces - Banten and Gorontalo - were created in late 2000 on the basis of such
arguments put forward by their respective elites, and others are likely to follow.
The ethno-nationalist historical claims heard in Aceh and Papua, on the contrary,
were well-developed and clearly separatist in intent. The enthusiasm with which many
Acehnese and Papuans took them up reflects a widespread disappointment with the
Indonesian state which they experienced in its most violent and imperialistic mode. The
activities of these separatist movements demonstrate again that historical discourse does
not stand alone, but is an effect of contemporary politics. However, an ethno-nationalist
instrumentalization of the past often contains anti-democratic assumptions that, if they
were examined more carefully, would rob it of much of its appeal.
There is one simple reason for the longevity of nationalist historical myth-
making: it works. In the early anti-colonial phase, the nationalist myth had the fresh
purity of a societal historiography about it, a movement for justice written from below,
and it inspired thousands of young revolutionaries in 1945-49. As the Revolution fades
from memory, however, and those who profess it most ardently come to be moved less
by the need for justice than for survival, they increasingly turn it inward upon backsliders
and traitors. Given the fragility of nationalist historiography at the Indonesian level,
perhaps the most striking development in post-Suharto historiography is the emergence
of ethno-nationalist discourses in various regions.
These discourses differ from the Indonesian model in subject but not in form –
they, too, adopt Sukarno’s trimurti of a bounteous past, a dark present, and a brightly
beckoning future reached through struggle. They, too, are written by dissident elites
aspiring to power, this time in the regions, and they, too, are strong on sacred dates, great
men, and legal milestones. More research will show who creates these accounts, how
they are disseminated, how much variety exists within particular movements, and how
much resistance there is to them.
One such ethno-nationalist is Hasan di Tiro, the central figure in the Free Aceh
Movement, described as ‘father of the nation’ (wali negara), and heir apparent to the
position of Sultan. Yet he is a mysterious man who has lived in Sweden in a kind of
double exile for decades. He has not been in Aceh since 1979, and some whisper that he
left the United States (where his son and estranged wife still live), because of a business
conflict. In interviews he likes to bring out an old letter from “my friend” Ed Lansdale,
the Cold War CIA operative who won fame and notoriety for his anti-communist
techniques in Vietnam and the Philippines.
He turned 70 in September 2000.
Hasan di Tiro’s political manifesto is contained in “The Price of Freedom,” which
recounts a two year and five month sojourn as leader of a clandestine movement in the
Aceh mountains from late 1976 to early 1979.
It grounds key statements about the
Bertil Lintner, “Giving no quarter: Guerrilla leader runs separatist campaign from
Stockholm flat,” Far Eastern Economic Review, 29 July 1999; Simon Mann, “Aceh's
unswerving prince plots revolution from afar,” Sydney Morning Herald, 23 November
1999. For background information on Aceh, especially the 1989-92 episode of violence,
see Tim Kell, The roots of Acehnese rebellion 1989-1992 (Ithaca: Cornell Modern
Indonesia Project, 1995), and Geoffrey Robinson, “Rawan is as rawan does: The origins
of disorder in New Order Aceh,” in Indonesia 66 (October 1998:127-56).
Hasan di Tiro, The price of freedom: The unfinished diary of Tengku Hasan di Tiro
(Markham, Ont.: The Open Press, 1984). Translated extracts of it were published in
Acehnese nation and its character in the writings of early twentieth century Dutch
Di Tiro’s historical argument for Acehnese national identity consists of two parts.
One is that the Dutch fought the ‘Acehnese nation’ (bangsa Aceh) but never defeated it.
Aceh consequently retains its sovereignty - over against the Netherlands and therefore
over against the colonial successor state of Indonesia. The other is that his own family
connections with the most prominent figures in the Acehnese war against the Dutch make
him the natural inheritor of Aceh’s leadership. ‘The family of the Tengku di Tiro is the
holiest family that Acheh has ever recognised,’ he quotes (Hassan 1994:4) from a 1925
book by the Dutch colonial author Zentgraaff. A genealogy (ibid.:140) traces the
On 4 December 1976 the small group accompanying Hasan di Tiro declared
Acehnese independence by raising a flag in the forest at Tjokkan Hill, in Pidie district. It
was the day in 1911, Hasan di Tiro said, that the Dutch shot dead the last ‘Head of State,’
Tengku Tjhik Maat di Tiro (‘my uncle’) in Alue Bhot (ibid.:14).
