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.