Budiawan: Searching for the historical truth of 1965 coup attempt

Roundup: Talking About History

[Budiawan teaches at the Graduate Program in Religious and Cultural Studies, Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He has published several articles on the politics of memory of the victims of the 1965-66 massacres both in English and Indonesian.]

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia -- Recently the Attorney General's Office banned all history textbooks used in junior and senior high schools that fail to mention Indonesian Communist Party's (PKI) role in the Sept. 30 movement.

The Attorney General's Office says the textbooks must use the term "G30S/PKI". G30S refers to the Sept. 30, 1965 Movement, while PKI stands for the Indonesian Communist Party. In the official history, the PKI is the only party responsible for the alleged coup attempt, which saw six top Army officers killed on the eve of Oct. 1, 1965.

In addition, the Attorney General's Office contends the textbooks do not explicitly mention the PKI's involvement in the so-called Madiun Affair of Sept. 18, 1948. Whereas it is fact that the then PKI leader, Muso, publicly challenged the authority of President Sukarno and Vice President Mohammad Hatta. Clashes between the newly-formed national armed forces and the leftist paramilitary wing were inevitable.

Despite some debatable facts, the official historical writing on the Madiun Affair is perhaps less controversial than that on 1965. The former event has become history, in the sense of belonging to the past. However, the latter is not only full of enigmatic questions and requires new historical inquiries and new interpretations, but also it has not become history yet. The event took place in the past, but its effects are still felt in the everyday life of a part of the nation.

It implies that once the historical writing of the event is officially determined, it will affect the life of thousands of people. So long as the PKI is regarded as the only party responsible for the killing of the six Army officers, stigmatization and discrimination against those accused of being Communists and their offspring will seem justifiable. Whereas, as new historical inquiries have revealed, the Sept. 30, 1965, affair was not as simple as the official writing has claimed. Many parties were involved, but it remains unclear who commanded whom.

As historian John Roosa (2006) argues, the question of the identity of the mastermind of the killings is likely to be discarded, since such a question assumes that the movement was well structured and organized. In reality, Roosa contends, the movement ran in a very messy way. It was unclear who controlled the movement. ...

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