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March 2007

Indonesian newspapers have been running hot with the latest controversy over school history texts. In a move depressingly similar to the Suharto-era propagandising of history, legal action has been taken to withdraw new school text books and to overturn the 2004 school history curriculum. The reason: the new texts and curriculum do not stress the Madiun uprising of 1948 as a communist uprising, and do not use the term 'G30S-PKI' to refer to the 1965 Coup as being instigated by the Communist Party of Indonesia or PKI.

Teachers, university lecturers and curriculum designers have been struggling to get some kind of balanced understand of the events of Madiun and particularly the 1965 Coup into the school curriculum. Rather than introduce some kind of counter-propaganda, teachers and academics I have spoken to are merely attempting to show students that there are a number of different interpretations of these events, not simply the single New Order government version put out under Suharto (described in detail in Kate McGregor's new book, History in Uniform, and in her other work). The New Order version of Madiun has been particularly important for linking the military version of history with that of Islamic groups, so any challenge to that interpretation also challenges new political alliances and claims to legitimacy.

The move to squash the more open interpretation in favour of a return to fanatical anti-communism is another sign that the military and the Suharto supporters are still strong players in Indonesian politics. Word has it that 'Jalan Cendana' (ie the Suharto's) sponsored at least one of the many new histories of 1965 in order to reassert their role. This is a problem of having a negative basis for national ideology, and one that has been festering at least since 1989. If the New Order based its whole effort on opposition to communism, what happened once communism ceased to be relevant?

(As an aside, it is intriguing to see that the Western version of anti-communist ideology still lives: on TV last night we saw scenes of US anti-war demonstrators being abused from the side-lines by pro-war groups shouting 'communists' and equating communism with support for Al-Qaeda. But then the same linkages have been made more subtly by others, for example John Howard in his speech on the 50th anniversary of Quadrant magazine.)

It is a healthy sign for Indonesian democracy that many prominent historians, amongst them Sartono Kartodirdjo and Onghokham) have signed a petition against the recent bannings.


A new Art Centre has recently opened in Nusa Dua, in the grounds of the main Nusa Dua complex, Pacifica, Asia-Pacific Art Center. The main focus of the collection is Western artists of Asia and the Pacific, and this is certainly the first gallery/museum (both these terms are fraught categories in official practice) in Indonesia to go beyond Indonesian art and Western depictions of Indonesia. Pacifica also has a fascinating collection of Pacific art, including an astonishing collection of tapa cloths, and an impressive group of works, mainly statues/sculptures, from different parts of the Pacific.

The Balinese element in the collection is deliberately small, but for those interested in seeing part of the collection of Theo Meier, mainly works by Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, these can be found at the opening part of the Center. Although I'm not a huge fan of the Westerners who painted Indonesia, this Center has probably one of the best selections of their work.

An added element of interest is the architecture, the Center was designed by Popo Danes.

Lydia Kieven is attempting to organise a Panji festival in East Java in September. So far there has been a mixed response, but she is keen to keep the idea going. The following letter from Lydia describes what is planned (noting that the first deadline has already passed). Please respond directly to me and I'll pass you on to Lydia:

Dear friends of Javanese culture,

after having been in Java in October (for my research on the Panji reliefs) where I met the people of the committee for the Panji Festival in East Java, I give you some information about the situation.

We had a meeting at the 11th of October in Hotel Sativa in Pacet (which is situated in the area between Mojokerto and Trawas), where most of the members of the committee attended (Pak Suryo who initiated this meeting, Pak Soleh, Pak Adi Pracaya, Pak Wawan Enruji, Pak Dwi Cahyono, Mbak Lilis). There were several members of wayang-topeng-groups from Jombang and other places in East Java who also attended and expressed their interest of joining the festival. Pak Song and Pak David and their assistent Pak Yasson from the Hotel Sativa gave a warm welcome and provided food for the breaking of the fasting (this was still the time of Ramadhan).
People from the committee expressed that they are very happy that so far about 7 people from foreign countries (Australia, Netherlands, England, Germany) have reacted to my letters and are willing to attend the festival and present papers on various topics.

The plan for the program of the festival is quite the same as I wrote in my last information from 19th of June 2006. In case you've lost that information, I attach it once more to this email.

The main result of the meeting was the fixing of the date of the festival: From Tuesday 4th until Sunday 9th of September 2007, which means 6 days. This date was chosen out of several reasons:
The festival should take place before the month of Ramadhan which will start around the 13th of September 2007. It should be some time after the festivities of the 17th of August, the Indonesian national day. A date after the Ramadhan would not be suitable, because it would be too risky to have the start of the rainy season already.

The festival will consist of different parts, each of them is handled individually by different persons of the committee:

- agriculture and ritual (Pak Suryo)
- performances of Wayang Topeng in the style of Malang (Pak Soleh and others)
- performances of Wayang Topeng in the style of Cirebon and other areas of Indonesia (Pak Prapto)
- Mask dances from Cambodia and Thailand
- archaeology/ history/ literature by Indonesian academics (Pak Dwi Cahyono)
- archaeology/ history/ literature by foreign academics (Lydia Kieven)
- exhibition (Mbak Lilis)

There are still different ideas about the place of the event:
(a) All the events being centered in Tulusbesar (near Tumpang in the area of Malang, about an hour's drive from Malang) at the Padepokan Mangun Dharma of Pak Soleh
(b) The events being spread over several places, like in Tulusbesar, and in the University of Malang, and in the Hotel Sativa in Pacet, and maybe others

We made a decision for a deadline for registering so that the further planning can be done more concretely: Participants who would like to present something (dance, performance, paper, etc.), should register before the 1st of March 2007.

An earlier registration will be very much appreciated!

Yours sincereley,
Lydia Kieven


The work of the Bogbog/Bali Post group of cartoonists continues to provide the most important link between present-day Indonesian concerns and Balinese artistic traditions. Check out the political cartoons on their website (note that this site is a bit hard to navigate around, but has some nice examples and some interesting other links).