In the heart of Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, Monas, the Monument Nasional, rises like a huge obelisk into the smoggy air. If the aspiring structure speaks to a metaphorical national pride, the museum built under the base of the monument tells a narrative of nationalism that leaves no room for interpretation. A series of three dimensional miniature scenes depicts the story of a strong, diverse people with a long history who withstood years of exploitation to rise up to expel the unjust foreign invaders. While much of this story is undoubtably true, it is the way the presentation uses this narrative of the nation to justify the Suharto regime that presided over the construction of the museum’s contents.
Indonesia’s leaders have dutifully recognized the importance of a strong national narrative – howÂ else could a nation with the world’s forth largest population spread across thousands of islands and speaking a myriad languages hold together? However, it is the silences in this story that are today, for many, heard most loudly.
“40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy,” a new documentary by film maker Robert Lemelson, is helping to break that silence. The film delves into the human costs of the 1965 mass killings under the so-called “communist eradication,” which were seen by many as a tactic for Suharto and his government to consolidate their power after taking over the country. The fact that Tempo, a well respected national publication in Indonesia, is writing about the film shows the desire of many to come to grips with history.
More than 10 years after the fall of the Suharto regime, many I speak with in Indonesia feel like they are finally regaining a voice. Recognizing this story, making a part of a public discourse, helps activists and civil society gain the confidence necessary to once again engage in national politics. Condemning the violent suppression of dissent helps create the space for citizens to organize and mobilize for change.