His­tory stands be­tween facts and fic­tion

The Jakarta Post - - OPINION - Wu­lan­dari Pratiwi The writer is an in­de­pen­dent re­searcher in lin­guis­tics.

Iused to be­lieve that the his­tory we learnt at el­e­men­tary and high school was based on what ac­tu­ally hap­pened in the past. I had no cause to sus­pect that the truth might be mag­ni­fied or dis­torted.

How­ever, af­ter read­ing the clas­sic 1984 by Ge­orge Or­well, I be­came aware of the pos­si­bil­ity of a hy­per­bolic and dis­torted his­tory. In the novel, the coun­try where the main char­ac­ter lived was de­feated dur­ing a war. In­stead of ad­mit­ting their loss, the rul­ing regime pro­duced an­other ver­sion of his­tory, which stated that the coun­try had won over its en­e­mies.

All in­for­ma­tion and facts visà-vis the loss of the coun­try were abol­ished. To re­place the truth, brand new (read: fic­ti­tious) in­for­ma­tion about the coun­try’s vic­tory was cre­ated and broad­cast.

The main char­ac­ter was re­spon­si­ble for rewrit­ing past news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, de­stroy­ing doc­u­ments that didn’t con­tain re­vi­sions, to delete all proof and to have “his­tor­i­cal records” that would al­ways sup­port them.

On Sept. 30 last year, an ar­ti­cle by Tau­fiq Hanafi in The Jakarta Post bril­liantly ex­posed the prob­lem of our his­tory text­books. He cited the pre­sen­ta­tion of the “Sept. 30 move­ment” (G30S/PKI) that he said was used to jus­tify what can be called crimes against hu­man­ity by the New Or­der.

Then I be­gan to no­tice pieces of in­for­ma­tion and im­por­tant per­son­al­i­ties that are glossed over in our his­tory books and lessons.

For ex­am­ple, Tan Malaka, who is one of our he­roes. I once shared a quote of his on my Face­book page and the only re­sponse I got was: “Is Tan Malaka a com­mu­nist?”

The ques­tion ir­ri­tated me. How could he be known as merely a com­mu­nist while his con­tri­bu­tions to our in­de­pen­dence could be com­pared with found­ing fa­thers Sukarno and Mo­ham­mad Hatta?

Not many peo­ple know he is among our found­ing fa­thers. He was the per­son sought out by an­other ar­chi­tect of in­de­pen­dence, Su­tan Sjahrir, to read the procla­ma­tion text on Aug. 17, 1945.

The his­tory of our In­de­pen­dence Day, too, con­tains dis­torted in­for­ma­tion. In sixth grade, I par­tic­i­pated in a com­pe­ti­tion on his­tory and civics. I was asked to men­tion one of the youth ac­tivists who kid­napped Sukarno and Hatta a day be­fore In­de­pen­dence Day. That time I as­sumed that the young men were cruel be­cause they kid­napped two prom­i­nent na­tional fig­ures.

It was only af­ter the New Or­der regime fell that I learnt about their sig­nif­i­cant role in our in­de­pen­dence. With­out their anal­y­sis and pres­sure on the pop­u­lar lead­ers to pro­claim in­de­pen­dence shortly af­ter the bomb­ing of Na­gasaki and Hiroshima, In­done­sia would pos­si­bly have been handed over to the Al­lies.

How­ever, our text­books only in­stilled the im­pres­sion that our in­de­pen­dence was fa­cil­i­tated by Ja­pan, the last colo­nial ruler, and that the youth played a pe­riph­eral role.

My own — and per­haps many peo­ple’s — par­tial knowl­edge re­gard­ing cer­tain past events is a re­sult of his­tor­i­cal dis­tor­tion and pro­pa­ganda cre­ated by the New Or­der. Hardly any of us know what com­mu­nism; so­cial­ism, Marx­ism and Lenin­ism are all about be­cause these ide­olo­gies are banned.

Un­sur­pris­ingly most of us are un­able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween com­mu­nism and athe­ism and many are ter­ri­fied of an “In­done­sian Com­mu­nist Party’s res­ur­rec­tion.” It is also likely that many In­done­sians will be aghast if you tell them that the fifth point of Pan­casila — so­cial jus­tice for all In­done­sians — re­flects a so­cial­ist­com­mu­nist utopian prin­ci­ple.

So as his­tory may be dis­torted and thus made sub­jec­tive we must ac­cept there are al­ways sev­eral ver­sions for a sin­gle past event. We have to be open-minded to a more ac­cu­rate ver­sion out there, even if it is against what we al­ready be­lieve.

As Tau­fiq wrote, other sources of his­tory, like fic­tion, need to be ex­plored in ad­di­tion to his­tory text­books. This is be­cause, to cer­tain ex­tent, fic­tional works give in­sights to and pro­vide di­ver­gent views of what ac­tu­ally hap­pened in the past that are worth know­ing or an­a­lyz­ing.

Most of us are un­able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween com­mu­nism and athe­ism.

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