On 10 March 1977 Hasan di Tiro issued a new calendar. It combined sacred
Islamic dates with commemorations of great battles in the 1873-1911 war against the
March 1999 on the anonymous Indonesian internet news service MeunaSAH
The Zentgraaff quote, we observe incidentally, is an interesting piece of post-
coloniality. Di Tiro uncritically lifts quotes about Aceh's history and national character
traits from several such colonial sources. Yet Zentgraaff had in the 1920s a reputation
among Indonesian nationalists as a white supremacist.
Dutch (all of which, he stressed, had been fought by his relatives). The only exception to
this central focus on the Aceh war is December 27, remembered as the day in 1639 when
Sultan Iskandar Muda died, whom many Acehnese honour as personifying the ideal
model of Acehnese statehood. The calendar does not refer to the 1950s Darul Islam revolt
against Indonesia led by the charismatic Daud Beureueh. Di Tiro’s was no longer a
movement to cut deals with Jakarta, as Daud Beureueh’s had been, but genuine
The self-interest in Hasan di Tiro’s declarations is obvious. He had oil interests in
the US before he began the guerrilla campaign. He was probably aware earlier than most
Acehnese that the recently discovered gas deposits at Arun were very large. But the
appeals in his published diary are to romantic notions of history and identity, rather than
to economic nationalism.
Amid mounting Indonesian army counter-insurgency operations in the second
half of 1978, he began writing a historical play entitled “The drama of Acehnese history
1873-1978”. It was later finished by his closest lieutenant, Husaini Hasan (Hasan
1994:186, 201, 220), and apparently still circulates in Aceh. On 29 March 1979, telling
comrades he was going to buy arms, he slipped through the closing Indonesian army
noose and out of the country.
On Acehnese oral history that remembers the Dutch wars see Jacqueline Aquino
Siapno, The politics of gender, Islam and nation-state in Aceh, Indonesia: A historical
analysis of power, cooptation and resistance, unpublished PhD dissertation, Berkeley:
University of California, 1997.
Hasan di Tiro’s supporters in Stockholm have produced an entire historiography
of Acehnese nationalism. It begins with the autonomy of the Islamic Samudra-Pasai
kingdom of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries over the Indonesian kingdoms (so
depicted in the Indonesian historiography) of Sriwijaya and Majapahit. It then goes on to
recount Acehnese resistance against the Portuguese and the far more devious Dutch, and
closes by claiming that the (federal) Republic of the United States of Indonesia of 1950,
which ended the Indonesian war for independence, did not include Aceh.
historiography originates in Sweden and circulates mainly on the internet, but Hasan di
Tiro’s argument has also been aired in Aceh’s mainstream print media.
Like much other nationalist historiography, these claims do not concern
themselves greatly with accuracy. This is a ruthlessly simplistic account whose purpose
is purely propagandistic: Aceh in early 1950 was in fact part of the Republic of
Indonesia, which was in turn a member of the United States of Indonesia, and Daud
Beureueh was the republican-appointed military governor of Aceh, Tanah Langkat, and
In August 1999 a small group of Acehnese students occupied the grounds of the
Dutch embassy in Jakarta for three days to demand that the Dutch government should
Ahmad Sudirman, “Kesultanan Aceh, RI, NII-Aceh dan NLFA,” Stockholm, 28
November 1999 (
“Surat Hasan Tiro kepada Sekjen PBB,” Waspada 8 January 1999. ASNLF, Hasan di
Tiro's Stockholm-based organisation disseminates an electronic bulletin called 'Sumatra
Ku' on the mailing list Keyakinan (logged on
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/keyakinan/messages), from whence it is widely reposted.
withdraw its formal ‘declaration of war against the sultan of Aceh on 26 March 1873,’
and hence acknowledge Acehnese sovereignty.
As an ambit claim it was unlikely to fly,
but it was perhaps the first time that some Indonesians had publicly turned the oft-heard
argument on its head that Jakarta had spoken for all Indonesians when it signed an
agreement to end hostilities with the Netherlands in 1949.
The students were probing a distinct weak spot in the nationalist myth that all
resistance to the Dutch had been ‘Indonesian’ and not Acehnese, Javanese, Makassarese
or Ambonese. After all, if anti-colonial resistance was the yardstick of legitimacy, as it is
in the mythology, who was to say which was the more legitimate – the resistance in the
1870s by an Acehnese sultanate with a long history of international recognition,or the
resistance in the 1940s by ‘Indonesians’ with a history of resistance to colonial authority
that lacked a military dimension and did not extend to challenging the very notion of the
Netherlands Indies as a state? The students did not pursue the argument in quite such
ruthless terms, but the backward-looking appeal to the sultanate was characteristic of
much post-Suharto legitimation discourse, and not only in Aceh. “The way we fight is to
reclaim the triumphs of Acehnese history, from the time of Sultan Iskandar Muda [1607-
36],” one-armed Acehnese fighter told the foreign press, in terms reminiscent of
“Maklumat perang terhadap Aceh tidak bisa dicabut,” Waspada, 7 August 1999.
