TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Amid rising anti-communist sentiments, Education and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy's recent directive is the antithesis of the prevailing mood. Four days before Pancasila Day on September 30, he banned elementary and middle school students from watching Pengkhianatan G 30 S PKI, the anti-communist film produced by the Suharto regime.
Muhadjir, 62, has attempted to mitigate Indonesian Military Commander Gatot Nurmantyo’s call for mass public screenings of Arifin C. Noer’s controversial film. He believes the film, both the four-hour and two-hour versions, are inappropriate viewing for children because of its violent content. The film, said Muhadjir, may incite hatred from both sides. "In essence, I don’t want the younger generation to inherit hatred. Let them be a generation of peacemakers."
In Muhadjir’s view, the film would be more appropriate as a learning aid for high school and vocational high school history classes. By then, students will have the capacity to process historical facts with a balanced overview. He also calls on teachers to expand their students’ perspective in regard to the 1965 tragedy.
Born and raised in a family of clerics in Madiun, East Java, Muhadjir had firsthand experience of communism in Indonesia. His grandfather and father, Sulaeman Afandi and Soeroja, were kidnapped by members of the Indonesian Socialist Youth affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) during the 1948 Madiun Affair. His grandfather perished in what people called the ‘Hell Hole’ in Cigrok village, Magetan, along with 22 other Muslim clerics. Soeroja was awaiting his execution when he was rescued by Siliwangi troops. Muhadjir was named in his grandfather’s honor.
But Muhadjir has no wish to harbor vengeance against the PKI. Instead, the professor of sociology at the Muhammadiyah University in Malang urges historians and artists alike to explore alternative information that can shed more light on the 1965 uprising, as well as other important political events, more objectively and comprehensively. "Don’t prohibit those who would like to create a film from a perspective that is different from the old version," he said during an interview with Tempo’s Raymundus Rikang, Gadi Makitan and Reza Maulana in his office, last Wednesday.
Why did you choose to prohibit young students from watching the G 30 S PKI film?
I approached the situation based on appropriateness. When the film was produced in 1984, the censorship board—now the Film Censorship Agency (LSF) under the ministry of education and culture—set 13 as the viewing age for the film. So I decided that it should not be watched by elementary and middle school students. I’ve seen (the film) four times, both the uncut and short versions, and saw no difference in terms of content. Neither is suitable for children.
What content is unsuitable for children?
The scenes of violence, torture and brutality throughout the film. Although the film portrays a historical event, I believe that children should be prohibited from watching it. One day they will be old enough to view such scenes.
Did you discuss this with the censorship board?
No. I only called them when the LSF issued a screening permit to TV One several days before the film’s airing on the night of September 29. They had already reviewed the film’s viewing age and came to a similar conclusion: 13 years and above. My instruction came out on September 27 before the LSF issued the permit. I want to make sure that there won’t be false information circulating that I intervened in LSF’s rating of the film. Although under my ministry, the LSF is an independent institution and may not be subject to intervention.
In reality, many children did see the film with their parents, shouting, "Kill the PKI!"
That is regrettable. I immediately took firm action when calls were made for children to see the film. In Padang, I asked the head of the West Sumatra education department to revoke the order requiring students of all scholastic levels to watch it. This applied to all schools in Indonesia.
Why was the ban not issued via a decree?
Not all policies and instructions must be issued via decrees. Written instructions can be misinterpreted. Sometimes it’s better to issue a firm verbal instruction.
How can you be sure that your instruction was heeded?
It’s highly possible that some students in the restricted age group did see the film at school. I left it to teachers as professional educators who know what is best for their students. So far, I’m optimistic that no school secretly screened the film, because I received reports that only high schools and vocational high schools reported screening the film. Students were accompanied by teachers who enriched their perspective following the viewing and students were required to write a review for further discussion.
What kind of values should teachers instill in their students regarding the 1965 tragedy?
Teachers play the biggest role in providing insight. After watching the film, students were asked to write a review. Teachers have the duty to clarify if a student’s understanding (of the film) is incompatible with the aim of the learning process. History teachers know this well. History lessons are not just for learning about certain events, but also about the values that can be taken from it and nurtured. A professional teacher will never give a distorted account of history. If a teacher provides slanted and biased information, then he or she lacks integrity. Ideally, a teacher should not just explain who the perpetrators were, but what lessons can be learned from a tragedy that had taken place in our country.
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine