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Book dissertation: 'An Unfinished Nation - Indonesia, before and after Suharto'

(Published in Indonesian language only to date: Bangsa Yang Belum Selesai - Indonesia Sebelum dan Sesudah Suharto, Jakarta, Reform Institute, 2007.)

Pembebasan Discussion List - July 2, 2007 (No author cited for this report from PEMBEBASAN List).

"Literary history must be won back. Culture as a
priority for the people must be won back. People
today have forgotten the literature of Kartini(1),
also Pramoedya(2), who was crucial in unearthing the
foundations of [Indonesia] as a nation", said Max
Lane in book dissertation of his latest work "An
unfinished nation: Indonesia, before and after
Suharto", which was held at the Book Discount
Festival in the Auditorium Building A at the
National Education Department in South Jakarta on
Sunday July 1.

The event, which was attended by around 120 people,
was organised by the activist talking mailing list
(aktivis_bicara@...) in cooperation with the
Discount Book Festival committee. The activist
talking mailing list has organised a number of
recent discussions on the theme of political

Aside from Lane who appeared as a panel speaker,
also present was Daniel Dhakidae (Kompas Daily
research director), Dita Indah Sari (general
chairperson of the People's Democratic Party, PRD)
and Yosef Adi Prasetyo who goes by the nickname
Stanley (a former 1980s student activist and member
of the National Human Rights Commission). Former PRD
political prisoner Wilson moderated the discussion.
Hariman Siregar (a 1974 activist) and Rama Pratama
(a 1998 student activist) who were to present a
criticism of the book was unable to attend.

Appearing as the first panel speaker, Dhakidae said
that in his book Lane is consistent in his
conclusion that the political reforms that took
place in Indonesia were because of mass action. He
focused on the student movement in the 1965 period
which according to Dhakidae were political in
character, and post 1966 the actions that took place
were in fact anti-political. This period also saw
the strengthening of the role of military as an
institution. During the period that followed, in the
1970s the issue of corruption emerged as a moral
movement behind figures such as Arief Budiman, which
in the end broadened, turning into actions against
Japanese capital and militarism.

"Max Lane's book becomes crucial because it records
the development of the 'nation' including the
process of its destruction. Aside from noting that
mass actions are an effective weapon and method, the
book also shows us about the revolutionary concepts
of the past. This book could become a reference for
young people. What is important now is how the
people can exert political pressure", said Dita Sari
who arrived late because she had to pay her
condolences to Julius Usman (a 1970s activist). Dita
also emphasised the need to defend Indonesia's
values and dignity as a nation, which is related to
the strength of the globalisation movement.

One of the members of the audience, Roy, commented
that Lane's book could be seen as containing
perspectives for the future, both in terms of
culture, ideology and populism. If these aspects can
be deepened, it could become a basis for the growth
of the movements in Indonesia.

Responding to a person who asked about how to
overcome the various problems that Indonesia is
facing such as poverty, Lane explained that in order
to overcome poverty it is not enough just to
nationalise the mining and oil and gas industries.
That's not enough, "The people must be able to
organise themselves. Literature and history must be
studied seriously at school, so that the people know
the history of their own nation", he added. Lane
closed by saying that to this day, the various
tactics needed to move towards the liberation of the
people, that is the instruments that support the
movements, a newspaper, vergadering (mass rallies)
and an organised resistance that is led nationally,
have unfortunately, not been maximised.

Bejo Untung, an activist from the Institute for the
Study of the 1965-1966 Massacres (YPKP), an
organisation that carries out advocacy for the
victims of the 1965 humanitarian tragedy, asked
about the problems in resolving the issue of 1965
itself. For years and years various endeavors have
been carried out, ranging from lobbying to political
actions, but to this day the issue has yet to be
clarified. Untung also took the opportunity to seek
a commitment from Stanley, who by coincidence has
recently been announced as a new member of the
National Human Rights Commission, to demonstrate his
political commitment over the 1965 humanitarian
tragedy. Max again explained that the 1965 issue,
that is now decades old, will only be resolved
through strength of the masses.

In the final discussion, the moderator did not
attempt to draw any conclusions but underlined that
Lane's book is important for us all. The book
contains an abundance of material from an author who
has been able to record every stage in the
resistance against the New Order since it was first
established. Petrus H Hariyanto representing the
activist talking mailing list closed the event by
awarding of a charter to the speakers and moderator.


1. Kartini was an Indonesian regent's daughter
during the Dutch colonial period who, through her
letters home, outlined her dreams of a better life
for women. She died aged 25 a few days after giving
birth to her first child. A variety of myths have
made the original Kartini a nationalist hero and
feminist symbol.

2. The late Pramoedya Ananta Toer is widely regard
as Indonesia's greatest novelist and author of
several works of revolutionary historical
literature. In 1965 he was arrested during Suharto's
purges and massacres of the Indonesian left and
interned without trial until 1979. He died on April
30, 2006.

Translated by James Balowski.
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