Vaudine England, “The past is still present in Aceh,” South China Morning Post, 24
At the other end of the country, Papuan independence activists have similarly
turned to history as an important tool in their fight.
The large Papuan People’s Congress
held in Jayapura, 29 May-4 June 2000, claimed to be the second in a series begun in
1961. It followed a series of conferences and a book,
and its theme was ‘Let us
straighten out the history of West Papua.’
There is still no good political history of Papua in English. See Robin Osborne,
Indonesia's secret war: The guerrilla struggle in Irian Jaya (Sydney: Allen & Unwin,
1985), R J May (ed), Between two nations: The Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border and
West Papua nationalism (Bathurst (Australia): Robert Brown, 1986), and Nonie Sharp (in
association with Markus Wongagar-Kaisiepo), The Morning Star in Irian Barat
(Melbourne: Kibble Books, 1994).
The Papua Plenary (Musyawarah Besar Masyarakat Papua) held near Jayapura 23-26
February 2000 had the theme ‘Straightening out history’; Papuans in Jakarta held a
seminar on 24 May 2000 entitled ‘Reinterpreting the juridical status of Irian Jaya from a
historical and international legal perspective’; the First Papua Youth Congress held in
Jayapura 23-27 May 2000 was preoccupied with history. A new book timed to coincide
with the People's Congress presented a well-researched history of Papuan resistance
against colonialism from Dutch to Indonesian times: Decki Natalis Pigay, Evolusi
nasionalisme dan sejarah konflik politik di Papua (Jakarta: Sinar Harapan, 2000).
Using a phraseology that was quite distinct from the Acehnese, key Papuan
spokespersons insisted that Papuan history had been ‘twisted’ - by Indonesia,
by the Netherlands, the United States, and Australia - since 1961.
The mission now was
to ‘straighten out’ this twisted history. This idealized concept of history-as-it-should-
have-been may not appeal to professional historians, but its proponents clearly felt it had
The argument is that Papuans never belonged to the Indonesian nationalist
movement, and that Indonesians have been even more colonial towards Papuans than
were the Dutch. If Papua had been part of the kingdom of Majapahit at all (through the
latter’s vassal the Tidore sultanate), it was as a mere tributary to a tributary. Papua had a
different, evidently less destructive memory of Dutch colonialism than did Indonesia.
Several of Indonesia’s key founding fathers such as Hatta had argued in August 1945 that
Papua did not belong to Indonesia, and its negotiators had agreed with the Dutch in 1949
to exclude Papua from their borders. The transition after 1962 to Indonesian rule , ratified
in the 1969 so-called Act of Free Choice (Pepera), had been a performance whose plot
The standard account of a history Papuan nationalists would call ‘twisted’ is Sejarah
kembalinya Irian Jaya ke pangkuan Republik Indonesia (Jakarta: Direktorat Organisasi
Internasional Departemen Luar Negeri, 1998).
The main Papuan spokesperson for this view is Theys Eluay, for example in “Kongres
Rakyat Papua: PNG dukung perjuangan damai,” Kompas, 31 May 2000.
was written by the world’s great powers. Papua’s subsequent history under Indonesian
rule had been one of oppression and exploitation.
The key event in Papua’s nationalist history as fashioned in recent years was a
flag-raising ceremony on 1 December 1961. On that day the Dutch had agreed to let a
Papuan Morning Star flag fly alongside its Dutch counterpart, to signify the Dutch
intention to begin a decade-long transition to independence. That event prompted an
intensification of Indonesian campaigning (diplomatic, agitational, and military) to push
the Dutch out, and by May 1962 it was clear that the campaign had succeeded. By May
1963 Indonesia was in control of what they called “Irian Barat” and many of the key
Coherent recent statements of this historical argument include “Mereka ingin luruskan
sejarah Papua,” Kompas 19 June 2000; articles by the Papuan activist in the Netherlands
Ottis Simopiaref, “Dasar dasar perjuangan kemerdekaan Papua Barat,” Papua (internet
mailing list), 5 June 2000; Ottis Simopiaref, “Manipulasi sejarah dan pencaplokan Papua
Barat,” Suara Mambruk 2, 12 (10 February 2000); Tim Studi FOKER LSM Irian Jaya,
“Papua merdeka: Latar belakang, akar masalah, persepsi aktor dan peluang solusi,”
document produced out of a series of NGO consultations in Jayapura, November 1999
[how to cite?]; Jacob Rumbiak, “Solusi damai masalah hak-hak kemerdekaan Papua
Barat,” Sophia University, Tokyo (conference paper), July 1999. Over against the more
purely legal arguments of these histories George Aditjondro, an Indonesian sympathiser
with Papuan nationalist aspirations, produced a history of great Papuans, carefully
formulated to accord equal weight to various tribal districts: “Bintang Kejora di tengah
kegelapan malam: Penggelapan nasionalisme orang Irian dalam historiografi Indonesia,”
in George Junus Aditjondro, Cahaya Bintang Kejora (Jakarta: Elsam, 2000), pp.5-37.
