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Jakarta Post

The truth about 1965

  • Emke de Vries

    The Jakarta Post

Amsterdam   /   Thu, October 22, 2015   /  04:10 pm
The truth about 1965 A look into the past: A diorama at Ronggowarsito Museum shows residents in Semarang, Central Java, protesting against the Communist Party.(Courtesy of Martijn Eickhoff)

A look into the past: A diorama at Ronggowarsito Museum shows residents in Semarang, Central Java, protesting against the Communist Party.(Courtesy of Martijn Eickhoff)

'€œI'€™m hoping that the 1965 topic continues to be relevant and important after we all die and my children'€™s generation will continue this,'€ says researcher Ariel Heryanto.

The professor at the Australian National University was the speaker at a symposium held to mark the 1965 genocide at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam.

Scholars, journalists and activists gathered to listen to the talks of the most prominent academics who conducted extensive research on one of the darkest and most controversial periods of Indonesia'€™s past.

In his talk on the first day of the symposium about the importance to engage young people, Ariel emphasized the fact that contemporary events such as the 2014 presidential elections, as well as Indonesia'€™s Islamism, cannot be fully understood without reference to history. The researcher, who is a professor at the Australian National University, still calls himself an optimist.

'€œI don'€™t have hope for the government, but that doesn'€™t mean we don'€™t have to hope. The government has limited capacity to control people'€™s lives,'€ he said.

'€œMy hope is for those who have dedicated themselves to justice, to the truth about 1965. They have to start talking to the younger generation in ways that respect the young. My hope is for the journalists and academics.'€

The symposium was organized by the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). It was sponsored by the IISH, Amnesty International, Leiden University and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

Through different panels, the academics discussed their research and presented their papers on the different narratives and legacies of the political violence.

Dr. John Roosa from the University of British Columbia stressed that the mass murders should be called mass disappearances '€” as the absence of both evidence and victims was the result of a strategy followed by the highest commanders.

Another expert, Dr. Geoffrey Robinson from UCLA, put Indonesia'€™s anti-leftist violence in a comparative historical framework by engaging in a wider theoretical debate about mass killings, as well as the histories of human rights, US foreign policy and the Cold War.

Geoffrey Robinson - Emke de VriesGeoffrey Robinson - Emke de Vries

German journalist Anett Keller approached the subject from the perspective of artists and young activists who made works of art or set up creative initiatives.

The IISH also organized a small exhibition about the mass violence, displaying reports, books and memoirs from the IISH collection.

Dr. Martijn Eickhoff, senior researcher at NIOD and assistant professor at Radboud University Nijmegen, spoke about his own research project, '€œMemory Landscapes and the Regime Change of 1965-66'€, which explores the collective memory of the 1965 tragedy in Semarang.

Starting with witnesses and places of violence, the project aims to develop a new, small-scale digital tool map to visualize localized memory of the mass violence.

Eickhoff was also one of the main organizers of the event. '€œWe wanted to commemorate the events in a scientific way, by asking what do we know, what don'€™t we know, and by looking at the effects both inside as well as outside Indonesia. We tried to remove the research from the isolation of Indonesian specialists and put it in the broader context of genocide studies.'€

The researcher admitted it would have been the best to do it in Jakarta, but he remarked that the Netherlands is also a good place for holding such an event.

'€œThere are many people with an Indonesian background here and also many refugees. Furthermore, the Netherlands is indirectly part of the taboo in Indonesia and there is a significant shortage of knowledge on this domain here as well. When we saw the reactions of Oppenheimer'€™s film [The Act of Killing] in the Dutch society, we realized we needed to do more. The time has come for it now.'€

It has been 50 years of silence, but today in Amsterdam the shortage of acknowledgement and knowledge of the historic events seems absurd.

According to Heryanto, it is not because of fear, but rather because of a lack of interest among youth, something he blames on the older generation, who have not done enough to engage the youth.

'€œYoung people are political. They are interested in broader issues when it means something to them. The question is how they can be made interested in 1965. We haven'€™t done enough with it.'€