Uses and Abuses of history: Peter Carey responds

In February 2014 Gerindra’s official YouTube channel published a film titled Prabowo: Sang Patriot (Prabowo: The Patriot). The 30-minute long film chronicles Prabowo Subianto’s family history. Prabowo’s brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who produced and funded the film, and who is also a senior member of Gerindra’s party board, denied that the film was part of Prabowo’s political campaign.

On 24 April, Asian Correspondent published a critique of the film by Patrick Tibke. Tibke suggested that the film’s release imminently before the legislative and presidential campaign, as well as its publication via Gerindra’s social media outlets, suggests that it is, at least unofficially, intended as part of Prabowo’s campaign to become president.

Tibke also challenged the appearance in the film by Oxford historian Peter Carey, an expert on Javanese history, in particular on the figure of Diponegoro, a Javanese prince who rebelled against the Dutch during the Java War in the early 19th century. Supposedly, Hashim and Prabowo have distant ancestors who fought alongside Diponegoro. Carey’s commentary in the film appeared to infer that this prestigious family ancestry grants Prabowo patriotic credentials. In Tibke’s words, “esteemed Oxford historian Peter Carey can be seen selling his soul on-screen as he delivers a cheery exposition of Prabowo’s intricate family tree”.

Carey

The impression that Carey had (willingly or unwillingly) become part of Prabowo’s campaign was intensified in early May, when a quote from the film by Carey—alongside his name and head-shot—appeared in a campaign image posted by Gerindra’s social media outlets. The quote, like the video, gave the impression that Carey was not only endorsing Prabowo’s run for president, but that he draws a link between Prabowo’s glorious family linage and his personal character.

The @IndoNewMandala team contacted Peter Carey to respond to these allegations. This is his response.
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Memory’s Muse: Reflections on the Uses and Abuses of History

Former general Prabowo Subianto is one of the three declared candidates in the current Indonesian presidential election, the first round of which will take place on 9 July next. The other candidates are the former Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo or Jokowi for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and Aburizal Bakrie (ARB) for the former state party, Golkar. Prabowo’s campaign has been supported by his younger brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, a successful Indonesian businessman and patron of the arts.

I first came into contact with the family over four decades ago when I corresponded with Prabowo and Hashim’s grandfather, Raden Mas Margono Djojohadikusumo, over his family memoir Herinneringen uit Drie Tijdperken (Reminiscences from Three Historical Periods; A family tradition put in writing) first published in 1970. In that memoir the experiences of two Djojohadikusumo relatives – Raden Mas Margono’s grandfathers – were described. The seminal event for both these ancestors was the Java War (1825-30), the five-year struggle waged by Prince Diponegoro of Yogyakarta (1785-1855) against the Dutch.

In 2010, when the Indonesian publishers (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia or KPG) of my Diponegoro biography, The Power of Prophecy (2007), were looking for a sponsor, Hashim Djojohadikusumo’s educational trust, the Yayasan Arsari Djojohadikusumo (YAD), was approached and the project was personally approved by Pak Hashim. YAD’s support meant that the book could be published at an affordable price and distributed widely to tertiary institutions throughout Indonesia. Although they were not the only sponsors – the Royal Institute for Anthropology and Linguistics (KITLV) in Leiden paid for the entire translation, YAD’s generosity meant that the publication became available to a much wider Indonesian readership.

In the aftermath of that publication (March 2012), there were two further developments. The first was that a film about Diponegoro was suggested. In December 2012, I met with a film-maker, who had worked with the Djojohadikusumo family on other film projects, and with the creator of the Opera Diponegoro (1995), Sardono W. Kusumo, to discuss what form such a film might take. The talk at that stage was of a feature film. But these discussions went no further. Instead, I was invited in early April 2013 to do a 90-minute interview on the Java War, its origins, course and impact, which was recorded by the same film-maker. During the course of that interview the role of the two Djojohadikusumo relatives was briefly alluded to. But this was a very small part of the overall interview, the bulk of which was an historical analysis of the significance of the Java War for modern Indonesia.

The second was that I was approached in August 2012 by one of historians at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Indonesia, who had been a speaker at the Jakarta launch of the Indonesian edition of the Power of Prophecy, to ask whether I would consider teaching at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Indonesia. I agreed provided the post was supported. More than a year elapsed before that invitation was officially acknowledged by the University authorities (12 November 2013). By that time, YAD had agreed to support the post.

On 4 March 2014, a documentary film ‘Prabowo: Sang Patriot’ was released on the Gerindra YouTube channel. It drew on my April 2013 interview, but because the only parts used were my discussions of the role of the two Djojohadikusumo relatives, it appeared that I had made a separate contribution to the film which was not the case. The wider context of my interview was not evident in the documentary.

This drew adverse comment. Patrick Tibke, for example, in his 24 April Asian Correspondent  article, ‘Prabowo the Patriot: Indonesia presidential hopeful produces propaganda flop’, described my role in the documentary as ‘selling my soul on screen’ while ‘delivering a cheery exposition of Prabowo’s intricate family tree’. In short, a piece of pro-Gerindra propaganda. This was, in fact, far from the intention of the original interview. More recently a clip from the documentary was posted as a seeming endorsement of the Gerindra presidential candidate on their web-page (4 May) and I immediately asked that this be removed (5 May).

As a UK citizen and a person with no voting rights in Indonesia, it is completely inappropriate that I express political views on any of the current presidential candidates. The election is for Indonesians and Indonesians alone to decide. That said, I believe the debate raises important questions about the use of history for contemporary political purposes and I am happy to share my reflections in a separate blog.

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Dr. Peter Carey is Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College, Oxford, and YAD Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Indonesia (FIB-UI).

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