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Historians question Soeharto's national hero status

Jakarta Post - November 10, 2015

Liza Yosephine – Historians have questioned the government's plan to name former president Soeharto a national hero because of the controversy that surrounded the New Order leader before he was forced to step down in 1998.

Hilmar Farid of the Indonesian Institute of Social History (ISSI) said on Tuesday that while many agreed that major transformation occurred under Soeharto, particularly in the country's economy, he could not be separated from his long dictatorship.

"So, in the case of Soeharto, the honor of national hero would spark controversy," Hilmar told thejakartapost.com. According to Hilmar, Soeharto could not be separated from the massive debt build up that is believed to have culminated in the 1998 financial crisis.

Similarly, JJ Rizal of the University of Indonesia also expressed disagreement with the plan to name Soeharto, who led the country for 32 years, a national hero.

According to Rizal, the naming of national hero by any government is merely symbolic of current political ideas and does not consider historical evidence.

"For this reason, it is more related to the current political context, rather than taking into consideration a historical perspective," Rizal added. "If national heroes were chosen purely based on their biographies, there would not be a polemic."

Meanwhile, Rizal agreed with naming former president Abdurrahman "Gusdur" Wahid a national hero. Gusdur at least, said Rizal, had been an inspirational role model for many Indonesians.

But Hilmar did not agree, saying that neither Soeharto or Gusdur deserved to be honored as national heroes.

The government earlier hinted that Gusdur, known as a champion of pluralism, and Soeharto, who led the authoritarian New Order for 32 years, would be named national heroes next year. (bbn)

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/11/10/historians-question-soeharto-s-national-hero-status.html