figures of 1 December 1961 had fled to Holland. Indonesian soldiers took the flag down
on Sukarno’s orders on 1 May 1963.
The 1961 occasion is remembered today as the declaration of Papuan
independence. To be sure, the Dutch decolonization program, of which Papuan
independence was a part, is potentially embarrassing and is thus rarely mentioned. Flag-
raising ceremonies on this day since 1998 have always been marked with expositions of
the Papuan history described above, by way of political education. “Papua has already
been independent since 1 December 1961. History proves it,” claimed the late Theys
Eluay (the self-confessed ‘Great Papuan Leader’). In a sense which evokes Christian
eschatology (where the Kingdom of God is ‘among you’ through the birth of Christ but
will not be seen in its fullness till he comes again in glory), the “not yet” had become an
“already” in that flag raising of 1961.
Spokespersons for all-Indonesian nationalism have written counters to these
militant new historiographies. One Indonesian magazine said Hasan di Tiro was lying
when he claimed to have the blue blood of the heroic anti-Dutch fighter Cik di Tiro in his
veins - he was no more than a peasant’s son.
Aceh’s Indonesian military commander
published a highly selective history of Aceh to bolster his assertion that the separatist
movement GAM was a minority phenomenon.
In Papua, the military tried holding their
own seminar series to “straighten out history,” but this time from a national New Order
perspective (the perspective Papuans had declared “twisted”). It was important, the
presiding colonel said, to stress that, when Indonesia and the Netherlands were at
“Hasan Tiro pembual besar: Tanjong Bungong sok feodal,” Gamma, 18 August 1999.
Syarifudin Tippe, Aceh di persimpangan jala (Jakarta: Cidesindo, 2000).
loggerheads over the future of Papua in the early 1960s, there had been Papuans who
fought to integrate with Indonesia.
Academic Ikrar Nusa Bhakti portrayed the 1961
event as related to Dutch colonialism, and an anonymous publisher underscored the point
by republishing the 1961-62 speeches of President Sukarno about the “liberation” of
The governor of Papua, Freddy Numberi, adopted a more daring,
theological approach. “The God we worship in Jesus Christ is the Lord of history,” he
said. “We must be open to accept the will of the Lord for this land as it came to
expression in the history of the Act of Free Choice, which made Irian Jaya an inseparable
part of the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia.”
An interest in local history characterizes the final category of ‘history writing’ in
post-Suharto Indonesia. This is not a new category by any means, but it holds the
potential of being more subtly subversive than the ethno-nationalistic historiographies
discussed above, precisely because they these local histories are not so obviously
manipulated by elite interests. Local histories differ from ethno-nationalist ones because
“Sejarah Papua harus disosialisasikan,” Kompas, 11 April 2000, similarly Hayono
Isman, “Papua: Demokrasi, keadilan dan kemanusiaan,” Suara Pembaruan, 16 June 2000.
“Sisi lain sebuah kenyataan sejarah,” Kompas, 19 June 2000; Anonymous (ed),
Bebaskan Irian Barat: Kumpulan pidato Presiden Soekarno tentang pembebasan Irian
Barat 17 Agustus 1961 - 17 Agustus 1962 (Yogyakarta: Ragam Media, 2000).
“ Tak benar gubernur perintah oposan ditahan,” Cenderawasih Post, 12 October 1998.
they do not explicitly resist the nation-state. Instead, they develop local identities that
coexist with the national identity. As a genre, the creation of local history remains largely
In his book on Indonesia’s historians,
Klooster notes that most of Indonesia’s
western-trained historians, especially under the New Order, chose to develop a regional
specialization. Sartono Kartodirdjo, a historian who was to become as important in the
New Order as Muhammed Ali was in the Sukarno era and carried himself with the same
personal integrity, set the tone with his 1966 study of the 1888 peasant’s revolt in
Local issues have continued to preoccupy the academic discipline in Indonesia.
