The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Celebrated philosopher Voltaire once said ""the only lesson one can learn from history is that the people never learn from history"".
Fortunately, this did not stop a number of noted writers from compiling yet another ""historical"" book that takes aim at former president Soeharto's infamous authoritarian regime -- the New Order.
Publisher Lontar Foundation, in collaboration with the Asia Foundation, called the collection Indonesia in the Soeharto Years: Issues, Incidents and Images, and aimed to reflect and scrutinize what went right and wrong during Soeharto's leadership.
Released on Friday to coincide with the Asia Foundation's 50th anniversary in Indonesia, the book contains over 50 essays and countless photographs that serve as a reminder of both the good and the bad times of Soeharto's many years in power.
Divided into nine chapters, the pages run from the grim 1965 era -- when Soeharto clamored to power to become the country's second president, replacing founding father Soekarno -- to last year's first-ever direct presidential elections.
""This book simply shares stories, some of them surely opinionated, from the many important figures who had direct contact with Soeharto's leadership in various ways,"" said book initiator and coordinator John H. McGlynn.
Essay contributors include former United States president Jimmy Carter, former minister and Soeharto aide Moerdiono, revered novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was once imprisoned by Soeharto's New Order regime for supporting the formally legal Communist Party of Indonesia, human rights activist Asmara Nababan, and East Timor President Xanana Gusmao.
""We tried to make it as objective as possible as it remains undeniable that while Soeharto installed many negative political maneuvers during his tenure, his administration produced so many other positive things that Indonesia can be very proud of,"" said McGlynn.
Soeharto, whose trial for corruption and gross human rights abuses remains stalled due to his apparent poor health, has been despised for his authoritarian style of leadership that killed freedom of expression and diversity of opinion.
On the other hand, his administration was once praised by the United Nations for significant advances in Indonesia's family planning program, while international financiers lauded his development plans, until, of course, things fell apart following the regional financial crisis of the late 1990s.
""The book contains shots of different events and stories that have taken place since Soeharto ruled until recently. There's no absolute truth that we can ever claim here.
""But by sharing these versions of history, it is hoped that we can learn to take the good things and leave behind the bad ones, for our own sake in the future,"" said contributor Taufik Abdullah.