Indonesia: Malang history seminar canceled after 'discussion' with military

MALANG (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The military cancelled a history seminar at the Malang State University.

A history seminar scheduled for Oct. 24 at Malang State University (UM) in Malang, East Java has been canceled after a discussion with the Malang Military Command, according to a letter from the university's history department.

The seminar was themed "Historical Change and Continuity in a Scientific and Learning Perspective" and was set to have four speakers, including Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) historian Asvi Warman Adam.

Asvi is known for his research into the 1965 tragedy, in which hundreds of thousands of alleged communist sympathizers were killed after an attempted coup allegedly masterminded by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). He also testified at the International People's Tribunal (IPT) on 1965 crimes against humanity in Indonesia that was held in The Hague, Netherlands in 2015.

The letter, dated Oct. 10 and signed by history department head Ari Sapto and the seminar's committee head, Reza Hudiyanto, was vague about the reasons for the cancellation.

It said that "a misunderstanding arose among the public and spread on social media, from certain groups, which has attracted the attention of security/intelligence forces in Malang." It went on to say that the university had "discussed and negotiated" the matter with the military command in Malang and decided to "postpone [the seminar] indefinitely."

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has a history of impeding scholarly inquiry into its past; last year, the TNI reportedly issued a policy temporarily banning foreign nationals from entering Indonesia's main military museum, the Satriamandala Museum, without permission from the military’s headquarters.

Malang Military Command Post (Korem) commander Maj. Prasetya HK, however, denied the military command had told the university to cancel the seminar.

"There was no prohibition from Korem 083/Baladhika Jaya or Kodim [military command] 0833/Baladhika Jaya, because the cancellation or the postponement, was purely on the initiative of the [seminar] committee itself," Prasetya said on Thursday. "We have never even received a formal announcement about the planned seminar."

He added that the command had no authority to either prohibit or allow an event to occur.

Ari confirmed the university had postponed the event after an internal meeting of the faculty board.

He said the university was worried about a "misunderstanding" arising among groups that considered the seminar a leftist event. "Because of that, we decided to postpone the seminar so those groups do not take advantage of it," he said.

Asvi, meanwhile, said he had received the letter via email on Wednesday and was surprised by the cancellation and the reasoning for it.

"I found it strange because the reason was comments on social media and concerns from the military command," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, adding that his impression from the letter was that there might be a demonstration if the seminar was to go on as planned.

"I don't understand what they would want to demonstrate against because the seminar is clearly scientific and is about the development of the study of history in Indonesia," he said. "And in any case usually public safety issues are handled by the police and not by the military."

He added that he still had not decided what material he would have presented at the seminar, saying that there were many topics he could have chosen from, including National Heroes Day.

"One of the subthemes is how controversial historical topics are taught, but there are many controversial topics in Indonesian history," he said. "I think the cancellation shows excessive fear and self-censorship from the university. As an academic institution, it should feel free to hold a scientific seminar."

He also said that he had been unable to contact any UM history department officials since he received the email.

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