Much of this genre finds no particular conflict between the local and the national,
yet in so (not) doing it helps erode the absolutist claims of the national by resisting its
propagandistic simplicity. There is a class of historical novels and biographies that can be
read as affirming the realities of local life as much as celebrating local ‘contributions’ to
the Indonesian nation.
H.A.J. Klooster, Indonesiers schrijven hun geschiedenis (Leiden: Foris, 1985)
Others with regional specialisations are Taufik Abdullah (who wrote on Minangkabau),
Ibrahim Alfian (Aceh), Edi S. Ekadjati (West Java), A. B. Lapian (maritime history), R.
Z. Leirissa (Maluku), Onghokham (Madiun), F A Sutjipto (Yogyakarta), and Soemarsaid
Moertono (Java). Only a few did take up national issues: Alfian (Muhammadiyah),
Abdurrachman Surjomihardjo (nationalism), and Uka Tjandrasasmita (archaeology).
A good example is YB Mangunwijaya, Ikan-ikan hiu, Ido, Homa (Jakarta: Sinar
Harapan, 1983), a novel on Ambon's history.
Cities around the country have taken to celebrating their “birthdays” with
considerable fanfare. Exactly how the precise year of birth is calculated is not always
clear, but the historical snippets local newspapers carry connect the city with what its
inhabitants know about national history. For the sake of nation-building, the New Order
in 1971 renamed the South Sulawesi city of Makassar as Ujung Pandang, a name with
fewer ethnic associations. When President Habibie gave the city back its original name in
October 1999, he was no doubt linking local pride to his own hopes in the upcoming
presidential election. Museums devoted to local history and culture often play the same
nationally integrating function.
This growing body of local historical scholarship probably connects more closely
with people’s everyday lives than nationalist myth-making. It does not systematically
avoid conflict within society. It interacts dialogically with the local stories kept alive in
For a description of one Javanese town anniversary (Purwokerto) see George Quinn,
“The role of a Javanese burial ground in local government,” pp.173-82 in Anthony Reid
and Henri Chambert-Loir (eds.) The potent dead: ancestors, saints, and heroes in
contemporary Indonesia (Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2002). On a regional
museum in South Sulawesi, see Kathryn Robinson, “History, houses and regional
identities,” in The Australian Journal of Anthropology 8, 1 (April 1997:71-88). On the
Makassar renaming see Elizabeth Morrell, “Strengthening the local in national reform: A
cultural approach to political change,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32, 3
(2001:437-449).. See also the 85-part series on Batavia in The Jakarta Post 2000- 2001
(the last was Ida Indawati Khouw, ‘Jakarta a “city of hell” during occupation’, The
Jakarta Post, 1 September 2001).
local cultural expressions. Of course it too is likely to be quarried by political actors -
either to the advantage of Jakarta, as with Habibie, or to that of local elites, as with the
warlords on both sides of the Maluku wars of 1999-2000. But its humanism and rooted
quality may offer some of the same liberating perspective on the local level as the
societal historiography of Pramoedya Ananta Toer does on the national. Moreover, the
strength of local histories helps inoculate us against fears that the ‘disintegration’ of the
Indonesian national state will leave an identity vacuum that can only result in violence.
Quite possibly, local histories reflect the (re)emergence of complex and hybrid identities
that generally go unacknowledged in the exclusive absolutism of nineteenth century
The search for freedom is as persistent in Indonesia today as it has ever been. It is
a search with a history as broad and diverse as it is profound - far more so than the statist
history-for-nation-building genre can ever explain.. The greatest disservice to the cause
of freedom was committed at the moment its history was captured by men for whom
exclusive loyalty to a state was its only permissible expression. That disservice has been
committed against generations of Indonesian schoolchildren ever since independence -
especially during the militarized New Order. Who can really still believe that
nationalism alone, and its attendant historiography of sacred dates, great men and legal
milestones, can bring salvation?
History writing, as Pramoedya Ananta Toer has shown, can buttress the desire for
freedom in sturdy ways without selling itself into the servitude of today’s or tomorrow’s
state elites. Real liberation often flies in the face of nationalism, as the history of
Indonesia’s own revolution abundantly shows. It is important to underscore the difference
between Indonesia’s national revolution for independence from the social revolution for
a more equal society . The distinction remains important but neglected. . The histories of
the strivings for a just society ---among Papuans, Acehnese and others within the
Indonesian fold--- have largely still to be written.