Book burning a 'bonfire of liberty'

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

While the recurrence of book burnings across the country shows the mind-set of Indonesia's past dictatorship lingers on, activists have joined forces to show that the spirit of reform, too, is not yet dead.

Politicians, publishers and academics banded together Tuesday to protest the government-backed burning of school textbooks questioning the official narrative of the failed 1965 coup, an event long blamed on Communists by Soeharto's regime and used as a stepping stone in his own rise to power.

Academics blasted the burnings, aimed at reinforcing the official line, as coming at a time when thousands of school children could not even afford school text books.

The books had been singled out for destruction for failing to clearly identify the so-called Sept. 30 Movement, comprising members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), as the sole perpetrator of the 1965 coup.

In the last two months, over 30,000 junior high and high school textbooks were put to the torch by local Attorney General's Offices in West Java, South Sulawesi and Central Java, with the blessing of the national Attorney General's Office.

Activists, grouped under the moniker the Community of Book and Democracy Lovers, used a Tuesday meeting to denounce the burnings as a "bonfire of liberty".

Article 27 of the 1999 law on crimes against the state empowers the Attorney General's Office to confiscate and destroy books and other materials which are perceived to either support the PKI or propagate Marxist teachings.

Ganjar Pranowo, secretary of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction in the House of Representatives, said the burnings were an act of government "stupidity".

"Why do they have to be burned?" he asked.

Franz Magnis-Suseno of the Driyarkara School of Philosophy said the public had to be given the freedom to work out historical events for themselves, saying it was a key component of nation-building.

Magnis-Suseno called for "bravery" in dealing with the ambiguities of the country's darkest moments, including the events surrounding Sept. 30, 1965.

He warned against omitting important voices, noting that "history is often written by those who are in power".

"The book burnings show us (the government) is incapable of dealing with events intellectually.

"Leaders are supposed to set examples, but instead they have approached this in a very primitive manner," Magnis-Suseno said.

National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) member M. Ridha Saleh said the book burning violated the people's right to the truth.

Setia Dharma Madjid, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Publishers (IKAPI), said the government could deal with the situation in better ways than burning books.

"The government could have just asked the publishers to correct the mistakes," he said.

He said the government itself should also bear responsibility for the textbooks failing to toe the Soeharto-era line because "the 2004 curriculum did not mention the PKI (as the instigator of the 1965 coup)".

Marco Kusumawijaya, chairman of the Jakarta Arts Council, said the burnings were a form of terror against the fundamental rights of free thought and expression.

"This can be categorized as state violence," he said. (08)

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