Listening to the Past, Working for the Present

Third Nusantara School of Difference | Indonesia | July 17-31, 2023

What do we need to understand the present? What can we do to improve it, to make it more understandable and so make life more acceptable and bearable for those carrying the burdens of history, without any ability to talk and share the weight of past traumas?  Is it possible to find peace of mind and heart by revisiting collective memory together?

This will be the challenge we explore in the third Nusantara School of Difference, which will take place in Jakarta, Surabaya/Malang, Kupang/Atambua, and Oecusse (Timor-Leste) from July 17-31, 2023.

In 1999, Timor-Leste (East Timor) achieved independence through a referendum. Yet many questions remain pertaining to its struggle for independence and the long period of violence that followed the Indonesian invasion of 1975, itself perpetrated against the background of the Cold War.

Similarly, after the massacre of communists in 1965-66 in Indonesia, the stigma of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) remains a major component of Indonesia’s silent history. Both the massacres and the Timor-Leste independence struggle are connected to broader efforts to crush communist support in Southeast Asia.

These historical events cast a long shadow over contemporary life and contribute to defining its sense of order, necessity, political priorities, and social goods. However, both events were traumatic for generations of individuals, and caused separation among families, the destruction of any sense of “home,” and the feeling that state-formation was predicated on dislocation as well as the death of multitudes of loved ones.

In Timor-Leste the process of state formation is ongoing. At the same time, in West Timor many still live in the displaced persons camps they were assigned to after they arrived as refugees following Timor-Leste’s independence. Indeed, following the tragedies of 1965-66 and 1975-99, many Indonesians continue to live in diaspora communities with little sense of home. So too, and in the current lead up to the next general election of 2024, the issue of communism and the communist repression of the 1960’s continues to be a major theme of political discourse.

Today, decades later, there is a possibility to revisit the memory of these events and thus the opportunity to understand the impact of these tragedies, and collective violence more broadly, upon individuals and communities. This is not an easy or simple task. Memories of violence and unexplained death are traumatic. While not a painless enterprise, now is the time to approach this history, as most of the important social actors are still alive (most in their 70s.) The collective memory of these elders is critical to understanding the past. While we tend to frame state-making as the political process par excellence, and hence as an almost abstract and disembodied process, its impact on individuals, families, and communities is critical and needs to be appreciated. This summer school is thus a structured journey toward understanding the self, family, community, and perhaps even the State.

The deadline for applications is May 1, 2023. See application requirements for details.

Questions should be sent to

The NSD is a CEDAR affiliate program working in collaboration with the Institute of Resource Governance and Social Change.