Rewriting the story of 1965

Rewriting the story of 1965
Shared history
Historian Harry A. Poeze talks in a session to discuss his book, Tan Malaka, Gerakan Kiri dan Revolusi Indonesia (Tan Malaka, the Leftist Movement and Indonesian Revolution), in Semarang, Central Java.

When the New Order regime fell in 1998, with it came down walls concealing vast amounts of information on a dark chapter of Indonesia's past.

It shone more light on the systematic persecution of alleged members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which took place after the 1965 abortive coup that was blamed on the PKI.

Researcher Wijaya Herlambang said there was a great thirst for information about what happened in 1965.

"The younger generation has often been labelled as a generation with great political apathy, but they are actually really curious about what happened. With the rise of the Internet, they now hear varied - often conflicting - information about events from the left and right. They distrust the New Order's version of events and want to know the truth, devouring any new piece of information they receive," Wijaya told The Jakarta Post.

In his book, Kekerasan Budaya Pasca 1965: Bagaimana Orde Baru Melegitimasi Anti-Komunisme Melalui Sastra dan Film (Post-1965 Cultural Violence: How the New Order Legitimized Anti-communism Through Literature and Film), Wijaya said the regime implemented a prolonged political campaign, which was culturally aggressive, to legitimize violence against communists and their supporters during and after 1965.

"The regime justified its violence through films, museums, dioramas, monuments, commemoration days, course material, school books, history books and literature," he said.

According to Wijaya, among the primary evidence of this was The Treachery of G30S/PKI film, shown every Sept. 30th during the New Order era, which branded army generals as "martyrs" and the communists as "torturers". Elementary school history books told similar stories with a toned-down description of the murders.

"This work emphasised that the communists were torturers and therefore deserved to be murdered. Leftist ideas were banned. After 1966, Indonesia did not have any tradition of leftist literature," Wijaya said, referring to People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) Decree No. 25/1966 on the dissolution of the PKI and the ban on Marxism and communism. The researcher said the cultural violence carried out by the New Order regime through the years was as brutal as the violence of the 1965 purge.

As well as spreading a particular narrative on the 1965 tragedy, the New Order also banned several works of non-fiction that had a different take on what happened in this period.

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