COMMENT ‘Tanda Putera’, the film that was not considered fit for general release (in case there was a backlash from Chinese voters?) before the recent general election is soon to be shown in a cinema near you. Obviously - as the official reasoning probably goes - after the “Chinese tsunami”, BN couldn’t go any lower in terms of Chinese votes.

NONEThe government would be wise to ask, “Is it a step forward for Malaysians to gain access to the truth about the May 13 bloodshed and take us on the road to ‘reconciliation’ as Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (left) had vowed soon after the recent general election?” I think not. Does the film call for forgiveness, for generosity of spirit, or does it allow old wounds to fester?

Of course, it is a filmmaker’s right to make a film. It is his or her right to freedom of expression. However, this film happens to be financed by the official Malaysian National Film Development Corporation (Finas), i.e. with the taxpayers’ money.

It is amazing - the gall and presumptuousness of Umno - to use public resources to finance projects such as this, and even institutions such as Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) that are blatantly racially discriminatory.

Not surprisingly, the director of Tanda Putera has fallen in with the ‘official’ version that the May 13 incident was a “spontaneous outbreak” of violence between “the Malays” and “the Chinese” after “the Malays” were supposedly provoked by “the Chinese”.

This conclusion is based on interviews with the director of 'Tanda Putera' in the online media.

azlanIn this official rendition, the victory parade by the opposition parties in 1969 is often portrayed as having been conflated with an earlier demonstration by the Labour Party calling for a boycott of the 1969 general election because of the pre-election incarceration of practically all their leaders under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The underlying justification for the pogrom is that the Chinese victims got what was coming to them through their “insensitivity” to “Malay feelings”. And since then, this fascist threat has been raised every time the non-Malays demand civil rights or openly support the opposition coalition.

The recent warning about a “Malay backlash” to the so-called “Chinese tsunami” by a former Appeal Court judge is symptomatic of this fascist mode of thinking.

Truth #1: Were these parades so provocative that they were the trigger for the pogrom?

From the declassified documents at the British Archives that I researched, they were not. The British were more likely to be pro-Alliance rather than pro-opposition since after all, the Alliance leaders were the local custodians of British interests in the post-Independent Malaysia.

But perhaps the director of ‘Tanda Putera’ or Umno has other more credible evidence from our local sources to prove my evidence wrong. Why not let a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) investigate the matter?

Truth #2: Was May 13 in fact orchestrated by those elements within Umno to overthrow Tunku Abdul Rahman and to serve their own agenda as the new ruling class of Malaysia?

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir MohamadThis theory is by no means exclusive to me and recently, more disaffected Umno leaders have come out to support this account.

Again, a TRC can subpoena many of the actors - such as Dr Mahathir (left) - who are still alive today.

Unfortunately, others such as ex-Selangor Menteri Besar Harun Idris and former Home Minister Ghazali Shafie are no longer around, but their families and other contemporaries may know the true story.

Truth #3: How many, and who were the victims of the May 13 pogrom?

We owe it to those who perished during the pogrom to at least register their unfortunate demise and grant some reparation to their loved ones. Is there any truth to the stories about mass graves in Sungai Buloh? There are other stories about corpses being tarred to conceal their ethnic identities. If these stories are true, their bodies should be exhumed and identified, and the cause of death determined.

These are facts that a TRC can uncover about events at that time through listening to testimonies from victims’ families and friends, doctors and nurses on duty in the hospitals, Red Cross staff who played an important role then, policemen and soldiers on duty, politicians and journalists who covered the event, and of course our ubiquitous Special Branch.

Public institutions - such as hospitals, the police and the Special Branch - should be made to open their files to the TRC.

If the prime minister is truly interested in reconciliation after the GE13 as he has pledged, releasing ‘Tanda Putera’ is unlikely to produce the desired effect. However, I will proffer an unreserved apology if I am proven wrong, of course.

Lessons from South Africa's TRC

Compared to South Africa’s acrimonious and long saga of apartheid rule, Malaysia’s May 13 incident will not incur the time and efforts that South Africa’s TRC went through.

South Africa’s TRC was established by the new South African government in 1995 to help bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid. Its emphasis was on getting to the truth and not on prosecuting individuals for past crimes.

The commission was open to the public and allowed victims or their loved ones to tell their story. These documented accounts then became public record, which helps deter the possibility of any denial of their history.

The South African TRC was set up through the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995 and hearings started in 1996. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation.

The TRC had a number of high profile members with moral authority; its chairperson was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The South African TRC heard cases of some 20,000 people who had suffered gross human rights violations in the period between 1960 and their first democratic election.

Isn’t it time for a ‘May 13 TRC’ to finally put to rest the ghost of May 13, to record our real history, and to bring about meaningful reconciliation of our peoples once and for all?

The spontaneous response from ex-Special Branch and other retired personnel, as well as victims’ family members at the launch of my book in 2007 demonstrates amply that there are many people from all angles, yearning to have their stories told and heard. Can we deny these now aging participants in the actual May 13 tragedy an opportunity to do so?

It is time Malaysians face up to our real history and to understand that if we do not confront the past, we will not be able to move into the future.

KUA KIA SOONG, a former MP, is adviser to human rights group Suaram.